X is for Xanadu

Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra composed the song ‘Xanadu’ for Olivia Newton-John which was title song from the soundtrack to the 1980 film Xanadu.  The film features music by Newton-John, Electric Light Orchestra, Cliff Richard, and The Tubes.  The movie was a bomb, so much so that it became driving forces behind the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards, a.k.a., the Razzies which no movie wants to be nominated for.  At the first ever Razzies in 1981, Xanadu was nominated for Worst Picture, Worst Director (which it won), Worst Actor (Michael Beck), Worst Actress (Olivia Newton-John), Worst Screenplay and Worst Original Song for ‘Suspended in Time’, which is literally every award except two.  However, the Xanadu soundtrack became a mega hit and had big commercial success.  It was certified Double Platinum in the US peaking at #4 on the Billboard album chart and it went Gold in the UK.  This song ‘Xanadu’ reached #8 in the US and it is ELO’s first and only #1 hit and Olivia Newton-John’s third #1 hit on the UK charts.

The placer Xanadu received lasting fame in the western world thanks to the Venetian explorer Marco Polo’s description of it in his celebrated book Travels.  The word Xanadu showed up in the poem Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who said he wrote the strange and hallucinatory poem shortly after waking up from an opium-influenced dream in 1797.  Xanadu is the name of the land where Kublai Khan ordered the majestic pleasure-dome to be built.  The word Xanadu came to mean a paradise.  Xanadu is also known as Shangdu, Shang-tu, and Kaiping, and it was allegedly located in Inner Mongolia, northern China, and it was made first the capital and then the summer capital of the Mongol Empire by Kublai Khan.  Distant and mysteriously lost Xanadu, came to represent a place of mystery, splendid luxury and easy living.  In the Orson Welles’ 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane, Xanadu was the name of Charles Foster Kane’s house.  Kane’s Xanadu is a costly nightmare with plenty of ambition and high-concept thinking, but an empty void where the soul and character should be.  Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, is the obvious inspiration for Xanadu, due to the Hearst/Kane comparison that is central to the film.  In 1994, astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope identified the Xanadu Region, a highly reflective area on the leading hemisphere of Saturn’s moon Titan.

‘Xanadu’ was recorded at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany late in 1979 and/or early in 1980 with both Olivia Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra present for the full session.  Olivia sang the lead and harmony vocals, while Jeff Lynne sang all backing and additional harmony vocals.  The song had earlier been recorded as a demo.  This demo was provided to the motion picture’s producers and the dance sequences for the motion picture were filmed to the demo rather than the final song.  Therefore, when it came time to record the final song at the studio in Germany, the band had to match the final song’s beat to the imperfect beat of the demo, so that the final song would work with the parts filmed for the motion picture.  As a result, the beat of the song is slightly off tempo although not noticeably by most people.  Jeff Lynne has stated on multiple occasions that although he considers the song to be a bit soft or light, it’s still one of his most favorite songs that he wrote.  It is also a rare instance of an ELO hit that has no instrumental bridge.

In 2000, for the Electric Light Orchestra Flashback boxed set, ELO recorded a new version of the song with Jeff Lynne singing the lead vocal parts.  On this set the song is subtitled as “New Version” (which seems a bit of a misnomer given that it’s old enough to grow hair now).  The basic structure of the song is the same, however many of the keyboard parts are replaced by guitar and overall, it’s a more guitar-oriented version of the song.

Xanadu carries a message about dreams coming true, but why was it a place where nobody dared to go?  This Xanadu is not in Mongolia, it is a roller-skating rink that Terpsichore one of the nine Muses and goddess of dance and chorus takes an interest in.  Oliva Newton John plays this muse but she calls herself Kira and she tries to convince her two friends to open a disco club, and at this time disco was already going out of style.  Kira delights in dancing and she would like to see the roller-skating rink filled with people again sharing the love that came to be known, or called Xanadu.  This kind of love will light up the pleasure center in your brain and there is a chance that it could take your breath and leave you blind.  Although, if you open your eyes, you will see that what we made is real and we are in Xanadu.  A million lights are dancing, and there you are, a shooting star, which is an everlasting world, and you’re here with me eternally.

A place where nobody dared to go
The love that we came to know
They call it Xanadu
(It takes your breath and it’ll leave you blind)
And now, open your eyes and see
What we have made is real
We are in Xanadu
(A dream of it, we offer you)

A million lights are dancing and there you are, a shooting star
An everlasting world and you’re here with me, eternally

Xanadu, Xanadu
(Now we are here) in Xanadu
Xanadu, Xanadu
(Now we are here) in Xanadu

Xanadu, your neon lights will shine for you, Xanadu

The love, the echoes of long ago
You needed the world to know
They are in Xanadu
(With every breath you drift away)
The dream that came through a million years
That lived on through all the tears
It came to Xanadu
(The dream you dream, well it will happen for you)

A million lights are dancing and there you are, a shooting star
An everlasting world and you’re here with me, eternally

Xanadu, Xanadu
(Now we are here) in Xanadu
Xanadu, Xanadu
(Now we are here) in Xanadu

Now that I’m here
Now that you’re near in Xanadu
Now that I’m here
Now that you’re near in Xanadu, Xanadu

14 thoughts on “X is for Xanadu

  1. Never seen the film either. Never even heard of it and now that I’m aware of it, I honestly don’t think I want to see it. Xanadu sounds like an intriguing word for paradise.

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  2. I’m pretty sure I saw this movie probably on TV at some point. Can’t say I liked it much. It has a pretty nice story line going for it, and lots of glitz and even Gene Kelly! Too bad it didn’t do so well. 🙂

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