When Minneapolis based producer Steven Greenberg and the former Miss Black Minneapolis Cynthia Johnson entered the studio to record a single Rock It as Lipps Inc in 1979, little did they realize the commercial success that was about to come their way. Once Rock It was recorded, it was then released in September 1979, as a twelve inch single on Flight Records, and reached number twenty in the US Disco Charts. The success of Rock It was quite remarkable, given that it was released just two months after the Disco Sucks movement tried to destroy disco at Comiskey Park, Chicago on 12th July 1979. After that, disco became hugely unpopular, with labels who’d previously jumped on the disco bandwagon, jumping off. Not Casablanca Records though. They were one of the biggest disco labels, and were so impressed by Rock It and Lipps Inc that they signed them. Now signed to Casablanca Records, Lipps Inc set about recording their debut album Mouth To Mouth, which will be rereleased on BBR Records on 24th September 2012. Although Lipps Inc’s debut album Mouth To Mouth was released in the post-disco era, Lipps Inc it would prove a huge commercial success and contain a number one single Funkytown. Before I tell you about the music on Mouth To Mouth, I’ll tell you about the making of the album.

By the time Steven Greenberg wrote Rock It, he’d been immersed in music all his life. He’d learnt to play the drums whilst playing along with songs by The Beach Boys and The Searchers, while learning the art of songwriting listening to The Temptations and The Beatles. Steven formed his first band The Storm Center aged fourteen. Soon, he master other instruments, when his cousin taught him to play piano and his band-mates taught him guitar. The next step in his musical development was recording his band at home, which he did using reel-to-reel tape recorders. When The Storm Center split-up Steven formed The Quasi Kinship with his cousin Sandy Atlas, who’d been in The Storm Center. They had a number six single with Do You Know What I Mean in 1971. After the success of the single Do You Know What I Mean they wrote an album of songs and headed to Los Angeles to record an album. Then Steven discovered disco.

In Los Angeles Steven visited Studio One, which would change the course of his career. On his return home, he put together a mobile disco rig and sent out letters to clients telling them about disco. Steven was like an evangelist as far as disco was concerned. The next five years Steven and Sandy spent DJ-ing, until one night, Steven had a eureka moment. He wondered if he could write a disco song. When he returned home, he started work on a song, a song that would change his life and that of Cynthia Johnson’s…Rock It.

Having written Rock It, he needed a very special singer to carry the song of, given its structure. He also needed a studio with innovative facilities, so chose Minneapolis’ Sound 80, where Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens had recorded. Having chosen a studio, musicians were auditioned, but they struggled with the song. Eventually, Steven played the parts himself, using a string section after he’d recorded swirling strings that feature on the track. All that was needed was a vocalist. Five of the best female vocalists in Minneapolis auditioned, but couldn’t sing the song in the right key. Then one of singers mentioned another singer, Cynthia Johnson. 

Cynthia was a talented vocalist, who had started singing in church. She was also a talented musician, who could also play the saxophone. Her career had taken a different route in 1976 when she was crowned Miss Black Minneapolis. Her previous group had been with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in Flyte Tyme, who became The Time. After Cynthia recorded her vocal, the track was ready to release. Before that, the group needed a name and using the name of a voiceover talent agency for inspiration, the name Lipps Inc was born and their first single Rock It was released on Flight Records. 

With Steven Greenberg going round clubs in Chicago and Los Angeles trying to get DJs to play Rock It. Play it they did, with the tempo of 136 beats per minute perfect for later in the DJs sets peak time sets. Soon, the track was a feature of regional charts. The next step was getting major label interested in Rock It. Through a friend,  a demo to Rock It reached Casablanca Records. At the same time, Steven took a demo of Rock It to Casablanca’s head office on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Casablanca loved Rock It and offered Steven a record deal. After visiting Casablanca’s headquarters, a deal was signed and Rock It was released as a single. It reached number twenty in the US Disco Charts in September 1979. Now work would begin on Lipps Inc’s debut album Mouth To Mouth.

For Lipps’s Inc’s debut album Mouth To Mouth, Steven wrote three new songs All Night Dancing, Power and a track he’d come up with when singing into his tape recorder…Funkytown. Quickly, he’d the basis for Funkytown, which would transform Lipps Inc’s career. With the four songs written, they were recorded at Minneapolis’ Sound 80. These songs show just how creative and innovative Steven Greenberg was. He was ahead of his time, in the pre Logic, Pro-Tools or Ablteton Live days,

When Steven took Lipps Inc’s four song album Mouth To Mouth to Casablanca Records’ Los Angeles’ head office for the unveiling the gathered executives wondered why it only had four tracks? Steven explained that this made it perfect for playing in clubs with wide grooves on the vinyl which meant there was less chance of the record skipping and of course, the sound quality was much better. Having won over the label, Steven was also allowed the mix the songs how he saw fit. This would be a wise decision, considering the success that was about to come For Lipps Inc and Casablanca Records’ way when Mouth To Mouth was released.

