Where We Live: 1980s icons Nu Shooz


Three decades after "I Can't Wait" was a No. 1 hit, Nu Shooz is still in Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — One of the hottest dance songs of the 1980s came from a Portland band called Nu Shooz. The song, “I Can’t Wait,” skyrocketed to the top of the charts and made Nu Shooz a household name. While one song made them famous, Valerie Day and John Smith are still rocking it, more than 3 decades later.

With an infectious bass line and an irresistible beat, “I Can’t Wait” reached number 1 on the dance charts and became a signature song of the 80s. The duo are husband and wife. Together, they played Latin jazz around town in the 70s before hitting it big.

“Nu Shooz was an amazing era, and we are so grateful to all the people who made that possible,” said Day.

Nu Shooz’s John Smith and Valerie Day in an undated photo. (Courtesy Nancy Bundt)

Smith wrote the song and in 1986, a remixed version on the album “Poolside” helped earn Nu Shooz a Grammy nomination.

“We didn’t know what a Grammy was,” said Smith.

“The internet didn’t exist, so we couldn’t look it up,” Day chimed in.

“And we were self-described jazz hippies!” exclaimed Smith.

Nu Shooz had other hits, but none reached the stratosphere of “I Can’t Wait.” The musical couple took a 20-year hiatus starting in 1992.

“The business turned into Nirvana-type stuff,” said Smith. “Grunge came in.”

Day became a jazz singer, while Smith wrote music for commercials. Today, they tour with other ’80s bands, performing for appreciative audiences.

Nu Shooz’s John Smith and Valerie Day live on stage in an undated photo. (Courtesy Phil Isley)

“We get to push the nostalgia button for them,” said Day. “Any they get this rush of feeling of like, ‘Oh, I remember when.’ And I mean, what a great way to make a living.”

The two have been making new music. They recently dropped their newest album titled “Bagtown.” Day also does a podcast for and about singers called “Living a Vocal Life.” In one of the latest episodes, she interviewed Rindy Ross from Quarterflash—another 80s rock band that was created in Portland.

Smith has been writing a graphic novel called “Miyoko” — it’s about a Japanese girl who was born on a fishing boat. He said the main character ends up “amassing great power” despite “her lowly status.”

It has been a wild ride for Portland’s Nu Shooz, propelled by a magical song.

“It’s just a miracle the way that it all transpired,” said Day.

She said she’s developing an online course for singers about the business side of the industry. Both that and Smith’s graphic novel should be available in the spring of 2020.

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