In 1986, Jimmy Lifton’s “I’m A Man” music video opened his eyes to working behind the camera

By on September 5, 2018

In this hour-long “Take Off to Cover Songs” — which first aired in 1988, and you’ll now find streaming on Night Flight Plus — Night Flight offered up a selection of mid-to-late ’80s-era music videos by artists covering songs from the 1960s and ’70s.

The video we were most surprised to see again was Jimmy Lifton’s cover of the Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m A Man,” which peaked in the Billboard charts at #23 during the last week of 1986.

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The video — directed by David Golden — for Lifton’s 12-inch single version (released in October 1986) features live performance footage as well as dancers and Playboy‘s August 1986 Playmate of the Month, Ava Fabian.

Some of the exterior shots were filmed around the L.A. area, including Lifton standing in front of L.A.’s Atomic Café.

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“I’m A Man” had been a hit for the Spencer Davis Group in 1967, written by British multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Steve Winwood (just eighteen years old at the time) and American songwriter and future record producer Jimmy Miller.

Winwood (who sang lead and played the Hammond B-3 on the recording) and Miller had originally written the track for a documentary called Swinging London, but the band liked it so much they saved it for a single (their last release with Winwood, who left to form Traffic).

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“I’m A Man” was covered by quite a few artists & bands, first becoming a huge hit for the band Chicago, a 7-minute 40-second long version appearing on their 1969 debut, The Chicago Transit Authority (it peaked at #49 in 1971, after it had already become a Top Ten hit in the UK, #8, 1970).

It’s last chart appearance, though, came three years after Jimmy Lifton’s version, in 1989, when the Italian studio outfit Clubhouse turned it into a medley with “Ye Ke Ye Ke,” which charted at #69.

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Jimmy Lifton’s single version charted at #23 on the Billboard charts.

The track would later be nominated as “Best Independent Production of the Year” by Billboard magazine’s staff.

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One of the more remarkable things about this video was learning just how much Lifton enjoyed the experience of working behind the camera, which re-directed his career path and sent him off pursuing filmmaking.

Lifton not only became involved composing original scores for movies like the 1990 horror film Mirror Mirror — which we told you about here, and it’s also one of the titles we’re streaming over on Plus — but he also began directing, screenwriting and producing (as well as scoring) the first of that film’s three sequels, Mirror Mirror 2: Raven Dance (1993, which featured an early film appearance by actor Mark Ruffalo).

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Lifton (right) with Mark Ruffalo (left) on the set of Mirror, Mirror 2: Raven Dance

Lifton also produced Mirror Mirror III: The Voyeur (1995), co-directed by Virginia Perfili and Rachel Gordon, and Mirror Mirror IV: Reflection (2000), which was directed by his wife, Paulette Victor.

Read more about Jimmy Lifton below.

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James Ian “Jimmy” Lifton was born January 13, 1955, in Detroit, Michigan.

After first apprenticing to the Master Organist for the Detroit Symphony, Lifton attended the Toronto Conservatory of Music (now called the Royal Conservatory of Music) before becoming one of the youngest attendees at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, MA.

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By the 1970s, Lifton was working as a session musician at Motown’s infamous Groovesville Recording Studio and Detroit’s Lorio Recording Studio.

In 1981, Jimmy Lifton and Virginia Perfili founded the Michigan-based Orphan Records, which released Lifton’s first single, “I Wanna Talk To You,” in 1982.

Lifton also produced other acts for the label, which by the late ’80s would becoming one of the pioneering “house music” imprints in the U.S.

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Lifton released a self-titled EP, Jimmy Lifton, in ’84, followed two years later by “I’m A Man,” which ended up being licensed by Atlantic Records, who then signed Lifton to a solo recording contract.

During this time, Lifton and producer Bruce Nazarian were producing lots of 12-inch single dance tracks at Orphan, but Lifton’s career began seguing into producing and directing music videos and filming footage for low-budget indie films like 1988’s Kandyland. Mirror Mirror was the first feature-length movie he worked on as a producer.

Over the next several years, Lifton stayed busy, launching Triad Studios and Somerset Studios, and producing a complete slate of feature films for the international market.

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Lifton on set with a monster circa 1994

With Paulette Victor he later co-founded Oracle Post, a THX post-production facility in Santa Monica, CA, which became one of the leading companies for post sound.

He began winning lots of awards, including two Emmys — for “Outstanding Sound Editing – Live Action and Animation” for The Penguins of Madagascar (2008) and “Outstanding Sound Editing – Animation” for Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness (2011).

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More recently, Lifton founded Lifton Institute of Media Arts and Sciences (LIMS), in 2014, which trains out-of-work production crew members, helping them to re-purpose their skills.

As the president and CEO of those two production/distribution feature film “mini-studios,” he’s produced sixteen feature films.

Lifton also still performs music in the L.A. area with the Jimmy Lifton Band, a ten-piece Delta Blues & gospel ensemble.

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This special “Take Off” also features: Fine Young Cannibals covering Elvis; Cyndi Lauper covering Marvin Gaye; the Pretenders‘ covering the Jimi Hendrix Experience; Bruce Willis (along with June Pointer & the Pointer Sisters) covering the Staple Singers; Aretha Franklin, covering the Rolling Stones‘ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”; plus covers from Boomerang and Club Nouveau, and a few more surprises.

Watch Night Flight’s “Take Off to Cover Songs” 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.