On this day in music history: November 21, 1981 – “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 weeks, also peaking at #28 on the R&B singles chart on February 20, 1982. Written by Steve Kipner and Terry Shaddick, it is the biggest hit for the singer and actress from Cambridge, UK. After beginning the 80’s with the critically flogged film musical “Xanadu”, Olvia Newton-John turns her full focus back to recording a new album in early 1981. Working with her long time producer John Farrar, Newton-John looks to make even more of a break away from her “girl next door” image, that made her a star during the 70’s. Farrar finds the perfect vehicle with the song “Physical”, written by songwriters Stephen Kipner and Terry Shaddick. The song’s clever double entendre lyrics are far edgier than anything the singer has done before, especially the line “there’s nothing left to talk about, unless it’s horizontally”. The forwardly sexual nature of the song is diffused somewhat in part by the highly tongue in cheek music video, which is the centerpiece of an innovative long form video album directed by Brian Grant. The video album (originally released on VHS and Laserdisc) features music videos of the songs from the “Physical” album. The long form video wins the second Grammy awarded for Best Video Album (later renamed Best Longform Video) in 1982. The song’s lyrics cause some US radio stations to ban it from airplay, but the momentary controversy does not stop it from becoming a massive hit.
Released as the first single and title track from her twelfth studio album in September of 1981, it takes off quickly.
Entering the Hot 100 at #66 on October 3, 1981, it races to the top of the chart seven weeks later. “Physical” makes history as the second longest running number one single on the pop singles chart, (at the time of its release) since Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel b/w Hound Dog” twenty five years before. It also becomes a pop cultural touchstone, as an anthem for the aerobics fitness craze during the 80’s. Selling more than two million copies in the US, and is ranked the top single of the year by Billboard Magazine. “Physical” is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.