Physical

Album: Physical (1981)
Charted: 7 1
  • songfacts ®
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  • Lyrics
  • You know how at the end of the movie Grease Olivia Newton-John transforms from a chaste good girl into a leather-clad vixen? She was definitely in vixen mode for this song, which if you are at all paying attention to the lyrics, is blatantly about sex: "There's nothin' left to talk about unless it's horizontally."

    Olivia's real-life image was far more modest than what she portrays in this song, and she was concerned about how she would be perceived. Her managers talked her into recording it, as they knew they had a huge hit on their hands.
  • Songwriters Steve Kipner and Terry Shaddick came up with this song, which was originally titled "Let's Get Physical." Instead of writing about the emotions of love, they decided to write this about the physical side, which many listeners found very refreshing in a pop song. Other songs Kipner helped write include "Hard Habit To Break" by Chicago and "Genie in a Bottle" by Christina Aguilera.
  • The song was released about a month after MTV went on the air, so the video got a lot of spins on the new channel. In the clip, Newton-John is shown teasing fat men as they try to exercise in some kind of locker room/gym. The whole idea of the video as to distract from the fact that the song is about sex, and fat guys working out accomplished that goal.

    Aerobics was just gaining popularity when the song came out, and the video jumped on the trend and included some scenes where Olivia leads a cardio routine the guys can't handle. Eventually, the fat guys are replaced by fit, muscular men who ignore Olivia and pair off, indicating that they are gay. Despite the lascivious themes, the video was a huge commercial and critical hit - it won the Grammy for Video of the Year.
  • This was a #1 hit in the US for an amazing 10 weeks. The only song to that point that stayed at #1 longer was Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog." In America, it was the best-selling single of the '80s.

    For 9 of the 10 weeks that this song topped the charts, "Waiting For A Girl Like You" by Foreigner was the runner-up. When "Physical" did finally fall, it was replaced at #1 by "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" by Hall & Oates. The #2 song that week: "Waiting For A Girl Like You" for the 10th consecutive week.
  • A few radio stations in conservative communities (including Salt Lake City, Utah) refused to play this song because of its veiled sexual content. This just added to the song's popularity and didn't hurt Olivia's reputation as one of the least offensive women in music.
  • After this was released, Newton-John appeared on a US TV special called Olivia Newton-John: Let's Get Physical, which featured this and other songs from her album, along with little skits where we got to know her better. Olivia did a great job of using her acting talents to promote her music, and these TV specials got a huge audience in the days when there weren't a lot of viewing options.
  • The video was directed by Brian Grant, whose experience was mostly on British TV shows. It was his idea to make fun of the overtly sexual lyrics by setting the video in a gym, and the gay reveal at the end (long before "Call Me Maybe"), was also his idea. The choreographer on the shoot was Kenny Ortega, who had worked with Newton-John on the movie Xanadu.
  • Steve Lukather of Toto played guitar on this track. When he came in the studio to record his tracks with the album's producer, John Farrar, he thought it was hilariously lascivious, with no chance of becoming a hit. "That's going to be the big one," Farrar assured him.

    This wasn't the last time Lukather misjudged a song's hit potential: he thought the Toto song "Africa" would go nowhere.
  • A slow and sultry version was recorded by Kylie Minogue for the movie Moulin Rouge, but it was cut by director Baz Luhrmann. Minogue as the Green Fairy was to have performed this song in the movie. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Ross - Brisbane, Australia
  • In 1999 remixed versions of the song, (titled "Physical '99: Single Edit," "Neutron Bomb Mix," "Mustard Deep Dub," & "Mustard Full Vocal") with different vocals and an added vocal bridge, were to be released in the UK, but the single was pulled at the last minute.
  • On her fall 2002 "Heartstrings Tour," Olivia performed an unplugged/bossa nova-style version that was a true crowd pleaser. Due to popular demand by her fans, she recorded this version of the song and included it as an unlisted "bonus" track on her Australian duets album called 2, which was released in November 2002. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    James - Minneapolis, MN, for above 2
  • This was used in a Tropicana Light advertisement that featured oranges exercising. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Tiffany - Dover, FL
  • In a survey by Billboard magazine based on each song's performance on the Hot 100 chart, this was named the #1 Sexiest Song Of All Time. The runner-up was Rod Stewart's "Tonight's The Night," followed by Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love To You" in third place.
  • Bill Murray was the first guest on the very first episode of Late Night with David Letterman. On the show, which aired February 1, 1982, Murray did a manic performance of this song, hamming up the lyrics and doing aerobics per the video. Midway through, he found a female crew member to join him in the number.
  • The Season 1 Glee episode "Bad Reputation" features a parody duet with Jane Lynch and Newton-John.
  • Kipner and Shaddick had Rod Stewart in mind when they wrote this, but Olivia happened to hear the demo and assumed it was for her.
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Comments: 30

