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Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold 28


We’ve covered the men. We’ve covered the women. We’ve even covered a few people who run somewhere in the middle. But we have yet to cover the male-female Mellow Duet – and that’s what we’re going to tackle on this week’s Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!

Olivia Newton-John and Cliff Richard – Suddenly (download)

Hey, where’s everybody goin’?

Listen, before you start unplugging the computer from the wall, remember this: I can’t promise you amazing songs every week. Hell, I can’t even promise you mediocre songs weekly. Mellow Gold is like sticking a hot poker in your eye: even when it’s good, it’s still pretty bad. For every “Smoke From A Distant Fire,” you have an “I’ve Never Been To Me,” and for every “Moonlight Feels Right,” you have a “Suddenly.” Take your Mellow Gold lumps like a true wuss, wouldja?

Besides, I had to cover this song. It was on my iPod (I swear, I have no idea how it got there!), and as it finished…I played it again. And again. And again. I’m not saying that “Suddenly” is a good song, by any means. Something just attracts me to it. It’s a car-accident song, without a doubt.

So let’s talk a bit about our two equally smooth singers, although I don’t really need to say much, do I? Olivia Newton-John: huge celebrity, both as an actress and a singer. In 1980, she was still glowing from the massive success of Grease. Cliff Richard: immensely successful artist in the UK, moderately successful artist in the US. In 1980, Cliff was enjoying a resurgence on the UK charts after a number of years where he focused on gospel music. Americans probably don’t know that Cliff Richard has had more #1 hits in the UK, other than Elvis Presley and The Beatles. This guy was big (and still does pretty well, but that’s another story).

In 1980, Olivia Newton-John starred in Xanadu.

I’m really not going to say much about Xanadu. I’ll leave that to you in the comments, if you like. For starters, I haven’t seen it. Enough people have told me about it that I’m pretty sure I don’t need it entering my brain. Plus, I saw Two Of A Kind a number of times, and that was pretty much enough for cruddy Olivia Newton-John movies. Suffice it to say that the movie is that of legend, now; a colossal box-office failure and a waste of Gene Kelly that has now somehow not only become a cult favorite, but will appear on Broadway sometime this year.

The soundtrack, however, was a different matter: Xanadu, The Not-As-Shitty-As-The-Movie Soundtrack reached #4 and scored five Top 20 hits. The soundtrack, conceptually, was interesting: side A belonged to Olivia, and side B belonged to Electric Light Orchestra. (Wha?) Granted, I know about as much about ELO as I know about Xanadu, so again, my comments section is always open for tangential discussion. The soundtrack included our Mellow hit, as well as the title track and Magic, a #1 single.

“Suddenly” was written by John Farrar, who was Olivia’s longtime musical partner, doing much of the writing and producing for her big hits, including “You’re The One That I Want,” “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” and yes – “Have You Never Been Mellow” (which some might suggest is a better choice, but shit, I’ve written this much and can’t stop now). Farrar also knew Cliff Richard, having not only been a backng guitarist and vocalist for the singer, but was also a member of Cliff’s former group, The Shadows.

As for Cliff and Olivia, their connection dated back to the early ’70s when she regularly appeared on his variety show; as a matter of fact, Cliff’s first duet with a woman was with Olivia, in their 1972 telefilm The Case. “Suddenly” was their first charting duet together, and the lowest of the charting tracks from Xanadu. It only made it to #20, but it did reach #4 on AC. And AC, friends, is where Mellow Gold lies.

So have you listened to “Suddenly” lately, and if so, have you wondered if maybe Farrar had a crush on the Gibb brothers? “Suddenly” is, essentially, another Top 20 hit for the Bee Gees. Think about it. Actually, no, don’t think about it. Listen to it. Doesn’t Cliff Richard sound like a Gibb, especially that low, breathy vocal in the beginning of the song? Those gentle acoustic guitars playing through some weird effects pedal, the gentle keyboard and synth strings…has anybody called Barry about a lawsuit?

It’s true that I love me some Gibb, and for a while, I was thinking that maybe this was the reason I was so drawn to this number. But upon further reflection (and why anybody would spend this much time on anything from Olivia Newton-John is beyond me), I know what it is.

Suddenly, the wheels are in motion
And I-ah-ah-HA-ha
I’m ready to sail any ocean
Suddenly I don’t need the answers
‘Cause I-ah-ah-HA-ha
I’m ready to take all my chances with yooooou

There is something so guilty-pleasure awesome about the way Cliff and Olivia made a conscious choice to completely obliterate the word “I,” and the way they go all staccato on the penultimate syllable. I feel like a complete idiot for spending this much time on this one line (which, by the way, took me five minutes to spell). But it’s clearly the focus of the entire song. If you were to try and describe “Suddenly” to someone, what part would you sing? At what point would they go, “Oh! I know what you’re talking about, and I don’t think we can be friends anymore”? It’s right here! The breathy part! Here at the corner of Gibb and Vagina!

