eter Allen intended to record "I Honestly Love You" himself. Jeff Barry, the songwriter responsible for number one hits by artists as diverse as the Dixie Cups, Manfred Mann and the Archies, was to produce Peter's first album for A&M, but didn't hear any hits in the tunes Allen had already written. "I had this idea for a song I thought would be great for a man to sing," Barry explains. "We wrote the song and made a demo and someone at the publishing office was going to see Olivia (Newton-John) with new material... and she loved it... she was the one who loved that song and wanted to record it. We decided to let (her) cut it instead of Peter. And no one else thought it was going to be a single. The label didn't want to put it out (but) radio demanded it."
Olivia Newton-John was born September 26, 1948, in Cambridge, England, into an academic household. Her father, Bryn, A Welshman, had decided against a career as an opera singer to teach at King's College in Cambridge. He was following the scholarly lead of his father. Max Born, the Nobel Prize-winning German physicist who was Albert Einstein's best friend. Bryn, his wife, and daughters Rona and Olivia set sail for Australia when he was promoted to dean of Ormond College in Melbourne.
During the long boat ride, little Livvy lost her favorite toy, a stuffed shapeless animal she called Fluffy. "I guess somebody nicked it, some nasty little girl," a grown-up Newton-John reminisced years later in Crawdaddy. "I was very upset."
Early trauma behind her, the young émigré led a fairly uneventful childhood, writing songs on the family piano and picking out "Tennessee" Ernie Ford discs from her father's thousands of classical records. Uneventful that is, until at 11, her parents divorced and, with mom, she moved into a Melbourne apartment. "My mother gave me an acoustic guitar when I was 13, which led me to Ian (her first boyfriend) and working in coffeehouses -- on weekends only. Meanwhile I had been singing with three other girls in a group called the Sol Four; we did traditional jazz," she told Crawdaddy. That year she took top honors in a Hayley Mills lookalike contest, continuing her winning ways two years on when a friend suggested she enter a talent search that offered a trip to England as a prize.
By now an established local television personality, Olivia was reluctant to cash her talent trophy, but did so at her mother's urgings. "She said it would broaden my, er, horizons," the singer recounted. So with Go Show buddy Pat Carroll, she lifted off for Blighty where they duetted in pubs for two years until Pat's visa expired.
Livvy stayed on, sliding into a regular spot on Cliff Richard's television series, then recording Bob Dylan's "If Not for You," her first American chart single (number 25 in September, 1971). Don Kirshner was intrigued by this "kewpie doll in knee sox," as he described her in Crawdaddy. "Then, when I heard her sing, I knew we could get a great, sweet sound out of her." Kirshner recruited Olivia for a foursome deliberately misspelled Toomorrow for a "dynamite film and music concept." It flopped, but ONJ's single, "Let Me Be There," became her first hit in the States (number six in February 1974). It earned her a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal. "It's probably the first time an English person won an award over Nashville people," the winner said upon receiving her award.
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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