The aim of the present paper will be to develop a theory of the radial-velocity changes of the components of close binary systems, with special attention to phenomena arising from finite dimensions of such components and their mutual distortion as well as irradiation. It is particularly stressed that the deformability of fluid stars and gas motions in their atmospheres can give rise to systematic differences between the observed radial velocities of such stars and those of their mass centres. In Section 2 (which follows a brief statement of the problem outlined in Section 1) we shall introduce the coordinate systems subsequently employed to treat various aspects of our problem: Section 3 will be concerned with an extraction of information from the radial-velocity component of absolute motions of the mass-centres of such stars; and in Section 4 we shall generalize the classical work by an investigation of radial velocities at any point of the apparent disks of distorted components, and their relation to the motion of their centres of mass. Section 5 will contain an evaluation of the effects of distortion, on radial velocity, averaged over the entire visible disk of the respective star at different phases; and in Section 6 we shall extend the same treatment to stars undergoing eclipses. An investigation of the effects, on the observed radial velocities, of atmospheric streaming caused by mutual irradiation of the two stars is being postponed for a subsequent communication.