Almost single-handedly, Olivia Newton-John revolutionized how Americans looked at and thought about exercise. Newton-John’s song “Physical” captured a look and feel that centered on sensuality through exercise. First released in the fall of 1981, “Physical” created a double meaning, both of which are relayed in the song’s video.
“Physical” made exercise cool
In 1981, “Physical” was not the first song or popular culture artifact to point out the virtues of moving human bodies. At that point in history, Americans had moved far past the idea that exercise was a pastime for those on the periphery of American society.
“Physical” was Newton-John’s fifth No. 1 single. However, according to etonline.com, some radio and television stations banned the song for its lyrical content. A deluxe edition of “Physical,” will be released Oct. 22, 2021. The song is from the album of the same name.
In the 1970s, songs like “Macho Man,” reminded listeners that with a targeted regimen, they, too, could get fit. The message is packaged in a danceable disco beat. Fast-forward to 1981. Newton-John’s flirty pop song accompanied by a video that takes place against the black-tiled backdrop that might remind younger viewers of a bathroom. Likely it was supposed to be an exercise studio.
Newton-John donned leotards, tights, headbands, and leg warmers. The men wore athletic shorts or even less. A new era of American fashion was ushered in. The look inspired people to go to gyms. In the Midwest there were strip mall gyms named after founders, such as Elaine Powers. Suddenly, it was okay to take care of one’s body in fashionable attire.
Certainly, some of the “moves” depicted in the video are not acceptable today. Few people would recommend running shoeless on a treadmill, for example. There is even the video equivalent of before and after pictures, as more than one overweight man morphs into a sleek, muscular man. Anyone unclear on body and beauty standards in the early 1980s, need only watch this video.
The sound of “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John
“Physical” is undeniably pop. The sound is a meshing of buoyant keyboards and guitars, with drums that are understated until the chorus. Newton-John sings in a kind of breathy tone, that allows her to build up to the big notes at the ends of lines that precede the chorus. Newton-John as narrator is impatient with a man who seems not to get her attempts at innuendo. The chorus, then, finds Newton-John singing in a clear, slightly louder voice: “Let’s get physical/let me hear your body talk/your body talk…”
It has been widely reported that Newton-John found the lyrics “raunchy.” The song was intended for Tina Turner. The sound and message of the song is a departure from the singer’s previous work, but there were hints at the style she would use in “Physical” in her other works. Probably best known for her work in “Grease,” Newton-John went to another level with physical.
On Oct. 22, 2021 Newton-John is teaming up with Crunch Fitness and Third Love, etonline.com, and others report. The point of the collaboration is to raise money for the Olivia Newton-John Foundation. The Guinness Book of World Records will also be involved. Those involved will try to break a record for most leg lifts (like the ones from the “PhysicaL” video).
“Physical” has not just been around for 40 years. It has inspired other artists to sample it, or cover it (Dua Lipa). Now, when people are celebrating its four decades, “Physical” will be part of a good cause.