(Clue: it wasn't Puff Daddy)
It was the summer of 1973. A moustached male model went to Fire Island on a day trip from New York City. He’d been invited to a party by another model. People had been on the beach and now they wanted to dance. There was a DJ playing soul music. The crowd was mixed and the majority were having a good time.
But the DJ was lousy.
After each three minute song ended a few people would filter off the dance floor. Just as people started to enjoy the song — it was over.
So the male model, called Tom Moulton, went back to the city and set about making the first ever mixtape. He varied the speeds of each record really slowly to beat match each one. It meant that there were no aggressive fades between the tunes. The tape was about 45 minutes long and took a painstaking 80 hours to complete.
They played it at a party over on Fire Island one Friday soon after. It bombed. No one liked it.
But one Sunday two weeks later — Moulton’s phone rang around 2.30am. It was the club. The line was noisy but he could hear his tape in the background. The crowd were loving it.
The guy in charge said he would pay $500 to have one every week. The money sounded decent but it was the sheer time it took to make another. Another 80 hours? No chance.
They pleaded and Moulton relented. He decided to make a couple of specials for Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Making the tapes was really hard though. The songs weren’t really long enough. They needed to be stripped down to avoid that horrible clash when two songs are played together.
“So I went scrambling round to some of the record companies asking them if they had any instrumentals, stuff like that, because I’ve gotta make these things longer or I’m never gonna be able to pull this off.
“A couple of people gave me some tracks and I was able to make them longer and I did them in such a way that they thought, ‘wow it’s like a long version of this particular song…
“And that was ‘Do It Till Your Satisfied’ on Scepter. That was 1973.”
The remix was born.
“These aren’t remixes at all by today’s standards,” said John Doran in the Quietus.
“They’re extended mixes, and Moulton is a master of extension. He just makes the whole process sound so damn organic.”
Moulton had also inadvertently created the breakdown too (a.k.a. the disco break). Stripping away parts of songs to elongate them, and then bringing those elements back in, just sends people on the dance floor crazy.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing, of course. The innovations weren’t universally accepted straight away.
According to Moulton, B.T. Express hated the extended version of their song ‘Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied)’. Yet the song went on to be a huge hit and the radio were all playing the longer five minute edit — the original Tom Moulton mix.
The band eventually played the tune on the popular U.S. TV show ‘Soul Train’.
“Don Cornelius (the Soul Train presenter) interviewed the band and asked them about the length: ‘Oh yeah, that’s the way we recorded it.”
“I was so fucking mad,” said Tom.
Moulton’s reputation was growing in the industry and he was doing more and more mixes. He now actually claims to have done around 5,000 in his lifetime — which is roughly equivalent to the amount of women Gene Simmons has claimed to have bedded.
From Monday to Thursday, Moulton was in Philidelphia. On Friday, he came back to New York to put what he had mixed in the studio onto a seven inch record. One Friday, he drove all the way from Philly to NYC to find there were no blank seven inch records in stock.
There were some 12 inches though.
The engineers and Moulton threw the record together but it looked ridiculous. There was so much wasted space on the record itself. Having worked in promotion, he knew it had to look and sound good.
One of the guys suggested spreading out the grooves. It would make the record louder.
“And, of course, when I heard it I almost died.”
Fortunately Moulton didn’t.
“People say ‘Oh my God! You created the 12 inch?’ And I go ‘No. They didn’t have any seven inch blanks.’
Before his time as a male model (and as a prototype Tom Selleck look-a-like), Moulton was bang into stereo sound. Back in the 60s the whole world still listened in mono. He had an appreciation of decent sound.
The 12 inch record that he had just invented was perfect for the club.
According to NPR, “It was simple physics — wider grooves contain more information — and the sound quality was huge, bassy and powerful: perfect for DJs working with big systems.”
One other thing Tom had overheard DJs complain about (as they still do) was that playing the usual 2–3 minute songs meant you couldn’t go to the toilet during sets.
Things had been going well since the original mix-tape and Moulton was invited to mix the first side of Gloria Gaynor’s album ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ which was released in January 1975.
The first side included, what went on to be, three hit singles: ‘Honey Bee’, ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ and ‘Reach Out, I’ll Be There’. But Moulton glued all three together for 18 minutes worth of glorious Gloria Gaynor.
“I don’t sing so much, ” was Gaynor’s first reaction.
She’s right (of course) and the mixes aren’t exactly comparable to the Chemical Brothers but still the 18 minutes remain mega. And they’re arguably why the 12 inch versions for songs started to be so popular.
The songs are still loved today but so is the mix itself. (BTW — If you are feeling a bit down — check out the comments section on the video above). The disco crew were definitely the original ravers.
Despite all the inventions, Moulton never identified himself as a DJ.
“I want to be better than a DJ,” he said.
“I want to capture what I call a ‘suite’. Start here and, for 45 minutes, I would literally have them. Control them. So you could peel them off the walls by the time that 45 minutes was up. Screaming and yelling.”
It’s this subtle art that Moulton seemed to appreciate before anyone else in the world. Who hasn’t been at a party, club or rave where the DJ seemingly forgets what song has just been played and spoils the mood with an utter clanger?
“I always had a good sense of music. Music should flow, it should move — otherwise you get bored very easily. What happened before should always set up what’s happening next. Even if it’s the same piece of music, it should be constantly built or go somewhere.”
And speeding up and slowing down songs to beat match — when done correctly — drives people wild.
“Your body would react to it because the intensity was picking up. The next song would come in, and then the next song, so by the time I got to the last song, I could peel the people off the ceiling. They were all worked up.”
And they’ve been peeling people off ceilings around the world ever since.
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And see him DJ with us at Love Come Down on Saturday 8th August at The Arch Gallery. For full details and tickets, click here.