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Thursday, January 27, 2011

LIPPS, INC. - MOUTH TO MOUTH

Casablanca (1980, Jan.)
Original U.S. pressing NBLP 7197

Evaluated by Claude Lemaire

Rating: 7.5/ C 

Category: Disco / Dance Music (synthetized)
Format: Vinyl (120g at 33 1/3 rpm)

SIDE 1:
"Funkytown"
"All Night Dancing"

SIDE 2:
"Rock it"
"Power"

Produced and Written by Steven Greenberg
Executive Producer: Steven Productions

Recorded between October and December 1979 at Sound 80 Studios Minneapolis
Engineered by: David Rivkin
Assistant Engineer: Mike Severson
Mixed by Youth in The Study, 2010
Mastered at Allen Zentz Studios, Los Angeles by Chris Bellman
Pressed at: ?

Musicians:
Steven Greenberg: Drums, Synthesizers, Percussion, Keyboards, Vocals, Bass.
Cynthia Johnson: Lead vocals, Background vocals.
Terry Grant: Bass.
Roger Dumas: Synthesizer programming.
Tom Riopelle: Guitar.
David Rivkin: Guitar.
Ivan Rafowitz: Keyboards, Piano solo on "All Night Dancing"
Violins: Karl Nashan, Brian Mintz, Bruce Allard, Herman Straka & Bob Zelnick.
Horns: Bruce Allard, Dale Mendenhal, Jack Gillespie & Richard Jorgensen.
Background vocals: Steven Greenberg, Cynthia Johnson, Dana Greenberg, Joyce Lapinksy, Vera Jenkins, Marilyn & Danny.
Charts by: Scott Jones.
Vocal assistant: Sandy Atlas.
Art Direction & Design: Michael Kevin Lee/Gribbitt!
Illustration: Jan Kovaleski and Michael Kevin Lee



The artwork is rather non-inspiring and is typical of the New Wave period and early 1980's with it's short hair androgynous figureheads bathing in the oh so popular blue and pink hues of the time.


My copy was bought many years ago in 'near mint' condition and is still easily found in excellent condition for under ten dollars, this is not a rare sought after album in any sense.  The fact that the music does not present any low level passages will in most cases mask any mild surface noises.
Before getting into details, the thin pressing (concurrent for the times) and general sound was typical of what I expect from the Casablanca catalog.  That is to say the Neil Bogart (as in NBLP 7197) label has never released a bad sounding record nor a spectacular DEMO worthy neither; they are for the most part rather slightly above average than their counterparts but less impressive than Philly International, Salsoul or the Sunshine T.K.Disco Florida label.  


Synchronized Music, Side One:

Let's get something straight right up front: there's nothing funky about "Funkytown" at least not in the JB's, Clinton/Parliament, or even those Wild Cherry white boys kind of way.  No this is about as square as it gets south side of Chicago.  Neither should it be confused with the just released semi-fact based Quebec movie sharing the same title.


"Funkytown" made it's first appearance on the (then shrinking) Disco scene the last week of December, right on the heels of a new decade.  Fittingly many consider it the last Disco Hit.  I've always viewed it as the bridge between Disco and Dance Music to the same degree that Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes 1973 hit "The Love I Lost" can rightly be interpreted as a defining moment; i.e. the bridge from luscious Soul to Disco, codifying by the same token "The Philly Sound".


In both cases it reflects a transition to a new era possessing a slightly different musical structure than it's previous one.  In the case of "Funkytown" the structure retains the typical 4/4 mid-120's bpm kick drum, plus percussion, bass, rhythm guitar, violins and female vocal chorus but does so in a more strip down version than 1970's Philly Soul or complex Eurodisco.  I guess you could call it Diet Disco; it stimulates on the spot but it doesn't satisfy long term.  It's an offshoot of cheesy Eurodisco-pop the likes of Silver Convention's "Get up & Boogie" but a more direct influence would be The Michael Zager Band's late 1977 hit "Let's All Chant" with it's minimalist metronomic beat along with built up intro and delayering outro, disappearing in a (synth)bass fade out.


With it's mid tempo, steady beat, monotonic bass line and electronic flourishes it'll blend well with - and predates by nearly three years - Roni Griffith's "Love is the Drug" along with Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean".



The song opens with the 4/4 kick drum, followed closely by the repetitive rhythmic percussion and snare drum marking the 2 & 4 with good snap.  The Bass line comes in solid and deep, soon accompanied by the cheesy synth run.  Processed male vocal enters before the females take the lead, the latter a bit too forward in the mix plus some slight distortion in the trebly percs give rise to some smearing; a short 'break' ensues, the rhythm guitar riff - resembling The Doors "The Changeling" (1971), clean, strong and forward enters stage with lots of presence interspersed by the chorus and finally the electric(?) violins take up the lead with too much reverb and presence in the mix, lending a certain coldness to the sound.  Ditto for the horns.  Towards the coda before the fade out, a male vocoder-processed voice adds a dash of density and bite.

