“Physical” is a song recorded by British-Australian singer Olivia Newton-John for her 1981 11th studio album of the same name. It was released as the album’s lead single on 28 September 1981. The song was produced by John Farrar and written by Steve Kipner and Terry Shaddick, who had originally intended to offer it to Rod Stewart. The song had also been offered to Tina Turner by her manager Roger Davies, but when Turner declined, Davies gave the song to Newton-John, another of his clients.
“Physical” was an immediate smash hit, shipping 2,000,000 copies in the US, where it was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and spent 10 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Physical” ultimately became Newton-John’s biggest hit and cemented her legacy as a pop superstar, a journey that began when she crossed over from her earlier country pop roots. The song’s suggestive lyrics, which even caused it to be banned in some markets, helped change Newton-John’s longstanding clean-cut image, replacing it with a sexy, assertive persona that was strengthened with follow-up hits such as “Make a Move on Me“, “Twist of Fate” and “Soul Kiss“.
“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 did not want to release the song because it was “too cheeky”. It was the 1st of several Newton-John releases written by Kipner.
“Physical” was described by Mark Ellen of Smash Hits as “one of the most successful career-revivers in living memory”. It is the most successful single of Newton-John’s career and became her 5th (and last) #1 single on the US Billboard Hot 100. “Physical” stayed for 10 weeks on the top of Hot 100, from 21 November 1981 through 23 January 1982, out of a total of 26 weeks on the chart. It was the largest permanence at the time, becoming the most successful song on the Billboard in the 1980s. The song was very controversial due to the implied sexual content, being innovative and somewhat provocative for the time.
“Physical” has received positive reviews from music critics since release, with some of them calling it “good-naturedly sexy” and “an eighties gem”. The song was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and won the Billboard Award for Top Pop Single.
“Physical” rose to number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 in November 1981 and stayed there for 10 weeks (the most of any single in the 1980s), remaining until the 2nd half of January 1982. It reached #2 on the Radio & Records CHR/Pop Airplay chart on 27 November 1981, staying there for 2 weeks and remaining on the chart for 14 weeks. In terms of chart placement, “Physical” was Newton-John’s most successful single in the US, as well as her final single to reach the top spot. Billboard ranked the song as the #1 single of 1982 (since the chart year for 1982 actually began in November 1981).
“Physical” was both preceded and followed in the #1 chart position by recordings by American duo Hall & Oates: “Private Eyes” was dethroned by “Physical” in November 1981 and “Physical” was supplanted by “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” the following January. “Physical” held Foreigner‘s “Waiting for a Girl Like You” at #2 on the Hot 100 for nine weeks and “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” then held Foreigner at #2 for a tenth and final consecutive week. “Physical” remained in the top-10 for a total of 15 weeks, thus making it the longest run of 1981, as well as tying it for the longest run of the decade among #1 singles. “Physical” also peaked at #28 on the Hot Soul Singles chart.
“Physical” achieved great success around the world, reaching #7 in the UK, where it was certified Silver. However, the song was censored and even banned by some radio stations as a result of its sexually suggestive content, such as the line “There’s nothing left to talk about, unless it’s horizontally.”
The accompanying music video for “Physical”, directed by Brian Grant, features Newton-John in a tight leotard trying to make several overweight men lose weight. The men fail comically and Newton-John 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 and starts to flirt with them. 2 of the men secretly go out, holding hands, implying they are gay. This surprises Newton-John, as does the sight of 2 more of the men leaving with their arms around each other. Finally, she finds that the last of the overweight men is heterosexual and they go off to play tennis together.
The Olivia Physical music video collection, which contained “Physical”, won a Grammy Award for Video of the Year in 1983. The video was featured on VH1‘s Pop-Up Video and was the first video to air on Beavis and Butt-head.
Billboard ranked “Physical” #6 on its “All Time Top 100” list, #1 on its “Top 50 Sexiest Songs of All Time” list, and #1 on its “Top 100 Songs of the 1980s” list.
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”.