|Released 28 September 1981|
|Recorded January 1981|
|B-side "The Promise (The Dolphin Song)"|
"Physical" is a song by the British-born Australian musician 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.
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. The song was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and won the Billboard Award for Top Pop Single.
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. It reached #2 on the Radio & Records CHR/Pop Airplay chart on November 27, 1981, staying there for two weeks and reamining on the chart for fourteen weeks. 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 in terms of the number of weeks spent at number one. 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 sexually suggestive content — for example, the line: "There's nothing left to talk about unless it's horizontally." On the other hand, 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 adult contemporary (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 was also certified Silver.
The song was later skewered by SuLu's parody "Physical", featured on Dr. Demento's weekly show, with such lyrics as "It's time I get a physical, physical" and "Press that thing against my chest and listen to my body talk, body talk".
The music video was directed by Brian Grant.
The video features Newton-John, dressed in a tight leotard, as trying to make several overweight men healthy. She repeatedly tries to make the men lose weight, but they fail comically and she leaves the room to take a shower. When the men work out on their own, they suddenly transform into muscular, attractive men. A stylistic shot shows one muscular man glancing at his overweight self in a mirror. Newton-John is shocked when she returns to this, and starts to flirt with them. Two of the men secretly go out, holding hands, implying they are gay. This surprises Newton-John, as does the sight of two more of the men leaving with their arms around each other. Finally, she finds that the last of the overweight men is straight and they go off to play tennis together.
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, #1 on its Top 50 Sexiest Songs Of All Time, and #1 on its Top 100 Songs of the 1980s list.
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.
The instrumental version of the song featured in a 1984 advert for the Talbot Samba car on British television.