Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Uni Records: Banks of the Ohio

Uni Records was not known for a plethora of acoustic music, so finding a Wooden Wednesday selection was a little difficult; however, Olivia Newton-John charted with a recording of a 19th century American murder ballad.

“Banks of the Ohio” was Olivia’s second single for Uni and was released in October 1971. The song peaked only at #94 on the pop charts and crossed over to the Adult Contemporary chart at #34. “Banks of the Ohio” appeared on two American albums: “If Not for You” and “Olivia” – which was different than the “Olivia” album issued elsewhere in the world.

Although sporting the same cover and title as her international release, the American issue of “Olivia” was quite different musically. Six of its 10 tracks were repacked from “If Not for You” and only two songs originally appeared on the international version of the “Olivia” album.

The “If Not for You” album was released on Uni in 1971 while “Olivia” was issued on the newly formed MCA Records label in 1973. The “Olivia” album featured five songs that had been released as singles: “If Not for You,” “Banks of the Ohio,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Just a Little Too Much,” and “Let Me Be There.” The only single up to this point that was missing was “What is Life,” and it had appeared on the international version of “Olivia.” “What is Life” would not appear on an American album until 1992.

Her first American single, Bob Dylan’s “If Not for You,” and her third single, George Harrison’s “What is Life,” both had pop arrangements; however, this second Uni single was a country recording by anyone’s standards. Neither albums’ liner notes reveal the name of the backing vocal group on this release, but their style is in an Oak Ridge Boys/Statler Brothers’ vein.

The song also features a high-strung guitar which was typical for Nashville productions of that day although the single was recorded in London. It’s a wonder that “Banks of Ohio” didn’t chart on the country music side of things, as seven of her later hits were Top 10 country records.

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