Tommy Boy Music's 20th Anniversary
"Monica told me to take a couple of heavy canvas U.S. postal service mailbags," he says, "that are almost three feet long.
Arriving at Shakedown, either Albert or Tony from the Latin Rascals brought out at least two dozen tapes of 'Frantic Situation'. Memory says that there were three, maybe four, two inch reels, several ten inch reels, and many small, five inch tape boxes. For one song! With both sacks filled to the top, I literally dragged both bags down 37th street at rush hour. Getting a cab in the garment district at rush hour is a feat in itself. I looked like a crazed Manson family member with what looked like two bodies crammed into mailbags trying to get a cab."
Even though "Looking For the Perfect Beat" was a glorious peak, the Funhouse sound was moving on. By the beginning of 1984 it was possible to hear Soul Sonic Force played back to back with Run-D.M.C.'s hard-edged, more minimal style. Change was in the air. "After the electro stuff came to an end we really were having big trouble," Silverman admits. "We had all of those distribution bankruptcies and we weren't having any new hits. I tried starting a more rock oriented label - Body Rock - that wasn't really well thought out and it was unsuccessful. We weren't finding anything new that was really hitting until the Force M.D.'s came out. That did really well."
One of the radio Djs who played a part in Tommy Boy's early success was Mr. Magic. His hip-hop show - Mr. Magic's Rap Attack - had hit the airwaves in 1979 on a small New Jersey station called WHBI. Magic had helped to break "Jazzy Sensation" and his talent contests unearthed two important acts for the label. The first was Dr. Rock and the Force M.C.'s, a Staten Island group of singers, MCs and DJs who sang on the Staten Island ferry and reworked old television theme tunes like F Troop into raps and vocal routines at the Zulu Nation anniversary parties.
With a name change to The Force M.D.'s, the six members of the group - TCD, Trisco, Stevie D., Mercury, Doctor Rock and Jesse D. - signed to Tommy Boy in 1983. Tom saw them as a reincarnation of Fifties doo-woppers Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers. Dressing them in letter-sweaters with an F on the front, he conceived their music as doo-wop-hip-hop, a retronuevo fusion of two eras of youthful street music that shared a lot of common characteristics. Released in 1984, their first single, "Let Me Love You", used the thundering DMX drum machine programming of Keith LeBlanc (drummer for the Sugarhill label's house band, later known as Tackhead), as a bedrock for the group's sweet vocal harmonies and TCD's beautiful falsetto lead.
In the space of two years, The Force M.D.'s shot from a life of entertaining travellers on the Staten Island ferry to a string of giant hit singles. Produced by Silverman and Robin Halpin for their first album, "Tears" established them as great ballad singers. "We recorded 'Tears' at Unique," Silverman says. "We brought roses in and lit a candle. TC brought in an article from the newspaper to inspire him, about some girl who's boyfriend died. I forget what the story was but it was something in the Daily News that made him sad. We made it totally dark, just lit by candlelight and the light of the board."
In 1985, Monica Lynch had been trying to squeeze The Force M.D.'s on to the soundtrack of Krush Groove, the latest in a sequence of rap motion pictures that had begun the previous year with Beat Street and Breakin'. Finally, she took a Sunday afternoon call, asking if she could get The Force M.D.'s from Staten Island to Minneapolis the following morning to record the big ballad of the film with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis at Flyte Tyme. The result was "Tender Love", the first Top 10 pop hit not only for Tommy Boy but also for Jam and Lewis. Although the group suffered upheavals, including the premature deaths of TC and Mercury in recent years, exquisite tracks like "Tears", "Tender Love" and "Here I Go Again" proved that great talent doesn't have to start out as a slick package.
"Krush Groove came out but we still weren't doing really well," Silverman concedes. "I started shopping a label deal because I was about half a million dollars in debt. Mostly to pressing plants.



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