|Studio album by|
|Released||13 October 1981|
|Recorded||October 1980 – June 1981|
|Studio||Record One, Ocean Way Recording, David J. Holman Studio|
|Olivia Newton-John chronology|
|Singles from Physical|
Physical is the twelfth studio album by English-born Australian singer Olivia Newton-John, released on 13 October 1981, by MCA Records. The album was produced and partly written by her long-time record producer John Farrar. Recorded and mixed at Ocean Way and David J. Holman's studio in Los Angeles, California, Physical became one of Newton-John's most controversial and sexual records, and her most successful studio album to date. Musically, the album features considerable use of synthesizers and it explores lyrical themes such as love and relationships, sex, kinesthetics and environmental protection. Upon its release, the album received positive reviews from music critics, many of them considering it to be Newton-John's best effort. The album charted high in several countries, including the United States, Japan and Newton-John's native Australia, becoming one of the most successful albums of the early 1980s. It also ranks among the best-selling albums by Australian solo artists, selling more than ten million copies worldwide.
The album's title track was a commercial phenomenon, staying 10 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, at the time tying the record set by Debby Boone's 1977 single "You Light Up My Life". The song and its music video were controversial, having been banned or edited by several radio stations and television channels (such as MTV) for its sexual references. The single was followed by "Make a Move on Me", another top-ten worldwide hit. "Landslide", which failed to enter the majority of musical charts, had a music video featuring Newton-John's boyfriend (and later husband) Matt Lattanzi, to whom she had dedicated the album. A video compilation, Olivia Physical, was produced, featuring music videos of all songs from the album. The material was a commercial and critical success, and earned Newton-John a Grammy Award for Video of the Year.
The album was promoted with Newton-John's 1982 North American Physical Tour, performances from which a home video entitled Olivia in Concert was produced. The Physical era marked the height of Newton-John's solo career, gaining her wide acclaim as one of the most successful female artists of the early 1980s.
Background and development
I'm not deliberately going after any audience. I'm doing what I like to do. I would have done a country song on Physical if I found one I really liked"
—Newton-John talking about her music style change
In 1978, Newton-John starred as the female lead, "Sandy", in the musical film Grease, which was a worldwide blockbuster and had a best-selling soundtrack. Before the film, Newton-John was known for country pop and adult contemporary songs. Following the huge success of Grease, and inspired by her character's transformation from goody-goody "Sandy 1" to the sexy, spandex-clad "Sandy 2", she traded her previous musical styles for a sexier and more aggressive pop image. Later that same year, Newton-John released the studio album Totally Hot, and two years later, the Xanadu soundtrack (1980), both with a more pop-oriented style than in her past albums. Physical was recorded and released in 1981, marking the longest gap between Newton-John studio albums at the time; from 1971 to 1978, she recorded at least one studio album per year. Newton-John feared that she could be overexposed with many works released in a short period.
Physical followed Newton-John's new image, perceived as a more sexualized and mature record. It also marked her first studio album without any country tracks. The new music style generated some criticism from the country-music community and Newton-John's old fans. In a Billboard article, she said: "You might lose a few fans but you gain others. You have to do what's comfortable. [...] I've gotten the confidence to be more adventurous whereas in the past I didn't think it was time."
The lead single "Physical" (originally "Let's Get Physical") was written by Terry Shaddick and Newton-John's longtime friend Steve Kipner, and initially was intended for a "macho male rock figure like Rod Stewart", according to Kipner. When Newton-John's then-manager Lee Kramer accidentally heard the demo, he immediately sent the song to her, but initially she didn't want to release the song because it was "too cheeky". It was the first of several Newton-John releases written by Kipner. The songs "Recovery" and "Falling" had been originally featured on John Farrar's 1980 self-titled solo album, but were later remodeled for Physical. The album's eighth track, "Carried Away", was written by Barry Gibb and Albhy Galuten for Barbra Streisand's Guilty album, but Streisand rejected the song, providing Newton-John the chance to record it. The song's original demo, sung by Gibb, was released on The Guilty Demos, released through iTunes in 2006.
Physical was the first Newton-John album to include environmentalism and animal rights themes. Tracks "Silvery Rain", written by The Shadows member Hank Marvin and released as single in 1971 by Cliff Richard, and "The Promise (The Dolphin Song)", a Newton-John-penned song, feature these themes. Newton-John also embraced ecological themes on later albums such as The Rumour and Gaia: One Woman's Journey.
