Drop That Ghetto Blaster: S’Express went acid trippin’ in the Second Summer of Love, 1988

By on September 10, 2019

We’re going back for another dose of Night Flight’s “Take Off to Acid Rock” — which originally aired on September 16, 1988, and you can now find streaming on Night Flight Plus — which is where we found the Graham Proudlove-directed music video for “Theme from S’Express,” a major UK dancefloor hit during “the Second Summer of Love.”

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London-born record producer Mark Moore had already made his mark as a DJ at Philip Salon’s Mud Club, where he broke up their usual mix of rare groove, funk, hip-hop and electro dance tunes by spinning rock, Hi-NRG and (mostly) disco tunes. Moore was also one of the first nightclub UK DJs to play house music.

Then, in the autumn of 1987, Moore got the idea for an audio collage dance track“made of a load of samples,” a mash-up of everything that Moore was already spinning, a post-modern fusion of manic disco, house rhythms and percolating beats.

Moore had been hearing hip-hop tracks — like those by Double D and Steinski — who were making whole songs out of repeated loops, but he hadn’t heard of anyone using “snippets of other people’s tracks all edited together.”

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The most distinguishing feature of “Theme From S’Express” — produced by Moore with Belgian recording engineer Pascal Gabriel — were the samples, many of which were removed from the U.S. version due to licensing and clearance issues.

There were also additional odd bits of audio, liking an aerosol hair spray can being sprayed ( tsk-tsk-tsk) instead of hitting a high-hat cymbal.

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The main vocal samples came courtesy of NYC performance artist Karen Finley, known for doing outrageous things onstage like sticking yams up her pussy while ranting poetry.

Working with producer Mark Kamins (who’d helped launch Madonna’s career, as we briefly mentioned here and here), Finley’s “Tales of Taboo” track — where she says stuff like “suck me off,” “I’ve got the hots for you,” and “You drop that ghetto blaster” — provided the vocal samples which, according to Moore, she allowed S’Express to use for free.

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According to this interview Moore did, the main sample “Theme From S’Express” used was the long bass and brass intro from Rose Royce’s “Is It Love You’re After,” a track from their 1979 album Rose Royce IV: Rainbow Connection).

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Read more about “Theme From S’Express” below.

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Moore came up with the idea for “Theme for S’Express” when he was living on Harrow Road, across the road from Rhythm King Records, who’d opened their offices (at 429 Harrow Rd., London W10 4RE) just a few years earlier, originally as a dance music-focused subsidiary of Daniel Miller‘s Mute Records.

By 1988, Rhythm King had already released several successful singles, including Bomb The Bass’s “Beat Dis,” and they had a distribution deal with Capitol Records in the U.S.

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Moore used to hang out and chat with the label’s owners — including Jay Strongman, the Mud Club’s main DJ — and acted in an unofficial A&R capacity, recommended tracks Rhythm King could release as dance singles.

Some of those recommendations went on to be hits, including one of the label’s first Hi-NRG Euro releases, Taffy’s “I Love My Radio,” and Moore also recommended they sign certain acts, including Renegade Soundwave.

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Rhythm King were always open to Moore’s ideas, and when he told them about the collage mix he had in mind they put him in touch with producer/engineer Pascal Gabriel.

Moore later said about the cassette of samples he’d compiled, “I wanted the song to be a disco record with ’70s influences but with an ’80s feel.”

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Together, Moore and Gabriel wrote and recorded a new bassline, and Moore asked his friends, all regulars at the Mud Club — Linda Love (on keyboards), Anna Goodman, Chilo Eribenne (Chilo Harlo), Michelle Ndrika — to join his band.

The name S’Express came from the nickname of NYC’s 42nd Street Shuttle, but the train sample used was from an InterCity 125, a diesel-powered high speed passenger train built by British Rail Engineering Limited between 1975 and 1982.

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Crystal Grass’ 1975 funk anthem, “Crystal World,” was also sampled, as were Debbie Harry (“Feel the Spin” from the 1985 Krush Groove soundtrack), Gil Scott-Heron, Star Trek producer Gene Roddenberry (“The Star Trek Dream” from 1976 The Star Trek Dream album), Yaz/Yazoo (“Situation” from 1982’s Upstairs at Eric’s album) and many, many others.

It took Rhythm King five years to clear the use of the samples, however, mainly because record companies hadn’t yet begun to pay for samples and nobody knew what laws to follow and how much everything should cost (other than the samples, the entire track cost just £250 to record).

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Considered one of the landmarks of early acid house music, and late-’80s sampling culture,”Theme From S’Express” was released in April of 1988 and spent two weeks at #1 on the UK’s Singles Chart, and #1 on Billboard‘s Hot Dance Club Play chart.

It made a huge impact whenever it was played under the stars at some of the “Balearic Beat” clubs, which we told you a little about in this post about the Woodentops.

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It only managed to make it to #91 on the Billboard Hot 100, so it couldn’t exactly be considered a pop crossover hit, but it was super popular during what came to be called the “Second Summer of Love,” and promoted by major features in glossy British magazines like I-D and The Face.

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Watch the video for “Theme from S’Express” in Night Flight’s “Take Off to Acid Rock” — featuring artists like the Cult, the Psychedelic Furs, Nina Hagen and the Mission UK — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.