Physical (Olivia Newton-John song)

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Physical (Olivia Newton-John single) coverart.jpg
Single by Olivia Newton-John
from the album Physical
B-side "The Promise (The Dolphin Song)"
Released 28 September 1981
Recorded January 1981
Genre Dance[1]


6:58 (extended)
Label MCA
Producer(s) John Farrar
Olivia Newton-John singles chronology
"Make a Move on Me"
Audio sample

"Physical" is a song by the British-born Australian singer 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; and being the 1980s most popular. 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.


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 remaining on the chart for fourteen weeks.[4] 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.[5] 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" was dethroned by "Physical" in November 1981, and "Physical" was dethroned by "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 its 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 peak at #28 on the Billboard R&B chart, 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.[6]

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 got a physical, physical" and "Press that thing against my chest and listen to my body talk, body talk".[7]

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 Newton-John rubs herself on the men.

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,[8] #1 on its Top 50 Sexiest Songs Of All Time,[9] and #1 on its Top 100 Songs of the 1980s list.[10]

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.[11]


Sales and certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA)[22] Platinum 100,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[23] 2× Platinum 300,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[24] Silver 250,000^
United States (RIAA)[25] Platinum 2,000,000^
Total sales: 2,550,000

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

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. ^ a b "Physical". Retrieved 8 January 2018. 
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits (6th ed.). Billboard Publications, Inc. p. 810. ISBN 0-8230-7632-6. 
  6. ^ "British single certifications – Olivia Newton-John – Physical". British Phonographic Industry.  Select singles in the Format field. Enter Physical in the search field and then press Enter.
  7. ^ "Song Details: 'Physical' by SuLu". Retrieved 2017-01-21. 
  8. ^ [1] Archived 1 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ "The 50 Sexiest Songs Of All Time Page 5". Billboard. Retrieved 2014-05-13. 
  10. ^ "The Top 20 Billboard Hot 100 Hits of the 1980s". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved July 14, 2015. 
  11. ^ Video on YouTube
  12. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (Illustrated ed.). St. Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 217. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.  N.B. The Kent Report chart was licensed by ARIA between mid-1983 and 12 June 1988.
  13. ^ " – Olivia Newton-John – Physical" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  14. ^ "Olivia Newton-John: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved April 18, 2017.
  15. ^ "Olivia Newton-John". Retrieved 8 January 2018. 
  16. ^ "Olivia Newton-John Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard. Retrieved April 18, 2017.
  17. ^ "Olivia Newton-John Chart History (Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved April 18, 2017.
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 August 2016. Retrieved 26 November 2016. 
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 August 2016. Retrieved 23 October 2016. 
  20. ^ Bronson, Fred (2 August 2013). "Hot 100 55th Anniversary: The All-Time Top 100 Songs". Billboard. Retrieved 1 August 2018. 
  21. ^ Bronson, Fred. "Greatest of All Time Hot 100 Songs by Women : Page 1". Billboard. Retrieved 2018-03-26. 
  22. ^ "Kent Music Report No 453 – 28 February 1983 > Platinum and Gold Singles 1982". (original document published by Kent Music Report). Retrieved 4 August 2018. 
  23. ^ "Canadian single certifications – Olivia Newton-John – Physical". Music Canada. Retrieved 15 April 2012. 
  24. ^ "British single certifications – Olivia Newton-John – Physical". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 1 April 2012.  Select singles in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Enter Physical in the search field and then press Enter.
  25. ^ "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]