Forever No. 1 is a Billboard collection that pays particular tribute to the lately deceased artists who achieved the best honor our charts have to supply — a Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single — by taking an prolonged look again on the chart-topping songs that made them a part of this unique membership. Right here, we honor the late Olivia Newton-John, who died this week at age 73, with a glance again at her fifth and last No. 1: “Bodily,” essentially the most iconic solo hit of her storied profession, and one of many defining smashes of the Nineteen Eighties.
There’s an honest argument to be made that “Bodily” was the No. 1 single that kicked off the ’80s in earnest. To not say that the last decade hadn’t already produced its share of epochal Sizzling 100-toppers by the point of the tune’s late 1981 launch, however many have been nonetheless produced in a post-disco ’70s hangover, or represented the sort of secure, basic balladry that high 40 tends to default to when it’s unsure what else is happening in the meanwhile. “Bodily,” however, set the tone for the mainstream pop of the last decade to come back: glistening synths, whip-smart guitars, grooves faintly harking back to (however not overpowered by) funk and disco, sultry sax, and catchy, intelligent lyrical hooks that teeter on the sting of tasteless with out ever falling onto the incorrect facet.
And the tune was solely half the story. “Bodily” debuted on September 28, 1981, lower than two months after the seismic launch of MTV, and oh boy did it have an accompanying visible prepared for the event. So did the remainder of its mother or father LP of the identical identify, truly: Bodily was launched as a complete video album, a pioneering observe in ’81, which earned Newton-John a primetime Let’s Get Bodily TV particular (and, finally, the second-ever video of the yr Grammy.) However the title monitor’s clip was the crown jewel. Set in a gymnasium that appears extra like the ultimate stage of an early arcade sport — the sort of sharply geometrically outlined, impossibly shiny-surfaced room that solely appears to exist in ’80s music movies — Newton-John leads a gaggle exercise with a bunch of oiled-down muscle males, who inexplicably flip into obese klutzes (after which again once more) over the course of the video. It’s campy, it’s horny, and it’s completely incomprehensible from a story standpoint. In different phrases, it was excellent — notably from the vantage of early MTV, the place the golden rule was rapidly established: Be sure that no one can ever hear your tune with out additionally picturing the video once more.
After all, none of that is what anybody was anticipating from Olivia Newton-John in 1981. She had spent the ’70s because the healthful good woman on the coronary heart of AM radio, mushy and mild and definitely inoffensive. Her Sandy character’s well-known “tell me about it, stud” pivot to cigarettes and black leather-based on the finish of 1978’s cartoonishly profitable Grease — a visible transformation continued on the quilt to her Completely Sizzling album later that yr — had introduced her in a extra grownup mild. However that was nonetheless throwback household leisure at coronary heart, closing along with her and John Travolta’s Danny actually driving off into the sky collectively. The “Bodily” video, however, ends with Newton-John’s scantily clad iron-pumpers principally coupling off collectively and leaving the gymnasium hand in hand, maybe headed to a special sort of exercise. This was uncharted territory for Australia’s sweetheart.
However a reinvention was maybe essential for the ’70s celebrity on the onset of a brand new decade. Completely Sizzling tread water commercially, reaching the highest 10 of the Billboard 200 albums chart however spawning only a single Sizzling 100 high 10 hit within the No. 3-peaking “A Little Extra Love,” and her 1980 duet with fellow solid-gold ’70s hitmaker Andy Gibb “I Can’t Assist It” had missed the highest 10 completely, stalling at No. 12. Newton-John discovered higher success — together with her fourth Hot 100 No. 1 — with the soundtrack to Xanadu, the movie musical fantasia that marked her first characteristic function since Grease, however the film itself was such a business and significant failure that it was basically a wash for her momentum-wise. She was in want of a brand new sound and a brand new picture to mark a brand new section of her profession.
She discovered inspiration for each in a comparatively unlikely supply: the health craze that was sweeping the globe, notably America, within the early ’80s. It was the period of Richard Simmons, Jane Fonda and Jazzercise, and each the look and language of the second proved an impressed match for Newton-John’s comeback. She donned spandex, a scarf and a extra economical, Princess Diana-reminiscent haircut within the video, whereas the motivational communicate of aerobics courses knowledgeable — and provided believable deniability for — the tune’s in any other case sexually ahead refrain hook, “Let’s get bodily, phy-si-cal… let me hear your physique discuss.” Different lyrics within the verse have been much less ambiguous, however the tune’s exercise framing supplied simply sufficient double to the entendre for many programming administrators to look the opposite approach on what one PD referred to in Billboard as “an uncomfortableness” that the tune produced of their listenership.
