Physical (Olivia Newton-John song)

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Single by Olivia Newton-John
from the album Physical
B-side "The Promise (The Dolphin Song)"
Released September 1981
Recorded January 1981
Length 3:45
Label MCA
Producer(s) John Farrar
Olivia Newton-John singles chronology
  • "Physical"
  • (1981)

"Physical" is a song by Australian recording artist Olivia Newton-John for her twelfth studio album Physical. It was released in September 1981, by MCA Records as the lead single from the project. The song was written by Steve Kipner and Terry Shaddick, who originally intended to offer it to British singer-songwriter Rod Stewart, while production was handled by John Farrar.[2]

The song was an immediate success, shipping 2 million copies in the United States, being certified Platinum, and spending 10 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, ultimately becoming Newton-John's biggest American hit. The song reached number 7 on the UK chart in November.[3] The song was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and won the Billboard Award for Top Pop Single. "Physical" went on to become the biggest-selling single of the decade in the US.[citation needed]


Recorded in early 1981, it first rose to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in America in November 1981 and stayed there for 10 weeks, until near the end of January 1982. In terms of chart placement, it was the most popular single of her career in the U.S., as well as her final number-one (to date). Billboard ranked it as the number one pop single of 1982 (since the chart year for 1982 actually began in November 1981), and it was also the most successful song on the Hot 100 during the 1980s.[citation needed] The guitar solo was performed by Steve Lukather.

"Physical" was both preceded and followed in the #1 chart position by recordings of the duo Hall & Oates. "Private Eyes" yielded its top spot to "Physical" in November 1981, and "Physical" yielded to "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" the following January. "Physical" held "Waiting for a Girl Like You" by Foreigner at #2, off the top of the Hot 100 for nine weeks, and "I Can't Go For That" held Foreigner's hit at #2 for the tenth and final week.

The single, slightly edgier than she had been known for in the past (such as her songs from Grease and her country-pop ballad "I Honestly Love You"), proved to be immensely popular both in America and in the United Kingdom, despite the fact that the song was censored and even banned by some radio stations; due to its sexual content, for example the line: "There's nothing left to talk about unless it's horizontally", in spite of Newton-John's status as the reigning queen of soft-rock music at the time, "Physical" peaked at only number twenty-nine on the AC chart (its follow-up, the slightly softer-edged "Make a Move on Me," found more acceptance at AC radio and went to number six AC as well as number five pop). The song was a big dance hit, crossed over to the Billboard R&B chart peaking at #28 there, and spawned a music video.

In the United Kingdom the single was not nearly as massive a success as in America, but still became a big hit, reaching #7. It also certified Silver.[4]

Music video[edit]

The music video was directed by Brian Grant.


The controversial music video that was released to promote the song featured Newton-John in a gym with well-built men in the last half. Some of the scenes have sexual subtext, such as the shower scene or when Olivia rubs herself on the men.

The video featured a lusty Olivia, dressed in a tight leotard, as a gym teacher trying to make several overweight men healthy. She repeatedly tries to make the men lose weight, but her plans fail and she leaves the room to take a shower. Suddenly, the men work out on their own, and they transform into muscular attractive men. In one part, one muscular man glances at his overweight self. Olivia is shocked when she sees this, and starts to flirt with them. At the end, two of the men secretly go out, holding hands, implying they are gay. Olivia is surprised to see this and as two more of the men leave with their arms around each other, she discovers the last of the overweight men is straight and they go off to play tennis together. The gym setting may have been partly an attempt to divert attention from the overt sexual connotations of the term "physical". This was further emphasized by the twist comedy ending of the video, when the transformed men who are now oblivious to Newton-John's advances are ultimately revealed to be gay (this was also a source of controversy; MTV frequently cut the ending when it aired the video, and the sometimes sensuous nature of the video also led to it being banned outright by some broadcasters in Canada and the United Kingdom).


The Olivia Physical video (where "Physical" music video was included) won a Grammy Award for Video of the Year in 1983. The video was featured on Pop-Up Video on VH1 and was the first video to air on Beavis and Butt-head, on which they changed the channel to "I Wanna Be Sedated" by The Ramones.


Billboard ranked the song at #6 on its All Time Top 100[5] and #1 on Top 50 Sexiest Songs Of All Time.[6][7]

The revamped bossa nova version of the song was released on the 2002 Olivia duet album (2) as a bonus track; this version replaces the original in latest tours of Newton-John. A Newton-John duet with Jane Lynch was displayed in the episode "Bad Reputation" of the television series Glee.

Most recently, in 2010, Matthew Wilkening of AOL Radio ranked the song at #39 on the list of the 100 Worst Songs Ever, stating that "An entire generation's leg-warmered, pastel spandex shame is laid bare in just under four minutes."[8]

The instrumental version of the song featured in a 1984 advert for the Talbot Samba car on British television.[9]

Cultural references[edit]

When Olivia appeared as herself in an episode of Ned & Stacey, Stacey offered her a drink of "Fizzy Cola" in a play on the term 'physical'.

The song was featured in an episode of The Simpsons called "Homer and Ned's Hail Mary Pass", in the 1980 Super Bowl half time show.

Cover versions[edit]

Charts and certifications[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "Physical - Olivia Newton-John - Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards - AllMusic". AllMusic. 
  2. ^ Juke Magazine, 13 March 1982.
  3. ^ "American single certifications – Olivia Newton-John – Physical". Recording Industry Association of America.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH
  4. ^ "British single certifications – Olivia Newton-John – Physical". British Phonographic Industry.  Enter Physical in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Click Search
  5. ^ [1][dead link]
  6. ^ "The 50 Sexiest Songs Of All Time Page 5". Billboard. Retrieved 2014-05-13. 
  7. ^ Video on YouTube
  8. ^ Wilkening, Matthew (11 September 2010). "100 Worst Songs Ever -- Part Four of Five". AOL Radio. Retrieved 23 December 2010. 
  9. ^ Video on YouTube
  10. ^ Anderson, Rick. "Review Poplife Presents: Poplife Sucks". Allmusic. Retrieved 8 January 2010. 
  11. ^ Typical Bloody Typical (YouTube) on YouTube
  12. ^ Bronson, Fred (2 August 2013). "Hot 100 55th Anniversary: The All-Time Top 100 Songs". Billboard. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  13. ^ "Canadian single certifications – Olivia Newton-John – Physical". Music Canada. Retrieved 15 April 2012. 
  14. ^ "British single certifications – Olivia Newton-John – Physical". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 1 April 2012.  Enter Physical in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Select Silver in the field By Award. Click Search
  15. ^ "American single certifications – Newton-John, Olivia – Physical". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 1 April 2012.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH

External links[edit]