You’re the One That I Want by Olivia Newton John and John Travolta from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Grease…Song #10/250.

The Stars of Stage and Screen: The stories behind some of the best song ever to appear in Hollywood or Broadway musicals.

The very first album I ever owned.

I was twelve years old in 1976. That was the year that I bought my first album with my own money. It was called, Have You Never Been Mellow? by an Australian singer named Olivia Newton John. On our local radio station, they were playing a song of hers called “Please Mr., Please”. To my pre-teen ears, her voice sounded angelic and sweet. In those days before the Internet became a thing, I did not know what Olivia Newton John looked like. I only knew what I heard on the radio. That changed one day when I found myself in the record aisle of our KMart department store. Sitting there waiting for me to buy it was her new album. That was the very first time I ever saw her face. I didn’t know it at the time but seeing that album cover was the start of a lifelong attraction to “faces”. Hers was perfect. I couldn’t believe how beautiful I thought she was. As I held that album in my hands, I was developing my very first celebrity crush. For twelve year old me, Olivia Newton John was certainly worth emptying my piggy bank for.

I thought this was the height of fashion back in the day.

In 1977, Saturday Night Fever was released in theatres. Like many, I was captivated by the light show, the pounding disco beats and, most of all, by the dance moves being performed by John Travolta on screen. Not having grown up in the age of dance movie musicals starring the likes of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers, Saturday Night Fever was my first taste of an entire movie that was seemingly built upon a foundation of dancing. My exposure to that movie coincided with me attending my very first school dance. I was thirteen years old. I had visions of wearing the same silk suits as John Travolta and his friends all did. In truth, that first dance was a dud. Our teachers only had a limited supply of records so they played “My Eyes Adored You” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons again and again. I was too shy to ask the girl of my desires to slow dance so I spent the night standing around in a red polyester shirt and too tight pants. It was awkwardness and coolness on a collision course. But, at least I was at a dance. The music was loud. There were lights, of a sort. It was the beginning of a love affair for me with loud music in public settings.

As many of you are aware, Hollywood tends to chase its own tail when it comes to replicating success. Saturday Night Fever set box office records. The soundtrack album became one of the biggest selling albums of all time. The movie made a star out of John Travolta. So, when it came to deciding what his next starring vehicle should be, it didn’t surprise anyone that John Travolta was cast in another musical. In the late 1970s, movie musicals were the big trend in Hollywood. It was announced that the movie, Grease, would star Travolta opposite my girl, Olivia Newton John. I couldn’t have been more excited. In interviews that I saw on TV, Olivia Newton John presented as being the fresh-faced, innocent, girl-next-door type that I had always imagined her to be. I was fifteen years old when Grease premiered in theatres. It did so to positive reviews, quickly becoming one of the most popular movies of the year. Olivia Newton John was nominated for a Grammy Award for a song called “Hopelessly Devoted to You”. The soundtrack album went on to be the biggest selling live action music soundtrack in history (until topped by Les Miz several decades later). Needless to say, when the time came for me to finally watch this movie, I was pumped! Great music awaited! Superb dancing was on tap. And best of all, I was going to be able to watch my favourite celebrity on the planet on screen for an hour or two, which in those days, seemed like eternity. So, I grabbed my popcorn and my ice cold pop and settled into my seat at the Triple Cinemas in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Let the movie begin!

Olivia Newton John and John Travolta dance together in the movie, Grease.

Grease is a musical that was originally a stage production that had its premiere in Chicago. The success it achieved on stage there, and then on Broadway, convinced producers that it would translate well on screen. The plot involved two characters (Danny/Travolta and Sandy/Newton John) who had had a summer fling and who were now, unbeknownst to each other, returning to the same high school for their senior year. The movie opened with each character discussing their summer romance with their friends. Travolta, who had adopted a more sophisticated demeanour at summer camp, returned to school as the greasy leader of a gang of guys whose only interest was in learning if Travolta had gotten “lucky” with this girl he had met. Olivia Newton John, on the other hand, clutched her school books to her chest and waxed nostalgic as she recounted to her girlfriends how dreamy her summer love had been. Obviously, the two summer lovers meet up again at school and the movie rests upon whether the two can rekindle their romance in this new setting, especially since John Travolta’s character has revealed himself to be something other than the man Olivia Newton John had fallen in love with. For the first three quarters of the movie, I watched sweet, innocent, soft-speaking Sandy wrestle with her desire for Danny against the pragmatism of her understanding that, as a greasy gang leader, Danny was not the sort of boy she thought she would find herself ending up with. I was cheering Olivia Newton John on all throughout this decision-making process, secretly urging her to drop Travolta and pick me instead! But then, the song “You’re the One That I Want” began to play and Olivia Newton John announced her decision by ditching her “nice girl” clothes and donning tight leather instead. I was crushed! As Olivia Newton John announced that she was “open for business”, so to speak, and John Travolta’s eyes bulged out of his head, my heart cratered. My sweet crush had turned into a bad girl. Audiences went wild. The song “You’re the One That I Want” went straight to #1 on the charts and ended up selling over four million copies as a single. The message couldn’t have been any clearer…sweet girls get their hearts broken but girls that “put out” were the real stars of the show.

Danny Zucko is impressed with what he sees.

