Original Soundtrack

MCA, 1980

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


After the film and soundtrack for Xanadu was released, the ‘80s were off and running for me. It started my teenage passion for collecting records, especially 45’s (remember those?). I was crestfallen when the movie flopped, although most people found the music appealing. Personally, I couldn’t get enough of the whole enchilada. I was one rare kid who got swept up in the magic and mythology of this movie musical. From what I understand, there are other gay men out there who share my admiration for Xanadu. In fact, at this year’s Provincetown Film Festival, there was a special sing-along screening of the 1980 film. There is also a stage version of Xanadu about to open on Broadway, which is another testament to the camp following the film has garnered over the years. On a personal note, I actually worked as a production assistant for the company that created the digital effects for the Xanadu film, though it was only for a few short months.

Even when taken out of context, the Xanadu soundtrack still holds up well on its own and contains an ample amount of intrigue for the ears. It is tasty ear candy, to be sure, and is the only place you’ll find Gene Kelly and the Tubes coexisting blissfully side by side. My longtime favorites Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra are the real stars of this show, however, as each act has a side on the soundtrack all to themselves. Only on the last song, the glorious title track, do Olivia and ELO actually come together -- a masterstroke of genius on the part of producers John Farrar and Jeff Lynne.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The duets are also among the many high points of this soundtrack. For the adult contemporary set, there is the airy ballad “Suddenly” (featuring UK hit-maker, Cliff Richard). Then there is the inspired Gene Kelly/Olivia pairing of “Whenever You’re Away From Me” and the exciting “Dancin,” from the climactic “Battle Of The Bands” sequence of the film. Though it was never a single, “Dancin” was so popular among Olivia fans like myself, that she eventually caved in to the pressure and included it in the set-list for one of her recent concert tours. It’s a tricky song to pull off live, considering its multiple moving parts and the fact that the Tubes have since, well, gone down the tubes.

Electric Light Orchestra didn’t need any help from such high-profile artists with their impressive song contributions. Critics everywhere tend to agree their material is stronger than the Newton-John material, despite the fact that Olivia enjoyed the lion’s share of media attention and chart success. The “Xanadu” single only got as high as #8 here in the States, but in the UK it went to #1. The ELO singles “All Over The World” and “I’m Alive” barely scraped into the top twenty, while Olivia soared to #1 with “Magic” and to #20 with “Suddenly.” It’s interesting to note that the ELO and Olivia singles were released at the same time, so it was almost like a friendly rivalry was taking place to see who could get higher up in Billboard magazine. 

It’s impossible for me to choose between the Olivia songs and the ELO songs, so I’m not going to pretend I prefer one over the other. In terms of originality, “Magic” and “I’m Alive” are brilliant choices for lead-off singles, as they make the most lasting impressions. To this day, I can’t help but remember the vision of Olivia roller-skating alone to “Magic” in a dark, abandoned auditorium or when the Santa Monica mural of the nine muses comes to life during the opening number, “I’m Alive.” Sometimes I wonder if a muse could be sitting on my shoulder, helping me to realize my dream of being a successful writer.

Xanadu serves as a reminder that amazing things can happen when talent and a sense of fun come together. Life is full of wonder and possibilities, after all, so why not go out there and live it?

Rating: A

User Rating: A



© 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, and is used for informational purposes only.