Sound & Vision: XANADU - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Sound & Vision: XANADU

Open your eyes and see...

Back in 1980, Olivia Newton-John was a major chart act. Having scored massive hits from the film Grease her return to a musical feature, in a film which also starred legendary Hollywood actor Gene Kelly (in what would be his final role), was hyped to be a massive hit at the cinema. That movie was Xanadu, the title taken from the summer capital of Kublai Khan's Yuan Dynasty in China which appears in a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that is quoted in the film. It's also the fictional name of Kyra's (Newton-John) mythical home in the movie, plus the nightclub she performs in at the film's end is named, in honour of her home, Xanadu.

Originally conceived as a relatively low-budget roller disco picture, as a number of prominent performers like Newton-John and Kelly joined the production it evolved into a much larger project, while retaining rollerskating as a recurring theme. The story is something of a muddle, with Olympus Muses, magical murals and forbidden love, it lacks in logic and upon release, Xanadu, like the lyrics of the song, proved to be a place were nobody dared to go!

Arriving in cinemas on August 8th 1980, Xanadu was a box office flop, barely making back its $20 million budget. The film earned largely negative critical reviews and was an inspiration for the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards to recognise the worst films of the year.

Despite the lackluster performance of the film, the soundtrack album released in June 1980 became a huge commercial success around the world. The original LP release featured one side of songs by Newton-John, and on side two songs by Electric Light Orchestra, with Jeff Lynne and his band being equally massive in both the UK and US pop-charts of the time.

In 1980, when the Xanadu soundtrack album was released, Olivia Newton-John was signed to MCA Records, while ELO were signed to Jet Records. A compromise was worked out between the two companies in that the album was released on MCA in the US and Canada, and on Jet in the rest of the world.

The soundtrack was certified double platinum in the United States, with the title track above (a collaboration by Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra) reaching number one in the United Kingdom and many other countries around the world.

But that's not all. Long after the film was forgotten at the cinema, the soundtrack continued to spawn hits. The song Magic was a U.S. number one hit for Newton-John, and her duet with Cliff Richard, Suddenly, hit number twenty. All Over the World and I'm Alive were big hits for the Electric Light Orchestra, reaching 13 and 16 respectively.

Xanadu the film has since become a cult classic for the way it mixes the storyline from an old-fashioned 1940s fantasy with modern (for 1980 that is) aesthetics, and of course the inclusion of some very strong pop music. It's legacy is such that in 2007 Xanadu was adapted into a Broadway musical.

The show humorously parodied the plot of the film and became a surprise hit, being nominated for several Tony Awards. After closing on Broadway a successful national tour followed, inspiring a DVD Magical Musical Edition re-release of the film and a remastered soundtrack album.

Forty years on from its release, Xanadu the film remains an oddity. Timeless in parts, dated heavily in others, disjointed in storytelling, cringe-worthy in execution. But the one aspect which shines through is its soundtrack which still remains very strong. The album, and especially its title track, will transport you to a very happy & magical disco-tinged place. Proving that the lyrics were correct once again; even after 40 years the neon lights still shine through for you, Xanadu.

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