Physical's nature- and sensuality-themed photos were shot primarily in Honolulu, Hawaii by the famous American photographer Herb Ritts in the first half of 1981. Newton-John also filmed the video for "The Promise (The Dolphin Song)" and some takes of Olivia Physical there. The album's cover ranks among the most popular and iconic photos of Newton-John, and as one of Ritts' most popular works. The cover has been compared to that of Madonna's True Blue, also shot by Ritts.
—Newton-John talking about the music style of Physical
Physical is among Newton-John's most diverse albums, and set her career in a totally different direction. The album was completely produced by Newton-John's longtime collaborator John Farrar, who did a then-modern music production, which later became a musical trend during the 1980s. The songs feature mainly a pop rock sound, with Newton-John singing more high notes than usual during her country pop era. The album contains widespread use of synthesizers, which made it one of Newton-John's most dance-pop-oriented recordings, especially on the songs "Landslide" and "Physical". The vocoder background vocals made by John Farrar also were used, most notably on "Stranger's Touch" and "Recovery". The songs "Carried Away" and "Falling" have a more soft rock sound than Newton-John's past ballads, because of the more extensive use of guitars and synthesizers.
Lyrically, Physical explores themes relating to the behavior of humans and their relationship with the world around. The songs "Falling" and "Landslide" tell about falling in love and love at first sight. The lyrics of "The Promise (The Dolphin Song)" deal with the killing of dolphins for commercial gain, with sounds of the marine mammal in the background. "Carried Away"'s lyrics talk about a relationship breakup, and "Recovery" tells of a lonely woman who is recovering from a troubled relationship. "Silvery Rain" denounces the aerial application of pesticides. "Love Make Me Strong" tells about the power of love in the determination of a person. The songs "Physical" and "Make a Move on Me" have more sexualized lyrics, with some suggestive innuendos.
Each song from Physical has its respective music video. All the music videos were filmed from the Physical video album, which was directed by Brian Grant. The recordings were made in late 1981, in London, Honolulu and Newton-John's home at Malibu, California. The songs "Hopelessly Devoted to You", "A Little More Love" and "Magic" (Newton-John hit singles from the 1978 soundtrack Grease, the studio album of the same year, Totally Hot, and the 1980 soundtrack Xanadu, respectively) also had new music videos filmed from the video album. Newton-John's then-boyfriend (now ex-husband) Matt Lattanzi participated for the "Landslide" music video.
The video debuted on 8 February 1982 on ABC as Let's Get Physical, and boasted 35% of the United States viewing audience when its first aired. The home video version was released later as Olivia Physical, on VHS, betamax and laserdisc formats by MCA Home Video. The television version has little differences from the home video version. The television version features video interludes starring Olivia, introducing some music videos, and the home video version features the music videos for "Love Make Me Strong" and "Falling".
The video was a critical and commercial success, being a Billboard top charting music video for many weeks in 1981, earning a Grammy Award for Video of the Year and a nomination for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Art Direction for a Variety or Music Program.
The album promotion was made throughout 1981–82, and included several appearances across the world. In the United States, Newton-John performed on the music television series Solid Gold (performing "Physical" and "Make a Move on Me") and at the award show of American Music Awards of 1982 (performing "Make a Move on Me"). She was interviewed on the television shows Good Morning America and The Merv Griffin Show (with the special guests John Travolta, The Carpenters and Rick Springfield). Additionally, Newton-John hosted the seventh season finale of Saturday Night Live, performing "Physical", "Make a Move on Me" and "Landslide".
Newton-John also made performances and interviews to television programs in Japan, Brazil, South Africa (which was controversial because some verses of "Physical" were banned in the country), Venezuela and several countries of Europe. In Canada, the album was promoted in Vic Tanny's health clubs, which offered Physical-thematized club passes and discounts on the album purchase in Capitol-EMI's Mr. Sound stores. At the 24th Grammy Awards, Olivia presented the Record of the Year category, together with Lionel Richie.
"Physical" was released as the album lead single on 28 September 1981 by MCA Records. The single is the most successful solo hit of Olivia's career, and became her fifth number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 (and last, to date). "Physical" stayed for 10 weeks on the top of Hot 100, from November 21, 1981 through January 23, 1982. It was the largest permanence at the time, becoming the most successful song on the Billboard in the 1980s. The song and music video (which was recorded in a gym, with several men working out) were very controversial due the implied sexual content, being innovative and provocative for the time. It was received positively by critics, with most of them calling it "good-naturedly sexy" and "an eighties gem". It was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
"Make a Move on Me" was released as the album's second single in early 1982. The song is one of more dance singles released by Newton-John and also was very well received by music critics, particularly in Sweden, where it was a number-one single. The music video was recorded in the same nightclub that the videos "Stranger's Touch", "Love Make Me Strong" and "Magic" were filmed. It was a worldwide top 10 hit, peaking at five on the Billboard Hot 100. "Landslide" was released as the third and final single from the album. It does reach high positions in the music charts across the world, but archived a top 20 on the UK Singles Charts (where was the second single, and "Make a Move on Me" the third and last single). The song wasn't performed on the Physical Tour.
