music: more “Slave to the Rhythm” with Stephen Lipson

Continuing on from Trevor Horn gigantism… I watched “Songs That Changed Music: Grace Jones – Slave To The Rhythm – with Stephen Lipson” from the article by Produce Like a Pro. He’s credited as co-writer and performer on lead guitar, bass, and keyboards, but his production and engineering contribution is even bigger.

Through a routing glitch on a Chinese server I somehow accessed “Slave to the Rhythm” on YouTubifyy Music from far in the future, and the top-rated comment was “Who’s still digging this and neuro-remixing it in 2073?” As @Jacco Talman wrote in a YouTube comment “it has it all: a thundering drumtrack, a funky bass-line, a haunting guitar [multiple guitars!], a complete classic orchestra [Richard Niles wrote an entire orchestral arrangement of which Horn and Lipson only used a few brilliant bits], and of course the unforgettable voice of Grace Jones.” I’d add all the “little bits of jewelry” like the 23:50 Dinngg! sound (from Luis Jardim), the 12:28 thrUMMM upward keyboard whoosh (from Bruce and Andy Richards), the 3:59 “not Pan pipes” flute, a dozen more motifs and riffs, the glockenspiel, the portentous Ian Shane narration… In 1985 I thought making an album out of one song was lazy pretention, but listening to remixes like Drupus’ Rough Slave Mix and Bruce Forest and DJ Friction’s Rmx, you realize “Slave to the Rhythm” is a never-ending 30-course gourmet buffet. Every meal is different and special.

The work it took to assemble a 24-track digital master of this 🤯: record new sound effect to half-inch tape, play it in sync with the original, punch it in to record onto a spare track on a second 24-track digital recorder, later program the playback offset to record tracks on the second recorder back to the first one… If that’s 21:28 “one day of recording”, it was a long day! Nowadays a musician opens a simple “breathy singer recorded in the bedroom with guitar” file in a DAW, and the screen fills with 70 tracks, so many the artist can’t remember what they all are. Mr. Lipson is being ridiculously modest at 4:20 “that’s kind of all there is… it is really a pretty bare track” and 26:17 “It’s pretty simple, isn’t it?”😂

Choose your magnum opus

I’ve got no beef with people anointing “Poison Arrow” (ABC, 1982), “Buffalo Gals” (Malcolm McLaren, 1982), “Owner of a Lonely Heart” (Yes, 1983), or “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” (Frankie Goes to Hollywood, 1984), or even later Seal pop as Trevor Horn’s greatest achievement, but “Slave to the Rhythm” is at least their equal. And it’s great to see Stephen Lipson getting more credit for this masterpiece and giving it back to the musicians and writers.

Two and a half hours of Trevor

I’m also digesting Trevor Horn’s mammoth interview with Red Bull Academy, which ended up a 2 1/2-hour video after trimming out all the songs. I want to turn it into an entire multimedia presentation hyperlinking all the names, with music/YouTube clips of every musical influence and recording that Trevor and the interviewer mention. Where are today’s multimedia authoring tools?! I can’t even figure out how to make the timestamps in the above paragraph jump to a particular point in the Lipson interview.

Also, Bruce Woolley pops up again as original writer. He also worked with Thomas Dolby at the time but I know nothing about him. Amateur musicology is never-ending.

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