Rick James – Super Freak

NOT to be confused with the MC Hammer song U Can’t Touch Thiswho sampled this classic intro. MC Hammer sampled the famous bass line for his biggest hit, U Can’t Touch This. James filed suit against Hammer, which ended in an out-of-court settlement giving James a songwriting credit on the track.

This resulted in Rick James only Grammy Award when “U Can’t Touch This” won in 1991 for Best R&B Song….Life just isn’t fair.

Super Freak peaked at #16 in the Billboard 100, #40 in Canada, and #4 in New Zealand in 1981.

When James exclaims, “Blow, Danny!,” he’s talking to his sax player Daniel LeMelle just before his solo.

The song featured backup vocals by The Temptations.  You will hear James point it out in the song when he says: “Tempations sing.” Temptation member Melvin Franklin was Rick James’ uncle.

One story bout Rick James… He dodged the Vietnam War draft by heading across the Canadian border from his hometown of Buffalo. But as soon as he got into Toronto, three drunk guys tried to beat him up for going AWOL. Some other guys came over to help Rick out… Two of those guys were Garth Hudson and Levon Helm, then playing backup for Ronnie Hawkins…later The Band. He also became friendly with Joni Mitchell and she introduced him to Neil Young…Rick and Neil would soon form a band called the Mynah Birds.

Rick James: “I wanted to write a silly song. I was in the studio and everything else for the album (Street Songs) was done. I just put ‘Super Freak’ together really quickly. I wanted a silly song that had a bit of new wave texture to it. So I just came up with this silly little lick and expounded on it. I came up with the bass part first. Then I put a guitar on it and keyboards, doing the ‘ehh ehh,’ silly keyboard part. Then I found a tuning on my Oberheim OB-Xa that I’d been wanting to use for a long time – it sounds like ghosts. And I put a very operatic vocal structure on it ’cause I’m really into opera and classical music. You probably hear a lot of that in my music. So I put (sings in a deep voice) ‘She’s all right’; very operatic, sort of funny, stuff.”

From Songfacts

This song is about a girl who is very adventurous sexually, especially with members of a band. A “freak” is slang for someone willing to try various fetishes, thus a “Super Freak” will try just about anything. James was famous for his penchant toward “freakish” behavior, which got him in trouble with the law when he and his girlfriend were arrested for kidnapping another girl for sex.

Explaining how he came up with this song, James he told Musician magazine in 1983:

“Super Freak” was the biggest pop hit for Rick James, reaching #16 in the US. He had just modest success on the Hot 100 but had four #1 R&B hits and secured a legend as a prolific producer and innovator of funk. The big R&B hit from the album was “Give It to Me Baby”; “Super Freak” made #3.

This was released in the summer of 1981, around the time MTV went on the air. With director Nick Saxton, James made videos for “Give It To Me Baby” and “Super Freak,” hoping to get them on the network. At the time, however, MTV refused to play videos by black artists, and they rejected them, continuing to feed America a steady stream of rock and EuroPop. This refusal to play black music was a holdover from radio station programming, where conventional wisdom was that you would lose your white listeners if you played black music. The first black artist to make MTV with a new song was Musical Youth, who despite adapting a song about smoking marijuana, was a lot less scary to network executives than the glitter-vested James singing about kinky sex. This color barrier was shattered by Michael Jackson, who brought a new sound and sophistication to the network with the videos for his Thriller album.

Even though the network didn’t play this video, Rick James eventually made peace with MTV and put their co-founder, Les Garland, in the video for Eddie Murphy’s song “Party All the Time,” which James produced. As for exactly why MTV passed on “Super Freak,” their director of acquisitions, Carolyn Baker, explained in the book I Want My MTV: “It wasn’t MTV that turned down ‘Super Freak.’ It was me. I tuned it down. You know why? Because there were half-naked women in it, and it was a piece of crap. As a black woman, I did not want that representing my people as the first black video on MTV.”

Over the years, the word “freak” became very popular in hip-hop and R&B lyrics. It’s a versatile word that can be used as both a verb (“Freak Me”) and a noun (“The Freaks Come Out At Night”). Use of the word peaked in the mid-’90s with the phrase, “Get your freak on.”