So it’s all because of that one part that I listen to this song over and over again. I sing it, too. Out loud. Both parts. I take turns. Sometimes I feel more like Cliff than Olivia. Sometimes, it’s the other way around, and then I go searching for the outfit she’s wearing in the above photo. Have I-ah-ah-HA-ha said too much?

The only thing better/worse/better again than listening to “Suddenly” is watching it. This is my favorite version, from some German “Hooray For Hollywood” TV special. I always think it’s going to turn into a porno, and it doesn’t, which is disappointing.


Then there’s this version, an awkward roller-skating scene from the movie which, oddly, kinda makes me want to see the whole film. Olivia reportedly fractured her tailbone during the filming of this number.


If you really like the song and want to hear it with a full orchestra (oh, the majesty!):


And finally, this one makes me laugh, mainly just because Cliff Richard is such a dramatic tool, especially when he’s lip-syncing.


And there you have it. Way too much space devoted to a mediocre song that I can’t turn off. Hopefully it does the same for you. And if not, there’s always next week! See you soon for another Adventure through the Mines Of Mellow Gold!

  • First! (ha I always wanted to do that…I’m such a douche)
    Anyways…Jayjay…you are practically king of the mellow gold and don’t know much about ELO?!? Holy mother fucking shit of Pedro!
    I hereby command thee to go out and get Strange Magic (or any other of their approx. 3 million releaed compilations).
    You will be in Mellow Gold Heaven.

  • I am one of probably a dozen or so pepole who saw Xanadu in the theater.  I was around 10 or 11 at the time.
    The most amazing thing about "Suddenly" is that you were able to find FOUR videos of it on YouTube.

  • I was wondering when you’d get to Cliff Richard, tremendous bore that he is. He embodies the English equivalent of Mellow Gold, which is the annual posturing for the Christmas #1 single. He’s had like four or something like that, which is evidently a big deal over there. One of them is called “Millennium Prayer” and it is exactly what you’d expect. As for “Xanadu,” it’s one of those awesomely bad movies that must be seen, a la Plan 9 From Outer Space or Showgirls. The title track collaboration beween Newton and ELO is also totally awesome.

  • Stephen

    Wow this is totally Mellow and totally a Bee Gees wannabe (and a fairly good one at that, as far as Bee Gees imitations go). This song really encapsulates the mellow 70s slick overproduced sound at its best (or worst, depending on your view). I agree about the ELO though, get thee a greatest hits, you can’t go wrong with some Jeff Lynne goodness, and I second the "Strange Magic" motion, although I am partial to "Telephone Line."

  • "Showgirls" has been re-evaluated by film critics and film historians in the past four years.  No, really.  I thought it was hilarious too in 1995, but Paul Verhoeven, like Brian De Palma, is getting a lot of retroactive respect for his big Hollywood movies like "Total Recall," "RoboCop," "Starship Troopers," and "Basic Instinct" that combine big budgets, big stars, and a whole lot of artful (if tasteless) sex ‘n’ violence.<br><br>But that’s not why we’re here, is it?  I can’t remember what "Suddenly" sounds like off the top of my head.  I’ll have to listen when I get home.  I do remember my brother going to see "Xanadu" in the theaters when he was nine or ten; I think he went with some friends as a birthday-party outing.  I remember us seeing the Don Knotts-Tim Conway movie "The Private Eyes" for one of my brother’s birthday parties in 1981 and later wondering why the Hall & Oates song wasn’t in the movie.<br><br>I’m partial to "Telephone Line" myself.  I heard it on the radio in 2002 and wondered if I’d heard it before, and if so, why hadn’t it struck me as being one of ELO’s best hits before 2002?

  • woofpop

    Xanadu.. saw it in the theater in 1980, and I guess I was the only person in this hemisphere that liked it.. and will admit it!  Any movie that has the Tubes in it is worth at least a mention.  Nice to see the icon of deco design Pan-Pacific Auditorium in one of it’s last film appearances as "the club" (it burned down in 1989). I finally saw Xanadu again about a year ago, and it really is  terrible, but not quite so terrible that it’s great, unfortunately. The soundtrack is another matter – it’s prime ONJ (if there is such a thing) – with big production and star-sustaining songs. It’s her "Guilty".. Watching her duet with Cliff Richard is really pretty scary – it’s like battle of the perfect cheekbones.

  • I can’t stop playing the damn videos. Cliff moves in mysterious and fascinating ways, and I simply must learn some of those moves. I’m especially taken by the one with the orchestra, when he’s finished his verse and introduces Olivia’s at 2:26. Why would he think that the robot dance was a good choice here, I wonder? I also wonder how he moves to the song called "Millenium Prayer"? I’m sure it’s hilarious – I’m off to YouTube!

