the story behind brilliant 90s banger 'naked'

Following the release of an unsuccessful second solo single, young popstar Louise Nurding needed a new direction. This is how 'Naked' happened.

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Jul 31 2018, 6:00am

There was a point around the mid-90s, when Louise Nurding (later Louise Redknapp) was one of the UK's biggest female recording artists. In 1993, Eternal, the girlband she was a quarter of, released their new jack swing-inspired debut album Always & Forever. It went on to become the first girlband album to sell over a million copies in the UK, spending a ridiculous 76 weeks in the chart and winding up as the fourth best-selling album of 1994, one place higher than prog rock bores Pink Floyd. Oh and it spawned six top 15 singles, four of which went top 10.

In 1995, at the peak of their success, Redknapp quit the band and signed a solo deal, deciding that, like all good popstars, she had to have a mononymous moniker. Louise was born. And then, unfortunately, Louise almost died. Not literally, but career-wise. While debut single, ballad Light of My Life, peaked at number eight, follow-up In Walked Love only just scraped into the top 20, a disaster in mid-90s pop terms. Something had to change. “In a weird way it was a good thing that In Walked Love didn't do that well because it isn't a song I love,” Louise says over the phone. “Everyone has one or two songs they don't like performing and that is mine. I'm pleased that song wasn't a smash because it gave the record company the opportunity to take more risks.”

The risk was Naked, a supple dance-pop song that pre-dated Britney by three years and came with a video choreographed by a man whose main clientele at that point had been Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince. The song peaked at number five and catapulted the album of the same name to a million sales in the UK.

Here Louise and the song's video director, Gregg Masuak, talk about the making of a low-key mid-90s pop classic.

The story of the song...
Louise: Do you know what, when I first heard Naked, coming out of a group like Eternal -- where everything was soulful and had an R&B feel -- I walk into a studio and hear a song about being naked and I'm thinking, 'Where are the harmonies? Where's the gospel choir?' I recorded it in someone's house, thinking that nothing was really going to come of it, and it just goes to show you that the minute all the nuts and bolts are put together, and it becomes part of a campaign, that's when it takes off.

The recording process...
I had no idea that [the song's co-writers Trevor Steel and John Holliday] were in a rock band before [late-80s two-hit wonders The Escape Club]. They were just two guys I went to do some songwriting with and they were very nice and they'd put me in one room of their house and then record it in another. That was it. I was in my early 20s, and I was so new to the business, I was just grateful to be singing and dancing. I think it was written with me in mind. I know no one else had demoed it, I went in and learnt it with them. I didn't have a problem with the lyrics at all, I was well up for a song like that at that time. Listen, I'd just come off a number 17 flop, I was ready. I think the recording took about five or six hours. Sometimes if you over record it or over sing it it loses some of the authenticity and I was a young woman and that needed to be captured in the song. In the 90s, it was all about the spoken word section so there had to be one in Naked, but I remember feeling like such a wally doing that because anyone that knows me knows I'm the least flirtatious, most un-sexy person. I'm a bit of a tomboy really. I'm so not the kind of girl to be going “I feel your lips” and stuff like that. I remember thinking it was quite awkward.

The song's legacy...
Now I look back on it so fondly. It was such a great time for me. I was having the time of my life. It was all tongue-in-cheek and all good fun, I would never take myself too seriously as a music artist, and the second you do that you start losing what you love doing. I love singing, I love music, but more than anything entertainment is what I love. Now kids try and be cool and edgy, but the good old pop days were just about dancing and smiling and singing along.

The video...
Gregg Masuak (video director): In those days I kind of just let things fly at me. I don't recall any specific great moment where someone said 'You're doing this video'. I was aware of Eternal, and I had done a couple of videos for them after Louise had left, and then someone mentioned her as a solo artist. I knew very little about her, which is indicative of my career, I'd work with bands like Take That without knowing who the fuck they were. So then I heard Naked and I remember really fucking loving the song, and when they told me they wanted a video focused on choreography, I was really into it because I'd never really done that before. It was a little nerve-wracking because I knew enough about artists not actually being that good at movement, and I didn't find English choreography or choreographers particularly top of the line, so I was very excited when I found out this was going to be done in Hollywood. It was shot in a warehouse when cool warehouse spaces were readily available. It was really all about lighting and movement, with a tiny bit of a narrative that kind of brings it together. I had no idea who the choreographer, Jamie King, wasother than that he was very good, but what I wasn't expecting was how ridiculously good Louise was going to be.

Louise: Gregg was brilliant on that video. That song needed a video that was going to be quite iconic, and I felt like he pulled it out of the bag. I remember going over to do that video in LA and because I was so young, and on the crest of a wave, I just turned up in a dance studio and gave it a go without any idea that it was going to come out in the way it did. It was never really planned. What made the video different was the choreography, and the style of dancing. At the time Jamie King was such a hot choreographer and between the way Gregg shot it and how Jamie choreographed it, that was the point of difference. I remember walking into the studio and I knew Jamie had done Human Nature with Madonna, and in fact the three artists he'd mainly worked with were Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince, so I did feel the pressure when Lou from Lewisham walked in (laughs).

The outfits...
Gregg: I wanted a uniform that could carry the show and I'd worked with [stylist] David Thomas enough times to know he'd come up with something interesting and slightly asexual. He said he had this idea of incorporating this material into the outfits that now we see on the side of cars and on road signs, where the light hits them and they illuminate. It was a really fun thing because me and my DP then talked about using this idea as an in-camera device, so that the lighting and the music could sync up.

Louise: I've still got that outfit in the garage, but I can't fit in it anymore. At that time, in the 90s, when you were releasing a record you went and had costumes made. You didn't mix it with fashion, it was costumes for the whole campaign. I had one that was blue PVC with a dog collar, which was definitely one of the worst things I ever wore. It was about creating something that was constantly leading to a performance.

The actor...
Gregg: That was a friend of mine. He was a Londoner who went to America to learn acting. I knew him as a friend and also knew he was a good actor so I wanted to give him a bit of springtime shits and giggles.

The big eyes...
Gregg: The other thing that kept running through my mind is Louise’s lovely manager kept on reminding her during the video shoot: “Big eyes! Keeping giving us big eyes.”

Louise: Is that what Gregg said? I can't remember but that does sound like something my manager would have said. I bet you it's because sometimes when I sing I go into my own world and I do have heavy eyes, so I reckon my manager didn't want my eyes half shut!

The chaise lounge...
Gregg: Where was the chair from? I don't know, a crackhouse, I don't know. The building was completely empty, we built everything. I wanted to combine this feeling of revealing bodies that you didn't realise were there. The chaise lounge was really the piece de resistance moment where she's just available and naked for this person who she's taunting and telling to get the fuck out of his own ass and fuck her!

Louise: The first thing Jamie King said to me when I walked in was 'can you just kneel on the chaise lounge for me?', and I remember thinking 'come on Lou, you've got to get some guts and just pull this one out of the bag'. But then within ten minutes of learning the routine, and seeing where it was going, I could instantly tell it was going to be something special. Dancing on a chair isn't easy but I did my best. I'm still doing it now at the odd gig, the chaise lounge appears.

Pop fan Michael Cragg writes a regular column on the stories behind your favourite tunes. Want to know more about Moloko's Sing It Back? Of course you do!