The Meaning Behind “Please Mr. Please” by Olivia Newton-John and How It Was Inspired by a Songwriter’s Breakup with Her

Before she toggled between acting and singing, and seemed to have major hits with everything she touched in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Olivia Newton-John enjoyed outstanding success as a crossover artist, sliding back and forth between pop and country with ease. Her 1975 Top-5 hit “Please Mr. Please” served as a prime example of this talent.

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What was the song about? Who were the writers, and what was their connection to the artist? And how did that song mark the end for Newton-John’s early hot stretch? Let’s go back and find out all the details on this enduring song.

Saying “Please”

Between 1973 and 1975, Olivia Newton-John ripped off five Top-5 pop hits in the U.S., with “Please Mr. Please” at the tail end of that streak. Interestingly enough, Newton-John also scored No. 1 country hits with those songs, which included “I Honestly Love You” and “Have You Never Been Mellow.”

That rankled some country music traditionalists, who suggested these songs were more in the pop music lane. When she was named CMA Female Artist of the Year of 1974 over folks like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, it caused quite the stir. But Newton-John soldiered on doing what she was doing, which was simply interpreting the material that came her way.

Of all those early hits, “Please Mr. Please” stood out as the one that felt most “country.” With its references to Nashville and Kentucky whiskey, it seemed like an attempt to win over even the most traditional country fans. Which is odd because it was written by a pair of Brits, one of whom was reeling with heartbreak over a breakup with Newton-John herself.

Out of the Shadows

One of the first big breaks Newton-John received in show business was performing with Cliff Richard on British television. Richard was a pop music legend in England whose success predated The Beatles. His backing band was The Shadows, and they featured a pair of musicians who would help out Newton-John on her early records.

Bruce Welch was The Shadows’ guitarist, and he became romantically involved with Newton-John. He also produced many of her early hits. John Rostill, The Shadows’ bassist, wrote her smashes “Let Me Be There” and “If You Love Me (Let Me Know).” The two wrote “Please Mr. Please” together, with the inspiration coming from Welch and Newton-John breaking up.

Welch released his own version of the song in 1974, but it didn’t gain much traction. But Newton-John, ironically playing the role of the heartbroken one in the song, knocked it out of the park with her version, which hit in 1975. Sadly, Rostill wasn’t around to see its success, as he died by suicide in 1973 at only 31 years old.

What is “Please Mr. Please” About?

“Please Mr. Please” makes the case that wallowing in a bar over a lost love is acceptable. And if that bar starts playing music that makes you think of that lost love, you’re in big trouble. As Newton-John sings, Please, mister, please, don’t play B-17 / It was our song, it was his song, now it’s over.

The verses set the scene, as she describes the jukebox (ah, the days when you could get five selections for a quarter), and how she’s OK most of the time: ‘Til some button-pushing cowboy plays that love song / And here I am, just missing you again. She’s trying to gain some perspective, but it’s getting increasingly difficult, considering she doesn’t have much left from the relationship: Just a note that said “I’m sorry” by your picture / And a song that’s weighing heavy on my mind.

Newton-John’s success on both the pop and country charts cooled off for a few years after that, although she dominated the adult contemporary world for a while. In 1978, she made a little movie called Grease and her career took off in a lucrative new direction. But “Please Mr. Please” is a nice reminder of how suited she was to tear-in-your-beer country weepers.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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