Jheri Curl June: Nu Shooz’ “I Can’t Wait”

Today’s installment of JCJ Ladies’ Week is also a story about the interesting cross-pollination of regional and global influences during the late jheri curl era. It begins in Portland, Oregon–a city better known at the time for its hardcore punk scene than for jheri curl music–where husband-and-wife team Valerie Day and John Smith formed Nu Shooz, a multiracial funk group that put a new-wavey spin on the emergent jheri-curl subgenre of freestyle. In March of 1985, Nu Shooz released their second album, Tha’s Right, which included a catchy little number called “I Can’t Wait.”

That catchy little number, driven by an infectious Latin percussion intro and some vintage jheri-curl muted guitar plucking, became a regional radio hit in the Portland area. The problem is that it wasn’t catchy enough for everyone. First, Nu Shooz were rejected by several major labels. Then, Dutch DJ and producer Peter Slaghuis got a hold of the song. The resulting remix was apparently inspired by nothing short of malice: he later said, “I hated that song so much… I just had to put a hook over it.” And, with apologies to Nu Shooz’ devout Pacific Northwest fanbase, it was Slaghuis’ hook–a wacky, funky, modulated vocal sample played through a synthesizer– that took “I Can’t Wait” from local hit to jheri-curl classic.

It also couldn’t have hurt that the song had a memorable, pop-surrealist video, directed by video artist Jim Blashfield and featuring Day sitting at an office desk in what appears to be a desert soundstage, surrounded by computer-animated flying tools and a dog with sunglasses. And, especially since this is the week when we highlight women artists, it’s important to note that while Slaghuis supplied the song’s hook, Valerie Day was always its heart: her poppy vocals lend an integral touch of sweetness to the song, and in case you didn’t think white girls can be funky, that’s her playing percussion on the track.

You can listen to the superior (again, sorry Portlandians) “Dutch Mix” of “I Can’t Wait” on the Spotify playlist below:


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