Courtesy Universal Music Group
For the first time in three decades, Grease costars Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta have reunited on record with a new holiday album, This Christmas.
AARP caught up with the old friends, who talked about switching roles on "Baby, It's Cold Outside" (Travolta sings the reluctant girl's part), their favorite holiday songs, and how their personal heartbreaks inspired them to step into a recording studio together one more time.
AARP: It's just a charming Christmas album.
(Unison) Thank you!
AARP: Whose idea was it to reverse the roles on "Baby, It's Cold Outside"?
Travolta: (To Newton-John) Was it yours?
Newton-John: It was us!
Travolta: Well, it wasn't my idea. It was Olivia. I agreed. (Laughter)
Newton-John: We thought it would be a little cheekier.
Travolta: I have an actor's viewpoint, so I said, 'I'll do it if I can play it like, "I don't want to go, Liv, but I know it will be just too naughty if I stay ..." '
Travolta: Like, "Oh my God, if I stay we're gonna do such bad things …"
Newton-John: (Hysterical laughter)
Travolta: "Oh, Liv, I really gotta go!"
AARP: That's a very complex reading of that song.
Newton-John: (Still laughing) We really had a good giggle!
AARP: You know those radio stations that start playing holiday music around Halloween? Which of these tracks would you like to hear playing on one of those stations 20 years from now?
Travolta: Oh, boy, you know, the best thing about this album is nobody can decide what their favorite cut is.
Newton-John: What would you pick, Bill?
Travolta: There you go!
AARP: Well, that's not fair.
Newton-John: Oh, yeah it is! (Laughs)
AARP: OK. I love your version of "The Christmas Song."
Newton-John and Travolta: (Unison) Yeah!
Travolta: Yeah, me, too. You know what? That is one that I would pick! (Laughs)
AARP: I like how it starts with the deceptive piano vamp; you think it's gonna be …
Travolta: "One for My Baby and One [More] for the Road" [the classic Frank Sinatra barroom ballad]. But then it becomes "The Christmas Song."
Newton-John: Yeah, it was John's idea to do that like a bar song.
Travolta: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is very touching.
AARP: That was written as a sad song …
AARP: … And it's not often that singers bring out the melancholy in it, but I think you guys did.
Travolta: Yeah, thank you. I do, too.
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AARP: John is something of a revelation on this album.
Newton-John: Isn't he!
AARP: You really dust off those tenor pipes. Olivia, did that surprise you?
Newton-John: I knew John had distinctive sound, 'cause I've heard him when we were messing around. I think this album is going to surprise people. He has a really great style.
Travolta: Oddly enough, because I started on Broadway, I probably had more vocal training than I did dance or acting. My mother was a singer, and we started early with that stuff.
AARP: Sometimes on duet albums you get a sense that two people have been slapped together and it's,"Well, let's get this over with." But really, you're bringing something else to this album, aren't you?
Newton-John: (Fondly) Yeahhhh. It was a work of love for us. It was John's idea to do the Christmas album. Last year, when they announced that our duet, "You're the One That I Want," was the top-selling duet record in history, I sent John a text to congratulate him. He suggested this album, and I said, "Why don't we do it to benefit our charities?"
Mine is the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia. It's a brand-new cancer center with a wellness center attached to it, which has been my dream for many years, since I went through breast cancer and realized the importance of other healing modalities.
Travolta: And my side goes to the Jett Travolta Foundation [named for Travolta's son, who had autism and died of a seizure in 2009]. I was lost when I lost Jett. I didn't know what to do. One of the things I decided to do was to put a lot of money into seizure research, and a lot of money into autism schools and the like. The Jett Foundation also makes donations to handicapped Olympics and arts. Donating the proceeds also motivated our friends to join us making the record. Because when they knew it was for this incredible hospital that Olivia started and for my son, whom most of them knew, they just felt that it was the right thing to do.
AARP: By "friends," of course, you mean Barbra Streisand and Cliff Richard, and Tony Bennett and James Taylor and Kenny G and Chick Corea. All of them are on the album. That's quite a guest list you've got there.
Travolta: I have to agree. Even I'm impressed! (They both laugh.)
Newton-John: And with a Christmas album, we can raise money every year.
Travolta: Right! I'm still listening to my Johnny Mathis 1960 Christmas album. I hope in 50 years this'll be around, just like that. This and Grease. (Laughter)