It helped the tune’s case that it was an plain winner. The “Bodily” groove, anchored by storied studio drummer Carlos Vega’s muscular shuffle and flecked with longtime ONJ producer John Farrar’s guitar pops, is as slick and taut as certainly one of its video’s hairless naked chests. And simply as she does along with her exercise buddies within the clip, Newton-John slithers across the beat with sly however unmistakable intent, not a lot seductive as lascivious as she remarks with rising impatience, “I took you to an intimate res-tau-rant, then to a suggestive film/ There’s nothing left to speak about, until it’s… ho-ri-zon-tal-ly.” There’s a touch of stalker-movie suspense to the verse, an apparent stress lurking beneath the floor of these guitars and Olivia’s repeat “ what I imply” insistences. “Bodily” was first penned by Steve Kipner and Terry Shaddick for Rod Stewart, and it’s not shocking that it was initially envisioned from a male perspective — girls hardly ever acquired to play the hunter and never the prey in turn-of-the-’80s pop. However that’s a part of the joys of Newton-John’s rendition: the scandalous notion that even whereas she was sighing about being hopelessly dedicated to you, this may truly have been what was happening in her head all alongside.
After all, the verses are simply the wind-up for That Refrain: a five-star KO that you simply’d nonetheless keep in mind 40 years later even for those who solely ever heard it as soon as. “Let’s get bodily,” a rising Newton-John instructions, earlier than repeating the final phrase in descending cadence — “PHY-suh-cal” — as if she’s nervous you may want the message actually spelled out for you. After which, simply in case, as soon as extra: “I wanna get PHY-SI-CALLLLL!!!” Because the guitars and saxes get growlier, she transitions comparable phrasing to her subsequent message: “Let me hear your physique discuss/ Your physique discuss.” It really works not solely as an enlargement of the “bodily” thought within the refrain’ first half, however as a callback to Newton-John’s frustration all through the verse on the unbearable diploma of extra standard mouth-talking transpiring; now she needs to listen to what your different elements need to say. Good, robust, playful and instantly unforgettable, it’s all the things an awesome pop refrain must be.
The entire “Bodily” bundle rapidly proved to be an unstoppable phenomenon. It debuted at No. 66 on the Sizzling 100 dated Oct. 3, 1981; by Nov. 18 it was No.1, changing “Non-public Eyes” by Daryl Corridor and John Oates, one other duo of lately re-fashioned ’70s survivors. It dominated for the remainder of 1981, and effectively into 1982 — 10 weeks in all, tying the file (beforehand set by Debby Boone’s “You Mild Up My Life” from 1977-78) for the longest run at No. 1 in Sizzling 100 historical past — earlier than being dethroned by, coincidentally sufficient, Corridor & Oates once more with “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do).” It despatched its mother or father album of the identical identify to RIAA-certified double-Platinum standing, and established Newton-John — alongside maybe solely Debbie Harry of Blondie, whose “Rapture” back-to-back slinking she briefly borrows within the “Bodily” clip — as a pre-eminent pop star of MTV’s earliest days.
It was a standing that didn’t final notably lengthy, nevertheless. Each Newton-John and Harry have been about to be supplanted by a brand new class of do-everything MTV super-duper-stars, led by a pair rising powerhouses in Michael Jackson and Prince, and one model new ’80s icon in Madonna. The latter specifically took the medication ball from “Bodily” and ran with it, making a cultural empire out of her model of self-aware, sexually unapologetic, nuclear-strength pop music. (She even included a “Physical” song of her personal on her 1983 debut album.) Newton-John scored two extra Sizzling 100 high 5 hits in 1982, with Bodily follow-up “Make a Transfer on Me” and her new Best Hits, Vol. 2 recording “Coronary heart Assault,” and yet one more in ’83 with “Twist of Destiny,” from the soundtrack to rom-com Two of a Form, which served because the movie reunion of her and Grease co-star Travolta. However over a decade into her profession, she didn’t fairly have the firepower to maintain up within the quickly advancing high 40 panorama, and by the tip of the ’80s she had largely change into.a legacy act.
It was fairly a legacy, although: 5 No. 1 hits, with the most important saved for final — one which presently ranks simply exterior the highest 10 on Billboard‘s Greatest of All Time Hot 100 chart. As Newton-John pivoted to extra of a profession in humanitarian causes and advocacy within the ’90s and past, notably following a breast most cancers analysis in 1992, her music continued to achieve new generations, by Grease revivals and Glee covers and even some Xanadu cult reappraising. And “Bodily” continues to affect pop music to today, by way of singles by the 2 greatest feminine high 40 stars of the early 2020s: Dua Lipa’s “Bodily,” which resurrects the refrain chant and cardio vibes of Newton-John’s basic, and Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me Extra” collab with SZA, which borrows sufficient of the hook’s melodic phrasing in its personal clipped chorus to earn Kipner and Shaddick a writing credit score on it. Exercise traits and fad diets come and go, however many years from now, you’ll nonetheless be listening to “Bodily” pumping out of your gymnasium’s audio system.