How Bob Dylan and George Harrison ‘Helped’ Olivia Newton-John Land Her First Hit

Years before Olivia Newton-John left her cinematic mark as Sandy Olsson in Grease, the late Australian singer-songwriter already had a number of hits from her first 10 albums.

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First breaking out in the early 1970s, Newton-John released her debut If Not For You in 1971, a covers album of contemporary artists from the 1960s and early ’70s. The album featured her renditions of the Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster-penned “Me and Bobby McGee,” later becoming a posthumous hit for Janis Joplin, and the title track, which she pulled from Bob Dylan’s 11th album New Morning.

Newton-John’s Dylan cover became her first hit, topping the charts internationally, including the U.S. on the Billboard Easy Listening chart, where it spent three weeks. Her tender rendition of “If Not For You” also broke the top 40 of Billboard Hot 100 chart at No. 25, and peaked at No. 7 in the UK.

[RELATED: The Risqué Meaning Behind Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical”]

Dylan’s “If Not For You”

First recorded by Dylan for New Morning in 1970, “If Not For You” was a love song he penned to his first wife, Sara. Dylan recorded the song several times before using the version he cut in New York City.

If not for you
Babe, I’d lay awake all night
Wait for the mornin’ light
To shine in through
But it would not be new
If not for you

If not for you
My sky would fall
Rain would gather too
Without your love I’d be nowhere at all
I’d be lost if not for you
And you know it’s true

Dylan also recorded another version of “If Not For You” with George Harrison at the Columbia Records Studio B in New York several months earlier, and shortly after the break up of The Beatles. This version remained unreleased until the 1991 release of Dylan’s The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased).

George Harrison’s “If Not For You”

Prior to releasing his first post-Beatles solo release, the triple album All Things Must Pass, Harrison had co-written another song with Dylan, “I’d Have You Anytime,” which also served as the opening track of the album.

[RELATED: 13 Songs You Didn’t Know Olivia Newton-John Wrote]

Harrison and Dylan rehearsed “If Not For You” for the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden in New York City, but decided against performing it live. Their rehearsal footage later appeared in the 2005 documentary of the concert.

Though Dylan recorded the song more than two decades earlier, he first performed “If Not For You” live in 1992.

Harrison’s arrangement of “If Not For You” was the same used by Newton-John in 1971.

Photo: Ross Gilmore/Redferns

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