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 1st 1982, 'Late Night With David Letterman' debuted on NBC-TV network; it immediately followed 'The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson'...
    The show's first guest was Bill Murray; and he performed a 'mostly comical' cover version of Olivia Newton-John's "Physical"...
    At the time Olivia's "Physical" was at #7* on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; nine days earlier on January 23rd it was at #1 on the chart, and that was also its 70th and last day in the top spot...
    * At the time it was at #7, the record at #8 was by another 'Newton'; "The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)" by Juice Newton.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 8th 1982, Olivia Newton-John performed "Physical" on her own ABC-TV special 'Let's Get Physical'...
    Five months earlier September 27th, 1981 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #66; and on November 15th it peaked at #1 (for 10 weeks) and spent exactly a half-year on the Top 100 (26 weeks; and for 14 of those 26 weeks it was on the Top 10)...
    It also reached #1 in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Switzerland...
    Ms. Newton-John celebrated her 65th birthday five months ago on September 26th (2013).
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxThis song never 'offended' me. I just found it to be dumb and the mass double-entendres unclever.
  • Hannah from Ottawa, OnFunny that some stations found this song "too offensive" for the times. If they could have only seen into the future and heard today's music about booty calls, and call me Mr. Flintstone, I can make your bed rock...
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyDaryl Hall & John Qates; Oh those villains; As stated above "Physical" was #1 for 10 weeks, it knocked Hall & Oakes' "Private Eyes" out of the #1 position but Hall & Oakes returned the favor by replacing "Physical" in the top spot with their "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)". Then that song kept Foreigner from reaching #1 after 9 straight weeks at #2!!!
  • Brian from Boston, MaI loved olivia newton john when the this song came out. Often times while watching the video I would get "Physical"with myself if you know what I mean
  • Paul from Detroit, MiTo Joshua, actually this song kept Waiting For A Girl Like You out of the top spot for 9 weeks, then to add insult to injury, Hall and Oate's I Can't Go For That reached #1 keeping Foreigner at #2 for a tenth week. Amazing.
  • Jennifer Harris from Grand Blanc, MiI remember the song and the video with all these fat slobs,and she's excersing with them. I didn't know about that it was about sex! I thought it was about exercise!
  • Eric from Bend, OrI believe this song is what Robert Palmer may have been referring to in his song "Pride" with the lines "Hey Olivia Newton-John / What you say?" "Pride" was a song about excess exercise, in that too much pride can be dangerous/unhealthy.
  • Rob from Palmyra, Vawhats up with the line near the end "lets get into animal"?
  • Reza from Shiraz, Irana great song andshe didnt realize it was about sex .my eye
  • Sara from Traverse City, MiThis is a good song, considering the topic the video is very well done.
  • Chris from Saline, MiAlso, "Sesame Street" exploited the "workout" bent of the video and created a parody of "Physical" called "Let's All Exercise," featuring some of the characters (including Grover) in workout garb. Later songs like Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" and Madonna's "Material Girl" got the same treatment (as "Teeth Just Wanna Be Brushed" and "Cereal Girl," respectively).
  • Chris from Saline, MiLove this song or hate it (and personally I love it), there's no denying that this song did help expand Olivia's audience and kept her career going strong into the '80s at a time when Barry Manilow, John Denver, Streisand, the Carpenters and others of her '70s MOR radio contemporaries were struggling on the charts. Melissa Manchester ("Midnight Blue," "Don't Cry Out Loud") did something not too different not long afterward with "You Should Hear How She Talks About You," which likewise turned out to be HER biggest hit.
