This was written by the leading American songwriter Jeff Barry ("Be My Baby
," "Sugar, Sugar
") and the Australian singer/songwriter Peter Allen, who was working on his album Continental American
. Allen brought Barry in to write, and they came up with "I Honestly Love You." They made a demo of the song for their own purposes, but somehow that demo made its way to
Olivia Newton-John's producer John Farrar, who played it for the singer.
Olivia loved the song, but Allen wanted to keep it for himself. Barry convinced him that letting Olivia record it was a good idea, since she was one of the most popular singers in the world, and more likely to have a hit with it. Allen agreed, and it proved a shrewd move; the song became a huge hit and helped launch Allen's career as a songwriter.
This song is about a couple who clearly have a spark, but are also attached to others (perhaps married). The singer explains that despite their chemistry, she's not going to do anything about it. Why? Because she honestly loves him.
The song was written from the perspective of a guy, so the intention isn't so pure. "I thought it would be a really sexy song for a guy to sing - 'I'm not trying to sleep with you,'" Jeff Barry explained in More Songwriters on Songwriting. "I honestly love you. No one had ever said that before. And I thought any girl who would hear that would have to say, 'Well, can we just do it once?'"
Like most of Olivia's hits, this was produced by her fellow Australian John Farrar. Farrar was a former member of The Shadows who took up songwriting and arranging for Olivia. He had known her from the early days and he later married Pat Carroll, who for a time sang in a duet with Olivia and later became her business partner.
Olivia Newton-John recorded this in London. She said: "I remember in a little tiny rickety studio, it was so small. The control room was upstairs and John Farrar was up there with the engineer and I was underneath and they had to sit still because it would creak, and you'd hear it in the microphone." (courtesy: debbiekruger.com
This won 1974 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance. It was Olivia Newton-John's first ever #1 in the US and Canada, and it also topped the charts in Australia.
Peter Allen included this song on his Continental American
album and released it as a single after Newton-John's version came out. Allen, who was married to Liza Minnelli for a few years, also wrote "Don't Cry Out Loud
," which was a hit in the late '70s for Melissa Manchester in the US and Elkie Brooks in the UK. In 1977 his song "I Go to Rio" shot to #1 in the Australian charts thanks to its promotional video. This showed the growing influence of the music video as a marketing tool. In 1992 he died of an AIDS-related throat cancer.
The song was re-released in 1977 in the US, backed with "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," and this time it reached #48. In the UK it was re-issued in 1983 peaking at #52. In 1998, Olivia recorded a new version which featured Babyface on background vocals and this time she reached #67, her first US chart single in 6 years.
The song is referred to in the 2001 film The Wedding Planner, when Jennifer Lopez' character Mary opines that any couple who chooses this for their wedding song is doomed to divorce in under a year.
This is briefly heard playing on Chief Brody's radio in the 1975 movie Jaws.
Andy Williams covered this on his 1974 album, You Lay So Easy On My Mind.
Newton-John's daughter, Chloe Lattanzi, performed a rock version of this for the "New Spin on Parent's Song" category on the short-lived MTV reality show Rock The Cradle, a singing competition with celebrity offspring as the contestants. Chloe finished in third place behind Jesse Blaze Snider (Twisted Sister singer Dee Snider's son) and winner Crosby Loggins, son of Kenny Loggins. Chloe's dad is Matt Lattanzi, a dancer and actor Newton-John met on the set of Xanadu. They were married from 1984 to 1995.
In her 2019 memoir, Don't Stop Believin', Newton-John recalled when she first heard the song: "My heart stopped when I heard the lyrics: 'I love you… I honestly love you.' It was so simple, with a meaning that was deeper than the ocean. Those words made me stop and think because they touched me. I could certainly relate, and I knew that everyone would be able to make those words fit their own personal story of love and perhaps even loss. Just putting the word 'honestly' into the mix made it even more poignant. No lies. No denying it. I honestly love you."
Newton-John recorded this in three takes, with the first take being the winner. She recalled the session: "I sang it from my heart. I'm not a power singer but more of an interpretive one. Part of that song sounds like it's almost a whisper, which seemed right because it was about the most tender and sensitive emotions in life."