Wednesday, March 18, 2020

CD Odyssey Disc 1352: Soundtrack

Welcome back to the CD Odyssey! There’s a chance that you’re currently stuck in your house for 14 days. Don’t despair if this is you – there isn’t anything open for you to visit anyway. Also, one of the great things you can do in your home is listen to a little inspirational music. Here’s some of that for your consideration. If it doesn’t quite get you there, then go one step further and watch the movie.

Disc 1352 is….Xanadu Soundtrack
Artist: Mostly Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra

Year of Release: 1980

What’s up with the Cover? In Xanadu, did Kublai Khan a stately art deco font decree…

When my mom remarried, we moved in with my awesome stepfather, Lawrence, who lived in a rural house right on the beach. Lawrence and my Mom quite rightly regarded the place as a paradise and named it “Xanadu” (it was the eighties, and this was not as hokey then as it sounds now…).

I agreed to make a wooden sign tracing the font from the album cover. I had grandiose plans of first carving the shape out of wood, and then painting it for installation at the front of the driveway. A combination of teenage laziness and a complete lack of talent with woodworking meant that project was never completed, but I had good intentions.

How I Came To Know It: I knew this album since the movie came out when I was a kid. Unlike a lot of boys my age, I did not love this movie solely because Olivia Newton-John was incredibly hot. I liked it for three distinct reasons: 1. I liked the music, 2. The movie was loosely based around the Greek myth of the nine muses and 3. Olivia Newton-John was incredibly hot.

Anyway, the album was pretty popular and either my mom or stepdad owned it (I forget who) and I’d put it on from time to time. I never thought to get it as an adult, but Sheila is a huge fan and so I bought it for her as a present recently. In the process, I was reminded that I like it too.

How It Stacks Up:  I have a lot of soundtracks, and every time I think I’m done I end up with a few more and have to put out a new ranking list. This is one of those times. “Xanadu” holds its own, and has some sentimental value going for it as well. I’ll rank it #12 out of 33. Here’s the exhaustive recap:

  1.  The Harder They Come: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 371)
  2. Saturday Night Fever: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 392)
  3. Hedwig and the Angry Inch: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 225).
  4. True Detective: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 942)
  5. The Matrix:  4 stars (reviewed at Disc 291)
  6. Magnolia:  4 stars (reviewed at Disc 181)
  7. Crooklyn:  4 stars (reviewed at Disc 75)
  8. Swingers:  4 stars (reviewed at Disc 12)
  9. A Kind of Magic: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 749)
  10. Flash Gordon: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 659)
  11. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 681)
  12. Xanadu: 3 stars (reviewed right here)
  13. Into the Wild:  3 stars (reviewed at Disc 260)
  14. Pulp Fiction:  3 stars (reviewed at Disc 102)
  15. Elizabethtown:  3 stars (reviewed at Disc 33)
  16. Highway 61:  3 stars (reviewed at Disc 230)
  17. O Brother Where Art Thou:  3 stars (reviewed at Disc 386)
  18. Buffy The Vampire Slayer:  3 stars (reviewed at Disc 216)
  19. Reservoir Dogs:  3 stars (reviewed at Disc 116)
  20. Jackie Brown:  3 stars (reviewed at Disc 30)
  21. Transamerica:  3 stars (reviewed at Disc 402)
  22. Les Miserables:  3 stars (reviewed at Disc 111)
  23. Heavy Metal:  2 stars (reviewed at Disc 1327)
  24. Big Night:  2 stars (reviewed at Disc 215)
  25. The Warriors:  2 stars (reviewed right here)
  26. James Bond:  2 stars (reviewed at Disc 103)
  27. One From the Heart: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 935)
  28. About a Boy:  2 stars (reviewed at Disc 252)
  29. Chess:  2 stars (reviewed at Disc 156)
  30. Honeymoon in Vegas:  2 stars (reviewed at Disc 17)
  31. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat:  1 star (reviewed at Disc 284)
  32. Moulin Rouge:  1 star (reviewed at Disc 151)
  33. Natural Born Killers:  0 stars (reviewed at Disc 302)
Ratings: 3 stars but almost 4

You can be as cheesy as you like, as long as you write good songs. On this soundtrack the songwriting talents of John Farrar and Jeff Lynne combine to prove just that. This stuff is vintage 1980 cheese, but listening to this album, you won’t care. You’ll just have a good time, which was what the movie and the music wanted you to do all along.

On the soundtrack, Farrar and Lynne basically get one side each. This would have been great on a cassette or vinyl – maybe even 8-track if you got lucky with those random places the buttons used to take you on those things. If you only liked one of the artists, you could skip the other one. Of course if you did that, you’d be an idiot; they are both oodles of fun. Just play the whole thing, flipping it over if your format requires it.

Overall, the Lynne/ ELO tracks are the stronger songs, but it helps that Farrar’s tracks get more of Olivia Newton-John’s sweet pop vocals. Newton-John has a great voice that infuses every song she sings with a natural joy.

My favourite of Side One is “Suddenly,” which is a duet between Newton-John and some British singer named Cliff Richards. This is one of those songs that is really hard to sing, but that everyone sings along with anyway because it just feels so good to belt out “suddenly…the wheels are in motion…” with Cliff and Olivia. It’s like starring in your own romantic musical.

Less good is “Dancin’” a weird mashup of big band and rock (a duet between Newton-John and the Tubes) that is stitched together like Frankenstein’s Monster. Each song is passable on its own, but really annoying and unfocused as some kind of pre-Pitch Perfect experiment.

ELO takes over for Side Two, with their signature synth-rock sound. Not everyone likes ELO’s deal, but if you’re like me and you do, “Xanadu” features some of their best stuff. The space age anthem of “I’m Alive” is as life-affirming as the similarly titled Pearl Jam hit, without all that angst weighing down the fun of it all.

Don’t Walk Away” is a romantic anthem routine that should have long ago been featured on some contemporary dance routine on So You Think You Can Dance, but sadly, has not. C’mon, Travis Wall, throw me a bone.

Side Two’s worst offender is “All Over the World” which is still featured at ELO live shows but has never been a favourite of mine. Feels a bit too much like a Club Med Ad or something.

The album ends with the best of both worlds, with the title track; an ELO song featuring Olivia Newton-John singing lead. The synthy goodness of ELO is paired with ONJ’s pure tones, which even go into an angelic breathy head-voice right when you think it can’t get any better. “Xanadu” is also another sing-along winner, where you can haltingly follow along as Olivia belts out “Xanadu-oo-woo…” and all is right with the world. Lyrically it’s a far cry from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s masterpiece, but who gives a shit? It’s got plenty of synths, strings and anthemic pop glory to make up for it.

“Xanadu” is far from a perfect record, but it is a damn good time, and has some top-notch pop songs. It is also written specifically for a musical, and is arguably the movie’s biggest star, giving all the songs a cohesive theme. That’s more than you can say for most of the soundtracks above, including many that rank ahead of it on the list.

Best tracks: Magic, Suddenly, I’m Alive, The Fall, Don’t Walk Away, Xanadu

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