  • This song brings back memories of my older sister telling me about this great new song she heard on the radio.  I asked her "How does it go?"  And all she could sing was "Suddenly…"  When I said "Well, what’s else is there?"  She just said " I can’t remember anything else but ‘Suddenly’…"  When I finally heard what all the fuss was about, I went back to listening to my Blondie record.  Thanks for the pain, Jason!

  • Of the Cliff Richards songs I know, and admittedly that ain’t much, this is the least interesting – worse that the Sheena Easton duet (I think). My main argument is that this one suffers greatly from marble-mouth. Observe: Suddenly… a fizshar emotion… and I-ah-ah-ah I  There are plenty of words in this song that suffer from enunciation deficiency. I’m also not partial to that Vocoder-esque keyboard sound with it’s "bwaah, bwaah, bwwhaddiddy, bwaah". ONOMATOPOEIA! It’s FANTASTIC!

  • With those "dance" moves, Cliff Richard looks a bit like a UK Mike Love….would that make the Millennium Prayer his Kokomo?Anyway Jason, you’ve definitely pinpointed the best part of the song in your entry–totally redeems a bit of stagnancy in the verses and bridge, mostly because of Sir Cliff, who has a very unimpressive singing voice, IMHO. ONJ sings rings around him. And even though she lends herself to a little more of her traditional "breathy" vocals than I like, between this performance and "Magic" (Which I think you know how I feel about), I think the Xanadu soundtrack was definitely the pinnacle of ONJ’s career, at least in terms of singing quality.

  • BD

    My only Xanadu connection would be that I saw Barenaked Ladies break into the guitar riff during one of their medleys. Oh … the MOVIE Xanadu. I thought we were talking about the Rush song.

  • Believe it or not, I’ve seen both Cliff and Olivia in concert (separately) in the past few weeks – my wife is a bigger fan than I am, but I enjoyed both shows.
    Don’t knock ’em – Cliff was the closest  thing we had to Elvis in Britain in the dark days before the Beatles, and when you see him live you know in his heart he still wants to be Elvis (he even does the knee waggle on stage).  His "Move It" remains (with Johnny Kidd’s "Shakin’ All Over") one of the two great British records from the early rock’n’roll era.  And he has a nice line in self-deprecating humour too ("When my record company told me I could do a duets album, I called up Dionne Warwick, and she said, ‘Who’s Cliff Richard?’")  As for "Millennium Prayer", his record company refused to release it because they said it had no chance of selling, so he paid for it himself and it went to number one in the UK.  You have to admire anyone who proves the greedy record companies wrong.
    If your impression of Olivia Newton-John is based on "Xanadu", you’re missing out.  Her more recent albums include a lot of self-written material with much more to say than her old pop hits, but many of those are still fun – who doesn’t enjoy singing along with the songs from "Grease"?  And she also makes fun of herself on stage – after a radically slowed down version of "Physical", she told the audience that was the "age-appropriate" version of the song.  So, give ’em both a chance!

  • sher

    when my first copy of the xanadu soundtrack warped in the backseat of mom and dad’s car, i asked for another one. (some six-year-olds get everything they want.) i remember the liner notes the second time around were a black-and-white printed insert, where the original was in a magenta and turquoise sleeve. why’d the record company get cheap the second time around?
    jason, promise me you’ll feature magic in a future mellow gold.

  • jb

    The Xanadu soundtrack features ONJ on one side and ELO on the other, yes. But you must hear their collaboration, on the title song, which actually made the Top Ten on the singles chart, if only to plumb the depths of musical awfulness. “Hard enough to take the chrome off a trailer hitch” is not nearly strong enough to describe the suckitude of that record. In fact, it ruined ELO for me entirely. I dug most of what they did between 1975 and the first time I heard “Xanadu” (don’t hate on “Strange Magic,” which is one of my all-time faves) and practically nothing afterward.

  • Jane

    I don’t dislike “Suddenly.” I grew up listening to Olivia, so I have a soft spot for her records. I was in 5th grade when “Physical” was huge. But I do believe her duets with Andy Gibb were stronger than this one. Also, she sang a lovely song called “Carried Away” on her “Physical” album, which was written by Barry Gibb, if I remember correctly. It’s distinctly Gibb-like, but with her own imprint on it. Not sure whether or not Gibb also produced the track.

  • He he – I don’t dislike "Suddenly" either. Usually, the cheesier these tracks are, the more I like them. Honestly, I love cheese. I just need to remember to balance my diet with a little meat – sometimes I overdose on the cheese.

  • Jane

    Yes, true — cheese is impossible to resist. haha.

