Monday, September 24, 2018

Musical Monday - Xanadu by Olivia Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra

#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: July 12, 1980 through July 19, 2980.

Sometimes a movie tries to capitalize upon the cultural zeitgeist of the moment. These efforts almost always seem to fail, because by the time a move can me made, the moment has already passed. In 1975, C.W. McCall had a number one hit with the song Convoy, but by the time a movie was made that was inspired by the song, it was 1978, and "trucker chic" was already becoming passe.

Xanadu was clearly made as an attempt to try to capitalize on the popularity of disco clubs, the most prominent of which was the almost mythical Studio 54. But by the time the movie was released, Studio 54 had been closed for six months, swamped under by tax evasion charges brought against the club's two owners. From a commercial perspective, disco was a dying genre of music. To further hamper its potential for success, Xanadu was linked not just to disco, but to the specific subgenre of roller disco, which had an even shorter shelf-life than disco had.

Despite all of this, and despite the fact that the movie was a flop of epic proportions, somehow Xanadu ended up with a fantastic soundtrack full of glittery pop songs that managed to climb the charts, some all the way to the top. Even so, this video kind of exemplifies everything that went wrong with the movie: The song is catchy and fun, Olivia Newton-John is scintillating, her bouncy hair is almost an entity of its own, and the choreography and staging is an absolute disaster.

Everything about the staging of this mass dance number is poorly executed. There are too many people on screen. People whip through the camera's gaze almost at random, skating into and out of frame for no apparent reason. The specific choreography that starts at 33 seconds in is completely atrocious, making a collection of fairly good dancers seem awkward and clumsy. The number hops from one group to the next - now we have a group of women dancing, next some guys in feathered hats and suspenders appear doing some proto-boogaloo, now those guys are dancing with women in 1940s inspired dresses, next a couple dancing on a raised dais while Olivia stands on a tiny attached platform, now we cut to a couple on a tightrope, then to some guys dancing on roller skates, now another guy will jump over those guys on his roller skates, and on and on and on. At one point a circus performer shows up suspended by her neck from the ceiling while she spins. Why is she there? Who knows? Everything in this entire number is confusing, incoherent, and exhausting.

Through it all Olivia Newton-John tries as hard as she can to make this work, but even her best efforts are only able to mitigate the terribleness of this mess of a video. The song is pretty good though.

Previous Musical Monday: Its Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel
Subsequent Musical Monday: Use It Up and Wear It Out by Odyssey

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Crying by Don McLean
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Use It Up and Wear It Out by Odyssey

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Olivia Newton-John     Electric Light Orchestra

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