By 1991, videos were very much part and parcel of the music industry. But still, no one had ever seen anything quite like this:
Right Said Fred’s disco-tinged single ‘I’m Too Sexy’ was an instant classic for a whole host of reasons, but for many it was the video that sold them on the concept. Clips of the half naked band members being photographed by scantily clad paparazzi complemented the song’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics in a way that no other visuals could. ‘I’m Too Sexy’ became a full-blown phenomenon.
It may be funny, but the Right Said Fred song is no joke. Industry insiders have been taking it very, very seriously for years. Speaking to Rolling Stone, radio DJ Rick Dees said, “Everyone is so busy they don’t have time to devote to memorize [rap songs]. With Right Said Fred you know he is too sexy for a dozen things, and in a week I can memorize that.” Indeed, thousands of listeners memorised the entire song. And since it didn’t take much vocal gymnastics to perform, all of them could sing along. This is what Taylor Swift realised when she interpolated the song’s vocal pattern for the chorus of her 2017 comeback single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’. In the age of social media, where Snapchat clips of fan karaoke are just as important as radio airplay, this was a savvy move.
You might expect to read, as is often the case when a classic song is sampled, that Swift was introducing a whole new generation of fans to the Right Said Fred anthem. But she wasn’t. Because ‘I’m Too Sexy’ is no forgotten classic. It’s part of the cultural fabric.
Telling the story like this, it would seem that Right Said Fred’s success came out of nowhere. But as with any hit single, especially in the pre-reality TV age, it was the payoff of a lot of hard work.
Richard and Fred Fairbrass formed Right Said Fred in 1989, but the brothers had been playing music for many years. Richard played bass with David Bowie, while Fred played guitar with Bob Dylan. Considering their credentials, ‘I’m Too Sexy’, as Right Said Fred’s debut single, was a bit of a change in direction. Writing in The Guardian, Fred Fairbrass revealed that the song was initially an indie-rock track until one radio plugger requested they give it more of a club vibe. The genre switch was a huge success, and the track was an instant hit. It joined the ranks of iconic UK number twos — failing to knock Bryan Adams’ chart dominating ‘Everything I Do’ off the top spot — but in the USA, Ireland, Australia, and nearly thirty other countries, it went to number one.
How do you follow up a chart sensation? For Right Said Fred, the answer was with more of them. Though less remembered today, the band’s second single ‘Don’t Talk Just Kiss’ was another chart hit. Featuring Jocelyn Brown on vocals, the track was another pop/house hybrid, with more of a melodic sensibility than ‘I’m Too Sexy’. Their third single, the brass-filled ‘Deeply Dippy’, earned the band their first UK number one, and helped launch their debut album Up to multi-platinum success.
Throughout their career, the band have had critical as well as commercial success, winning two Ivor Novello Awards for their songwriting. Richard Fairbrass also spent time presenting the groundbreaking Gaytime TV programme on BBC 2, the first show to be officially aimed directly at gay and lesbian viewers.
The boys continued to write, record and perform over the years. They currently have eight studio albums to their name, and they never lost their razor sharp wit. While ‘I’m Too Sexy’ parodied the fashion industry, their 2008 album I’m a Celebrity was a satire on celebrity culture, as the title suggests.
‘I’m Too Sexy’ took on a life of its own, too. Jay-Z mentioned it on 2001’s The Blueprint. It made an appearance on The West Wing. It’s been in children’s movies and car adverts. Most recently, of course, it was interpolated by one of this generation’s biggest selling singer-songwriters. The song, and the band, are cropping up everywhere. Without a doubt, they’re not too sexy to stick around even longer.