  • David from Youngstown, OhONJ only performs the "unplugged" version of this song in concert for the past few years as if she's ashamed of it. I'm a huge ONJ fan - huge! I love her earlier stuff and could do without this phase of her career. But the point is she was a music superstar during this era and she tones down this song in concert and rarely plays anything else from this time such as "Magic," "Heart Attack" and "Twist of Fate." The only songs she sings in their original form from this era are those from "Xanadu," a movie so bad that it makes the Village People's "Can't Stop the Music" look like "Citizen Kane."
  • Heather from St. John's, Newfoundland, CanadaNewton-John indeed DID know this song was about sex but got cold feet before the release date. She chose the gym setting for the video in an attempt to divert attention from the overt sexual connotations.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScMy point exactly. How could she not realize the song's about sex.
  • Fiona from Napier, New ZealandI just saw Olivia in concert; she sang the newer version of Physical and claimed to have been proud that this song stirred up so much controversy. I'm guessing she got over her initial shock at its naughtiness pretty quickly then.
  • Marto from Sydney, Australiathis was played on an episode of the simpsons.Where homer is watching previous superbowl 1/2 time show when the wedding of mr & mrs pacman is beeing replayed for 8 seconds physical is played
  • Jesus from Bethlahem, IsraelI remember the video to this song. It was great! Maybe Olivia actually thought it was about excercise at first.
  • Julian from Anaheim, CaOlivia looks hot in the video!
  • Joshua from Twin Cities, MnThis song also kept Foreigner's "Waiting For A Girl Like You" out of the top spot on the U.S. charts. Foreigner's song peaked at #2 and stayed there for something like six weeks - all while "Physical" was holding down #1. Foreigner would have to wait four more years to have a U.S. #1 hit ("I Want To Know What Love Is").
  • Simon from Sydney, AustraliaThe songwriters originally wrote this song with the intention of offering it to Rod Stewart. Steve Kipner was playing it to fellow Aussie Roger Davies (Olivia's Manager) and she overheard it, and wouldn't take 'no' for an answer!The rest is history.
    -Simon, Sydney, Australia.
  • Andy from Washington, DcFrom above: "The purpose of the video was to make people think the song was about exercise rather than sex." Huh? The two muscular guys at the end of the video walk off hand-in-hand, leaving a frustrated ONJ behind. The video setting may have played on the exercise double-entendre, but those two guys were not on their way to the stairmasters!
    -Andy, Washington, DC
  • Pete from Nowra, Australiashe's a rebel that Olivia
  • Annabelle from Eugene, OrWhen some people hear the line, "Let me hear your body Talk", and I kid you not, they think of the noise you'd hear when somebody --- ya know --- let's a fart rip!
  • Wes from Springfield, VaONJ didn't know this was about sex? Hello? Was she heavily sedated when she sang the line "There's nothin' left to talk about/unless it's horizontally?" Methinks she protesteth overmuch and was trying to have it both ways. Either that or she's as dumb as she sometimes seemed.
  • Confusing from Sydney, AustraliaThe Olivia Project did not just one but five versions of Physical including long and short "Trance NRG" Mixes, a "Japanese Radio Edit" which also included samples from their cover of Xanadu, a "High Cholesterol Edit" and one other I can't remember, and released it as a single CD called "Physical - The Remixes" (with an extra track of Xanadu)
  • James from Minneapolis, MnThe song has been covered in recordings by many artists including: Kylie Minogue, the Revolting Cocks, Machine Gun Filatio, Kids Inc, Goldfrapp, Loud9, Raffa, Michael Franti with Spearhead, and Paul Mauriat, as well as an Aussie group called the Olivia Project(aka Paula) who does all Olivia's hits.
  • Ken from Clarksville, TnOlivia and A friend of hers was once toss out of an arobics class for clowning around to much. This happened before Physical was released. SO what do you think about that?
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