The Physical Tour to promote Physical was the fifth concert tour by Newton-John. The tour was announced in July 1982 and began in August of the same year. It was Olivia's first tour in four years, since Totally Hot World Tour and visited only the North American countries United States and Canada. The tour had 64 shows through 40 cities, with a total attendance of 562,428 people. Newton-John friends John Travolta and Karen Carpenter attended some concerts. Jazz musician Tom Scott was the musical director and also served as opening act.
The show consisted of four costume changes and three videos: for introduction, interlude and end credits. The encore consisted of the title song "Physical" (with Newton-John doing aerobic exercises and jumping rope through the performance) and "I Honestly Love You". The tour had generally positive reviews from critics, who praised Newton-John vocal performances and her ability to entertain the audience.
Two concerts in Ogden, Utah (the state where "Physical" was banned by two local radio stations) were filmed for a television special (titled as Olivia: Live in Concert) and a home video release, as Olivia in Concert. The video was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Long Form Music Video. It was the last concert tour by Newton-John for sixteen years (she originally said that would be her last tour), until The Main Event Tour, in 1998.
Physical received generally positive reviews from music critics, many stating that was the best album by Newton-John at the time. Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic, in a retrospective review written decades after the album's release, gave the album four and a half out of five stars, writing that "Physical was a damn good record, in many ways one of Olivia Newton-John's very best". He further explained "[The album] skillfully balances catchy yet mellow dance cuts with immaculately crafted adult contemporary pop and ballads". Stephen Holden, in a review for Rolling Stone, said that Physical was "Newton-John's best album to date" and "a perfect aural milkshake from the Farrah Fawcett of rock". Holse also contemplated the Farrar's production, calling "a dazzling pop-rock bubblegum production". The album "Picks and Pans" review published by People magazine also was positive, stating that "This LP impressively completes the transformation that began with her 1979 [sic] album Totally Hot and has turned Newton-John into a much more aggressive, spirited and entertaining singer" and "This is mainly a pop-rock album, though, and it is a first-class production: danceable, listenable and beguiling".
The Physical era received three Grammy Award nominations. The song "Physical" was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female and the video Olivia Physical won a Grammy Award for Video of the Year at the 25th Grammy Awards. Olivia in Concert, the video recording of the Physical Tour, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Video Album at the 26th Grammy Awards. Newton-John won her fourth American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist at the 10th American Music Awards, making her the biggest winner on that category (tied with Whitney Houston). In 1981, at the time of Physical release, Newton-John was honoured with a Hollywood Walk of Fame, for her work in the music industry.
In the United States, Physical debuted at number sixty-eight and peaked at number six on the Billboard 200, making it the sixth album by Newton-John to reach the top 10 on this chart (and the last, to date). According to Billboard, it was the highest peak for a female singer album in 1982 (tied with Stevie Nicks' Bella Donna). This is Newton-John's only album which entered the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, peaking at thirty-two. At the 1982 Billboard Year-End, Newton-John appears as the fourth most successful pop artist and Physical as the fifteenth best-selling album of the year. For his work with Newton-John, John Farrar was the pop producer of the year. On 12 October 1984, Physical was certified two times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipment of over two million units.
In Canada the album debuted at thirty-seven on the RPM Albums Chart. On 30 January 1982 the album reached its peak, the third position. Physical was the twelfth best-selling album of the country in 1982 (and the best-selling by a solo female singer). The album was certified four times platinum by Canadian Recording Industry Association (now Music Canada) for shipment of 400,000 copies. On the UK Album Charts the album peaked at number eleven, making the best position for a Newton-John studio album to date. Physical was certified gold by British Phonographic Industry (BPI) on 2 April 1982 (100,000 copies shipped). The album also peaked at top 10 on several charts across the Europe. In Australia (Olivia's native country), Physical peaked at number three on the Kent Music Report albums chart and was one of the 25 best-selling albums of the year. Worldwide the album has sold more than ten million copies.