Overall the sound is well balanced from lows to highs.  There is some compression typical of the period, that is more so than the average 1970's Disco cut but less so than 1983 onward and nothing compared to the onslaught hardness of this last decade.  To make an audiophile analogy, the sound is more of a cool running Class AB transistor amp than a warm romantic tube design.  Precise but a bit sterile to my taste.  I don't posses the (identical version) 12inch single to compare it with, but my experience with the Casablanca label is that it should be close enough, save for maybe a tad more punch in the kick drum which in this case wouldn't hurt in the warmth department.  A '7.8/ C+'.

Lipps Inc.

"All Night Dancing" fits more the typical Disco mold of 1978-79 not only in style but in sound.  The kick drum is much better, being bigger and stronger in the mix than the opening track.  The Bass is good while in the treble counterpart, the tambourine comes out clean and extended on the top.  Voices are much better integrated also, rendering it easier on the ears especially when turning up the volume.  Further along the 'break' showcases again the solidity of the kick adding good 'slam' with the snare panning between left to right channels.  The electric piano solo adds a fresh twist to the mix followed by the tambourine once more.  Male and female vocals alternate in counterpoint lending a somewhat odd dissonant combination.  The song ends with a second last 'break' characterized by a long fadeout ideal for a DJ to segue into the next song without even the trouble to lower the fader of the exiting song.  This one earns an '8.5/ B'.



Side Two opens with the minor hit "Rock it", an uptempo Disco beat with violins a la French 'Cerrone/Costandinos' mold.  The Bass riff has a touch of funkiness in it.  At one point the song structure morphs into an electro sequencer copied on Donna Summer + Giorgio's "I feel love" before returning to the end 'break' with hi-hat and percussion in background.  The sound lacks some weight in the bass compared to side one.  '6.8/ C' at most.


'Power' closes the album.  Sounding more synthetic and more early 1980's in a way, it can be considered "filler up" material.  With it's cheesy synths and highly repetitive chorus, one can skip this one and move on to something more inspiring.  '7.0/ E'

In conclusion,

Lipps, Inc.'s debut album Mouth to Mouth is respectable in sound but will not blow you away or your audiophile friends; nor do I find that it merits the attention of a remaster issue - there are plenty of more worthy titles begging for such treatment.

Music wise it did not change the course of music, Disco was already in decline after a seven year run and thanks to New Wave, Synthpop was on the horizon anyway.  Rap, House and Techno would live to see the day in the emerging eighties decade.  No, the real reason that 'Funkytown' should occupy a place in your collection is that it represents the beginning of the end of "Where the Happy People Go".
________________________________________________________________

Postscript: I don't usually review movies on my blog but considering that 'Funkytown'-The Movie spotlights the primary hit of this evaluation as well as centering around music, I decided to give my opinion on a subject I know quite well that is the 1970's Montreal Disco scene.

The movie is loosely based on the short lived music career of TV and radio personalities Alain Montpetit as well as 'jet setter' Douglas 'Coco' Leopold spanning the years 1976 - 1982.  The latter is played brilliantly by actor Paul Doucet who's not only got the look and mannerisms of 'coco' but also the 'franglais' down to a t.  Unfortunately such is not the case for actor Patrick Huard in the leading role.  While still giving a convincing performance as a fast rising Star soon going down the coke laden bandwagon, he does not convey the warmth that the real Montpetit displayed on camera, on air and in person with his many fans.  The rest of the cast give worthy performances and compliment the interconnected lives to the central plot.  The tense relationship between father and son - owners of The Starlight club (the actual Limelight at the time) - although completely fictional, are nevertheless hard and almost comic at the same time. 

The music soundtrack is very disapointing for three reasons:

1) The music selection is very commercial Disco and thus does not represent the type of Underground Disco that played at this legendary North American discotheque called The Limelight that premiered in September 1973 under the baton of DJ pioneer George Cucuzzella and DJ extraordinaire Robert Ouimet from 1974 to 1981. 

2) Over half the songs are new covers instead of the original versions supposedly to lessen the prohibitive cost of the music royalties of the original recordings.

3) Lastly although the movie starts out in 1976 we hear "Knock on Wood" playing which originally came out in late 1978.  At many instances during the movie we hear Disco songs playing in the background at the club that do not match the incremental time line. 

It's these small details that robs the movie of true credibility.  Also the drama that unfolds, entertaining as it is, leaves a bitter aftertaste to the great souvenirs of this wonderful period for the many who lived it and visited The Limelight.

Once again a Disco film depicting more the decadence of the decade rather than celebrating the "Dancin the Night Away" spirit on the dancefloor.

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