Did You Know? Olivia Newton-John’s 1981 Hit “Physical” was Meant for Someone Else

In 1981, Olivia Newton-John dominated the charts with her No. 1 hit “Physical,” a more sexed-up track off her 11th album of the same name.

Rod v. Tina
Originally written by Steve Kipner and Terry Shaddick, “Physical” was initially devised with a male singer in mind, and the duo intended to offer it to Rod Stewart, which would have been a fitting follow up to his suggestive 1978 hit “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”

“I wasn’t actually aware at the time that it was written for [Rod Stewart],” said Newton-John in 2017. “I must talk with him about it one day. Like, did he ever hear it?”

Debunking the myth that “Physical” was written specifically for Stewart, in a 2022 interview, Kipner revealed: “People say ‘Physical’ was written for Rod Stewart. It actually wasn’t written for him, but I imagined someone like Rod Stewart might record it.”

The song was then offered to Tina Turner through her manager Roger Davies, but she turned it down. Davies then offered it to his other client: Olivia.

Less Grease-y
Newton-John was ready to shake off her goody-two-shoes Grease persona of Sandy Olsson, which she began chipping away at on her leather-bound album, Totally Hot, in 1978. When “Physical” came along, she reluctantly took on the racier song, which explores watching a “suggestive movie” and engaging more activities horizontally—Let’s get into physical / Let me hear your body talk.

“When you write songs, you write songs about being in relationships and being in love and all that,” said Kipner. “Terry and I thought, ‘Let’s just write a song about the physical side of love. I didn’t think it would be called Physical.’ We were going to write a song about sex, basically.”

At first, Newton-John wanted to pull “Physical” off the album at first, but it was too late.

“I recorded it and then suddenly thought, ‘Goodness, maybe I’ve gone too far,’” shared Newton-John. “It was a bit raunchier than I realized. I called Roger and said, ‘We’ve got to pull this song.’ He said, ‘It’s too late. It’s already gone to radio and it’s running up the charts.’ I was horrified. I said, ‘Oh, wow…um…yeah…okay…well, maybe we should do a video and it should be about exercise. Yeah! That’s it! Let’s make it about working out.”

A Physical Hit
Physical the album sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard 200.

“Physical” reached No. 1 on the charts, topping the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 weeks, and was a breakout song for Newton-John, who died on August 8, 2022, at the age of 73, following a 30-year battle with breast cancer.

“They call it reinventing yourself,” said Newton-John in 2022. “I wasn’t doing it on purpose. It just was the song that I was attracted to and the album, but I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to record it.”

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