As a boy who always preferred Mary Ann to Ginger on Gilligan’s Island, Olivia Newton John’s on screen transformation ended my celebrity crush. She capitalized on her newfound success by releasing a series of albums that all employed sexual innuendos such as, “Physical”, “Tied Up” and “Make a Move On Me”. I don’t want to say that I was a naive teenage boy but I was. Watching Grease was one of the very first moments when I started to realize how the world worked for women and how much of their value in society was linked to their sexuality. The leering nature of Travolta’s Danny character when he believes that he is going to get lucky after all has always sickened me. I wish this was not the way of the world. But, as much as I was disappointed when Olivia Newton John appeared all leather clad and ready to play, my admiration for her as a real person increased as I learned more about her own life and the causes she supported and believed in. She has become an animal rights activist and is an outspoken cancer survivor. Olivia Newton John remains a very popular figure in the entertainment world and has eased into respected elder statesperson status with much grace and aplomb. The funny part of it all for me is that she has done it all despite the misogyny of a world filled with men like John Travolta’s character, Danny Zucko, as well as a world filled with judgey types like me who freely cast opinions from the safety of our keyboards. Perhaps all the men of the world…me included…should simply keep our mouths shut and enjoy the music.

The link to the video for the song “You’re the One That I Want” by Olivia Newton John and John Travolta from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Grease can be found here. *A link to the lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the trailer for the film Grease can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of the post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

8 thoughts on “You’re the One That I Want by Olivia Newton John and John Travolta from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Grease…Song #10/250.”

  1. Losing teenage crushes was never easy. Or even young man crushes. Are you familiar with “The Phantom of the Paradise,” the movie that bombed everywhere but in Winnipeg? I spent whole days in the Garrick Theatre on Garry St. In Winnipeg, from opening time to closing time, watching Phoenix (Jessica Harper) jump into bed with Swan (Paul Williams) instead of Winslow (William Finley) because Swan could make her a star. (Winnipeg saved “Phantom” and turned it into the cult movie it is today!) I was never one for musicals, especially big box-office hits. But “Phantom” hit all the tight notes for the person I was then, and I still love the music, even though the movie itself was a D grade.
    Men made certain women into what they are. And now American Republicans are trying to turn everything back to a time when women were nothing but cattle/chattel. I am fighting against them with every fibre in my Word Press body. Men have created a world that cannot sustain life much longer. If women are not allowed to participate even more in how ALL NATIONS are governed it is Good-bye Humanity!
    (Yes, a lot of female politicians are even worse than men, but more women than men are nurturers, and we need nurturers more than we need marauders!)

    1. I share your assertion that the world would be in better shape and that life on the planet would be better, generally speaking, if more woman were in decision-making positions. As a gender, men have done a lousy job of creating environments where the masses can all enjoy a happy life. I am 100% behind the ideas of nurturers caring for the world. I am sure things would be different than they are now. They certainly couldn’t be much worse, that is for sure. I will close by saying that I have not watched Phantom in Paradise but, I always liked Paul Williams so, there is that. Take care.😀

  2. Hi Tom. I know that you will allow me to heartily disagree with your take on Grease.

    Grease is one of my favourite musicals because it takes gender stereotypes and cracks them open.

    As someone who is generally cast in the “good girl” category in life, watching Sandy embrace her sex appeal and harness that power, and watching macho Danny enthusiastically submit to her, is exciting and empowering.

    Sandy is complex in a society that expects her to be one-sided. She refuses to stay in the “virginity” box any longer and doesn’t sacrifice her intelligence when she escapes.

    Rizzo, on the other hand, is caring, loyal, and intelligent, and part of Sandy’s character development is learning to appreciate that the Rizzos in her life are not what society says they are. Frenchie is a career woman in the making. And the fourth girl whose name escapes me, her storyline reveals that the Beauty Myth is a myth: real humans are very attracted to women who cannot be described as skinny.

    The boys’ characters are similarly groundbreaking.

    I think the reason Grease is still wildly popular is because these stereotypes still hold Western society captive and audiences (and actors) still feel exhilarated watching the young characters break free.

    1. P.S. And the girls are all friends in the end, after overcoming the stereotype thrust upon them. The boys are not key to the girls’ friendship. That’s a sure sign that someone on the writing team was feminist.

    2. Thanks for your comment. Of course you are welcome to offer a different take. No problem with that at all. My initial reaction….and I am not looking to start a debate….is that “embracing her sex appeal” is a slippery slope when it comes to how many men view women. I have heard many women state that that being sexually provocative makes them feel powerful and in command. There are just as many males who hear that statement and laugh because having women be all sexual is what makes them, as guys, tick to begin with. For me, I liked her character for who she already was. My reaction was what it was because it seemed to me that she decided she had to change who she was in order to meet his view of who he wanted her to be. Being accepted for who I was, as a male, has always been important to me because I don’t tick many of the boxes on the typical male checklist. I never have. Consequently, wanting to be loved for the person I am resonates with me. When I saw someone on screen who seemed to be like me (nice, sweet, decent, reserved) twisting herself into knots, I didn’t take her transformation as empowerment, I took it as caving in. And I was disappointed. That’s just me. As mentioned in the post, when she emerged in leather, the audience went wild and it wasn’t just the male portion of the audience, either. I imagine there are many who share your take on this. I’m not one of them but, such is life. It’s all good. Thanks, as always, for bringing differing perspectives into my world. It helps me grow as a person and for that I am grateful.

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