13 Songs You Didn’t Know Were Written by Olivia Newton-John

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

When Olivia Newton-John first broke out in the early 1970s she was hitting the country charts with her first three albums, including her 1971 debut, If Not For You, a covers album of contemporary artists from the 1960s and early ’70s—from the title track, pulled from Bob Dylan’s 11th album New Morning in 1970 to the Kris Kristofferson- and Fred Foster-penned “Me and Bobby McGee,” later becoming a posthumous hit for Janis Joplin a year after her death.

The album also marked the first time Newton-John would work with longtime musical collaborator, writer, and producer John Farrar.

By the time her second, self-titled album hit in 1972, the British-Australian singer still weaved in some covers along with original tracks, including one contributed by her, “Changes.” Newton-John’s subsequent releases saw more of her original songs sprinkled in. Then in 1994, the artist wrote and produced the album Gaia: One Woman’s Journey entirely on her own. Gaia also marked the first album the singer released since being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, which she battled for 30 years until her death at the age of 73 on Aug. 8, 2022.

Newton-John continued to document her personal fight with cancer as well as her devotion to environmental issues in songs over the next three decades. She even found time to release four holiday albums in between, including two with original material, ‘Tis the Season with Vince Gill in 2000 and Christmas Wish in 2007, and two featuring classic covers—This Christmas with John Travolta in 2012 and her last, Friends for Christmas, with John Farnham in 2016.

To honor Olivia Newton-John as a songwriter, here are more than a dozen deeper cuts, many never released as singles, spanning her 50-year career.

1. “Changes” (1972)
Written by Olivia Newton-John

The tender ballad addresses regrets and the effects on a couple’s child after a separation or divorce. Off Newton-John’s self-titled second album Olivia, the track is the first song Newton-John is credited with writing on one of her albums and also includes another song written by her collaborator Farrar (“My Old Man’s Got a Gun”) in addition to covers of songs by George Harrison, Don McLean, Paul Simon, and more.

The hurtful things we say still penetrate
And whispered sorrys always come too late
Then the damage has been done
What are we going to tell our son?

I want to spare his broken heart
Break it gently that we’ll live apart
Don’t know the proper words to say
He won’t be seeing daddy every day

2. “Rosewater” (1973)
Written by Olivia Newton-John

Released off Newton-John’s third album, Let Me Be There, the singer contributed another soft, country-slanted ballad with “Rosewater.” The album finally broke Olivia-Newton John into the U.S. market and was a precursor to more of the country-pop direction of her music throughout most of the ’70s. 

3. “Love You Hold The Key” (1976)
Written by Olivia Newton-John, John Farrar

Another slow-crooned ballad, “Love You Hold the Key” left the artist’s mark on her eighth album, Don’t Stop Believin’ (no relation to the 1981 Journey hit). The album reached No. 33 on the Billboard 200 and No. 7 on the Top Country Albums chart and received Gold certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The title track, written by Farrar, was covered by Juliana Hatfield on her album Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John in 2018.

4. “Don’t Ask a Friend” (1977)
Written by Olivia Newton-John

Off Newton-John’s ninth album Making a Good Thing Better, which peaked at No. 34 on the U.S. Pop chart and No. 13 on the Country chart, “Don’t Ask a Friend” is the story of a love entanglement between friends.

I’ve known him for so long to me he’s like a brother
And if I needed help will I know there’d be no other
But you’re as close to me as any friend that I have ever known
I’m caught up in between his devil and your dream
Please make your choice on your own

5. “Borrowed Time” (1978)
Written by Olivia-Newton John

By the end of 1978, Olivia Newton-John was already a household name in the U.S. after her breakthrough role as Sandy Olsson in Grease. Releasing her 10th album, Totally Hot, in November of ’78, Newton-John wrote two songs on the album, pop ballads “Talk to Me” and “Borrowed Time.” On the cover, Newton-John is donned in black leather, mirroring her “bad girl” Sandy transformation in Grease. The album was Newton-John’s first album to become platinum, and her biggest success, in the U.S. before Physical in 1981.