Legacy and controversies
Newton-John was one of the first artists to invest in music videos. The 1978 album Totally Hot was her first one to feature videos accompanying all the singles from the album, but they were very simple, being primarily composed of Newton-John singing in the studio. The music videos of the songs of Physical are more complex, and were one of the firsts to present a plot line, and not just a video of the artist performing the song. According with Olivia Physical video album director, Brian Grant, Newton-John record company and management were reluctant about the project at the first moment: "I suppose there was a little nervousness at first. But, [Olivia] got us out here because she liked what we had done [...]". Newton-John herself was a supporter of the music video industry, as she commented in a Billboard article about the Olivia Physical production:
"I think this is the way albums will go in the future: visuals with the music. I got to be a different personality and play an other side of myself."
The record company also was afraid of the public and media feedback about the themes featured on Olivia Physical, especially these included in the music video made for the title track. The music video of "Physical" is considered very innovative, with a simple, but cohesive plot, and several sexual innuendos (including homosexual contexts) which also are featured in the song. The music video was a great success and help the single to be one of the biggest commercial phenomenons of the early 1980s, but also attracted several controversies. After receiving numerous complaints, two Utah local radio stations (Provo's KFMY-FM and Salt Lake City's KSL-FM) banned the song from its playlists. According to a station's program manager "The lyrics are more suggestive than most songs. It goes the one additional step". These weren't the only radio stations which banned the song from its playlists. Several adult contemporary radios (many with mormon affiliations) across the North America also banned the single, causing a lower peak at number twenty-nine on the U.S. Adult Contemporary chart. Newton-John usually has a large audience on the adult contemporary radios (she has eight #1's on the U.S. AC chart), but the loss was rewarded with the massive audience that "Physical" had on the pop radios, which are listened by a more younger audience. Later she recovered the adult contemporary audience with the next single, "Make a Move on Me", which peaked at six on the U.S. AC chart. MTV originally cut the music video ending, because "the beefcakes surrounding Newton-John turned out to be gay".
"Physical" also gathered controversies in South Africa. In 1982, Newton-John performed at the Bophuthatswana's Sun City Super Bowl and the special appearance was recorded by South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). When Olivia was performing the single, the transmission was withdrawn without explanation, but later was reinstated, omitting the verses "There's nothing left to talk about" / "Unless it's horizontally". According to Billboard, the "committee of moral" of South Africa under apartheid had always employed a policy of restricting airplay on certain material considered "offensive". About all the controversies over the song and its music video, Newton-John stated:
"Five years ago I would have died over a controversy like this. But now I just think it's foolish of them to take it so seriously."
According to Stephen Thomas Erlewine: "'Physical' became such a monster hit — not just a hit, but a pop-culture phenomenon that was impossible to escape — that it became difficult to view its accompanying album as anything other than a conduit for the single". Since its release, Physical has been a very remarkable piece of 1980s culture, and has received numerous tributes and citations in several media. The "Physical" performances and its music video popularized the fitness clothing that turned to be a popular fashion style in and out of health clubs, being used by several other artists like Madonna and Kylie Minogue. Among the programs who have already made reference to Physical are Late Night with David Letterman (on the pilot episode), Sesame Street, Glee (with Newton-John as a special guest), The Office and The Simpsons.
Physical was re-released by MCA Records on 25 October 1990. The album was available on cassette and CD formats, without its original booklet. In 1998, the album was re-released in a new digitally remastered edition in Australia by Festival Records, along with many other albums of Newton-John discography. Physical also was re-released on 2 February 2012 in Japan by Universal Music Group. It is available only on a SHM-SACD remastered edition, and also as a part of the 2010 box set 40th Anniversary Collection, which was released to celebrate forty years of Olivia's musical career (the box also contains other re-released albums of Newton-John's MCA era). The Olivia Physical video album was not re-released, but its music videos are available on Video Gold 2005 DVD release. The live recording Olivia in Concert was re-released on VHS in 1992, and also had a DVD version released in a few Asian countries (there are also several bootleg versions released by small distributors).
All songs produced by John Farrar.
|3.||"Make a Move on Me"||3:17|
|5.||"Love Make Me Strong"||3:10|
|7.||"Silvery Rain"||Hank Marvin||3:39|
|10.||"The Promise (The Dolphin Song)"||Olivia Newton-John||4:32|
Credits adapted from the album's liner notes.
Certifications and sales
|Canada (Music Canada)||4× Platinum||400,000^|
|Hong Kong (IFPI Hong Kong)||Gold||10,000*|
|New Zealand (RMNZ)||Gold||7,500^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Gold||100,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||2× Platinum||2,000,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
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