25 Years Later: C+C Music Factory - 'Gonna Make You Sweat'



It's unfortunate that the musical legacy of C+C Music Factory will likely be forever entwined with that of Milli Vanilli as some of the most egregious examples of false advertising in the music business. In fact, it probably could be well argued that C+C's crimes were more pernicious, as their substitution of an established and enormously talented vocalist (Martha Wash) with a moderately talented vocalist (Zelma Davis) simply because Wash – a large woman in her late 30s when her vocals for the albums' hit title track were recorded – was deemed visually inappopriate for a mainstream hit and, therefore, "unmarketable."

But for all of the ageist/sexist/sizeist legal battles that were fought in the aftermath of C+C's remarkable success in 1990, and for all of the derisive pop-culture shorthand that "Gonna Make You Sweat" has come to represent, it seems to have been forgotten that, in December 1990, as the song – and its accompanying album (released Dec. 13, 1990) – dominated the dance charts and then the pop charts, their sound (for a moment at least) was the mainstream culmination of several underground cultures.

In the same way that, a few months earlier, Madonna had synthesized New York's gay-centric ballroom culture, deep house, and disco detritus into "Vogue," "Gonna Make You Sweat" gathered up all of the elements of European house music (including ex-Weather Girl Wash, who was the voice of club hits by Black Box and others), put a New York spin on it (C+C's Robert Clivillés and David Cole were prominent hitmakers in the New York house music scene in the late '80s), added a touch of (then-current) hip-hop style, and managed to nail several cultural zeitgeists at once. The rise of the group from predominantly gay clubs into mainstream dance clubs and then onto the pop charts was definitely not unprecedented, but the speed with which it happened – and the overwhelming success they had – was absolutely unique.

And while the duo could have made an album that was nothing but Hit+Filler, the Gonna Make You Sweat full-length was a surprisingly robust affair, with a couple more moderate hits (like the Arsenio-honoring "Things That Make You Go Hmm"), solid album cuts like (ugh) "Let's Get Funkee," and a ridiculously strong bonus track, "Shade," that tips a hat to the ballroom community by sampling Paris is Burning.

Sticking primarily to strong, anthemic house music accented by Davis' decent (if unexceptional) studio voice, the album set the template for dance-pop hits for the next couple of years, as Clivillés and Cole would soon go on to work with Mariah Carey, starting with 1991's smash hit "Emotions."

It would be great to say that, 25 years later, the album holds up as some sort of neglected classic; it absolutely does not. But that's also what makes it great. It's an album very much of its time, in a way that era-defining pop albums tend to be ... ephemeral, syncretic, opportunistic, optimistic, and stupidly catchy. 

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