|Single by Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force|
|Format||7-inch single, 12-inch single|
|Genre||Electro, hip hop|
|Composer(s)||Arthur Baker, John Robie, Soulsonic Force|
|Lyricist(s)||Emcee G.L.O.B.E., Arthur Baker|
|Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force singles chronology|
"Planet Rock" is a song by the American hip hop artists Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force. The song was produced by Arthur Baker and released by Tommy Boy Records in 1982. The song came together after DJ and producer Baker met with Bambaataa where the two bonded over the idea of creating a song over their mutual appreciation for the band Kraftwerk. Baker and Bambaataa had previously worked together on the song "Jazzy Sensation" and decided to compose a more electronic based version of a hip hop song, opposed to the more disco oriented work at the time. Along with musician John Robie, the group went to record the album at Intergalactic Studios in New York to develop a song based around the songs "Trans-Europe Express" and "Numbers" by Kraftwerk. Robie duplicated the sound on the record and had Bambaataa's rappers in the Soul Sonic Force rap over it. To create the raps, the lyricist of the group Emcee G.L.O.B.E. had to develop a style he called "mc popping", which involved rapping off time, an unusual style at the time.
The song was released in 1982 and became popular, eventually becoming a Gold record in the United States, the first for the group and label. The new musical style on the album later became known as Electro, which icy synthesizer melodies and harder funk-oriented backing. The song featured simple lyrics discussing the power of music and to have a fun time. After its release, the song began to get airplay on the radio. The use of Kraftwerk's music on the song was done without permission and led to the band approaching the label. Tommy Boy's head Tom Silverman eventually agreed to give the group one dollar for every record sold and increased the price of the single to make a return on the record.
The song was listed as one of the best singles of 1982 by the NME and was described by Robert Palmer of The New York Times as "perhaps the most influential black pop record of 1982", noting its influence on "both the black pop mainstream and several leading white new-wave rockers". Several musicians and groups noted how the track influenced them including Run-DMC, 2 Live Crew, A Guy Called Gerald, Fatboy Slim and Newcleus. The song has been remixed and re-leased several times since its release and has been described as one of the definitive electro songs by AllMusic and being voted as the third greatest hip hop songs by Rolling Stone after polling 33 music journalists, executives and hip hop producers and rappers to create a list of the 50 greatest hip hop songs of all time.
Arthur Baker had moved from Boston to New York in 1981 where he had been DJing, producing and mixing records, and working as a music journalist as early as 1976. By his own admission, Baker described himself as a "shit dj" and was more interested in making music despite not being a musician. Among his musical work was co-producing a few records under the name Northend with singer Tony Carbone and drummer Russell Presto for West End Records. Baker followed these up with records he made that were released by Tom Moulton as TJM, followed by "Happy Days" on North End Records.
Baker was writing review for a magazine titled Dance Music Report which was owned by Tom Silverman who was starting up the label Tommy Boy Records. Silverman found Tommy Boy's record sales were not high and talked talked to about Baker producing a record as he was the only producer Silverman knew. This led to Silverman introducing Baker to Afrika Bambaataa and John Robie, and having Baker produce "Jazzy Sensation" for Afrika Bambaataa and the Jazzy 5 which was released by Tommy Boy. The record was successful with Baker estimating it sold 30,000 records. Silverman suggested a two record a follow-up which led to Bambaataa and Baker creating a record based on their love of the band Kraftwerk. Baker recalled that when he heard "Numbers" being played at the Music Factory in Brooklyn, he saw "black guys in their twenties and thirties asking, 'What's that beat?' So I knew that if we used that beat and added an element of the street, it was going to work.
Baker was not sure when "Planet Rock" was recorded, stating that it was either 1980 or 1981. Prior to going to the studio, Bambaataa recalled working at Silverman's father house in White Plains involving a bassline taken from BT Express which was not used. Robie, Bambaataa and Baker recorded "Planet Rock" at Intergalactic Studio. The group has previously recorded "Jazzy Sensation" at the same studio. The record was completed quickly, as they did not have a high budget for the recording. Baker said it was approximately three all-night sessions, the first was developing the music and a bit of the rap, the next with the rapping, and the final with mixing the record.
