Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul’s “Fallin’” Sampled Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” off a CD
Long before he became a well-known figure in the sports management world and the CEO of Catalyst Sports + Media, Happy Walters was an influential music manager who helped launch the careers of groups like Cypress Hill and House of Pain in the early 90s. Seeking to capitalize on the growing popularity of alternative rock, heavy metal, and rap music with mainstream audiences at the time, he used his extensive list of artist contacts to pair rap and metal/rock acts together for the Judgement Night soundtrack in 1993.
A somewhat inconsistent offering that features some gems and some misfires, the album boasts collaborative tunes with Slayer and Ice-T, Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill, Dinosaur Jr. and Del the Funky Homosapien, and several other surprising musical unions. But the shining moment on the entire album is without a doubt Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul’s “Fallin’”, a cautionary tale about the group losing their luster as well as their fans. Acting as the soundtracks’ fourth and final single, it remains the most enduring selection from the project.
Some might think Happy Walters or a record label executive came up with the idea to put Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul together, but it was actually De La themselves who were responsible for the unlikely pairing. After De La signed on to the soundtrack, the Long Island natives met with the producers to figure out which group they would be assigned to work with. “We actually went to the studio, and they started pairing up different artists, and we could’ve been paired up with familiar names,” Posdnuos told LA Weekly in a 2009 interview.
“We didn’t care. We wouldn’t play ourselves to do something that was wack, but the way the concept plays itself out, it’s supposed to be wack.” — Dave
Choosing a familiar name would have been far too easy for De La, a group known for pushing the envelope and re-inventing themselves with every release. Seeing Teenage Fanclub’s name on the list of potential collaborators, they were intrigued by the Scottish-based group. Despite the fact that the band boasted a fan base that included Kurt Cobain, De La had never heard of them. “We didn’t know who Teenage Fanclub were at the time, so we picked them,” Pos told LA Weekly.
Shortly after catching a flight to Scotland for some studio sessions with Teenage Fanclub, Dave, Maseo, and Posdnuos realized they didn’t have a clue what kind of record they wanted to make. They also had to contend with the fact that Teenage Fanclub seemed starstruck during their first studio sessions together. “I think they might have been a little in awe of us at first, but when they saw that we were normal dudes they calmed down,” Pos told LA Weekly. “We’re both musicians obviously, so we just started vibing.”
It was during one these early chemistry building sessions that De La found some unexpected inspiration for their contribution to Judgement Night. As they hung out in the reception area of the studio with Teenage Fanclub, Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” video started playing on MTV. Something about the song and video lit a creative spark in Pos, so he pitched an idea to everyone else. “It started as a joke, ‘Hey, let’s make a song based off a Tom Petty video,’” he told LA Weekly.
“We could’ve been paired up with familiar names. But we didn’t know who Teenage Fanclub were at the time, so we picked them.” — Posdnuos
From there, Dave took the joke one step further and proposed a track about De La themselves falling off. Agreeing that this idea had some potential, they picked up a copy of Petty’s Full Moon Fever from the store and started building a song around it. According to a 1993 feature in Vibe, the group almost viewed the track as a song-length skit when they first started recording. “You know how our skits are so long that people think they’re songs?” Pos said. “That’s what this is.”
In the same 1993 Vibe article, Dave echoes Pos’ statement that the group didn’t take the song very seriously. “We didn’t care,” he told Vibe. “We wouldn’t play ourselves to do something that was wack, but the way the concept plays itself out, it’s supposed to be wack.”
But as they showed us on De La Soul is Dead with “Kicked Out The House” and “Who Do U Worship”, even De La’s joke songs end up being pretty damn good. If you listen closely to “Fallin’”, it’s a very sophisticated blend of live instrumentation and sampling.
“You know how our skits are so long that people think they’re songs? That’s what this is.” — Posdnuos
There’s the tiny and perfectly placed Tom Petty vocal snippet on the hook and an interpolation of (or is it a sampling?) of Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle”, which Pos said they took from Biz Markie’s “Nobody Beats the Biz”. As that weren’t enough, the group also interpolates Duice’s “Dazzey Dukes” at the end of the song — a random and seemingly mismatched choice. Even though you can tell they’re messing around, it works. And all of this somehow blends flawlessly together as Teenage Fanclub provides a perfect backing track.
Despite their best efforts to make it wack, fans and record label folks loved “Fallin’”. According to Vibe, Tommy Boy even asked them to include it on Buhloone Mindstate — much to the apparent annoyance of the group at the time. Though that didn’t end up happening, it seems that De La has a much more positive outlook on the track these days. “The Judgment Night soundtrack is amazing,” Pos told the website The Skinny in a 2016 interview. “It was a lot of fun”
Looking back on the collaborative experience now, Pos described it as “graceful” to The Skinny and even expressed an interest in reconnecting with Teenage Fanclub during a De La trip to Glasgow. With the song’s 25-year-anniversary approaching in September, it would be incredible to see De La and Teenage Fanclub reconnect — in real life and in the studio.
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