Review: Lipps Inc.’s “Designer Music” is Funktacular, Three Decades Later

 

 

By Camille Liptak

It was a lengthy drive, but I arrived at Megan’s house, primed and ready to ride. Megan was less so. She was in the kitchen cleaning up crumbs leftover from her attempts to feed her nephew, Mickey the Menace, and was starting to show her trademark signs of resentment. She answered me with terse responses, and seemed peeved.

I was also, admittedly, a bit annoyed.

I wanted to get the show on the road, and she clearly didn’t want to take the miscreant–who threw his Elmo toy and Hulk glove at me when I tried to say hello– anywhere. And I didn’t blame her. He was screaming (he’s always screaming), throwing his toys (he’s always throwing his toys), and taking enjoyment in the fact that nothing can stop him –not me, not Megan, not anything.

I steered our dialogue towards high-tailing it out of there so I could see my crush, when her toy-cluttered, high-ceilinged living room –which echoed Mickey’s garbled Goo-Goos– filled with the most mystifying sound we had ever heard.

This brassy, almost church-like 4-note piano riff started playing frenziedly. Megan and I grew silent immediately. Mickey too. The intro to this song –whatever its name– sounded like it should be on a Halloween CD. It was garish and sharp yet oddly hypnotic. Then came a ticking hi-hat and snare drum, followed by a cheap, bumping bass line.

The 80s electropop orchestration left Megan and I awestruck. We couldn’t decide if this was the greatest or worst song we had ever heard, but we knew we had to keep listening. Then another addition: a female vocalist came in with her abrasive, somewhat tonally unpleasant shriek, “EVERYWHERE YOU GO…LIGHTS FLASH!” Our eyes widened, and we started laughing – really hard, because there was a level of drama woven into the sound waves that made the already ridiculous song that much more.

I ran to the TV to see the title and artist of this disco shitshow masterpiece. It was called, “Designer Music” by the band Lipps Inc. (the same Lipps Inc. who gave the music world “Funkytown”), and its horrid funkiness had us all in a trance.

When the song finished, we swiftly found it on YouTube, and replayed it over and over again. The dancing, chuckles, and confusion continued. We still hadn’t figured out if we liked the song because it was a legitimately well-composed piece of music, or because it was just elaborately awful.

This song is so questionably brilliant that the band named their record after it.

That’s right: Lipps Inc. felt that this song –this funktacular disaster of aural tastelessness–was a worthy representation of the band’s 1981 sound. I would have to agree, because the rest of the album’s tracks is filled with similar tacky thuds and uncomplicated lyrics and melodies.

Track List Lowdown:

“Designer Music” – The lyrics talk about the importance of having a label on your clothing. My favorite discernable line, “If Calvin says it’s smashin’, it’s got to be in fashion”. I imagine the music video involving plenty of crazy eyes (to match the crazy vocals), the multiple group members dressed like Tennis players, someone counting money, and slow moving butt shots.

“Hold Me Down” – wobbling synth and vocoder singing set to a pulsing beat and canned snare drums. This song sounds like the outro to “Funkytown”, hard to believe it was one of the bigger hits of the album.

“The One” – a sweet-sounding electronic declaration of a woman’s ineptitude. ‘Nuff said.

“The One After” – 2 and half minutes of instruments– no powerfully shrill vocals or lame currency-or-love-oriented lyrics.

“Everybody Knows” – plucky strumming guitar, syncopated keys, bright slap bass, and lyrics that talk of the notorious reputation of a philanderer set to an upbeat pace.

“I Need Some Cash” – Disco Rap alert! A relaxed 4-on-the-floor beat that sounds like it came from a Casio or Yamaha. Added bonuses are the vaudeville-style piano riff and dramatic proclamation of needing cash fast in the chorus.

“Background Singer” sounds like the epitome of peppy 80s doo-wop pop, with grade-school lyrics describing the role of a background singer – one whose job is “really cool”. Excessive sha-la-la’s enhance the song’s kitsch.

“Things Take Time” What every 80s disco record needs: a piano ballad of longing and lessons learned from a love gone away. If you listen to this track and the Lionel Richie/Diana Ross duet, “Endless Love” you might not be able to tell the difference between them. Both songs were released in 1981. True to form, Lipps Inc. made the ballad stagier.

 

Designer Music was released by Casablanca records in 1981, and is the last time Lipps Inc. had Cynthia Johnson as lead singer. The record epitomizes the superficiality of early 80s disco music, talking about money, love, the importance of wearing upscale fashions, and the endeavors of a backing vocalist.

 

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