The studio's equipment included a Neve console, Studer 24–track tape machine and Urei monitors, a Lexicon PCM41 digital delay, Sony reverb and the Fairlight CMI. Baker stated that "They only had a few things, and so we basically got all of our effects out of the Lexicon PCM41, including Bambaataa's electronic vocal vocoder sound. That came through a really, really tight delay, almost like a tight electronic phasing, and then there was the state–of–the–art Sony reverb. However, other than that, there weren't a whole load of effects on that record." The group lacked a Roland TR-808 of their own to use, and found use of one from an ad in the Village Voice that stated "Man with drum machine, 20 dollars a session." They showed the musician Kraftwerk and what they wanted programmed. The 808 was programmed through the Neve console, which Baker described as an "amazing mixing board". In the studio, Baker experimented with the Fairlight CMI which Baker found a few sounds on including an explosion sound which would later be used on "Planet Rock". Baker later lamented on the lack of usefulness of the Fairlight, describing it as a "$100,000 waste of space."
John Robie provided the group with a Micromoog and a Prophet-5. Baker would later praise Robie's studio work, stating he "could play. You'd tell him to play something and he'd play it and add something to it. He was really, really good." Baker stated it took about 8 hours to get the track in working order and developed it first without any rappers. Bambaataa commented that "a lot of people think we sampled Kraftwerk but it's just not true. John Robie was a bad-ass synthesizer player, so he was just good in playing stuff, that it sounded like they sampled the record."
When asked about how much Bambaataa contributed to the record, Baker felt that he was "more of an inspiration" but that he "definitely had influence" but was unfamiliar with studio equipment. On being asked about his contributions to his records in 1985, Bambaataa stated he "don't do much rapping" but that helped develop the records, stating that "They may be written or produced by whomever, but you can be sure I had something to do with getting the sound I want, whether it’s a certain chant, keyboard riff, drum pattern or a speed-up on the synthesizers." Bambaataa added that whether he works with "Bill Laswell of Material or Arthur Baker, I usually act as a co-producer, and I’ll bring in one of my groups to come up with a strong rap." Among Bambaataa's suggestions, was using a beat from Captain Sky's "Super Sporm". Bambaataa was concerned that people would feel like they were copying Kraftwerk, so he proposed adding the beat. The group was nervous about how Kraftwerk would react to "Planet Rock" and developed a separate melody line for "Planet Rock". Silverman eventually stepped in to have the group use the "Trans-Europe Express" melody. The unused melody would end up being used on "Play At Your Own Risk" by Planet Patrol. Both music for "Play At Your Own Risk" and "Planet Rock" were recorded to the same tape.
The Soul Sonic Force consisted of the rappers Mr.Biggs, Pow Wow, and Emcee G.L.O.B.E. When the rappers came in to perform the vocals, Baker stated that they "hated the music. Not even hated it. They despised it." The rappers wanted to perform something closer to "Jazzy Sensation" and other tracks that were in the R&B charts. Baker specifically recalled Mr.Biggs specifically refusing to rap on it. Baker recalled that G.L.O.B.E. eventually got the group into rapping it by not rapping exactly on beat. On the title of the record, Baker says he did not remember where the title "Planet Rock" came from, but stated that G.L.O.B.E. wrote all of the lyrics for the song with the except for the chorus which Baker wrote. G.L.O.B.E. wrote most of the groups lyrics. Baker stated he was certain of this as he admitted to stealing the "Rock rock to the Planet Rock, don't stop." line from the record "Body Music" by The Strikers which had the line "Punk rock to the punk rock, don't stop." Jay Burnett, who engineered the song performed the "rock rock to the planet rock, don't stop" vocal. Bob Rosa provided some overdubbing for the record and approximately 30 hours were spent recording and mixing 'Planet Rock' before the single was mastered and then remastered. Jazzy Jay, an associate of Bambaataa's described editing "Planet Rock" was "the most tedious thing". Jay recalled Baker being there during the whole editing process: "splicing, cutting tape with a razor blade. What we do now with just a few strokes of the keyboard."
Music and style
Author and essayist Kurt B. Reighley described "Planet Rock" as a fusion of hip-hop breaks and "icy synthesizer lines lifted from Kraftwerk" which "laid the blueprint for the genre dubbed "electro". On its release, the genre was of the song was not clear, Producer Rick Rubin stating that "at the time we barely considered it a rap record". while DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill stated on the West coast, hip hop had not hit until around 1984 and people listening to "Planet Rock" called it funk.
