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Apr 11

COLOR ME BADD – “I Wanna Sex You Up”

Popular61 comments • 3,720 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.

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Comments

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  1. 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’

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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)

  5. 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.)

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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?)

  11. 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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