MARK MOORE takes us on a trip, and it is a trip, through the making of the S’ Express’ 1987 Number One smash hit…
“If you love music, making a record is always something you want to have a go at. Even if it’s just some background clapping on your mate’s band’s record just so you can be involved somewhere. While I love music, I’m not really that musical. I studied it at school, I knew how to read music and I tried to play the
piano and guitar, but to be honest I was rubbish at both.
“The story of ‘Theme From S’Express’ started when I was DJing at The Mud Club. Me and Tasty Tim would be an alternative to Jay Strongman, who was the main DJ. We’d play all the stuff you shouldn’t play — bit of glam rock, bit of electronic hi energy, but mostly disco.
“The track came about because I really loved the long intro on Rose Royce’s ‘Is It Love You’re After’. I just wanted to loop it over and over, like a lot of the new hip hop stuff we were hearing. They used samples and were making whole songs out of repeated loops, like Double D and Steinski whose music felt like coherent tracks even though they were snippets of other people’s tracks all edited together.
“So we were playing all this stuff at the club and I just thought I can do the same thing, but instead of using James Brown and slow funky beats, I can do it with a disco track. Rhythm King Records had just opened their office across the road from where I was living on the Harrow Road. It was started by James Horrocks, Martin Heath and Jay Strongman, who I knew from the Mud
Club so I’d hang out in their office, have a chat, grab some records.
“After a while, I started taking records to them, saying ‘Why don’t you put this out?’ The first one was Taffy’s ‘I Love My Radio’, a really catchy Euro hi energy record. They signed it and it became the label’s first Top 10 hit. Then Tim Westwood told me about The Beatmasters and this great track they’d done
with The Cookie Crew. He sent me an acetate of ‘Rok Da House’, which I thought was amazing. I told Rhythm King about it and they signed that too. I got them to sign a few others… Baby Ford, Renegade Soundwave.
“I was happy if they gave me a few imports in exchange, it saved me a fiver in Groove Records, but one day they said, ‘Look, we’ve made all this money out of these records’ and they gave me a cheque for a grand and said, ‘Is there anything else we can do?’. I told them I had all these ideas for a track of my own and wanted to go into a studio so they put me in touch with Pascal Gabriel who’d just done ‘Beat Dis’ with Bomb The Bass.
“Rhythm King said I should put my ideas down on cassette, so I literally recorded all the samples, little snippets, one after the other. I was like, ‘It will make sense when I put them all together’.
“The studio we went to felt like it was out in the middle of nowhere, which back then was probably East London. Or was it Peckham? It was really cheap, the track took two or three days and I think the total bill for our time was about £250.
“We were just farting around really, what does this do? Let’s see what this sounds like. There were all these brilliant house records coming out and they all had this crisp tsk-tsk-tsk hi-hat sound. I thought it sounded like a can of hairspray so we decided to give it a try. The first few times the mic got covered in hairspray and made this terrible noise. You had to point it away from the microphone to make it sound good.
“It wasn’t all samples, we wrote a new bassline and I got my girls in to do the “S Express” vocal parts. They were all good friends of mine from the club. A lot of the sounds would be sampled so we could play a tune with them on the keyboard. We’d do that with the vocals too, the bop bop bop section at the end of the ‘I’ve got the hots for you’ sample was just a segment of the vocal played as notes on a keyboard.
“Of all the samples we used, my favourite is definitely Karen Finley. What a voice. It’s the ‘You drop that ghetto blaster’ line. She’s an American performance artist, famous for sticking yams up her nether regions, but she made this fantastic electro music with Mark Kamins who launched Madonna’s career. It’s from a track called ‘Tales Of Taboo’, the full sample is ‘You drop that ghetto blaster/Suck me off/Suck me off/Suck me off’… which we didn’t use on the 7-inch version.
“We cleared everything, in those days people didn’t know what sampling was so it was a lot easier. They would say, ‘We don’t really know what you mean, but sure, have it for 50 quid’. To do it now would be a nightmare, but it was all worked out properly with artists like Rose Royce getting a cut of the publishing.
“To be honest, we didn’t think it was going to be a hit. Disco was still a dirty word and I remember thinking they’re going to love it in the clubs, but everyone else will be horrified. When it was released, Radio One wouldn’t touch it because it sounded so alien. When it was released it went Top 30 and the following week it shot up to Number Three, which is when Radio One thought they were going to look dumb if they didn’t play it. The following week it went to Number One!”
This interview first appeared in Issue 7 of Electronic Sound