Baker described the sound of "Planet Rock" as a "marriage of electronic music with street culture and black music"  Baker expanded on this, comparing the use of Kraftwerk's songs to that of cover songs, noting that "Black music has always had cover records. What I was trying to do was mix in the DJ bits of other records. It was a conscious thing. [...] I tried to create what a DJ would do with records." Although acknowledging the influence of Kraftwerk, Bambaataa stated the group was only part of the influence on the sound, naming Gary Numan and Yellow Magic Orchestra as inspirations. Describing the songs sound as "electro funk", Bambaataa stated his idea for the songs sound to be electronic but with "a lot of funk and heavy bass" noting his influences of James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, George Clinton and his bands Parliament and Funkadelic. The Soul Sonic Force's look and stage wear was also compared to Parliament and Funkadelic, with carved African walking sticks, Mardi Gras style headdresses, Zulu beads, a fashion that Bambaataa called the "wildstyle."
Author William Eric Perkins described the theme of the song as "lyrically simple" that promoted the encouragement of a "fun life and a "funky good time"." The lyrical themes of "Planet Rock" celebrated the ability of music to take listeners to the past and future while encouraging them to enjoy the present. Specifically, the song contains positive messages about "chasing your dreams", and to "live it up" because "our world is free." Baker described the Soul Sonic Force's rapper G.L.O.B.E. as being the genius of the group, and that he described himself as an “MC popper.” a style Baker summarized as rapping "sort of half-time thing. Instead of being on the beat, being off the beat. That was very different at the time." Pow Wow performs a wordless vocal of "zz-zz-zz" where he had initially forgotten the lyrics.. Baker later commented that if he could change anything in the song it would have been this verse.
Prior to releasing "Planet Rock", Baker played the song in various record stores in Brooklyn and Manhattan on the spot what they though of it. In an interview with Billboard, Baker stated he played the song in two stores on a Saturday and that "Ninety percent of the people [he] asked wanted to buy it right away." and that one person offered him $200 for his acetate copy. Baker took the acetate into the Music Factory record shop in Brooklyn which blew up the speakers there due the tracks excessive low-end. Sources very on the release date of "Planet Rock". Ranging from an article in Sound on Sound stating it was released in June 1982. The liner notes to Planet Rock - The Album declare the release to be in April 1982. In an interview from an issue of Billboard from July 24, 1982 Silverman stated that "Planet Rock" had only been in release for 90 days. Shortly after the production, Jazzy Jay was driving on the freeway and heard "Planet Rock" on the radio and rushed off to phone Bambaataa about it. Jay was in shock as previous meetings with radio stations to play hip hop on the radio led to managers of stations denying the genre as fad and refusing to play it. The single peaked on Billboard's Hot 100 on September 11, 1982 at 48 position and spent 11 weeks on the charts. It went Gold in the United States by October 1982.
The group was concerned that Kraftwerk would be mad at them due to the use of "Trans-Europe Express"'s melody. Karl Bartos, the co-writer of "Numbers" stated that "in the beginning we were very angry, because they didn't credit the authors [...] [so] we felt pissed off [...] there was nothing written down saying that its source was "Trans-Europe Express" and "Numbers"." Kraftwerk approached Tommy Boy and Silverman decided to give the group a dollar for each record sold. When doing this, Silverman also raised the list price of the record stating that the album became "$5.98 list 12-inch, as opposed to a $4.98. But by the time he did that, the record was so hot, people just went for it." Wolfgang Flür responded that "[t]hey didn't even ask in the first place whether Kraftwerk was in agreement...the company that had released the single, Tommy Boy Records, had to fork out a lot of money after the event, but they just increased the price of the single [...] and recouped their fine."
Re-releases and remixes
After "Planet Rock" had been released Silverman stated he wanted a 7-inch edit of the song. Silverman knew that John "Jellybean" Benitez had a quarter-inch, 15" tape machine which led to Baker and Benitez creating the edit of "Planet Rock" at Benitez's home. Attempts to get a full length album for Afrika Bambaataa were not possible with Tommy Boy as Silverman's contract with him was strictly for singles and re-negotiating the contract proved to be difficult. The followup single to "Planet Rock", "Looking for the Perfect Beat" was released in December 1982. A full length album titled Planet Rock: The Album was released in 1986.
On May 5, 1992 a remix EP was released by the group on Tomy Boy which featuring remixes by Karl Bartos, 808 State, DJ Magic Mike and LFO. Ron Wynn of AllMusic founds the remixes unsuccessful, noting that "Planet Rock"'s "hook was old-school, as was its charm. The newer version lacks bite." Paul Oakenfold created a remix of "Planet Rock" for the soundtrack to the film Swordfish in 2001 which was his first charting single in the United Kingdom in 2001. Jason Birchmeier of AllMusic described Oakenfold's remix as turning the song into "a seven-minute breakbeat trance anthem -- something that would be considered downright blasphemous in many circles" The song was remixed again for the film 808 in 2015, featuring remixes by Kaytranada and Boys Noize.
