Sam by Olivia Newton-John (MCA, 1977)

Olivia Newton-John passed away on Monday. She was one of the most prominent female pop stars of the 70s and early 80s, but most of her records are rarely heard today outside of a dental office. She was the queen of the Adult Contemporary charts during the Me decade and at one time nabbed seven straight #1 hits. This single, the third release from her 1976 album, Don’t Stop Believin’ (good name for a crappy wedding song request), would be her ninth Soft Rock chart-topper. She was also quite literally at the crossroads of her career, and she needed to choose the right path. She came through the Country door back in 1971 with a Dylan cover and survived the first wave of Pop disco from 1974 to 1975. And while she could have easily sung this track on Hee Haw or American Bandstand, she was definitely overdue for a change.

It’s also not like she was burning up the pop charts anymore, either. Even though she already racked up ten Top 40 hits with this one as her eleventh, she hadn’t been in the Top 10 in almost two years. Sam will get to #20 (and #40 on the Country charts), which will be her best showing since 1975’s Something Better To Do, which climbed to #13. The next time we would see and hear from her would be in the Spring of 1978 in Grease, when she traded her ponytail for a perm and her saddle shoes for pumps. We all know that story. Thankfully she made the pivot before her music declined, and Sandra Dee went out on a high note with one of her most delicate ballads of that era.

Written by produced John Farrar along with his Shadows’ cohort Hank Marvin and Don Black, this billowy waltz fits Liv’s sensitive and reassuring voice like a glove. The arrangement here is critical as Farrar knows precisely when to enact the proper orchestral drama each time Olivia’s vocal yearnings need a boost. I would have changed my name to Sam had someone offered a hand like hers to me. In fact, it was around this time as a kid that I found out I had a second cousin named Sam and went to visit him. Family that’s the same age as you can be like a built-in friend, and I associate this song with my one and only trip to see him.

There’s also a rumor that the creators of the classic sitcom, Cheers, were inspired by Olivia Newton-John when they were creating the look of the character Diane Chambers and used this single as a jumping-off point to detail her backstory, including calling Ted Danson’s character, Sam.

Don’t believe me?

 

 

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