On the release of Mouth To Mouth in November 1979, it reached number five in both the US Billboard 200 and US R&B Charts. Then when Funkytown was released as a single, Lipps Inc enjoyed worldwide success. Funkytown reached number one in the US Billboard 100 and US Disco Charts and number two in the US R&B Charts. In the UK, Funkytown reached number two, while reaching number one in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Suddenly, everyone knew Lipps Inc and everyone knew Funkytown. Five months later, in July 1980, Rock It was rereleased, reaching number sixty-four in the US Billboard 100 and number eighty-five in the US R&B Charts. Casablanca’s decision to sign Lipps Inc had proved to be a masterstroke and proved to be the perfect partnership. It also proved that disco’s death had been exaggerated. However, what made Lipps Inc’s debut album Mouth To Mouth such a success? That’s what I’ll tell you, after I’ve told you about the music on Mouth To Mouth.

Opening Lipps Inc’s debut album Mouth To Mouth is the number one single Funkytown. Pounding drums then percussion enter, before a blast of horn signals the arrival of that familiar synth line. It’s joined by a vocal sung through a vocoder, before Cynthia Johnson’s punchy vocal enters. With bursts of electronic sounding drums, this post-disco track unfolds. Flourishes of string respond to Cynthia’s vocal, before a sultry saxophone is added. Steven Greenberg’s production is perfect, with each instrument added at just the right time. Everything works, whether its the driving, hooky guitar line that’s features throughout the track, the swirling strings or the percussion that Steven added in just three minutes, it’s like a musical jigsaw where all the pieces fit perfectly. Considering Steven played most of the instruments himself, that’s makes the track more remarkable. Although this track would provide a template for many other tracks, only Funktowntw as an innovative, timeless, post-disco classic.

All Night Dancing was the B-side to Funkytown and the first thing you notice is the innovative, progressive sound. Shivering percussion and thunderous drums combine before Cynthia’s emotive, heartfelt vocal. While keyboards combine with the pounding rhythm section, elegant strings swirl and sweep and a flugelhorn drifts in and out. Providing the arrangement’s constant funky heartbeat is Michael on drums and bassist Terry Grant. Cynthia gives one of her best vocals, one that’s soulful and heartfelt. Later, layered backing vocals accompany her, before a prolonged drum break ushers in jazzy piano solo. This is the clincher and is  the icing on this glorious musical cake. So good is this track, that it deserved to be released as a single, rather than a B-side.

Rock It was the song that launched Lipps Inc’s career and resulted in them signing to Casablanca Records. The track opens at breakneck speed, 136 beats per minute. Crisp drums drive the track along, before Cynthia’s punchy, whispered vocal. Flourishes of strings, an uber funky bass line and synths combine. When Cynthia’s vocal enters, the track begins to reveal its funky secrets and subtleties. As her vocal drops out, the bass and synths combine, before Cynthia’s whispery vocal reenters. Then like a juggernaut, the synths, crispy drums and the funkiest of bass line drive the track along, fusing funk, synth pop, disco and hi-energy. Swathes of shivering strings and percussion are added just at the perfect time as this six minute dance-floor epic takes shape and helps launch Lipps Inc’s career.

Closing Lipps Inc’s debut album Mouth To Mouth is Power,  a track where elements of synth pop, disco, hi-energy, jazz and funk are poured into the musical melting-pot by Steven. A curveball is thrown when percussion opens the track, before the track literally explodes into life, taking you on a roller-coaster journey. Synths, pounding drums and stabs of blazing horn combine as Cynthia delivers a powerful diva-eque vocal. With a jazz-tinged piano solo, giving way to multi-tracked backing vocals the synths and drums drive the track along. Stabs of horn respond to Cynthia’s vocal, and like the jazzy piano solo, plays its part in the track’s success. What really makes the track is Cynthia’s sassy, fiery vocal. When it’s combined with Michael’s imaginative, innovative arrangement the result is a track that is dynamic, dance-floor friendly and timeless.

Although Lipps Inc’s debut album Mouth To Mouth, only featured four tracks, they were four tracks of the highest order. From the opening bars of Funkytown, through All Night Dancing, Rock It and right up to the closing notes of Power, it’s a dance-floor oriented, tour de force. Released by Casablanca just four months after the zealots of the Disco Sucks movement tried to destroyed disco, Lipps Inc proved that disco hadn’t died, just reinvented itself and gone underground. For this post-disco landscape, Mouth To Mouth was perfect soundtrack and became a favorite of DJs, clubbers and record buyers. Granted Lipps Inc’s Mouth To Mouth wasn’t like disco of the mid-seventies, like the disco of Salsoul between 1976 and 1978. Instead, Steven Greenberg took a musical melting pot, added plenty of disco and funk, a sprinkling of synth pop, a twist of jazz and just a pinch hi-energy. This he mixed together for thirty minutes, resulting in Mouth To Mouth, Lipps Inc’s debut album. Not only did Steven Greenberg’s recipe prove hugely popular, with Mouth To Mouth a reaching number five in the US Billboard 200 and US R&B Charts, but featured the single Funkytown, which was a number one worldwide. While many albums released in 1980 haven’t aged well, Mouth To Mouth has. In the intervening thirty-three years Lipps Inc’s debut album Mouth To Mouth has stood the test of time and sounds as good in 2012, as it did in 2012. Mouth To Mouth, which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 24th September 2012, is an opportunity to head to Funkytown, for some All Night Dancing ,where you can Rock It and enjoy the Power of Lipps Inc’s music, which will provide the soundtrack to your evening. 



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: