Lipps Inc – Mouth to mouth – album review
Lipps Inc – Mouth to mouth
CD / DL
Reissue of the Funkytown hitmakers’ 1979 debut album, which also includes their debut single Rock It. This edition contains unique editions of all four tracks of the LP. Ian Canty tries to make a gesture that suits him …
When some of the rather ludicrous prejudices of the new wave against dance music began to fade, many serious post-punks could be found working long and hard in an attempt to distill the perfect synthesis of electronics and disco. The irony was that the Minneapolis duo Lipps Inc had already left in 1979 with Funkytown from their LP Mouth To Mouth. The song was a huge hit early the following year when it was released as a single, eventually selling 8 million copies worldwide and topping the charts in many countries, including the States. -United. The perfect combination of soulful vocals and machine music, it was a deserved success that it narrowly stopped at number 2 in this nation. Even so, it was one of the best singles of the year in a 12 month period littered with them.
Lipps Inc is the brainchild of Steve Greenberg from Highland Park. As a child, he learned the drums and joined his first group while still at school. In addition to his group duties, he also began experimenting with sound, “bouncing” recordings from one tape recorder to another, adding vocals and instrumentation to create a track. This showed an invention which would be useful later. What may seem like the standard music career arc took a wild deviation from that route when he went to a club in Los Angeles at the start of the nightclub. Totally delighted by the experience, he quickly acquired the equipment to set up as a DJ. After a test of the format got a big response, a wedding he and his cousin had been booked into as a duo Atlas & Greenberg, he was inundated with booking requests.
In early 1979, after a series of successful engagements, Steve decided to try and create his own version of what he was playing in his DJ set. He worked to perfect the backing track for Rock It, playing all instruments much like his compatriot Prince, who lives in Minneapolis. He then proceeded to find someone to sing the song himself. Fortunately, he was referred by one of the auditioning singers about Cynthia Johnson, who had starred in Flyte Tyme with Jam And Lewis. She had the ideal voice, soft as silk but explosive too, so Lipps Inc (a pun on term lip syncing) was born. The single has been satisfactorily completed and the duo ready for action
500 copies of Rock It were released by Flight Records, causing a big backlash on the dance floors as DJs at clubs in the United States went crazy over it. The preeminent disco label Neil Bogart’s Casablanca took the plunge and with major backing the record made it to the top twenty on the R&B charts and was a minor hit on pop charts in America as well. This positive reaction prompted the duo to record their debut album and Mouth To Mouth duly arrived in the final overs of 1979.
Lipps Inc’s debut album features just four tracks, with the extended Funkytown being a consummate opening bet. It performs well in its original and longer format, with Cynthia and Steve able to come off with vocal fireworks and weird electronic touches, while still keeping the beat that jumps. The song is actually a classic rock & roll story about needing to leave a small hometown for the big city in order to shake things up, but the modernist setting takes it to another level. All Night Dancing would have been a natural follow-up single, but unfortunately, in their wisdom, someone had slapped it on the back of the tube. A missed opportunity, as a soft and moving voice from Cynthia Jackson plays over a more standard but appealing disco arrangement with lots of cheerful bass.
Rock It starts off starkly with just shrill electro hand claps, before Greenberg’s whispers, a skipping bassline and a hint of strings lead to Johnson’s vocals. The mix has a little I Feel Love side to it. A queasy vocoder over Power and solid electrofunk beat means it’s the closest thing to Funkytown of the other three elements included, with Cynthia providing another loud voice with a hint of blues under the beat of the synth. While Steve Greenberg was never happy with the track, for me it’s still a nice slab of high-tech r & b.
Since all four tracks on the album were released as singles, they’re included here in their 7-inch forms as well. Each works perfectly well cut. Which in a way made you wish they had been featured that way on the album and that we had found room for a few other songs in electronic dance mode, but I guess the longer versions were essential for nightclubs. Of the four, Rock It sounds urgent and fresh like a 7 ″ and Power is pleasantly offset at this length.
After the album it was obvious to anyone with ears that Funkytown would be a conquering single and so it was. Sadly, it was also impossible to really keep up and although Lipps Inc had some dance and R & B hits in the United States during the 80s, they never troubled the pop charts again. The group recorded three more albums, but after a series of line-up changes with Johnson leaving after third long-running Designer Music, by the middle of the decade they had gone their separate ways for good. Funkytown was obviously a bit of a cross to bear. I’m tempted to say it’s so perfect you shouldn’t touch it, but then again Australian bar band Pseudo Echo has tried and hasn’t gone too badly for them.
Nonetheless, the original version is by far the best and on Mouth To Mouth Lipps Inc gave the disco a way out of its late ’70s slump. I think that represents a pivotal point for dance music, because here, they have embraced new technology and as such have shown the way for a myriad of artists such as Air, Daft Punk and possibly the whole explosion of house music. If you’re only going to get one hit, make it count and Lipps Inc surely did.
All of Ian Canty’s words – see his author profile here