From contemporary reviews, the NME placed "Planet Rock" at 16th in their 1982 best of the year ranking. Nelson George of Billboard referred to the track as "one of the summers biggest singles" in 1982. In The Village Voice's 1982 Pazz & Jop critics poll, the single was voted the year's eighth best. Robert Christgau, the poll's supervisor, called it the year's "most influential dance record" and "potentially as influential as 'Rapper's Delight'".
Robert Palmer of The New York Times called "Planet Rock" as "perhaps the most influential black pop record of 1982", noting its influence on "both the black pop mainstream and several leading white new-wave rockers" Contemporary musicians of the period commented on track, with rapper Melle Mel later stating that "Planet Rock" had "Hurt all the other rappers" noting that Bambaataa and his crew were "the only ones to have this real futuristic, synthesized sound. It hurt us because it ripped everything into a different dimension." Brian Chin of Billboard would later call Melle Mel and Duke Bootee's late 1982 track "The Message II" as being influenced by "Planet Rock". Baker referred to the "mc popping" style that G.L.O.B.E. performed on the track was an influence on Run-DMC, , which Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels, stating their groups song "It's Like That" was "basically a “Planet Rock” flow over a beat." Prior to hearing "Planet Rock", Cosmo D of Newcleus who had recorded the songs such as "Jam On's Revenge" and "Computer Age (Push the Button)". After completing the track "Computer Age (Push the Button)"." Cosmo D recalled that he "started hearing this shit on the air, "Planet Rock." And I hear this shit, and I said, "If that shit is a hit, I know "Computer Age" is a hit." In the United Kingdom, Gerald Simpson (A Guy Called Gerald) stated that on going out dancing he started hearing "electro-ey stuff - "Planet Rock" and Newcleus, that kind of vibe. That blew us away back then - dancing -wise it was perfect. Before that we ere listening to jazz, funk and soul, where the music was all played live. But this stuff - you know exactly where the beat's gonna come, so dancing-wise you can experiment a bit more." Norman Cook of The Housemartins began DJing at the age of 18 after hear "Planet Rock", stating "I wanted to make dance music, not white pop music". Cook would later find success under the alias of Fatboy Slim releasing albums such as You've Come a Long Way, Baby to platinum albums around the world. Stationed in the UK at the period, Mr. Mixx of 2 Live Crew stated "I thought, at the time, that it was the most profound record I’d ever heard. It was the crossover point between electronic dance music and R&B." Frank Owen commented on "Planet Rock" in 1990 in Spin, referring to it as "year zero of the new dance music" and that it still was a strong influence American regional scenes with Miami bass, Detroit techno and Los Angeles hip hop. Owen noted that most the influence of "Planet Rock" declined in New York where he believed that what was once was a "radical listening experience" had become "lost under the weight of endless imitations that followed in its wake."
From retrospective reviews, John Bush, writer for the AllMusic database praised the song, declaring that "no single encapsulates the electro era quite like "Planet Rock."" while finding that "The rapping, though not up to later standards, does make an improvement on the rather lame rhymes and lack of rhythm from the first few rap singles to hit the market." In 2012, Rolling Stone polled 33 music journalists, executives and hip hop producers and rappers to create a list of the 50 greatest hip hop songs of all time. "Planet Rock" was placed at number 3 on the list, with Chuck D of Public Enemy proclaiming it "as important as Willie Mitchell or Booker T. were to the Memphis scene. There hasn’t been a song like it in hip-hop since." François K, a musician and studio producer and engineer who's had worked with Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Diana Ross and The Cure declared that "Planet Rock" as the song he most associated with New York in the early 1980s, mentioning that "there was nothing else that could touch that record [...] There was nothing that year that could top what "Planet Rock" did."
12" single (TB 823)
- "Planet Rock (Vocal)" – 6:25
- "Bonus Beats I" – 1:15
- "Planet Rock (Instrumental)" – 9:16
- Arthur Baker – producer, mixing, composer
- Tom Silverman – executive producer
- John Brunette – engineer
- Bob Rosa – engineer
- John Robie – composer, music, Micromoog and Prophet 5
- Soul Sonic Force – composer
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Look out for the new 12" single from the Jonzun Crew, "Space Is The Place" TB 8282 and in the coming week, the long-awaited follow up to "Planet Rock", "Looking For the Perfect Beat" by Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force.
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