6. “The Promise” The Dolphin Song (1981)
Written by Olivia Newton-John

Though the sexier title track “Physical” was the mega-hit off Newton-John’s 11th album, many of the songs on the album were also devoted to environmental and animal rights causes, including the closing track “The Promise (The Dolphin Song).” Featuring the sounds of dolphin whistles and clicks in the beginning, the song is her sweet ode to the ocean and its creatures singing See them play in the moonlight / Watch them dance in the sun / They’re the children of freedom – everyone / As they care for each other / With no question or cause / They deserve to be treasured as a source of love.

7. “Let’s Talk About Tomorrow” (1988)
Written by Olivia Newton-John, Amy Sky and John Capek

Now a few years in between releases with Soul Kiss (1985) sandwiched by Physical and her 13th album The Rumour in 1988, the title track and lead single of the latter was written for Newton-John by songwriting powerhouse of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. The singer also wrote four of her own songs for the album, including “Get Out,” “It’s Not Heaven” and “Car Games”—all co-written with Randy Goodrum— and “Let’s Talk About Tomorrow,” a more upbeat track sending a clear message by Newton-John to protect the planet.

We’re all connected
They have a right to be
But they can’t ask to be protected
I feel the rain burning from the sky

We are to blame,If we just close our eyes
Talk about the children
What will be their legacy
If they have a future

8. “Warm and Tender” (1989)
Written by Olivia Newton-John, John Farrar

On her 14th album, Newton-John took a different turn and sang children’s lullabies, even penning her own, “Warm and Tender,” with Farrar. The title track was a tribute to the singer’s daughter Chloe Rose, who was born in 1986. The album also featured a collection of classics backed by Rodgers and Hammerstein (“You’ll Never Walk Alone”), and even “Rock-A-Bye Baby,” all backed by The Victorian Philharmonic Orchestra.

9. “No Matter What You Do” (1994)
Written by Olivia Newton-John

The first album Newton-John released since being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, Gaia: A Women’s Journey, walked through her personal experiences in songs “Why Me” and “Not Gonna Give into It,” as well as her devotion to environmental issues. Released independently and recorded in Australia in 1993 and 1994, the uptempo lead single “No Matter What You Do” reached the Top 40 within the country. This was the only album entirely written and produced by Newton-John.

10. “Precious Love” (1998)
Written by Olivia Newton-John and Anne Roboff

Recorded in Nashville, Back with a Heart marked Newton-John’s return to the U.S. Country charts after nearly 20 years. The album features a remake of her 1974 hit “I Honestly Love You,” featuring Babyface, and seven songs she co-wrote, including “Love Is a Gift,” which won a 1999 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Song after appearing on the soap opera As the World Turns

11. “Sunburned Country,” featuring Keith Urban (2002)
Written by Olivia Newton-John and Keith Urban

Newton-John wrote three songs off of her 18th album, 2, a collection of collaborations with mostly Australian artists, including Keith Urban on a song they wrote together “Sunburned Country.” The also features a duet with Richard Marx on a song he co-wrote (with Jamey Clewer) for the album, “Never Far Away” and another with Michael McDonald, “Act of Faith,” which Newton-John co-wrote with McDonald and Tommy Sims.

12. “Stronger Than Before” (2005)
Written by Olivia Newton-John, Annie Roboff, and Beth Nielsen Chapman

Finding more encouragement in her health issues, Newton-John’s 20th album Stronger Than Before was dedicated to women who were fighting cancer and also features a re-recording of her 1976 hit “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Newton-John co-wrote four tracks on the album, including “Can I Trust Your Arms” with her daughter Chloe Rose Lattanzi and the title track.

13. “Grace and Gratitude” (2006)
Written by Olivia Newton-John and Amy Sky

“Grace and Gratitude” reflects how Newton-John lived. Off her 21st album of the same name, which was re-released in 2010 to benefit various cancer charities, the song was also re-released in 2016 on Newton-John’s collaborative album Liv On with Amy Sky Beth Nielsen Chapman.

Thank you for life
Thank you for everything
I stand here in Grace and Gratitude
And I thank you …

Seasons come and seasons go
No matter what we choose
A thousand names
A thousand roads
All lead to one simple truth

(Photo by Imelda Michalczyk/Redferns)

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