Kirk Degiorgio on the "ultimate early morning rave anthem."
It was before the days of ubiquitous mobile phones and the first order of the night would be to locate your friends and plot up in a spot where the sound was clear and loud. In the deep of night, DJs would keep it heavy and intense. As early morning arrived, the field would mist up and dew would soak your kicker boots as the first rays of light appeared on the horizon.
In this haze and early summer morning chill, the DJ would reach for a track to match the mood. With tens of thousands of ravers needing a breather from a hard night's raving, there were certain blissed out tunes that would have everyone hugging and raising a smile to the heavens. The Beloved's “The Sun Rising" maybe, 808 State's "Pacific State," or perhaps "B-Cause" by Jump Street Man. But the ultimate early morning rave anthem with most DJs, from Matthew B to Mr C to Fabio & Grooverider, was without question "The Morning After" by Fallout.
The track was actually a year old even by the time of the earliest large outdoor raves. It was released in 1987 by New York label Fourth Floor, a subsidiary of Silvio Tancredi's Northcott Productions company, and was the result of a joint production by New York producer Lenny Dee and Tancredi's creative partner and producer Tommy Musto. Lenny Dee was familiar to ravers for his collaborations with Frankie Bones on many an anthem during this period. The Looney Toons EP on Nu Groove in particular was huge, especially the freestyle classic "Another Place, Another Time."
"The Morning After," however was musically on a different level. Its synthetic flute motif is instantly recognisable. Many DJs would use the isolated intro as a teaser before starting to mix the track in proper. A cheer of recognition would always go up as soon as that flute sound floated out of the speakers. Drum & bass legend LTJ Bukem famously said in a Muzik interview: "This tune was my orgasm… it stood out for years. It's timeless."
Reverberating 808 drums with a simple, upfront 4/4 kick, open hat and clap pattern provide the foundation as soaring strings build an achingly euphoric mood. It might be a stretch, but the intro always reminds me of the classical piece by Ralph Vaughan Williams "The Lark Ascending," with its similar solo violin intro. The coup-de-grace comes with a thunderous four-bar bassline. Snappy 808 snares increase the rhythmic drive as the strings return before the now familiar house organ chord riff. The arrangement is brave, with the track stripped right down to a solitary kick drum two-thirds of the way in, before raindrop like percussion enters as the track drifts perfectly to its end.
New York legend Victor Simonelli hails from the same neighbourhood in Brooklyn as Lenny Dee and Tommy Musto and they became firm friends after meeting on the local music scene. "The first time I heard 'The Morning After' was when DJ Tony Humphries played it, the week that it was released," Simonelli recalled. "It stood out so clearly and is the tune I remember most from that set. Around that time Chicago had a strong and steady flow of amazing releases and I saw "The Morning After" as a big part of New York's response to that. Shortly after it was released, I met Lenny Dee and Tommy Musto and let them know how much I loved it. They invited me to Fourth Floor Records Studio, which shared office space with Nu Groove."
Frankie Bones considers the track essential in putting New York's brand of house music firmly on the map. "'The Morning After' was a track which defined underground house music made in New York City," he told me. "It was slightly different than what we would expect from Chicago. It was that Casio CZ-101 keyboard which probably made its debut on Fallout—remember this was late 1987. I knew house finally found a home in NYC and it was a pivotal moment for us."
In an interview with music writer Alain Patrick, Lenny Dee remembers chaining the drum patterns together on the TR-808 live while mixing down—"that gave the changes a real 'on-the-fly' feel." Many different mixdowns were done and the final version is an edit of a 13- to 17-minute take.
"All in all the track consisted of ten to twelve tracks," Dee said. "I think this is why it still has a great feel and great sound, which by the way was totally helped by Herbie Powers Jr. He is one of the world's best mastering engineers. He worked at Frankfort Wayne Mastering in NYC. When he heard the track, he insisted to do it, which for us was a complete surprise as he only worked on mastering music that he wanted to do."
While the Casio CZ-101 took care of the bass, the strings came from a Roland D-50 digital synth. Speaking to me over messenger, Tommy Musto remembered it this way:
"At that time Northcott didn't have much equipment. It was really all the stuff that I had recently bought and some of the things that Silvio Tancredi already had. A Tascam eight-track and small Tascam mixing board (where the first 25 West Records were recorded on i.e.: The B Beat Girls), Roland TR-808, CZ-101, DX7, D-50 and an early Alesis reverb. That was about it. Some things were recorded if we blended sounds and some things ran live via MIDI. The mixes themselves were all done on the fly, and were recorded to a Technics RS-1500 reel-to-reel. In those days it was the spontaneity and lack of equipment that really sparked the creativity."