What Makes Newton-John Get 'Physical' At The Gym

Jan 9, 2012
Originally published on January 10, 2012 9:14 am

Aside from watching all of the new shows on TV, many people in the New Year will hit the gym, and we're doing our part to help. For the next couple of weeks, we're asking athletes, actors and others what music gets them moving.

"Physical" has been a gym-goer's favorite for decades, but Olivia Newton-John says it didn't start out that way.

"When the song came out — I recorded it, thought it was a great song and then had a panic attack, and then called my manager and said, 'You can't put this out! It's too over the top; it's too risque,'" Newton-John says. "He said, 'It's too late, it's gone to radio.' So then I said, 'Well, you know what I think? We need to make it more about exercise and take away from the naughtiness.' But, of course, that made it even naughtier."

So, what does Newton-John listen to to get her going? Well, it's not "Physical." She says listening to her own songs would be weird. Besides, she doesn't even exercise to music. It turns out that CNN and The History Channel make her "get physical."

"I have a home gym, so I get on my treadmill and put on the television," Newton-John says. "So that's when I catch up on the news or a documentary or something."

Being a good sport, Newton-John did pick out three songs for us that get her up and moving. She said "Brown Sugar" by The Rolling Stones would be one of her picks. "Always love that," she says. "Every time that comes on I'm in a club I have to get up." She also mentioned another Stones song: "Honky Tonk Woman." And she chose a more contemporary song — the Black Eyed Peas' "I Got a Feeling" — as her final pick.

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Now, of course, besides new television seasons, the New Year brings resolutions, and many of us are - or at least were planning to - rev up our exercise. Here at MORNING EDITION, we're spending the next few weeks asking athletes, actors and also you - our listeners - about the music that gets your workouts going. And who better to start off with than the artist behind that classic workout track?


GREENE: Your body's surely talking. Olivia Newton-John, musician, says the song that would become an exercise anthem didn't really start out that way.

: When the song actually came out, I recorded it, thought it was a great song but then had a panic attack and called my manager and said, you can't put this out. It's too over the top, and it's too risque. And he says, too late, it's gone to radio. So then I said, well, you know what? I think we need to make it more about exercise.

GREENE: So they made a music video. In 1981, that took place in a gym with sweatbands and leotards - remember those? - and they tried to cast the lyrics in a less risque light.


GREENE: Now, Olivia Newton-John herself doesn't work out to this song. She told us that listening to her own music while exercising would be weird. Turns out she doesn't listen to any music when she does her cardio. She doesn't have an iPod or anything, and so she says she puts on CNN or the History Channel.

: I have a home gym, so I get on my treadmill and I put on the television. That's when I usually catch up on the news, or I catch up on a documentary or something.

GREENE: But being a good sport, she did pick out three songs for us that get her moving.

: There'd be a couple of songs I could think of that I would love to work out to. One is the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar" - always loved that. Every time that comes on in a club, I have to get up.


GREENE: Olivia Newton-John is a true Stones fan; she also mentioned the song "Honky Tonk Woman." And she chose something a little more contemporary, too.

: "I Gotta Feeling," by the Black Eyed Peas.


: Yeah, that's it. I love that song.

GREENE: So there you have it - three songs that get actress and singer Olivia Newton-John up and moving. And in the coming weeks, we'll be talking to all sorts of people to find out what music inspires a run or a gym visit or a swim. Let's call it the Ultimate NPR Workout Mix - we'll make the CD later. You can weigh in with all of your picks at NPR.org/Music.


GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.