This is the 25th post in a weekly, yearlong series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song will be posted each Monday throughout 2016. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.

Jermaine Stewart, Jody Watley, and Jeffrey Daniel became friends when they all worked as featured dancers on “Soul Train.” Together, they auditioned for Shalamar, the music group created by “Soul Train” creator Don Cornelius and agent Dick Griffrey. Stewart didn’t make the cut, though Watley and Daniel did.

But Stewart did get to tour with the group, as a dancer. While on tour with the band, Stewart met Culture Club bassist Mikey Craig, who recognized Stewart’s potential to be a singer. Craig helped Stewart record a demo, and soon after, Stewart sang backup on Culture Club’s “Miss Me Blind.” A record deal with Arista soon followed.

Stewart’s single “The Word is Out” was a minor hit in 1983, as was his debut album of the same name, which came out the following year. But it was “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” of his second album, 1986’s “Frantic Romantic,” that became his biggest hit and signature song. The song, written by Narada Michael Walden and Preston Glass, was about how people didn’t “have to take our clothes off to have a good time.”

In a 1988 interview with DJ Donnie Simpson, Stewart said the song’s inspiration was more than just sex. “I think it made a lot of peoples’ minds open up a little bit,” Stewart said. “We didn’t only want to just talk about clothes, we wanted to extend that. We wanted to use the song as a theme to be able to say you don’t have to do all the negative things that society forces on you. You don’t have to drink and drive. You don’t have to take drugs early. The girls don’t have to get pregnant early. So the clothes bit of it was to get people’s attention, which it did and I’m glad it was a positive message.”

That Stewart wanted the song to echo those ideals is worth noting, and not just because of the song’s modest view on sex came at a time when AIDS-related deaths were skyrocketing and the White House had yet to comment on the crisis. The year before “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” was released, the US Senate heard testimony from the Parents Music Resource Center. Led by Tipper Gore and Susan Baker, the PMRC successfully fought for parental warning labels on music that had “explicit” content. The group compiled 15 objectionable songs, a list that became known as the Filthy Fifteen. Many of the songs on the list were there because of sexually-charged content, but there were also songs noted for references to violence, alcohol, and drugs.

As heralded as “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” was for its message, it was not completely child-friendly:

We could dance and party all night
And drink some cherry wine, oh

Just slow down if you want me
A man wants to be approached cool and romantically, oh oh
I’ve got needs, uh
Just like you

Not scandalous lyrics, per se, but tuck those away in your memory for later in the post, because those lyrics, like the song in general, can sound drastically different depending on who is singing them. Because “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” is about sex, it’s hard to talk about the covers without also considering how the genders of the singers play into (or against) our cultural expectations about sex and gender. The statement that “A man wants to be approached cool and romantically” might sound refreshing to anyone who’s ever used dating apps and received any unsolicited pictures or advances from strange men. The other person in the song — the addressed recipient — can be whomever we want. In Stewart’s version and subsequent covers, the only reference to gender is in that “cool and romantically” line, and thus the gender of the person being sung to is never revealed.

English girl group Clea teamed with production group Da Playaz in 2005 for a cover of “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off.” single reached Number 35 on the UK charts that year, and in the summer of 2006, reached Number 1 in Hong Kong. Clea’s faithful cover didn’t contain any surprises. Some of the cheesier vestiges of the 1986 version were removed so that the production style reflected the early-to-mid 2000s, but it was basically an update, rather than a new interpretation. Which was fine, as it was just as catchy and danceable.

We previously discussed The Hot Stewards’ 2007 album “Cover Up” when discussing “The Loco-Motion” and “Smalltown Boy.” The band’s cover of the latter song dripped with glam swagger, but its take on “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” was less bravado and more pop punk. In other words, it had lots yelling and crunchy guitars, such that sounded defensive, like singer William Steward wanted to make his line was clearly defined.

Canadian queercore electropop band Kids On TV made a career combining queer history, humor, and performance art. To get a sense of the band, just consider some of the song titles on its 2007 album “Mixing Business With Pleasure”: “Breakdance Hunx,” “Cockwolves,” “Raw Raw Raw,” and “Hanky Code,” which is about, well, hanky codes. (If you don’t know what hanky codes are, Google it when you get home from work.) That same album featured Kids On TV’s take on “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off.” The almost bare version would have sounded like it was sung by an earnest a cappella group at some milquetoast college if not from some robotic autotune and soft keyboards.

English pop singer Lil’ Chris, who achieved some minor fame after appearing on the TV show “Rock School” with Gene Simmons of KISS, released a cover of “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” as a single from his sophomore album, “What’s It All About?” Lil’ Chris emulated contemporary pop-punk singers on this song without aping the crunchy guitars and pounding drums. He kept the dance-pop feel of Stewart’s original, including keyboards and horns. He just sounded a little whinier.

British soul singer Ella Eyre’s “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” appeared on the 2013 compilation, “Virgin Records: 40 Years of Disruption.” Her “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” bore no resemblance to the corny guilty pleasure Stewart recorded. She stripped out the catchy “na na na na” sections, slowed down the tempo and replaced with the keyboards with haunting piano and strings. Her bluesy voice sounded pained and broken-hearted, as if she felt worn out from having to reiterate this message a few times too many. By turning “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” into a ballad, Eyre pulled out a power to Narada Michael Walden’s and Preston Glass’s lyrics that even they might not have anticipated possible.

