Play this, then read on . . .
I Can't Wait - Nu Shooz
Download: I Can't Wait
I'm from Portland, Oregon. Born and raised and darn proud of it. I've been thinking in the past couple years, when the idea of "settling down" rears its head that I'm glad I'm from a place that I have no problems returning to. No offense to every other city, town or rural landscape, but Portland is pretty darn ideal and an even mix of small town, greet a stranger on the street charm and big city cultural creativity. Some have even said its where hipsters go to retire. I'm not gonna even get into whether or not I'm a hipster and the implications for my impending "retirement," but basically, it's all true.
My mom and two (of three) brothers will be coming to visit me in NYC for Thanksgiving next week, so I'd like to take this time to share a little bit of Portland's musical heritage. Who is from Portland you ask? Well, aside from any number of recent indie -rock transplants whom I'm woefully ignorant of (excepting Stephen Malkmus, but back when he was in Pavement), Portland is the home to two legendary one-hit-wonder bands: The Kingsmen and Nu Shooz.
Naturally, both bands are white, but both of their immortal hits "Louie, Louie" and "I Can't Wait" are clearly inspired by genres a wee-bit darker than blue. I'm now gonna make a left-field pronouncement. Are you ready? Portlanders love to dance and they are funky in their own jerky, caffeine and micro-brew addled way. I'm sure somewhere down the way there will be a "Louie, Louie" post if only to publish the x-rated lyrics that my mom remembers from back in the day as passed to her by her girlfriends' cousin or something who was in The Kingsmen.
"I Can't Wait" is a perfect song. With John Smith's James Brown-esque chicken scratch guitar licks and its ubiqitous 80s synth beat. But really it's about Valerie Day's vocals and the HUGE hook. The song had a long history that seems pretty unfathomable today when pop-songs have shelf-lives of a couple weeks before they work their way to the MP3 scrap-heap.
On a recent trip back home I found this 7" single from 1984. I first I though it was just the 45 single of the famous song, but unlike the album (a copy of which I picked up in Brazil, not that you can't find it at any thrift store) it was released on "Poolside Records" where as the 12" single and the album were released on Atlantic Records. I gave it a listen and indeed its a very different version.
I Can't Wait (Poolside version) - Nu Shooz
Download: I Can't Wait (Poolside version)
I think it was this version that featured some horns from members of another local band, The Crazy 8's. One of my school buddy's older brother was/is a member of the band it wasn't until my 10-year high school reunion that I figured this out and realized that he played on the original "I Can't Wait."
It took Nu Shooz nearly two years to go from this Poolside version to their chart-topping album. I found this timeline of the Nu Shooz story on this website:
June '79 - John Smith founds Nu Shooz in Portland, Oregon.
May '83 - Percussionist Valerie Day becomes lead vocalist.
Summer '84 - Nu Shooz records "I Can't Wait" with Fritz Richmond (Jim Kweskin Jug Band) as engineer. Smith and band manager Rick Waritz co-produce.
April '85 - "I Can't Wait" breaks on Portland's #1 Top-40 station, KKRZ FM (Z?100), and quickly becomes a regional Top 10 hit.
Fall '85 - Warner Brothers Records extends a demo deal to Nu Shooz, but passes on the band soon afterward, stating "We've already got Madonna."
Winter '85 - Dutch producer Pieder "Hithouse" Slaghuis discovers "I Can't Wait" on Hot Trax. His re-mix on Dutch label Injection Records becomes a hot-selling import in the United States and tops dance charts around the world.
January '86 - Atlantic Records signs Nu Shooz. Recording sessions begin at Atlantic Studios in New York and the Sunset Sound Factory in Los Angeles.
March '86 - The band's first album, Poolside, is completed after just 6 weeks. Fusion legend Jeff Lorber co-produces with Smith and Waritz.
Summer '86 - Nu Shooz tours 70 US cities in 73 days.
September '86 - "I Can't Wait" reaches #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
October '86 - Nu Shooz earns a Gold Album with Poolside.
November '86 - Shep Pettibone's (George Michael, Janet Jackson) re-mix of follow-up single "Point Of No Return" reaches #28 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Winter '86 - The band is nominated for a "Best New Artist" Grammy Award (Bruce Hornsby and the Range later win the award).
It might take awhile for a song to hit, but once it does it's inescapable. Next, if they song's beat is sufficiently funky and has some instrumental passages long enough to double-up and rhyme over, then you have the ideal recipe for an old-school hip-hop jam:
I Can't Wait (To Rock the Mic) - Spyder-D
Download: I Can't Wait (To Rock the Mic)
and the flipside of the 12":
Download: I Can't Wait (To Rock the Mic) Instrumental
If these four versions of the song aren't enough for you, last year Nu Shooz reunited and recorded an unplugged version of the song that you can here on their website here. The unplugged version is pretty nice, showing off Valerie's vocal chops. The remix that is also available sounds like Nu Shooz meets Portishead, meets Dr. Dre . . . see for yourself.
keepin' it real in the 503