Pioneering sonic collagist Steve “Steinski” Stein and Mass Media’s “We’ll Be Right Back”

By on December 3, 2016

Night Flight’s “Take Off to Big Bucks” — now streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel — collects a variety of music videos which all focused, in one way or another, on the 80s decade’s infatuation with wealth, excess and greed, but we thought one video in particular, Steinski & Mass Media’s “We’ll Be Right Back,” deserved a closer look.

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“Madison Avenue whiz Steve Stein and Jon Kane scratch-mixed images from classic commercials,” says Pat Prescott in her abruptly short introduction to the video which was seen in regular rotation on “Night Flight,” forgetting perhaps to mention that Stein was better known as “Steinski” (and Kane would later be better known on most of his recordings as “DJ Sugar Kane”).

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Stein — described in a fascinating 2008 AV Club interview as a “pioneering sonic collagist” — was indeed a Madison Avenue ad man, working in the post-“Mad Men“-era as a copywriter at a major ad agency, Doyle Dane Burnback.

His day job involved producing radio commercials and doing the sound for TV commercials and other related work for big clients like Polaroid, Volkswagen and Atari.

At night, however, he was fully immersing himself in New York CIty’s hip hop scene, listening to Mr. Magic‘s radio show in the wee hours, and hanging out at clubs like the Mudd Club and the Roxy. He was spending a considerable amount of his salary on records at the time, which led to him building up a huge collection of dance records.

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It was through his copywriting job that he met his future partner, Doug DiFranco, who was working as an engineer at a studio doing a lot of the work on radio commercials for record companies.

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One day in 1983, a friend of DiFranco’s saw an ad in Billboard that Tommy Boy Records were sponsoring a national contest, wanting remixes of G.L.O.B.E. & Whiz Kid’s “Play That Beat Mr. DJ,” and so they decided to enter the “Hey Mr. DJ Play That Beat Down by Law Switch the Licks Mastermix Contest.”

They spent a weekend working on their sonic collage tape, a pastiche of recordings from James Brown records, along with samples pulled from feature films and cartoons.

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It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that they won Tommy Boy’s contest, taking home the $100 cash grand prize (!), the Tommy Boy catalog and a couple of Tommy Boy t-shirts.

Even though the radio stations were only obligated to play it just once, many of them actually put the Tommy Boy promo cassette into serious rotation, and within a few weeks, Steinski and Double D were elated to learn their remix was being sold on bootlegged air check tapes on the streets of Philadelphia for $25 apiece.

Unfortunately, “Lesson One: The Payoff Mix” was never able to be officially released because of the prohibitive cost of clearing all the samples.

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Soon Steinski and Double D were sharing an apartment together in Brooklyn, where they installed an 8-track studio in the front room. By this time Stein had left the ad agency (he lost his copywriting supervisor job in the spring of 1984) and he was now working in cable television, where he was learning about audio and video producing.

Tommy Boy did end up putting out a promo-only 12-inch of Steinski and Double D’s next remix, a second history lesson collage featuring more James Brown breakbeats, along with samples from Clint Eastwood movies, Bugs Bunny cartoons, and odd little instructional LPs.

Then, they did a remix which told the story of hip hop.

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All three of these collage cut-ups, known collectively as “the Lessons” — “Lesson One: The Payoff Mix,” “Lesson Two: The James Brown Mix,” and “Lesson 3: The History of Hip-Hop” — would go on to become some of the most valuable bootleged 12-inches in hip hop history.

“Lesson 3: The History of Hip-Hop”

Around this time, Double D — tired of working as a freelancer — decided to get a regular gig and move in with his girlfriend, who lived in Queens.

This pretty much put an end to their partnership. Stein, without access to the same home studio set-up, booked time at Ian North Sound (INS), where a lot of rap records were being done, and began working with an engineer there named Craig Bevan, who didn’t quite understand what Stein wanted to do at first when he was asked to edit in soundbites of TV and radio broadcasts about the President Kennedy assassination over popular songs from the 1960s, none of them officially licensed. CBS flatly refused to grant clearance for the use of Walter Cronkite’s 1963 post-assassination coverage.

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That single, “The Motorcade Sped On,” eventually did end up coming out as a 7-inch plexidisc stapled to 250,000 copies of the UK’s New Musical Express.

The record was heard by an A&R guy at Island Records, Joel Webber, who wanted to know if Stein had any ideas about records they could put out that were actually “legal.”

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Stein — who was now partnered with Jon Kane — presented Webber with “We’ll Be Right Back,” which featured announcers sounding like they were doing faux 50s-era TV commercials over added-in noise from an air conditioner, and other audio manipulations, popularly called “video scratching.”

Stein also produced a little video clip of public domain TV and radio adverts from the 1950s and ’60s. Most of the images you see here in this post come from the video.

Released by 4th & Broadway/Island in 1986 and credited to Steinski and Media Mass, it immediately received regular airplay on “Night Flight” and other music video shows during the late 80s. In the UK, the Ovaltine company picked up the track and ran it for six months as their new theme song.

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Watch Night Flight’s “Take Off To Big Bucks” — featuring videos by Talking Heads, Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, Pheromones and more — on Night Flight Plus.

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.
  • Marc Edward Heuck

    One of the voiceover artists on “We’ll Be Right Back” was Billy West of “REN AND STIMPY” and “FUTURAMA” legend.