The Right Stuff

Album: The Right Stuff (1988)
Charted: 71 44
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Songfacts®:

  • In the '80s, Vanessa Williams was best known first for being crowned Miss America (the first Black woman to do so) in 1983, then for relinquishing her title after Penthouse published naked photos of her from when she was 19. Unless you were one of the very few people to watch the talent portion of the competition, you wouldn't have known that she could really sing, but she proved it in 1988 with her first single, the appropriately named "The Right Stuff." The song was a #1 Dance hit and did well on pop radio; another song on the album, "Dreamin'," went to #1 on the R&B chart.

    Still, Williams was best known for the Miss America scandal. That changed in the '90s when she landed a number of hit songs (most notably "Save The Best For Last") and some choice acting gigs.
  • When Williams launched her singing career, few in the industry wanted a part of it - she was tainted by the scandal and Miss America winners weren't known to become pop stars. She had trouble landing songs, but got "The Right Stuff" from the songwriters Kipper Jones and Rex Salas, both former members of the R&B group Tease. Jones also co-wrote "I Wanna Be Down" and "Baby" for Brandy; Salas had played keyboards on tracks for Patti Austin and Atlantic Starr.
  • In this song, Williams has found a guy with the right stuff, and she's not going to let him go. In terms of attitude and sound, it has a Janet Jackson vibe redolent of her 1986 album control. The music video also has a Janet Jackson feel, with an urban-industrial vibe and lots of group dance sequences led by Williams.
  • When Kipper Jones saw Vanessa Williams in the Miss America pageant, he knew he had to meet her. He got his chance five years later when he presented her with this song. Williams wasn't sure dance music was the way she wanted to go, but Jones thought it was perfect for her.

    "I'm a former Soul Train dancer and I had the most enormous and ridiculously stupefying crush on Jody Watley," he told Songfacts. "So I'm thinking Vanessa should be in that lane. She should be this Jody Watley kind of sassy R&B chick, so I came up with this really cheeky, sassy song called 'The Right Stuff.' I put my best Jody Watley ears on and went for it."

    "Vanessa came down to the little studio where we were working at the publisher's house in Watts in LA," he added. "She was pregnant with her first daughter, and she came back and listened to the song. At that point we had two or three songs for her, but she loved 'The Right Stuff.' She was concerned that this was not her wheelhouse, and and I was like, 'Do not worry. I got you. When we get in the studio, just listen to me, listen to everything I say, and we will be fine.' And sure enough, we went in, we cut the song, and she was like, 'Wow!'"
  • This was released a year before the boy band New Kids On The Block put out their similarly titled hit "You've Got It (The Right Stuff)." The acclaimed movie The Right Stuff came out in 1983.
  • The French part, "Je réside en Paris, voulez-vous venir," translates to "I live in Paris, would you like to come?" This is the work of the song's co-writer Kipper Jones, who also voiced it. He's far from fluent in French, but can write a few lines in the language. He used a French part again on another song he worked on for Williams: "The Comfort Zone."
  • Hank Shockley, part of Public Enemy's production team, added the James Brown "Get On Up" sample and a few others borrowed from Keith Sweat's song "I Want Her."

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