Song Magnifier

analyzing music one song at a time

Ode to Olivia by Stella Parton

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It’s no secret that the country music industry has a love/hate relationship with crossover artists.  I would argue that at no time was the hatred more pronounced than in 1974.

olivia

Nobody hates Olivia Newton-John, right?  She’s basically America’s Australia’s the whole world’s sweetheart.   Well, back in 1974 she was the target of an artist-driven campaign against outsiders in country music.  In the early ‘70s, Olivia had made quite a name for herself in the United States, blowing up the country music stations with her albums Let Me Be There and If You Love Me Let Me Know.   Her quiet foray onto the scene was aided by the fact that not many people had yet heard her speak.  After all, an Australian accent can be hard to detect in a country song.  But in 1974 the secret came out in full force when the Country Music Association nominated her for a bunch of awards and named her its Top Female Vocalist of the year.  When she accepted via telecast from London, England, her Australian accent front and center,  speaking about all the “country music fans in Europe,” it was obvious that she did not fit the mold of the industry’s country music superstar.

One could argue that the first real breath of the movement against her happened when the presenter Roy Acuff didn’t even pronounce her name right, calling her “Iyla Newton-John.”  I mean do you really think he couldn’t read the name?  If so, we sure have come a long way since then, with “Olivia” being one of the most popular American girl names for a few decades now!  But immediately after her acceptance speech, Johnny Cash set Acuff straight when he subtly spoke up for her clarifying, “that was Olivia Newton-John.”

Many top country artists of the time lacked Cash’s boundary-breaking mentality towards music.  Rather, several banded together to create an organization to promote tradition in country music.  The short-lived organization, the Association of Country Entertainers (ACE) was spearheaded by George Jones and Tammy Wynette.  Other members of this group included Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty, Bill Anderson, Faron Young, Barbara Mandrell, Porter Wagoner, Hank Snow, Dottie West and Brenda Lee.  They applied pressure to stem the tide of pop music into country and even held their own competing awards show.

Some would argue that ACE died out because the Outlaw Country movement built up steam and made the whole issue a moot point, at least for the time being.  But let’s not forget the role that Stella Parton played in this when she stood against her more famous older sister and wrote and released a song about it!

Olivia, ever gracious, never really got into the argument.  Instead she won over hearts with her persistent presence and respectful yet cheeky attitude.  In 1976 she recorded “I’ll Bet You a Kangaroo,” which was, I think, a nod to the controversy.  A lighthearted song, it referred to the “thunder rising up from way Down Under,” saying “the world is a-waiting for a song,” and “all God’s children just love to dance.”  She would go on to make several more country albums before moving into pure pop.  It’s important to note that Dolly Parton quickly switched allegiance and Olivia’s 1976 album Come On Over would include a cover of Parton’s song “Jolene.”

“Ode to Olivia” is a straightforward song, not really requiring much explanation.  But my favorite part of it is that it has references to seven songs by Olivia Newton-John.  At least I was able to find seven, and I have highlighted and provided links to them for your enjoyment.  The first couplet not only refers to the Olivia Newton-John song “You Ain’t Got the Right,” it also completely copies the tune of the first two lines of that song.  Follow the hyperlinks embedded in the lyrics below to see for yourself!

 

Ode to Olivia By Stella Parton

We ain’t got the right
To say you’re not country
You’re just a country girl
It’s so plain to see

If you’re not a country girl
Neither are we
They don’t treat us this way
When we sing in your country
Who said a country girl
Had to be from Tennessee
We ain’t got the right
To say you’re not country

Let me be there is really what they’re wishin’
They’ve never been mellow
That must be why they’re a kickin’
But we’ve all bought your records
And we’re a hummin’ your last tune
So we ain’t got the right
To say you’re not country

Nudie makes rhinestone suits
I guess he’s made a million
But nobody can copy you
There’s just one Olivia
But you’ve built the bridge
and crossed over into country
And we ain’t got the right
To say you’re not country

Let me be there is really what they’re wishin’
They’ve never been mellow
That must be why they’re kickin’
But we’ve all bought your records, Honey
And we’re hummin’ your last tune

So we ain’t got the right
To say you’re not country

We ain’t got the right
To say you’re not country
We honestly love you

We ain’t got the right
to say you’re not country
You’re just a country girl

It’s so plain to see
We honestly love you

 

 

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