Some artists liked lips-synching in videos, others refused to. The topic is a musical debate, some people being all for it, others hating it. But on this day in 1980, it seemed like no matter what their position on “lip synch” in music, everyone loved Lipps Inc. They held down the #1 spot for the second week in a row in the U.S. with “Funkytown” and would hang on to the top spot for two more weeks. OK, so it was a #1 hit – not bad, but not like it was the world’s biggest hit, you might be saying. Or was it?
Well… while it sold in the millions, it wasn’t the biggest-selling single of that year, let alone of all-time. And I seriously doubt many people, even dance enthusiasts, would suggest it was the greatest record ever made. But, on at least one count, it did become the most successful single ever, a distinction it would hang onto for over two decades. We’ll get to that, but first a little background.
Lipps Inc. were a funk/dance group out of Minneapolis, the brain child of Steven Greenberg. He was a popular wedding DJ in the Twin Cities, and one assumes he noticed people liked to dance to the disco hits at weddings. So he decided to make some music of his own. He was joined by Cynthia Johnson, a singer and sax player from a band which would morph into Prince’s backing band later on. They formed Lipps Inc. ( the name a play on words for “lip synch”), adding in various singers and musicians including David Rivkin, a drummer who’d done some work with Gram Parsons. They recorded their first album, Mouth to Mouth, in 1979, with Greenberg producing. While sounding quite highly synthetic and produced, they did utilize seven ordinary musicians, two more additional backing singers and a real quartet of violinists on the album.. which was perhaps better described as an EP. The release, on Casablanca which was hot at the time selling Donna Summer records, was a four-song, 30-minute dance affair.
The standout, and first single was “Funkytown”, a nearly 8-minute dance workout on the album cut in half for the 7” single and radio version. Sung by Johnson and written by Greenberg, it had her asking you to please take her to “Funky Town”, which to the pair was New York City. Although Minneapolis had a happening scene back then, to Lipps Inc., New York was where it was at.
The song would go on to spend four weeks at #1 in the States and end up as the eighth biggest hit of the year. As Time Out put it, “’Funkytown’ came late to the disco party but it gave it a jolt of electricity.” Indeed it did, being one of the very last major hits that fell clearly into the “disco” category. It also hit #1 in Canada. And Australia. And New Zealand. And Switzerland, where it was the #2 song for the year. And it made the top of the charts in some 23 other countries. That set a record. The 28 countries it topped charts in was the most by any song, ever, at that point. Take that “Hound Dog” or “Hey Jude”! It would hold on to the distinction until 2005, when Madonna’s “Hung Up” eclipsed it by getting to #1 in 41 lands – ironically, the U.S. not being one of them.
VH1 listed Lipps Inc. as their 36th greatest “one hit wonder” ever, and while the term generally fits, “Funkytown” wasn’t the only thing Lipps Inc. did that was popular. The song “All Night Dancing” was a dance chart #1 hit soon after “Funkytown”, and a year or so later they’d hit the top 30 again in most European nations with their take on the Ace hit “How Long.”
Lipps Inc. called it quits in 1985 after four albums, but several members had decent careers afterwards. It would seem no story about dance or funk music in Minnesota would be complete without mentioning Prince. Perhaps too, no story about June 7 in music is complete without the Purple One, who was born this day in 1958. At least a couple of members of Lipps In. went on to work with Prince in the late-’80s and ’90s, including singer Margaret Cox and drummer David Rivkin, who would later go by “David Z.” He is given a writing credit on Prince’s hit “Kiss”, and suggests he actually was a major collaborator on the Parade album which it appeared. Rivkin would also be very successful producing for the Fine Young Cannibals. And Steve Greenberg himself went into the music business, rising to VP level of Mercury Records, and signing another major “one hit wonder”, Hanson.