  • woofpop

    JB, ELO was already gone by that point (1980) – that happened with  Discovery (which was  not-so affectionately referred to as Disco-Very by my friends..). Late ’79 – "Don’t Let Me Down (brrrrrruce!)"  on the radio constantly – ELO = dead to me then… I agree that "Strange Magic" is a great song -and pretty much everything prior to ’78 by ELO is worth a listen.  Cliff Richard has a couple of really good songs, though – especially "Carrie", which was supposed to be the follow-up to "We Don’t Talk Anymore" – it’s an IPod guilty pleasure for me, anyway…

  • Old Davy

    Jason!  Get thee some ELO.  Pronto!woofpop is right on the money.  ELO was fantastic until they left UA for Epic in 78.  "Out of the Blue" is one of the greatest pop double albums ever.  I suggest you start with that one.  Or maybe "Face the Music" if you want something with a little bit more of an edge to it.

  • “when my first copy of the xanadu soundtrack warped in the backseat of mom and dad’s car …”

    Mom and dad’s backseat, once again, instantly qualifies “Suddenly” as Mellow Gold.

    I do remember this song now. I like it in a guilty-pleasure sort of way. And I liked ELO disco numbers like “Shine a Little Love” and Cliff Richard’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” but not in a guilty-pleasure sort of way. Or even in a Babs ‘n’ Barry “Guilty” sort of way, because I like that song too.

  • I am shocked – SHOCKED – to find out that Barry Gibb had nothing to do with this song.  Another illusion from my youth shattered.Yes, the Ah’s have it, but now that I really listen to it, Richard’s voice isn’t the one that sounds like Mr. Gibb, it’s Olivia’s.  Very sneaky.I am enjoying the hell out of these trips to the Mines of Mellow Gold.  Keep up the good work.

  • Jhensy

    Me too, I’m also amazed this wasn’t a Bee Gee thing… always thought it was. Actually the only thing I remember was the "I-ah-ah-ha-ha" hook. And this was only a #20 hit in 1980… how do I remember that hook so well? I was listening to Joy Division and Cabaret Voltaire and all that crap at the time. Weird.
      And yeah, ELO was long gone by 1980. They jumped the shark for me when I saw them during the "Out Of The Blue" tour (’78?), when they played in a giant hokey flying saucer, and I felt really stupid watching it. Their masterpiece is "A New World Record" from ’77, but there’s tons of interesting and rewarding stuff throughout their catalogue, great fun if you’ve never explored. Jeff Lynne was a pretty brilliant guy.

  • J

    Thanks for making me live a day with this piece of crap song stuck in my head. I will probably never forgive you.

  • I’ve thought about it, and I can live with that.

    Thanks for all the ELO suggestions, everybody.  I now know what I must do.

  • I think “Calling America,” their last hit (from the beloved year of 1986, to boot), is pretty great too.

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  • dave

    There is an overdub of a foreign language over what you thought was a german tv show, but it was actually an american tv special called Olivia Newton-john Hollywood Nights.  That came on the hour before the 1980 oscars; and i read that she would not do a tv special unless she got that time slot.  Thats one strong Olivia!!!  Youv’e also got to see that special it co-stars Elton john, Tina Turner, Andy Gibb, Gene Kelly, Karen Carpenter, toni tanille, Cliff Richard, and more.  She duets with elton and the title song is a dance number of the Bob Seger remake of his Hollywood nights.

  • Ray

    Yes I’m an Olivia fan (and Xanadu is one of my guilty pleasures), but if you REALLY want to feast your eyes on something astonishing that Olivia had a part in, seek out her long-lost movie TOOMORROW (most of the "collector’s copies" out there have Japanese subtitles and while the picture quality is not exactly pristine it certainly is watchable).  She’s actually pretty cute in it, although the story is hokey and the music is cheesy beyond belief (which no doubt contributed to its almost instantaneous opening and closing in 1970 and consignment to relative oblivion ever since). 

  • Ray

    I actually have the 45 rpm single of “Suddenly” (matter of fact I have ALL of the singles from Xanadu), and one thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet is that the “Suddenly” single has one of the three songs from the movie that did NOT appear on the soundtrack album… Olivia’s lovely take on the standard, “You Made Me Love You”. The song was in the movie as the tune Gene Kelly’s character played on his phonograph just before the fantasy sequence where he dances with ONJ to “Whenever You’re Away From Me”. The other sought-after b-sides were ELO’s “Drum Dreams” (b-side for the “I’m Alive” and “All Over The World” singles; played in the movie as the Xanadu club opened) and “Fool Country” (b-side to “Magic”; appeared in the movie as part of the closing Xanadu medley… this puppy finally saw the light of day on CD as the last track on disc #1 of the Olivia Newton-John GOLD collection).

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