“Physical” by Olivia Newton-John
“Physical” by Olivia Newton-John was one of the first hits in American history that was overtly, albeit metaphorically, about intimacy. The lyrics are simple, repetitive and leave little to the imagination of any adult listener. Indeed they would be able to readily discern that what the lyrics are centered on is the singer’s sensual infatuation with the addressee. But that being said, when considering the state of the American music industry some three decades later, in terms of obscenity, “Physical” would seem like a nursery rhyme compared to more-modern songs in this category.
Indeed Olivia Newton-John was not one of the those types of artists to make such tracks a staple of her career. And the narrative contained therein, despite once again being adult-oriented, is not anything vulgar. Rather it features her spending a night out on the town with some guy, i.e. the addressee. Throughout the night she is sending him hints that she indeed wants to get “physical”. And she is so attracted to him on that level that she has to refrain herself from basically jumping on top of him. Indeed perhaps one of the most-striking elements of this song, once again also acknowledging the era in which it was dropped, is that it is actually a female who is relaying these sentiments.
Statements meant for Grown Ups
And there are a few arguably adult statements which she makes. For instance, she expresses a desire to get “horizontal” with the addressee. This would allude to the idea of them being in bed together. Also she states that she wants to hear the addressee’s “body talk”, which despite being an ambiguous term still has a clear sensual connotation. But again, it’s not like a child would easily understand what these metaphors mean. In fact throughout the years, many people have come to associate this song more so with athletics (partially due to the storyline of its music video) than with bedroom fun.
But that being established, it is safe to say that the risqué theme of this track contributed just as much to its success as its catchy hook. For example, going back to the music video, despite its athletic setting, it becomes pretty clear the song is sensual in nature.
So at the end of the day this track is amply named. For even though the person whom Olivia is singing to is a romantic interest, there’s nothing like love being expressed in the lyrics. Rather her attraction to him, at least at the moment in which these sentiments are being relayed, are 100% “animal”. And her goal is to get “physical” with him this very night.
Facts about “Physical”
MCA Records released this song as the lead single from Olivia Newton-John’s album which is also entitled “Physical” on 28 September 1981.
The producer of the song is John Farrar, and the writers are Steve Kipner and Terry Shaddick. Olivia didn’t write this song. And before landing in her hands, “Physical” was offered to Tina Turner, who opted not to do it.
Moreover at first Olivia Newton-John herself wasn’t down to record this song due to its aforementioned nature. However, she did eventually give in to the urgings of her manager. At the end of the day, the song ended up becoming the signature song of Olivia’s career.
For instance, it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for an impressive 10 weeks (almost setting a record). Furthermore, Billboard placed it at number one on their decade-ending chart for the entire 1980s.
Outside of the US, “Physical” also reached number one in five other countries.
Moreover it peaked at number seven on the UK Singles Chart and charted in over 15 nations in general.
Music Video for “Physical”
Brian Grant directed the music video to “Physical”. It actually helped popularize the sport of aerobics. It was also quite-successful in its own right, taking home the Grammy Award in 1983 for Video of the Year.
Also interesting to note for all you “Beavis and Butt-head” fans out there is that “Physical” was the first ever music video to be featured on the show.
On 1 February 1982 comedian Bill Murray was the first guest ever on “Late Night on David Letterman”. And part of his comedy routine that evening was covering “Physical”, complete with an imitation of the video’s aerobics.
“Physical” inspires Dua Lipa
In 2020, Dua Lipa released a song also titled “Physical“. According to her, it was inspired by this classic by Olivia Newton-John.