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Apr 11

COLOR ME BADD – “I Wanna Sex You Up”

Popular61 comments • 4,014 views

#665, 8th June 1991

The best thing about “I Wanna Sex You Up” is its bounce – the first swingbeat Number One (and so the first modern R’n’B number one in some sense) is full of springy confidence. Compare it to the New Kids’ hits from a year or so before and this is an altogether slicker proposition – the boyband and street music elements on those records were awkwardly cut together, whereas “I Wanna Sex You Up” feels unitary. The beat and samples here mesh with the crooning and pleading, and the whole thing feels deliciously light. At its heart New Jack Swing was an updating of doo-wop – groups of kids standing on imaginary corners, harmonising, playing off each other, serenading passing girls. And “I Wanna Sex You Up” has some of the weightlessness of doo-wop – that repeated “woo-oo-oo-oo-ooOOoo” hook an anti-grav belt round the song’s waist.

It also has a rather unfortunate title. Not because it’s too frank, mind you. I’ve seen the argument that the shift in pop away from coded mentions of sex to explicit ones has meant a decline in creativity: songwriters used to have to work harder and more poetically if they wanted to bring desire to life. That may be true, but the coded songs also helped spare blushes: metaphor was the lightswitch in pop’s bedroom. In any case, the problem with Color Me Badd’s track – if any – is the mismatch between title and delivery. The group sing the song like pleading kids who are trying out the word “sex” as much as planning to do anything about it, which gives “I wanna sex you up” its mildly ludicrous tint. (The lyrics wander further off-message with the very odd “we can do it till we both wake up”). But this shouldn’t detract from a breezy pop song, a wad of bubblegum which anticipates a host of boyband tracks for the next two decades, and betters most of them.

6

Comments

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  1. 31
    Mark M on 28 Apr 2011 #

    I like a whole bunch of the stuff on the comp Lex linked to, but I also felt – and still do – that much of the New Jack/Jill Swing stuff was a bit insipid. But listening to I Wanna… again, it’s really not bad at all – 6 seems fair.

    New Jack City was written up as part of a coming wave of black cinema, but it has nothing in common with Boyz n the Hood other than the ethnicity of the characters and the presence of a rapper in a star role. It actually belongs firmly to the family of Scarface – not just the Pacino one (which I think the characters watch), but also to the original and maybe even more to the Warners gangster movies (gangsterism as the one route to social mobility in an unjust society – also anticipates The Wire and Stringer Bell in a genuine interest in the business of the drug business). And it set up Ice-T with his second career playing cops.

  2. 32
    MikeMCSG on 28 Apr 2011 #

    Category T (as in not my cup of ..) for me.

    Could anyone attempt a definition of “swing beat” ? Genuinely interested.

  3. 33
    nicknickdesbois on 28 Apr 2011 #

    Although the members of Color Me Bad are all fairly white, when it appears in the film New Jack City it’s being sung by a black and/or Hispanic group (gathered around a burning trashcan for added “street” IIRC). They were thus instantly and amusingly dubbed Color Me In by my friend Ian.

  4. 34

    I hadn’t heard this for a long time, and probably never really listened closely when it first came out — I was busy editing a magazine that wasn’t primarily pop-driven — so I was surprised that (a) it sounds so sophisticated, and that (b) the reason for this is that it reminds me, in tone and feel and least, of Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band; and specifically “I’ll Play the Fool”… or am I tripping?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QI7mHkSLkz4&feature=artist

    Anyway, this is surely an element in the evolution of swingbeat — DBOSB’s Stony Browder was finding a way through from jazz-era beats to disco; and Teddy Riley et al were picking up on these same rhythm shapes in the age of the drum-machine. (Mike I don’t have the technical drummer’s language to detail what’s particular to this beat; but it’s surely the shuffle feel, the very precise asymmetrical distribution of accent, tum ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum etc…)

    Lex, do you know Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band? I think they’re up your street!

  5. 35
    will on 28 Apr 2011 #

    Yes, a summery, harmless-enough Number One that is hamstrung by that bleedin’ awful title. I actually preferred the Motown-ish follow up, All 4 Love, though. (I think it was called All 4 Love, anyway)

  6. 36
    MikeMCSG on 28 Apr 2011 #

    # 34 Thanks for that.

  7. 37
    thefatgit on 28 Apr 2011 #

    I wonder if Silvio Berlusconi played IWSYU at any of his Bunga Bunga parties. Could be his theme tune.

