…at the speed of love.
That’s the stall-setting opening gambit on Fallin’, the unlikely yet inspired collaboration between De La Soul and Teenage Fanclub, a marriage made in heaven that was strictly at odds with the hell of the rap/rock crossover that soundtracked 1993’s Judgement Night movie. Amidst a hotchpotch of hideousness – Helmet & House Of Pain, Biohazard & Onyx, Slayer & Ice T – and the odd briefly inspired moment – Dinosaur Jnr & Del The Funky Homosapien’s choppy and groovy Missing Link, Sonic Youth & Cypress Hill’s dark and, er, dope hymn to smoking (I Love You Mary Jane), De La Soul’s daisy age hip hop beats melded with TFC’s Bellshill beat and created the album’s best track that, 30 years later (!!!) sounds fresher than ever.
With De La Soul being in the news this week on the back of the death of Dave Jolicoeur (Trugoy the Dove), I’ve taken to playing many of the group’s early sample-savvy singles and debut album at a decent volume. The track I keep returning to though is Fallin’. It’s been played at every available opportunity; in the car, doing the dishes, sorting the washing, brushing my teeth, boiling the kettle, texting my pals… it’s a real beauty of a track. Stick a microphone in front of me and I reckon I could bust out a pretty faithful recreation of the opening verse’s rap. But don’t. I’m a white guy from the west of Scotland and we’re not known for our flowability skills on the mic.
Teenage Fanclub & De La Soul – Fallin’
Teenage Fanclub are, as you are well aware, four white guys from the west of Scotland too and, while they wisely left the rapping to the masters of the art, they do contribute some soulful ‘doo-doo-do-do‘ adlibs in the background – possibly aping, or just plain stolen from Biz Markie or the Steve Miller Band, as you might spot later.
The track is built around a sample of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’, a widescreen open road of a record, as American as truckstops and Telecasters, with references to Elvis, Jesus, Ventura Boulevard, Mulholland Drive and endless freeways, sung in Fanclubesque multi-harmony atop a bed of rich acoustic and clean chimin’ electric guitars. There’s a rumour, unsubstantiated, that it plays at maximum volume whenever white American men of a certain age cash in their one-way ticket for that final trip along life’s highway and park the Cadillac outside the pearly gates. I guess I’ll never know.
It’s something of a surprise, then, to find out that the idea for building the track came, not from the four guitar-crazy Scottish musos who may well have played along to a Tom Petty record or two in their time, but from the magpie mind of De La Soul’s Posdnuos. More of that in a bit though. Firstly, how on earth did this heaven-sent collaboration come to be?
Gerry Love, bass player with Teenage Fanclub at the time, alongside Brendan O’Hare, former TFC drummer and inspired catchphrase merchant very kindly offered to cast their surprisingly clear minds back three decades and reminisce exclusively for Plain Or Pan.
Gerry: De La Soul came over to Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire – we were mixing Thirteen at Revolution Studios in the town. Originally we were approached via our American label DGC (Geffen) to ask if we fancied collaborating with PM Dawn. As we were weighing up the offer we were updated with the news than PM Dawn couldn’t make it after all and would we like to work with De La Soul? It took us less than a second to say yes. Like most people of our generation we were big fans of their work. Three Feet High and Rising was a massively important record.
Brendan: De La Soul (and their weed…and their preconceived ideas of us) came over to the studio. I think they thought we were Tom Petty, which we weren’t. They were hilarious once they realised we were equally hilarious.
Speaking to LA Weekly in 2009, De La Soul’s Posdnuos explained further.
Posdnuos: They (the Judgement Night people) started pairing up different artists. We could’ve been paired up with familiar names, but we didn’t know who Teenage Fanclub were at the time, so we picked them.
Brendan: The track sorta happened when they muscled a drumbeat out of our Alesis SR16.
Gerry: I remember the session started with a drum beat programmed by Maseo. I put down a bass line, Raymond put down a guitar line and then Posdnous and Trugoy started working on the lyric while at the same time going through a box of records they had brought looking for something to sample. It was really impressive to see how they worked. In a matter of hours they had recorded the vocal. We all put down some harmony vocals.
Posdnuos: We were taking a break from brainstorming ideas. We happened to be sitting in a little reception area outside the studio, and Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ video came on. I’ve always been the person in the group, who when he hears certain words, I take them and apply them to a certain thing. It started as a joke – ‘Hey, let’s make a song based off a Tom Petty video!’ Then Dave (Trugoy The Dove) said, ‘let’s spin it about us falling off as a rappers.’ So we went to the store, bought the Tom Petty CD, and based it around the song.
Then we got a bassline from (Biz Markie’s) Nobody Beats The Biz, the Steve Miller sample (listen carefully and you might spot a morsel of more ‘doo-doo-do-dos’ from Fly Like An Eagle), and a snippet of Petty’s voice and it came together pretty fast.”
Gerry: I saw that Posdnous say that they got the bass from a sample. That’s complete nonsense! For the record: it’s my part, I came up with it. The bass line doesn’t feature anywhere on that Biz Markie track.
They did add the Tom Petty sample at the end though, and then that was it – all done and dusted in a few days.
Spot the samples…
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Free Fallin’
Biz Markie – Nobody Beats The Biz
Steve Miller Band – Fly Like An Eagle
What began as something of a throwaway track to fill space on a compilation album ended up a fully fledged De La Soul track, so much so that Tommy Boy, De La Soul’s label, wanted to include it on Buhloone Mindstate. The band nixed that idea though, and so the group’s third album’s loss was most definitely Judgement Night‘s gain.
Gerry; A few months later we flew out to Chicago to make a promo video with them.
Brendan: The recording of the video is one of my favourite memories.
The video is great, both groups coming together to goof around in an American high school classroom. De La Soul are the academics, TFC the class goons. Gerry spends his time sleeping in the back row alongside a bored Brendan, with an equally bored-looking Norman in front of him. Swotty goody two shoes Raymond sits up straight at the front with Maseo and Posdnuos the ‘teacher’.
When the video cuts to a school drama production, we see the two acts sharing the stage, De La Soul rapping in triplicate as a clearly tickled Teenage Fanclub play out the tune, a collection of acting kids weaving in and out of the happy stew.
Gerry: De La Soul were just really friendly guys. The whole thing was one of the most unexpected things that ever happened in my time in Teenage Fanclub and one of the most rewarding. As a track, I think it still sounds pretty good.
Brendan: It was sad news about Trugoy. He was lovely and keen on yoghurt.