How I wrote ‘I’m Too Sexy’ by Right Said Fred
Having inspired a Taylor Swift single, the Fairbrass brothers reveal all about the creation of their shirtless 1991 smash hit
Think of the pop world of the early 90s and it’s not long before your mind turns to Right Said Fred’s juggernaut of a single, I’m Too Sexy. The debut release from Fred Fairbrass, Richard Fairbrass and Rob Manzoli topped the charts in six countries and was only held off the top spot in the UK by Bryan Adams’ own monster hit, (Everything I Do) I Do It For.
A favourite of adverts and movies alike, the track has subsequently turned up everywhere from a commercial for Fruitella sweets to The Smurfs 2 soundtrack. Perhaps more respectably, it also won the 1992 Ivor Novello award for the most performed work.
All of a sudden, Taylor Swift has recently brought I’m Too Sexy back, interpolating it on her own single Look What You Made Me Do. It gives us the perfect excuse to speak to brothers Fred and Richard about their smash song and its new lease of life…
Fred: “Richard and I were an acoustic duo but we were tired of doing that so we contacted a local rehearsal room in South West London and asked if they knew any other players, which is how we hooked up with Rob Manzoli. This was the summer of 1990 and we got together with Rob and started to do some writing. We also wanted to work with a computer programmer so we were introduced to Brian Pugsley. We went to Brian’s house in West London on the 18th September 1990 with a song called Heaven. The bassline was basically an E major scale going round and round. We were playing with this idea and we’d had a couple of drinks, it was very hot as we were in a basement. This song was going nowhere and then Richard starts jumping around. He gets up as he’s hot and he actually takes his shirt off and goes ‘I’m too sexy for my shirt’ and we all stopped.”
Richard: “Obviously the heat had something to do with it. The guy had one of those really old-fashioned Victorian wardrobes with a mirror cut into its front door and I just stood in front of it. I’d been training at the gym quite hard at the time so I took off my shirt and started dancing. I could still hear the bassline for this other song and for some inexplicable reason started singing ‘I’m too sexy for my shirt’ and it went from there.”
F: “Initially I thought it was a pretty stupid idea but Richard and Rob thought it was brilliant. I took a little bit more persuasion because I couldn’t hear where this would go until we came up with the ‘I’m a model’ bit. Then the whole thing made sense. Rob came up with the guitar line and we wanted to write something over that, we’d sung the bass line so wanted to sing the guitar line too.
“We sat down and wrote a big list of things that we were too sexy for, including people like Doris Day but then we thought that was the wrong way to go. We thought we’d make it more ridiculous. Rich came up with ‘shirt’ then we came up with ‘hat’ and ‘pussy cat’. We liked the idea of cities because the song was about hedonism and the rise of supermodels at the end of the 80s. We then did another session with Ian Craig Marsh, one of the guys from Heaven 17. It was his idea to put in the brass pad to split up the verses, because we wanted more than two verses but we didn’t want four.
“We didn’t have any money but we found a studio that was in liquidation. If you bunged the manager some cash he would open it up at night. We weren’t allowed to have the lights or the heating on in case the council found out, so it was bloody freezing. The vocal that’s on the record is the original demo vocal, Rich just nailed an attitude that worked.”
R: “I wanted to be Steven Tyler when I was a kid but that’s not the voice I have so you live with what the gods gave you and once I did I’m Too Sexy I realised I could sing that low, because I hadn’t thought about it before.”
F: “We then hooked up with a guy called TommyD who was a DJ who re-jigged the backing track for us, we all then met up at Red Bus Studios. Phil Spalding put down the bass, Rob and I put down some guitars, Tommy did the programming and Graham Bonnet was the engineer.
“We went round the major record labels with cassettes and they all told us to fuck off, so we thought ‘well we don’t care about a deal, let’s just get it on the radio.’ The receptionist at Red Bus was this young girl called Tamzin and she heard it and said ‘I think this is a hit record’. So we said ‘we’ll do you a deal, you can manage the band if you get this on the radio.’ Within about four weeks she got it on Gary Crowley’s show and then Simon Bates’ breakfast show, the biggest show in the UK at the time. They put it on air, the phones went insane and the song went mad.
“I think the lyric is a bit like Happy Birthday in that you can sing I’m Too Sexy for anything. Happy Birthday has that modular thing, where it doesn’t matter how long or short a person’s name is it still works and I just think it’s a bit like that because you can make your own lyrics up.”
R: “Also it’s not threatening, the lyrics are cheeky and innocent and you can sing them with a wink.”
Fred: “We see it as a gateway song to the rest of the stuff that we do, because there are people like the Taylor Swift fans, they know I’m Too Sexy but now they’ve also heard Stand Up For The Champions and Don’t Talk Just Kiss.
“It’s a little bit like having a daughter that you love and you’re absolutely mad about and she then leaves home and becomes a crack addict. You still love her but just don’t approve of some of the company that she keeps. I love the song but some of the places that it’s found itself and some of the company it’s kept is not so good.
“Having said that, the Taylor thing is great and she’s been really great about it all. In this business, courtesy is not common but all of Taylor’s people have been incredibly responsive. They pick up the phone, they answer emails straight away, they sent us a huge bunch of flowers and they’ve just been really nice to work with. It makes a huge difference.”
F: “She’s a much bigger artist than we are but you don’t sense that. There’s none of this ‘don’t you know who we are?’ As an independent band we often find ourselves in the wilderness because we’re not supported by a major label. We’ve been blanked for years by certain festivals and television shows who are now in the really difficult position of going ‘oh hell, we’re going to have to talk to those bald bastards again,’ and that’s pretty funny. I’m Too Sexy has delivered more than we could ever have hoped for, even before this Taylor Swift thing.”
R: “There are two things I’m really proud of. I’m really proud of the song itself and I’ve never not wanted to sing it. After 26 years I still always look forward to performing it. Secondly, we never made the mistake of trying to write another one like it. That’s that and we moved on. I love it.”
Interview: Duncan Haskell