Lipps Inc. – Funkytown

First Hit #1: May 31, 1980

Who said disco was dead? Funkytown is definitely of a piece with disco hits of the year before, with its big catchy chorus and funk-inspired sounds. Yet, it’s also something else, since we begin with lots of processed vocals – which are ahead of their time in a way – and the line “Got to move on” repeated to the point where it’s almost a comment on the genre itself.

I can’t help but hear a bit of the influence of Pop Muzik in there, Funkytown has this same odd relationship with reality and obvious construction that the previous hit did. Now, Funkytown is a bit different, since the vocals are more soul diva than David Byrne, but it too is incredibly proud of its artificiality, calling attention to its synthesizers and processing before breaking out into the more organic chorus. Disco is a genre at a crossroads, and Lipps Inc. met the challenge by making a song that experiments to try to stay relevant. The balls out, try everything approach makes it thrilling.

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One Response to Lipps Inc. – Funkytown

  1. Robert Berman says:

    “Funkytown” was recorded in late 1979, and “Pop Muzik” had been released earlier that year, so it’s possible that the latter influenced the former. But it’s at least as likely that both tracks were influenced by earlier electronica such as Kraftwerk’s 1974 track and album “Autobahn” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gChOifUJZMc) that didn’t chart well but were well known among fans of more avant garde music. Hot Butter’s cover of the electronica tune “Popcorn” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YK3ZP6frAMc) had sold 2 million copies in America in 1972. Even before that, Walter Carlos’ electronica work “Switched-On Bach” (scandalously, out of print at present) was in the Top 10 albums for 17 weeks in 1969, winning three Grammies in the classical category. Isao Tomita followed in Carlos’ wake, winning similar acclaim for electronica versions of Holst, Mussorgsky, and Stravinsky throughout the 1970s.

    So this sort of music had been around, and popular, for over a decade, but never had enough practicioners to become a common style. Presumably its ability to dominate the charts was limited by the high expense of owning a synthesizer throughout most of the 1970s, until integrated circuitry brought about both the home computing revolution and an abundance of cheap synthesizers that allowed poor, young musicians to finally experiment in a field they had only been able to listen to for most of the 1970s.

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