Guilty Pleasures. We all have them. We rarely admit to them. Only in the privacy of the internet do we come clean!
So far this summer, I find myself listening a lot to XANADU. No, not the movie. The movie is absolutely horrid. One of my nominees for worst movie ever made. Only thing noteworthy about it is that it is Gene Kelly’s final musical (what a depressing movie to end a great career on). It also features Don Bluth (THE SECRET OF NIMH, AN AMERICAN TAIL, THE LAND BEFORE TIME) doing feature animation right after getting fired by Disney. There is a fascinating, multi-part installment on the movie that you can read HERE.
No, I am referring to the soundtrack album which did a lot better than the movie (I hesitate to call it a film). I picked up the LP back in the 1980s. I finally got it on CD two years ago.
The album was originally a two-part collaboration. Side One featured songs from Olivia Newton-John, the titular star of XANADU and red hot coming off her debut in the smash hit GREASE (1978). Side Two was the domain of Electric Light Orchestra, one of the biggest groups in the world and still one of the greatest groups of all time.
Olivia’s side was handled by her regular producer John Farr. It leads off with the ultra-hit “Magic”. It seemed like every radio was required to run this constantly in the summer of 1980 and yet I never got tired of hearing it. There are two duets. Olivia sings with Cliff Richard on “Suddenly” which still works as a lovely love song. That song was all over the radio in the Fall of 1980 when I was just starting college. I would head to classes with that song in my head. The other duet is “Whenever You’re Away From Me” – notable only for Olivia singing with Gene Kelly.
The other two songs on Side One are the underrated “Suspended In Time” and the mish mash “disco meets big band” tune called “Dancin’”. “Suspended In Time” should rank up there with the rest of Olivia’s best work.
The ELO Side Two features three classic songs (despite the group insisting that songs from XANADU not be included on their greatest hits collections). “I’m Alive” and “All Over The World” are loud rocking tunes that slide in perfectly beside the ELO oeuvre like “Do Ya” and “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”. Both “The Fall” and “Don’t Walk Away” are lesser songs and yet just as fine. The whole album wraps up with Olivia and ELO together on the classic title song, “Xanadu”.
So why am I listening to XANADU so much this summer? Probably because it is summer. And listening to the record takes me back to the summer of 1980. I had just turned 18 and graduated from high school. College lay ahead in the fall. But between May and August was a chance to begin spreading my wings with the big huge world of dreams and adulthood just ahead of me. I was writing my first novel. Reading a lot of William Faulkner. Reading E.L. Doctorow’s LOON LAKE. My heart got broken for the first time. I was both scared and hopeful about the future. And despite the fact that 33 years have passed since then, I still feel that way today. XANADU takes me back to those feelings and times.
Is it a great album? No, but it certainly is a fun and breezy one. It leaves me feeling hopeful, romantic, and up! Isn’t that what the best albums should do?
What are some of your guilty pleasures?