Making: Taste So Good by File 13
Taste So Good wasn’t a genre busting hit but it was certainly fun and exciting to make. Here's what I remember...
I was working a lot with David Witz of CBS Records from 1978 to the mid 80's creating literally thousands of radio promos for current record releases. I don’t remember the first moment the thought of Taste So Good appeared but David and I were on the same track from the start. If you haven't heard the record you should take a listen before reading any further.
Ok, now we’re back. The idea is created from the free phone sex lines that were available during the 1980’s. You’d dial an 800 number and listen to a 60 second monologue by a woman pretending to answer the phone and provide a wild sexual experience. It was a one way interaction, you couldn’t talk or leave a message. The whole point was to get you to call the paid lines, usually the 900 numbers. I personally never went that far, but the free phone messages were entertaining if nothing else.
Anyway David and I discussed and started experimenting by recording the messages directly with a phone patch and writing a music track using a Casio Mt-40 keyboard, a Roland TR-606 drum machine, and the legendary TB-303 Bass synth. We worked on it in my Studio B at Clack Studios between our promo sessions. The demo was very much like the finished product but bigger and more polished.
Meanwhile another client of mine, Ken Levy, recommended sending the demo to his friend Corey Robbins who at that time was the owner/president of Profile Records and racking up hits with Run/DMC, Jekyll and Hyde other early hip hop smashes. He loved the demo and we quickly signed a contract for several albums even though I was only interested in a one off deal.
We were given a small advance for production and were directed to work at Quad Studios in Times Square with Dave Ogrin who was mixing many hip hop hits during the period. In pre-production we realized we had problems using the original phone calls. They obviously belong to somebody and the quality was sketchy at best. So we decided to find a few actresses to replay the parts along with some additional lines. We settled on two women, one was a voice over actress the other colorful character worked as receptionist at a very hot NYC studio. We had a great time recording the lines and replaced the originals with the new on the 8-track tape.
By 1985 samplers were a big deal but I didn’t own one yet and we didn’t have the budget for one. So we used tape edits as I was using them on the first two Double Dee and Steinski Lessons but a bit more manic with overlapped and syncopated stutters. Once we had that I made a 2-track master mix of the edited vocals. And they were edited pretty heavily!
Needing real musicians David recruited his cousin, artist Dan Witz, to play keyboards on the music recording, along with his buddy John Mastraccio who was a music professor at Purchase. They had the synths we needed, a brand spanking new Yamaha DX-7 (the newest and hottest at the time), a Roland Juno-60, and a Prophet Pro-One. They guys were terrific and very instrumental (ha!) in the synth sounds in the music production. After the session I purchased the Juno and Prophet from John for the new Zoltan Studio I shared with Steinski in Brooklyn.
The sound of the record owes a lot to the technology at hand. String pads handled by the Yamaha DX-7 provided a quality used too often in the years to com. Taste So Good does sound dated because of it and even more so the DMX drum machine pattern and the minor key melody that reeks of "Planet Rock". It was a loving tribute to the (then current) 'Electro' variant of early hip hop.
I decided against using my Roland TB-303 for the released track because the sequencer was a bitch to program. I then attempted programming the bass line on a Roland MC-202 sequencer for too many hours the night before the studio recording session. It was a cool toy but a piece of shit to use as it was no easier to program than the 303. And ironically most of this gear cost way too much if you were to buy a vintage unit. All of that analog gear I sold for peanuts and has at least tripled in value from original prices. Who knew? I wouldn't want any of it today, been there done that!
The first task at the beginning of the recording at Quad was programming the bass line using the tiny sequencer built-in to the Pro One - it saved us from playing manually (horrors!). It was such a basic sequencer we had to use a pulse from the drum machine to trigger the bass pattern. There was no other way to sync up the sequence. We rented a DMX drum machine for the studio session, it was the hot flavor of the month heard on most of the hip hop hits like all the Run-DMC records, Rockit by Herbie Hancock, and a unending list. It was less polite than the Linn Drum with a nice crunchy snare.
After the musical tracks were done I would manually start the playback machine threaded up with the premixed voice samples to sync up to the 24 track tape, which would inevitably go out of sync after a short time (even though they were beautiful Studer machines) after a short time. So it took hours of valuable mix time to build the master by hand. Because of the slightly imperfect timing, the end result has a special quality that sequenced samplers didn't provide.
After the first mix Profile Records sent us back two more times to remix the record because they didn't like it as much as the demo. It's called "Demo Love" and is frequent problem when making a record. I wish I still had that demo. Dave Ogrin was a great mixer but I wanted to get my own hands on the faders during the third session and that did it!
The final session went well but long. I don’t remember our start time but it was likely noon-ish. We didn’t finish until 4:30 the next morning with a late night dub mix with Steinski and Tommy Boy’s Monica Lynch in attendance. Of course all this studio expense was deducted from any sales profits.
The most difficult part of the job was creating the vocals. In pre-production at Clack Studios I tried coming up with a good telephone effect to administer to the women’s voices but nothing I did sounded authentic. The day before the session I was working with good friend Marc Chusid who was a producer at the still exciting and new MTV. It was he who came up with the obvious idea - why not play the edited voice tape through the phone patch and re-record it using a microphone placed up to the phone’s receiver. Duh! Of course!
It sounded perfect! And so much cleaner than the original recordings. But I think that’s a quality about the record that bothers me, it’s so close but no cigar. To this day it’s nearly impossible to create a vocal sound bite that sounds as good as the real thing - i.e. an actual recording of a finished and polished audio or visual program including actors or real people. There’s always something off in the emotion or ambience or quality or one of a number of other aural cues that clue us into their actual origin.
I’ve been doing this kind of work professionally my whole adult life, worked with the best equipment, producers and amazing actors. But the most difficult thing to fake is that sometimes indefinable reality, especially if you try to recreate an earlier period in history. Even as short as 50 years ago we all spoke a little differently and expected a produced ‘reality' that was quite distant from the present. Actors and announcers spoke in a different manner that reflected the world and experiences at that time. Just try to copy that accurately. It’s pretty impossible. And so I’m fascinated with the thought of how we may have sounded 200 years ago or even more. I mean really, not how movies portray historical stories with everyone speaking in s Shakespearian or ass-holian manner.
O.T. I was doing a session for a documentary running on one of the MTV channels years ago. At the end of the session the producer (or director, one of the many) left I asked my buddy who brought me the session “what’s that accent that guy had” my buddy quipped “Ass-holian”. And I immediately had a fun new word added to my vocabulary.
To this day I am slightly embarrassed by the finished record when compared with the knowledge and experience I have today but you know what? It sold and got played! I think Profile claimed sales of 50,000. To me that means 100,000. It was popular in gay clubs and big with the Vogue-ing crowd that was a short lived club dance craze. Amazingly I heard it on the radio a few times, the last in a car while visiting Oakland, California one night during a visit in the late 80’s. I wish I could redo it but I don’t see that happening. Why and for who? If I had access to the 24 track tape I would remix it but I don’t see that happening either. At least not on someone else’s dime.
Any questions? Don't be shy! Hit the CONTACT button.