The Dutch dance duo The Beatfreakz covered this in 2006. Their version reached #7 in the UK, the first time this song charted in Britain as Rick James original version wasn’t a hit there.

In the movie Little Miss Sunshine, the little girl Olive does a wonderfully inappropriate dance to this song in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant.

It also shows up in these movies:

A Madea Family Funeral (2019)
Love, Simon (2018)
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Suicide Squad (2016)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins (2008)
Norbit (2007)
American Dreamz (2006)
Biggie and Tupac (2002)
Batman Returns (1992)
Doctor Detroit (1983)

And in these TV shows:

Scandal (“It’s Handled” – 2013)
The Simpsons (Treehouse of Horror XXIV – 2013; Treehouse of Horror X – 1999)
Ugly Betty (“Derailed” – 2007)
Two and a Half Men (“Squab, Squab, Squab, Squab, Squab” – 2005)
Gilmore Girls (“We Got Us a Pippi Virgin” – 2004)
King of the Hill (“Returning Japanese” – 2002)
Boy Meets World (“Shallow Boy” – 1996)
In Living Color (“The Black Man’s Guide to Understanding the Black Woman” – 1990)
The A-Team (“The Heart of Rock N’ Roll” – 1985) 

A Los Angeles DJ named Alonzo Miller is credited as a writer on this track along with James. Miller worked on the lyrics with James, helping tone them down so the song had a better chance of getting airplay and crossing over to a white audience. Miller was able to get the song played at the station where he worked, KACE.

Super Freak

She’s a very kinky girl,
The kind you don’t take home to mother;
She will never let your spirits down,
Once you get her off the street.

She likes the boys in the band,
She says that I’m her all time fav’rite;
When I make my move to her room,
It’s the right time; she’s never hard to please.

That girl is pretty wild now;
The girl’s a super freak;
The kind of girl you read about
In the new wave magazines.
That girl is pretty kinky;
The girl’s a super freak;
I’d really like to taste her
Ev’ry time we meet.
She’s all right; she’s all right;
That girl’s all right with me yeah.
She’s a super freak, super freak,
She’s super freaky; super freak, super freak.

She’s a very special girl,
From her head down to her toenails;
Yet she’ll wait for me at backstage with her girlfriends,
In a limousine.

Three’s not a crowd to her, she said;
“Room 714, I’ll be waiting.”
When I get there she’s got incense, wine and candles;
It’s such a freaky scene.

That girl is pretty wild now;
The girl’s a super freak;
The kind of girl you read about
In the new wave magazines.
That girl is pretty kinky;
The girl’s a super freak;
I’d really like to taste her
Ev’ry time we meet.
She’s all right; she’s all right;
That girl’s all right with me yeah.
She’s a super freak, super freak,
She’s super freaky; super freak, super freak.
Temptations sing; oh, super freak,
Super freak, the girl’s a super freak; oh.

She’s a very kinky girl,
The kind you don’t take home to mother;
She will never let your spirits down,
Once you get her off the street.

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

24 thoughts on “Rick James – Super Freak”

      1. there was a time, it would seem, back before our time (the three of us deke, Max and myself) that Toronto was really a happening music scene where things happened and people flocked from across the border even. Nowadays, there certainly is a Toronto live music scene, but it seems it’s just locals… now and then a great singer or band comes from there, but they’re always homegrown. But once upon a time, when folk was big, Gordon L, Joni M, Neil Y… they were a magnet for other talent.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. In Robbie’s book Testimony everyone went through Toronto it seems like. Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Neil Diamond, and a bunch of others. He names off the many clubs they had…I wonder if any are still there?

        Like

  1. In 1991, James and his girlfriend Tanya Hijazi were accused of holding 24-year-old Frances Alley hostage for up to six days, tying her up, forcing her to perform sexual acts, and burning her legs and abdomen with the hot end of a crack cocaine pipe during a week-long cocaine binge.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I was so pissed off when Hammer came out with his ripoff song. Ditto Vanilla Ice. Now, I like ’em. For the longest time, I didn’t know Tone Loc had ripped off VH & The Gap Band. Good music, tho.

    Rick James is the freak. Kidnapping? Rape? He should’ve been shot.

    Liked by 1 person

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