Sven Mandel / CC-BY-SA-3.0
The British pop band, Right Said Fred, enjoyed a surprise hit with their debut single, I’m Too Sexy for My Shirt, in 1991 – even though their booking agent sacked them on hearing it because he hated it so much!
The band started out in 1989 as a duo, comprising brothers Richard and Fred Fairbrass, and they were joined one year later by guitarist Rob Manzoli. Despite their massive commercial success with Right Said Fred, the band members had been on the music scene for many years prior to this.
Most notably, they had been in a Manchester indie band called The Actors, at the height of the Factory Records era of the late 1970s and early ’80s. They had even supported the highly-respected indie band, Joy Division, at Manchester’s famous Factory Club.
It wasn’t until they formed the pop band Right Said Fred, however, that they enjoyed chart success and stardom. They even received a Brit Award nomination for best group in 1993.
Prior to forming Right Said Fred, the brothers lived in London, where they ran a gym. Richard had been a backing singer for stars such as David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Boy George. Fred had appeared as a guitarist in the American movie, Hearts of Fire, starring Bob Dylan.
They formed Right Said Fred, with Richard singing lead vocals and playing bass and Fred on guitar, choosing the band’s name from Bernard Cribbins’ hit song from 1962. Their debut single was I’m Too Sexy for My Shirt in July 1991, which was a surprise hit in the UK, where it peaked at number two in the chart.
It went to number one in 32 other countries, including topping the American Hot 100 Billboard chart and winning an Ivor Novello Award. Written by the Fairbrass brothers and Rob Manzoli, the song took a gentle swipe at the fashion industry.
In an interview after the song’s huge success, Richard described how it had been written. He said he and his brother saw plenty of “narcissism and posing” at their gym, at the rear of a theatrical rehearsal studio.
While fooling around on a very hot day, Richard took off his shirt and started posing in front of the mirror, taking the mickey out of people who genuinely did this.
He started posturing and singing, “I’m too sexy for my shirt,” making everyone laugh, but they decided they were on to something when they set the lyrics to a bassline they had already written, making it into a complete song over the next few weeks.
They sang other comical lyrics, such as, “I’m too sexy for my car,” focusing on things that would be universally understood. Fred came up with the lyrics about “I’m a model – you know what I mean,” because he was going out with a model at the time.
He said it was written at the height of the supermodel era, when people were dressing to impress, so the lyrics were very topical at the time.
The single was released on the independent label, Tug Records, of London, after every major label turned them down. According to Fred, even the band’s own booking agent hated the song and removed them from his books when he heard it. Initially, they didn’t get any airplay, until Guy Holmes, chairman of the Gut Reaction promotional company, heard the song.
Playing it on a cassette tape in his car, he didn’t particularly like it, but noticed that some girls getting a lift in his car started singing the line, “I’m a model,” so Holmes thought if it was so memorable after being played only briefly, it was worth chasing up.
Tug Records had been launched by Holmes in 1988 as a subsidiary of Gut. When they released I’m Too Sexy, it was their first commercial success. Suddenly, the track was getting plenty of airplay and was a major hit all over the world.
The video went a long way towards cementing its success, as no-one had ever seen anything like it before. The half-naked band members were posing and posturing on a catwalk and were being photographed by scantily-clad paparazzi. The video was perfect for the song’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics.
Richard, now 65, and Fred, 62, have continued to enjoy success with Right Said Fred, with their most recent single being Sweet Treats in 2017. However, nothing has matched the global domination of I’m Too Sexy for My Shirt. Manzoli left the band in the 1990s, but the Fairbrass brothers continued touring.
Richard and Fred Fairbrass were also credited as songwriters on the Taylor Swift single, Look What You Made Me Do, in August 2017. Last year, the band released their ninth album, while Richard has been an occasional guest on the television programme, The Wright Stuff, on Channel 5.
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