|2 inch multitrack tape as "Planet Rock", using the same beats and orchestral hits with added keyboard parts. "We ended up duping a copy so that we could make some space," says Tom. |
Originally a Boston vocal group called The Energetics, Planet Patrol's R&B vocals belonged to a long tradition dating back to groups like The Temptations. Fused with Tommy Boy's future beat on tracks like "Play At Your Own Risk" and "Cheap Thrills", their old-fashioned harmonising emphasised the fact that hip-hop was a mixture of old and new, sweet and tough, familiar and unknown.
Monica Lynch savours the flavour of that time. "I just saw Kool Herc," she says, "and he was reminding me of this time at the T Connection when somebody shot a gun and he was trying to lead me to safety. Same thing happened at Harlem World. Back then, though, the thing with guns, people would shoot a gun off but there wasn't so much violence at clubs. The clubs were really cool. It was a cool mix of blacks and Hispanics in the Bronx, Harlem, and the Roxy and the Funhouse. Maybe the Roxy would be the best example. It was a golden moment for hip-hop because it was very inclusive. I guess 'Planet Rock' to me is a great anthem for that type of vibe."
Within ent. the inner circle of hip-hop, "Planet Rock" caused mixed reactions. Monica remembers running into Russell Simmons, now the head of Def Jam Records. "He was saying he didn't know about that 'Planet Rock' record," she recalls. "'This is nervous for me', he's saying, 'I don't know, this is nervous'." But in the New Wave enclaves like The Mudd Club and Danceteria, the response was terrific. "The white kids really jumped onto this stuff in a big way," she says. "A kid weaned on 'Tainted Love' by Soft Cell was already a candidate for 'Planet Rock', so again, this was an era that cut across a lot of different worlds.
"At that time you had the downtown scenesters like Fab Five Freddy or Blue, who ran Negril. You would see them doing their bookings and coming to the Funhouse. You had this downtown art crowd and then you'd see these kids coming from the Bronx who were black and Hispanic primarily. There were inquisitive white social anthropologists and then you'd get Japanese film crews. It was like this convergence of people who had probably never mixed together, socially, before, but that was what Friday night at the Roxy was all about. It was like a great stage because all these breakdancing crews would come down there and they knew they'd get on Japanese TV. It was a distinct contrast to what you have today."
With the shockwaves from "Planet Rock" spreading out to all points global, Tommy Boy moved to new premises, a basement on 85th Street. Distributors who had previously ordered quantities of 50 or 500 records were suddenly wanting 5000 or 10,000. "Planet Rock" was the only certified gold 12 inch single of 1982. The electro-boogie craze was full tilt and Tommy Boy found the year fast-forwarding. Driving around with Bambaataa, looking for a drum machine, Silverman heard The Jonzun Crew's "Pack Jam" on Bambaataa's boom box. Already released on Boston International by the record's producer, Michael Johnson, the eerie computer game robotics of "Pack Jam" were perfect for bigger exposure in New York. Struck by the song's unusual sounds and Kraftwerk feel, Silverman picked up the phone and made a deal with Johnson. The result was another big electronic hit, followed by The Jonzun Crew's innovative and witty Lost In Space, Tommy Boy's first album.
"Pack Jam", along with tracks like Pressure Drop's anthemic, electro-Jamaican "Rock the House (You'll Never Be)", became a soundtrack for the culture developing at The Funhouse. Played by Jellybean to a room of 3000 young Latin and black kids, records by The Jonzun Crew, Planet Patrol, Soul Sonic Force and Special Request created a video game atmosphere that was closer to a Star Wars bar of the distant future than a normal dance club.
Tommy Boy continued to mix old-school skills with new technology. In 1983, Soul Sonic Force MC G.L.O.B.E. teamed up with the late Whiz Kid, a brilliant scratch DJ, to record "Play That Beat Mr. D.J.".