  8. 38
    Alex on 28 Apr 2011 #

    Sexing anything up will never be the same after the Hutton report.

  9. 39
    Erithian on 28 Apr 2011 #

    Indeed. I treasure the memory of the day we were being given a presentation at work about the management’s plans for the coming year, and someone muttered to me “this report has been sexed down”.

  10. 40
    Pete Baran on 28 Apr 2011 #

    So are we implicating Color Me Badd in the death of Dr David Kelly?

  11. 41
    chelovek na lune on 28 Apr 2011 #

    (racks his brains to think if there are any New Jack Swing tracks that refer to “dodgy dossiers”. Or failing that “burying bad news” will do)

  12. 42
    lex on 28 Apr 2011 #

    @34 no I don’t but I distinctly recall someone making a comparison to them when Estelle’s “American Boy” came out!

  13. 43
    Alfred on 28 Apr 2011 #

    Great new jack:

    Guy
    Keith Sweat
    Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid”
    Bobby Brown

  14. 44
    Alfred on 28 Apr 2011 #

    I don’t change the station when BBD’s “Poison” comes on, but they were rather gross. If not for the wistful bridge (“She’s drivin’ me out of my mind…”), this is a song in which these guys want you to hate the bitch they’ve all taken turns screwing.

  15. 45

    Also, Dr. Buzzard’s OSB then morphed into Kid Creole and the Coconuts, one of whom fathered Binkie in yr beloved Electrik Red!

  16. 46
    Ed on 29 Apr 2011 #

    #31 Good spot on the theme of upward mobility in New Jack City, which I remember loving when it came out. It starts out as standard street realism, but then each time we fast-forward to a new phase of the characters’ lives, they have been transformed by their accumulating wealth. They become comfortable, then opulent, then ludicrously lavish, until by the end they are living in what appears to be a vast Gothic castle, with furnishings to match. And as you watch that progression, the mood changes, so it mutates from being a film about The Streets to something more mythic. The Pacino / De Palma Scarface tries the same trick, and New Jack City pays homage – as you say, the gangsters watch it at one point – but NJC outdoes it, I think.

  17. 47
    Weej on 29 Apr 2011 #

    Seems like nobody’s really that into CMB – this song is currently the sole ‘6’ in the readers’ bottom 100.
    One thing I don’t think has been mentioned so far is the bizarre “disconnect the phone so no-one knows” line. Why doesn’t he want anyone to know? Is he ashamed of being seen with her? Is it going to be “our little secret”? However you look at it it’s hardly seductive. If it was “disconnect the phone so nobody disturbs us” it wouldn’t scan, so I hope that’s the reason it’s like that.

  18. 48
    Steve Mannion on 29 Apr 2011 #

    I think it’s because it’s the same girl from ‘Poison’ who has since learned how to infiltrate other songs. Truly she’s dangerous.

  19. 49
    wichita lineman on 30 Apr 2011 #

    Re 45: Aha! I was just about to say Dr Buzzard’s OSB remind me of Kid Creole… never heard them before Mark, thanks for that! Sunshower is gorgeous, too…

    “Their 1976 song, “Sunshower”, has been sampled by a number of artists, including A Tribe Called Quest, M.I.A., Ghostface Killah, De La Soul, and Doug E. Fresh. It was also remixed by Japanese recording artist, Fantastic Plastic Machine.”

    …how the heck have I missed them all my life?? I think their name made me think they’d sound like Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, or Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Silly me.

    (quickly revises Kid Creole entry in Bumper Book Of Pop)

  20. 50
    lonepilgrim on 30 Apr 2011 #

    I remember Ian Penman plugging DBOSB in the NME in the early 80s when he was celebrating the art of the torch song – I managed to pick up a couple of their albums on vinyl back then and loved them.

  21. 51
    LondonLee on 30 Apr 2011 #

    Julie Burchill used to big up August Darnell on occasion too. I remember her swooning over ‘Off The Coast of Me’

  22. 52
    hardtogethits on 1 May 2011 #

    #47, fantastic observation. There is a statistically significant link between the scores awarded in the reviews and their ranking in the FT readers’ chart. Although correlation does not necessarily mean causation, en masse we have not ranked lowly anything Tom’s given a 6 or higher, and nor have we ranked highly anything Tom’s given a 4 or below.