Eyre’s version of the song later appeared on her 2015 debut album “Feline” and her single of it reached Number 54 on the UK charts. It resonated with fans, and as a result, several versions using her arrangement have been recorded by several aspiring singers and fans, amateur and professional alike.

And I do mean several.

There’s Tess Leo…

and Ariel Currant…

and Melissa Tagesson…

..and these above versions are just a sampling of what’s on YouTube, but there are more singers than just YouTube users who are emulating Eyre’s version of the song. Since its release, Eyre’s version — particularly the piano and strings arrangement — has become a staple for contestants trying out on reality singing shows. There was Ellie Lawrence, who sang it on her audition “The Voice” in 2015…

..and then later recorded a studio version.

Kiera Weathers, a contestant on UK show “The X Factor,” won praise from Eyre herself after Weathers performed (and nailed) a beautiful version of “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off.”

Alison Rushe was able to advance on “The Voice of Ireland” with her rendition of “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off.” Unlike Eyre’s version, Rushe included the “na na na na na” part of the original.

All of these versions, when viewed collectively, show how deeply Eyre’s version resonated with women, particularly young women. (We will hold for now the discussion of how young is too young to sing this song, but don’t worry, we will get back to it.) People of all gender identities and expressions can feel pressured to have sex, of course, so it’s not limited just to women. Just see Stewart’s version. However, these versions by women strike a different tone than Stewart’s, especially in a time when we are more cognizant of rape culture, as well as the expectations and assumptions that women face daily. How a woman dresses or presents herself often gets used against her, with men and society condescendingly saying that to prevent sexual assault, a woman should dress more modestly, lest she come off as “asking for it.”

Which is not to say that all of the versions in the last two years have been done in the style of Eyre, or that the only versions inspired by Eyre’s version have been by women.

English singer Calum Scott sang “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” in the style of Eyre in 2015 semifinals of “Britain’s Got Talent.” His performance, though it used the piano arrangement from Eyre’s version, played up the soaring strings and added an electric guitar in the middle.

In the 2016 season of “The Voice UK,” Faheem Ashraf sang a soulful version more in line with Stewart’s version. But Ashraf’s upbeat version, which had a live backing band, had the horns-driven soul sound of the ’60s rather than the keyboard-heavy pop sound of the original.

On the 2015 season of the Swedish version of “Idol,” then-20-year-old Magnus Englund sang “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off,” and well, of course, he sang it in the style of Ella Eyre. I point out he was 20, because when watching him, you’ll think he’s a 14-year-old Hayden Christensen. And if you don’t know that he’s not really 14, his seductive looks at the camera will come as creepy. Though, I know he was 20 at the time and yet I am still creeped out. Englund’s version begins at about 1:10 in the clip below.

Remember when we said we would hold the discussion of how young is too young to sing this song, but that we would get back to it?

We are back to it.

Because you watched that clip of the youthful-looking Swedish guy, right? And you found it unsettling that someone who looks like he could still be in 8th grade was winking about skinny-dipping and not being a piece of meat? And when he shook his hips and grunted when singing, “Take my hand, let’s hit the floor/Shake our bodies to the music/Maybe then you’ll score”?

But he was 20, so he only looked like a child. Similarly, Kiera Weathers was 18 when she sang the song and if Ariel Currant is 22 now, then she was in her early 20s when she recorded herself singing the song. But there are at least two versions by actual children.

One is by Swiss child singer Flavio Rizzello, who won the 2015 season of “Switzerland’s Got Talent” at the age of 10. Later in the year, when he was 11, he released his debut album, “My Favorites,” which included a cover of “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off.” This version included all of the lyrics written by Narada Michael Walden and Preston Glass, making it hard to get through when you know the singer was just 11 years old.

The other cover was by a child even younger, 8-year-old Jordan Bijan. Yes, he was 8. And yes, like Rizzello, he included all the lyrics.

All of them, including:
Take my hand, let’s hit the floor
Shake our bodies to the music
Maybe then you’ll score

And:
We could dance and party all night
And drink some cherry wine, oh

And even:
Just slow down if you want me
A man wants to be approached cool and romantically, oh oh
I’ve got needs, uh
Just like you

Totally creepy and unsettling to imagine children singing those words, yes?

This is not the first time we’ve reviewed a song that sounded inappropriate when sung by kids; The Vienna Boys Choir’s version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” was unsettling at parts. The irony is that “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” was lauded as a positive reinforcement of positive values, particularly at a time when the Parents Music Resource Center and others had accused artists of being morally bankrupt. The song may have been seen appropriate by adults to be heard by children, but it definitely doesn’t sound appropriate to be sung by children.

More than any song we have discussed, “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” is the best example (thus far) of songs that changed radically depending on who performed it. The only other song we’ve discussed that could come close, maybe, would be Cyndi Lauper’s cover of Robert Hazard’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” in which she slightly tweaked the lyrics, turning a song about scoring with girls into a song that many have heralded as a feminist anthem. From Lauper on, any version was compared to hers, whether the singer identified as a female or not.

Ella Eyre’s “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” is neither the pop sensation or anthem that Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” is, of course. But like Lauper, Eyre did redefine a song previously sung by a man. In the process, she introduced it to people who never heard the original and created the new standard-bearer.

You can listen to these songs and previously discussed cover songs in a Spotify playlist.

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