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Lipps, Inc.

Before hard funksters like Prince and the Time hit the national stage, before groundbreaking alternative rockers Hüsker Dü and the Replacements, Minneapolis was barely a blip on America's musical radar -- that is, until Lipps, Inc. broke out with one of disco's most monumental singles, the number one smash "Funkytown." The brainchild of producer/songwriter Steven Greenberg, Lipps, Inc. (meant to be pronounced as a pun on "lip sync") wound up as one-hit wonders, but that one hit still stands as one of disco's all-time classics; its computerized feel and lean, spare arrangement contrasted sharply with the perceived excesses of most disco music, yet its longing for escape (specifically, from Minneapolis, whose music scene was still in its infancy) fit the spirit of the era perfectly, sending it to the top of the charts for a full month in 1980.

A multi-instrumentalist, Greenberg had played in several bands and had been trying for some time to secure a production deal. He finally caught the Casablanca label's interest with a disco track called "Rock It," which became something of a hit locally. Casablanca asked Greenberg for a full album, and he gathered a cast of session players that initially included guitarists David Rivkin and Tom Riopelle, keyboardist Ivan Rafowitz, and bassist Terry Grant. Most importantly, he recruited lead vocalist Cynthia Johnson, the 1976 Miss Black Minnesota, who had been performing with an early version of the Time. Released nationally in late 1979, "Rock It" failed to catch on. The group's debut album, Mouth Music, was released in early 1980 and when "Funkytown" was pulled as a second single, it was an instant hit, climbing to number one just a couple months later and spending four weeks on top. In the wake of its success, "Rock It" was re-released, but flopped again. The six-song release Pucker Up followed, featuring a disco remake of the British pub rock group Ace's hit ballad "How Long," which reached number four on Billboard's club chart. The next Lipps, Inc. full-length, Designer Music, didn't attract much attention. Johnson was already decreasing her involvement with the group, with Melanie Rosales picking up some of the slack; Johnson left for good in 1983, the year the group released their final album, 4. By the time Lipps, Inc. threw in the towel, though, they'd begun to open things up on the Minneapolis music scene, not to mention giving valuable early experience to several future members of Prince's band the Revolution. Greenberg eventually moved into web design, and owns a profitable company based in Minneapolis. ~ Steve Huey

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