Totally Hot

Olivia Newton-John

MCA Records, 1978

http://olivianewton-john.com

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/04/2008

Flanked by the high-profile movie soundtracks Grease and Xanadu, Olivia Newton-John’s ninth studio effort, Totally Hot, seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle. Which is a shame, considering it is her very best studio album ever. The cover photography and lead-off track “Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting” help to announce to the world that, like her Sandra Dee character in Grease, Olivia has been completely transformed. Decked out in black leather, she sinks her vocal chops into an all-new sound to compliment her new look. Trading in her gauzy country persona for a street-wise, fun-loving party girl was quite a stretch for this Australian lass, but Olivia did what she had to do. Her country albums weren’t selling like they used to, and the pop world needed a female artist of her caliber to champion. Fans of pure, homegrown country music never really accepted her as one of their own anyway.nbtc__dv_250

It was a leap of faith on Olivia’s part, as well as her longtime producer, John Farrar’s. This was uncharted territory for both of them, but the fit couldn’t have been more seamless. Mid-tempo, r&b-tinged pop suited Olivia surprisingly well and she was wise to leave the disco to Donna Summer. Totally Hot blazes her trail into the eighties that the likes of Madonna and Annie Lennox could follow. Olivia Newton-John was indeed the original, quick-change queen of re-invention.

True, she didn’t rock as hard as Pat Benatar or get nearly as wild as Debbie Harry, but Olivia had the mass appeal that those other female artists didn’t. She was the embodiment of the complete package: good looks and a great voice. Men fell head over heels in love with her and women wanted to be just like her. She became a permanent fixture on the music charts for more than a decade, especially after the release of the then-controversial #1 stratospheric smash “Physical.”

With its strong blend of adult contemporary and power pop, Totally Hot is just like the title suggests. The smokin’ singles “A Little More Love” and “Deeper Than The Night” are both here, though it can be tricky business to tell the two songs apart. Even better still, there are two great songs penned by Olivia herself, the gentle ballad “Never Enough” and the slinky number, “Talk To Me.” It’s somewhat disappointing that neither one became a single, though this is one album that is best taken as a whole.

There are traces of twangy country on slow tunes like “Dancin’ Round And Round” and “Never Enough,” which goes to show you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl. Somehow, Olivia and Farrar make these songs gel with the upbeat ones, but one could argue that it sounds like a Xanadu battle of the bands at times. Olivia may have not been as committed to her bad-girl image as Madonna or Joan Jett were to theirs, but she was certainly committed to her music. With Totally Hot, she set the bar pretty high.

Rating: A

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© 2008 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of MCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.