Friday, January 15, 2021

"I Want Her" by Keith Sweat

Top 10 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  3375
Date:  01/16/1988
Debut:  77
Peak:  5
Weeks:  20
Genre:  R&B, New Jack Swing

Pop Bits:  This Harlem-born singer/songwriter became a purveyor of New Jack Swing and went on to be one of the top R&B artists of the 90s earning six platinum album (three multi-platinum) along with two platinum and three gold singles. Sweat got his start in the mid-70s performing with the NYC band Jamilah. Eventually he became the lead singer. The group was popular in New York and surrounding areas, but it seems they never got a shot at something bigger. After nine years with Jamilah, Sweat decided to go solo. He signed on with the newly formed indie label Stadium and released a couple of singles in '84 and '85 that didn't get much attention. Sweat finally got a break when he signed with the Elektra off-shoot label Vintertainment. When it came time to record an album, Sweat sought out the help of Teddy Riley, a musician/producer who had been in a rival band of Jamilah's. Riley had been working with hip-hop artists at the time and was reluctant to move over to R&B, but finally acquiesced. The pair would go on to co-write and co-produce Sweat's debut LP Make It Last Forever. This distinctive first single was released late in '87 and in January of '88 it reached #1 at R&B. Its popularity then began to spread to pop stations and it slowly caught fire. It would eventually reach the Pop Top 10 while getting to #38 Dance. The record would become Sweat's first to go gold. The hit pushed his album to #1 at R&B and #15 Pop. By the end of May, the album would be platinum. Eventually it would sell over 3 million copies.

ReduxReview:  There will most likely always be debates about what was the first New Jack hit. Some say Janet Jackson's "Nasty" kicked things off. While that tune may have had some influence, I've always though LeVert's "Casanova" truly kicked off the genre even though New Jack wasn't identified as such as the time. Others think that this song marked the line in the sand, especially since the first mention of New Jack as a style came in an interview with Riley in the Village Voice in October of '87, not long after "I Want Her" was released. Indeed, this song certainly pushed New Jack to the limelight and helped Riley become the defacto "King of New Jack Swing." I certainly took notice of this song back in the day. I thought it had a distinct sound with the swinging synths and propulsive beats. Sweat's vocal was perfect over an arrangement and production that made the tune radio-ready. The chorus with Riley supplying the "I Want Her" was super hooky as well. It blazed a trail for a new genre and the track still sounds great today.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  It seems this song caused a bit of a rift between Sweat and Riley. Riley, who had already assembled the beats and backgrounds for "I Want Her" prior to meeting up with Sweat in the studio, wanted Sweat to put a bit of a nasal tone in his vocal for the song. Riley said it would sound new and different and make Sweat stand out. Sweat balked at the idea because that was not how he sang. Apparently, the discussion was tempestuous enough that, according to an interview with Riley in The Atlantic, Sweat walked out of the studio. However, after a cooling off period, Riley finally convinced Sweat to give it a shot. In the end, Sweat's vocal combined with Riley's new jack sound resulted in a major hit.


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