If Madonna was the pop charts’ “It girl” of the mid-80s, then Olivia Newton-John had to have had that role in the late 70s and early 80s.* With the release of Grease, Olivia Newton-John’s fame vaulted into the stratosphere. During that period, her music was found on pretty much every top 40 station and almost every adult contemporary station as well. Some of those hits still get some airplay (particularly the songs from Grease), but others are long forgotten. For example, Ms. Newton-John’s top 20 hit “Deeper Than the Night” hasn’t been heard in terrestrial radio in some time.
The transformation of Olivia Newton-John
Olivia Newton-John first burst onto the American music scene in 1971 with a #25 hit called “If Not For You”. She promptly followed that up with absolutely no hits for two years. She made a bit of a comeback starting in 1973 with a string of top three AC hits, including eight #1 hits and two which also hit #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Her hits also crossed over to the country chart a lot during that period.
But it was with the massive success of Grease that Ms. Newton-John began to modify her image in a somewhat similar manner to her character Sandy. Moving away from the AC/country hybrid to a more CHR-friendly, uptempo sound (and following the general trend of pop music at the peak of the disco era), she released Totally Hot in November 1978, five months after Grease came out. The change appeared to work for her, as the album proceeded to go platinum.
(Totally Hot hit #7 on Billboard’s Top LPs & Tape chart. Album ℗1978 MCA Records. Photo courtesy Amazon.)
The first single from Totally Hot, “A Little More Love”, duplicated the successes of Olivia Newton-John’s singles from Grease. It hit #3 in early 1979 and turned out to be one of the biggest hits of the year.
The second single, “Deeper Than the Night”, tells the story of a woman trying to convince her partner of her love. (Here the author remembers hearing the song multiple times in the car on the local MOR station.)
“Deeper Than the Night” entered the Hot 100 rather inauspiciously, ranking at #79 for the week ending April 14, 1979 (chart | magazine). Unlike “A Little More Love”, this single was unable to crack the top ten, peaking at #11 for the week ending June 9 (chart | magazine). Following that, it took a rather severe nosedive, lasting only four more weeks before falling off the chart entirely (for a total of only 13 weeks on). Perhaps not surprisingly, given the short length of its chart run, “Deeper Than the Night” did not make it onto the year-end chart.
The single fared a bit better on the Adult Contemporary chart, though. It peaked at #4, where it stayed for two weeks, and lasted 14 weeks on that chart. It didn’t make the year-end top 50 for that chart, though, either.
After “Deeper Than the Night”
The third single from Totally Hot turned about to be the title track. “Totally Hot”, while (in my opinion) catchy, failed to make the top 40, while its flip side, “Dancin’ Round and Round”, made a decent showing on the Country chart.
Of course, the next couple of years brought Olivia Newton-John to much greater heights. 1980 saw the release of what would be her biggest charting Adult Contemporary hit, “Magic” (which also spent four weeks at #1 in August of that year). And, of course, 1981’s “Physical” spent ten weeks at number one and was ranked by Billboard as the #1 song of the entire decade.
In 1985, following the birth of her daughter Chloe, Olivia Newton-John took a long break from recording and acting to care for her daughter. Unfortunately, when she returned to the studio, the pop music scene had moved on. She never returned to the top 40 after 1985.
Forgetting “Deeper Than the Night”
Perhaps a contributing factor to the forgetting of “Deeper Than the Night” was its exclusion from 1982’s Olivia’s Greatest Hits Vol. 2. The only compilation album from Olivia Newton-John that this author owns, Vol. 2 contains the Grease hits and most of the other big hits from 1978 to 1982, but, for some reason, “Deeper Than the Night” was left out. The track did make it onto the next greatest hits compilation, 1992’s Back to Basics: The Essential Collection 1971-1992, though by then, I would argue that “Deeper Than the Night” had already been quite forgotten.
* I would say Donna Summer had that title in 1979, when this particular single came out, but Ms. Newton-John certainly took the title a couple of years later.
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