"I think the songs are timeless," Newton-John tells Billboard. "They're fun and have great energy. The '50s-feel music has always been popular, and it's nostalgic for my generation, and then the young kids are rediscovering it every 10 years or so, it seems. People buying the album was a way for them to remember those feelings of watching the movie and feelings of that time period. I feel very grateful to be a part of this movie that's still loved so much."
Newton-John—who was a "reluctant Sandy," insisting on doing a screen test after the failure of her 1970 musical film Toomorrow—asked that her frequent collaborator John Farrar be brought in to produce and write two of the four new songs added to the original Broadway score by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. "It's always great fun recording with John [Farrar] because he's been my friend since I was 15," says Newton-John of her fellow Melbourne, Australia native, who she had worked with on hits like 1973's "Let Me Be There," 1974's "I Honestly Love You" and 1975's "Have You Never Been Mellow." "I think John Farrar is one of the greatest songwriters of all time. He's a brilliant musician."
Farrar's first task was to write a showcase ballad for Newton-John. "Apparently they needed a ballad for her that wasn't in the [Broadway] show. Luckily I came up with 'Hopelessly Devoted to You,'" says Farrar of the Oscar-nominated tune that displayed country-pop strains of Newton-John's early solo work. "Obviously it needed to be a brokenhearted song, and it had to have a '50s sort of feel. One of the songs that I always loved was Skeeter Davis' 'The End of the World,' so I wanted to get the same sort of feeling as that song. My song ended up being nothing like that, but that's what started me off on it. I think [Olivia] liked it straight away."
Indeed, when Newton-John heard the "Hopelessly Devoted to You" demo sung by Farrar, she was instantly smitten. "I loved it," she says. "It's a hard song to sing; it's rangy, and so it was challenging. But I thought it was a knockout song." Newton-John's bittersweet vocal perfectly captured the yearning of the lyrics. "She's got that lovely, emotional quality in her voice that people understand," says Farrar. "People just seem to look right into what she's saying somehow."
After "Hopelessly Devoted to You," Farrar went to work on a duet for Newton-John and Travolta. "They asked me if I would try and write the song at the end where they both dance together. So I did 'You're the One That I Want,'" says Farrar. "[Musical supervisor] Bill Oakes was a really big help coming up with the lyrics to that song. He explained to me how the characters would have this transition, that Olivia would become very aggressive."
"You're the One That I Want," which went all the way to No. 1 on the Hot 100, was another immediate hit with Newton-John. "[Farrar] stayed up all night writing it and finishing it, came to my trailer early in the morning, played it for me, and I knew it was a smash. It was just one of those," says the four-time Grammy winner, who lent support to Travolta during the recording of the song. "'It was challenging for Travolta to do because it was really, really high. But he just did an amazing job with it. It was a great stretch for him."
Although Travolta had a top 10 hit on the Hot 100 with his 1976 debut single, "Let Her In," he was more of an unknown quantity for Farrar than Newton-John. "I hadn't really heard that much of John's singing, but I knew he had a sort of cool voice, " says the producer, who recorded Travolta's "You're the One That I Want" vocal in one session. "When he first came to the studio, he was a little apprehensive about it all. He didn't know me from a bar of soap, so it was good to have Olivia there. I was thrilled with the way it turned out."