The word Xanadu showed up in the poem Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). Xanadu is the fictional name of the land where Khubla Khan ordered the dome to be built. The word Xanadu came to mean a paradise. In the movie Citizen Kane, Xanadu was the name of Charles Foster Kane's house.
This was written for the movie musical of the same name. Newton-John starred in the film with Gene Kelly. The movie was a bomb, but the soundtrack, which contained all songs by Newton-John and The Electric Light Orchestra, was a hit.
In the trailer for the film, Olivia-Newton John is billed as "the girl you loved in Grease." This song plays over the end of the trailer. Quite a bit is made of the singing and dancing and starring cast, not much is mentioned about the plot.
Electric Light Orchestra frontman Jeff Lynne wrote this song, which turned off many of the group's hardcore fans who felt they were veering too far into disco territory. The foray into disco was very successful and produced ELO's most popular work, but it got away from their core orchestral sound. They got diminishing returns on their next four albums, and in 1986, the band went on hiatus.
For those of you who have heard of this film's reputation but not yet seen it, you might be asking yourself, "What on earth is so terrible about it?" It's famous for being a box-office flop, but what, did it stink all over? And you might even go hunting down reviews online, only to find a queue of user reviews on IMDB defending it for dear life and crying that it's not that bad.
Here's the gist of it:
The concept, story, and overall dialog is pathetic, even though everything else is great.
They blew $20 million cool ones on the budget for this in 1980! Consider that Star Wars, released just three years previously, had a budget of $11 million. And there's no way Xanadu would have outsold The Force, even with dialogue by Shakespeare.
It's basically a roller-disco fantasy made at a time when (a) disco, (b) roller-skating, and (c) fantasy all became as dead as fried chicken. It was the dawn of the '80s; Reagan was in office and people wanted either hard sci-fi or down-home country folk, and it was time for heavy metal and greed.
The studio executives made bone-headed decisions slapping this together, like with the animated sequence in the middle which just confused the bejabbers out of everybody. It was basically just thrown in for the sole purpose of Universal thumbing their nose at Disney.
Key words from above point: "slapped together." Including one each of every kind of music genre. The whole thing plays like it was built by sugar-hyped six-year-olds who couldn't resist gluing on "one more cool thing," whether it fit or not.
Nevertheless, it is a guilty pleasure, Olivia sings her sweet little heart out, Gene dances up a storm, ELO rocks out, and it's all now an interesting historical period piece with a modern-day cult following.
Electric Light Orchestra released a new version of this song on their 2000 compilation Flashback. This rendition has lead vocals by Jeff Lynne, who sings it in a more subdued manner.
Kelly reluctantly dusted off his dancing shoes for Xanadu. "I had already decided about a year and a half before I did Xanadu that I was through with dancing," he explained in a 1985 interview. "In fact, I wasn't going to dance in Xanadu, but several journalists told me that Olivia Newton-John kept saying how sad she was that she wouldn't get the chance to dance with me. So I finally said, 'All right, throw in a number.' But I'm through with dancing."