Rewinding the Charts: In 1974, Olivia Newton-John Conquered Country
Decades before Taylor Swift's crossover, the Australian parlayed success as a country singer into pop-culture stardom thanks to 'Grease.'
FOR CHILDREN OF THE LATE 1970s who danced around their bedroom to the Grease soundtrack, their awareness of Olivia Newton-John most likely began with her turn as Sandy Olsson, the prim love interest of greaser Danny Zuko (John Travolta). But years before that career-making crossover role, she had grabbed America's attention as the country girl next door who hailed from Melbourne, Australia.
On Oct. 12, 1974, Newton-John, then 26, scored the first of two No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 with If You Love Me, Let Me Know, but that wasn't her first chart achievement that year. Earlier in 1974, the LP had peaked atop the country albums chart, as had her Grammy-winning debut, Let Me Be There.
She continued to make an indelible mark on the genre, landing seven top 10s on Hot Country Songs and edging out icons Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton as the Country Music Association's 1974 female vocalist of the year. Her hot streak continued with her 1975 LP, Have You Never Been Mellow, which also topped the Billboard 200, and her 1976 follow-up, Don't Stop Believin'.
By the late '70s, she was ready to court mainstream audiences. Almost 40 years before Taylor Swift released 1989, Newton-John morphed into the pop star and movie actress that defines her legacy today. Her aerobics-era smash "Physical" topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 weeks in 1981-82 and ranks as the No. 1 song of the '80s. Newton-John last landed in the Hot 100's top 40 with "Soul Kiss" in 1985.
Today, at 67, she is married to her second husband, John Easterling. A breast cancer survivor, she founded the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Center in Melbourne in 2012, and is performing a concert residency at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. And, just last week, she added a new honor to her legendary chart history: her first top 10 on Dance Club Songs (dated Oct. 17), Dave Aude's "You Have to Believe," a reworking of her 1980 Hot 100 No. 1 "Magic," featuring Newton-John and her daughter, Chloe Lattanzi.
A version of this article first appeared in the Oct. 17 issue of Billboard magazine.