    Here, however, the emperor is naked. This is excruciatingly indiscreet and completely charmless. Color Me Badd could open to our ridicule and scorn, or our kind-hearted pity, but heavens no, not our praise. Another dreadful 1.

  23. 53
    Tom on 1 May 2011 #

    My suspicion – whether voiced on here before or not I don’t know, but I’ve said it in the pub a few times – is that the correlation you’ve talked about will weaken considerably in the 90s and 00s: partly because I like and value different things from the last 20 years than the average fan of 70s and 80s pop, partly because there’s a lot less consensus generally over *what* to value, at least when it comes to singles.

  24. 54
    chelovek na lune on 1 May 2011 #

    Julie B would surely have killed to have come up with the line “If I was in your blood, then you wouldn’t be so ugly”

    (Hhhhhhhrrrr, the less said about their Prince-associated mini-comeback mini-hit not inappropriately entitled “The Sex Of It” the better. A nice groove, for sure, but even EP tracks and Christmas singles like “Dear Addy” were rather finer from the Coconuts when they were at their peak – and that’s a fact – before you break your back and have a heart attack)

  25. 55
    lex on 1 May 2011 #

    I’m actually somewhat surprised (and highly DISAPPOINTED) that the readers’ score is so low. Shame on you all! (I have a feeling I might be saying that a lot in the years to come; we’re still only at the very start of my own proper pop-listening career.) (I gave this an 8. The majority of the New Jack/Jill Swing classics – “Motownphilly”, “Poison”, “Don’t Walk Away”, pretty much everything En Vogue released – would get unhesitating 10s.)

  26. 56
    swanstep on 1 May 2011 #

    @lex. IWSYU just has that one chord pattern, and I find myself waiting and waiting in vain for something/anything else to happen musically (at least some new timbres, I’m dying by the end….I mean Massive Attack’s Safe from Harm is in the charts at the same time as IWSYU – that’s how to hit a single pattern hard and mix up the timbres over the top, right?). I *do* quite like the backing vox in IWSYU, but the main vocal line just irritates; it isn’t nearly good enough or varied enough or basically fun enough to carry the song I find. I suppose my feelings about this track might well have been different if, say, Prince or Mariah were up front to sell it.

    Anyhow, I’m feeling no shame! I’d give Don’t walk away a 7 or 8, the best En Vogue singles 9s, and Safe from Harm a 9 or a 10.

  27. 57
    Cumbrian on 1 May 2011 #

    Good to see En Vogue getting some praise here. I thought they were pretty good at the time and their best stuff verges on my favourite tracks of the broad church of modern R&B. My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It) in particular is tremendous – really well put together with snappy drums, a James Brown funk guitar in the back and even the flute works well. Of course, the vocals were really on the mark too – I remember being really impressed with the 1940’s vocal breakdown in the middle.

    Supposedly they’re going to release a new album this year (at least according to wiki, for what that is worth). I’d be interested to hear it.

  28. 58
    LondonLee on 1 May 2011 #

    En Vogue’s ‘Funky Divas’ album is top class too.

    I never minded this record at all, despite the silly title, so 6 seems about right to me. Though my abiding memory of it and the group is the lead singer’s mustache.

  29. 59
    Alex on 3 May 2011 #

    I thought they were pretty good at the time and their best stuff verges on my favourite tracks of the broad church of modern R&B. My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It) in particular is tremendous – really well put together with snappy drums, a James Brown funk guitar in the back and even the flute works well. Of course, the vocals were really on the mark too – I remember being really impressed with the 1940′s vocal breakdown in the middle.

    +1. Correct.

  30. 60
    The Lurker on 20 May 2011 #

    The title is what struck me at the time (aged 16) – it just didn’t sound idiomatic at all, more like something that someone whose first language wasn’t English would say. It would only make sense if it meant “I want to give you a sexy makeover”, which it clearly doesn’t. That made it resolutely non-sexy from the outset. (Can anyone from the other side of the Atlantic confirm if the title is idiomatic over there?)

  31. 61
    hectorthebat on 26 Mar 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh (USA) – Postscript (102 Songs) to The Heart of Rock & Soul (1998)
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1990s (2001) 70
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Village Voice (USA) – Singles of the Year 25

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