Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Physical": The Birth Of Aerobic Rock

"Physical" was the most successful hit single of the '80s. And, frankly, I have no idea why. It's not that catchy, it's not that clever, it's not even one of Olivia Newton-John's best songs. But it was massive. It was #1 on the Billboard charts for ten weeks. "Hey Jude" was only #1 for nine weeks.

What I want to know is this: who heard "Physical" on the radio and thought, "Oh my God, I have got to buy that song"? Who were these people? "Every Breath You Take," I can understand. "Like A Virgin" sounded ... like a hit. But "Physical"? "Physical" is like an above average commercial jingle. Now that the dust has settled, I can only think of one reason why:


"Physical" caught a cultural wave. "Physical" wasn't just a song; "Physical" was a way of life.

The song itself is not necessarily about Aerobics. Or rather, it's about Aerobics of a more ... carnal kind:
I'm saying all the things that I know you'll like
Making good conversation
I gotta handle you just right
You know what I mean
I took you to an intimate restaurant
Then to a suggestive movie
There's nothing left to talk about
Unless it's horizontally

Let's get physical, physical
I wanna get physical
Let's get into physical
Let me hear your body talk, your body talk
Let me hear your body talk
How exactly does one "get into" physical? Is that like "getting into Magic: The Gathering"? OK, so Olivia Newton-John is not an English professor. Apparently getting "physical" isn't even enough; by the end of the song she's desperately begging to "get animal" - now using the word "animal" as a adjective.

So the song itself is about sex, and not even in a particularly creative or interesting way. No, my friends. They saved all the creativity for the video.

This video is like the ultimate '80s acid nightmare. Take everything horrible about the '80s - the music, the fashion, the headbands, the leotards, the thinly veiled homosexual imagery - stick it in a blender, and I think what you will come up with is this exact clip. It's enough to make a viewer "physically" ill.

And that, more than its massive commercial success, may be the song's true achievement.


Herr Zrbo said...

Wasn't this song banned somewhere because it was deemed too 'racy'? Oh how far we've come. If it wasn't for Ms. Newton-John we wouldn't have the Katy Perrys and Gagas of the world so eager to remove their tops for us.

Herr Zrbo said...

Also, a few comments on the video itself. I love the breakdown where the person is playing air-guitar with the stretchy spring thing (spring-guitar?). Then there's the oh-so stimulating shot of... a fat guy rubbing his belly. Then when the men have finally morphed into their (supposedly) hotter counterparts, she's walking around surveying the goods and there's this guy at 3:15 who looks like Napoleon Dynamite grown-up with a moustache, ugh.

Finally at the end the men walk off holding hands, I would say that's no longer 'thinly veiled' homosexual imagery. Seems extremely risque for a video from this era. Oh, and the entire video has a weird Benny Hill-esque vibe to it, complete with sped-up footage and silly 'gags' (just needs some yakety sax). All in all, a truly a magnificent creation.

Little Earl said...

Some folks on YouTube claim that the song was banned in parts of the South. Also, according to Wikipedia, "The provocative lyrics of the title track prompted two Utah radio stations to ban the single from their playlists. To counter its overtly suggestive tone, Newton-John filmed an exercise-themed video that turned the song into an aerobics anthem and made headbands a fashion accessory outside the gym."

So apparently the video was supposed to TONE DOWN the suggestiveness.

"MTV frequently cut the ending when it aired the video, and the sometimes sensuous nature of the video also led to it being banned outright by some broadcasters in Canada and the United Kingdom."

Funny how all that banning had absolutely ZERO impact on the song's unparalleled commercial success.

Oh, and that "stretchy spring-guitar" solo? Played by none other than Toto's Steve Lukather.

Some of my favorite YouTube comments:

"This must have been really awkward to film."

"That awkward moment when you find an old photo of your mum and she's wearing the exact same outfit as Olivia in this video..."

"75% porn 5% music 20% body fat"

"Yeah, I remember when I went to the gym and the hot gym instructor just went around touching me. By the time I left I lost 100 pounds. Or is that just the cocaine talking?"

"Why is she on the Holodeck?"

"How much vaseline did they rub on the lens?"

Trần Quyết Nguyễnn said...

Thật sự là những điều tôi đang tìm, rất là biết ơn bạn qua nội dung bài viết vừa rồi
Một vài ý kiến tham khảo thêm: quần aerobic