607. ‘Theme from S-Express’, by S’Express

Dance music will never be my favourite genre. I will always go for guitars over keyboards and synthesisers. But sometimes, just sometimes, a dance tune will hit my sweet spot in a way that most rock songs could only hope to do…

Theme from S-Express, by S’Express (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 24th April – 8th May 1988

And this is one of them. It’s far from the first dance #1, it’s not even the first house #1, but it’s the first that I’ve really liked, the first that’s been more than just an interesting distraction. From the opening note of this industrial meat grinder of an intro, as a voice announces Enjoy this trip…and someone counts down in Spanish, I’m sold. I’m quite a fussy dancer, ready to leave the floor the moment a song I even slightly dislike comes on. But I’d be working up a sweat all night if dance music always sounded like this.

To my ears, the two earlier house #1s, ‘Jack Your Body’ and ‘Pump Up the Volume’ were a mess of samples, thrown together for the sake of it rather than because they should have been. But the ‘Theme from S-Express’ is a masterclass in picking the right samples. The foundation of the song is from Rose Royce’s ‘Is It Love You’re After’, which sounds incredibly modern for a song released at the height of disco. And all the vocal hooks work: Come on and listen to me baby now ooh… I’ve got the hots for you boop boop… and the wonderfully dated Drop! That! Ghetto blastah! It all genuinely works well together. It’s still busy, there’s still a lot going on, but it never feels like overkill. Even the screeching. (In the comments to the YouTube video below, someone has kindly listed and time-tagged all the samples.)

I love the Rio carnival interlude that comes along a minute in, as it provides a moment of lightness. But most of all I love the pounding Oh my God… break halfway through (though I don’t know if songs like this can have breaks, verses, choruses and bridges – normal songwriting rules go out the window) The dance music that works for me is dance that could be rock, and there’s something almost metal in this record’s relentless beat. It’s when dance goes all light and airy, with a piano hook and a breathy female vocal, that I tend to lose interest.

But that kind of EDM is a decade or more off. Here we are in the early days of the genre, where people were having fun with samples and filling dancefloors with the results. These results weren’t always perfect, but when they worked – as they do here – it was great. S’Express was a collective helmed by British DJ Mark Moore, and their ‘Theme’ was their first ever chart hit. They’d enjoy two more Top 10s in 1988, and hung around through the golden age of acid house before Moore ended the project in 1994. Whether they were ‘S-Express’ or ‘S’Express’ seems to depend on what font they used when printing their record sleeves, so I’ve used both. (And I’ve just noticed that it clearly spells ‘Sex Express’.)

I first heard this song when I worked in a bowling alley as a student – the very same bowling alley I mentioned in my post on ‘Give It Up’. Who knew bowling alleys would offer such formative musical experiences? But if you can picture bowling to ‘Theme from S-Express’ with the lights dimmed and the neon flashing, then you’ll know why it worked so well.

31 thoughts on “607. ‘Theme from S-Express’, by S’Express

  1. Fabulous dance track, love every second of it as much as i love the Rose Royce original. Still exciting, still creative, in a way most modern dance tracks arent. They can be great but its usually being great with reference to previous dance greats and genres, not creating a collage….!

  2. It sounds very 70s to me. And, I had to look up “acid house.” I’ve never heard before, as it only made it to 91 on our Hot 100. If it played, it was on a Top 40 station. In the late 80s, I was listening to oldies stations, hair bands, metal bands & country, which had finally moved on from 1970s twang. I was 22, 23 and new music was boring me to tears. I was overjoyed when Grunge & Alternative showed up. I had some trouble with the 80s, too, like Max…but, for different reasons.

    BTW, your video won’t play…says not available in our country.

    • I might be generalising, but it feels like in the late 80s the US charts went very rock (both soft and hard), while the UK went very dance…

      PS It’s the 5th anniversary of this blog in a few weeks time, and I wanted to ask some of my regular readers/commenters to write guest posts on their favourite #1 singles… Would you be interested??

      • You may be right about the musical bifurcation. I’ve never really studied UK charts in depth.

        Five years! You go, dog! I started blogging in 2009 (I was ridiculously political back then). I stopped for about four years and started, again in 2018.

        I most certainly would. Max would, too. Max, in particular, with his blog, could probably generate more followers for you. He would post on his blog about it. You are a damn fine blogger.

        Any guidelines? Genres? Years? How many #1s to cover? I’m in…

      • Haha thanks! I started my now dormant Hong Kong blog in 2012, and then this in 2018 (the only reason I remember the anniversary is that it coincides with my birthday.)

        Any UK #1 between 1952 and 1988, really – the only one that’s been claimed so far is ‘Silence Is Golden’ by the Trememloes. Length and style totally up to you. I’d like to post them during the last week in Jan – starting on the 30th if possible. The format will look much like my usual posts – a pic, and a video embedded at the end. You can send the post to me at stmckay31@gmail.com (and attach any particular pictures you’d want me to use). I’ll also link to your blog when I publish it, if that’s OK!

        I am going to ask Max now, he’d been absent for a while but he’s been commenting on my recent posts this morning!

        Cheers, Stewart

      • Alrighty, then. A favorite UK #1… Got it.

        You won’t have to do a thing with my post except copy and paste. My pix will be uploaded to my site and linked in the post. I will email you a text document.

        I hack out my own data. I am a former web programmer.

        Yes. Linking to my site is fine. I will also post about it on my site, too.

        Looking forward to it…

      • Great! Thanks : ) You are probably way more tech-savvy than me…. Can you just let me know which song you choose ahead of tiem, so that there are no clashes. Thanks!

  3. It was well put together with the samples and everything, he conceded a little reluctantly. But I think it was the new age of dance music as ushered in by this, MARRS and the like, that began to make me feel like an unashamed dinosaur as far as the charts and dance music were concerned. The vintage 60s Motown, Stax soul, and a certain amount of the 70s disco genre still stand up, but I feel that by the late 80s, technology was taking over and the beating (excuse pun) heart going out of it.

    • I grew up with 90s dance, though it was never my favourite thing, and so this already sounds very retro… I do think that the earlier house #1s were a bit gimmicky, and a bit repetitive (‘Jack Your Body’) or all over the place (‘Pump Up the Volume’), but this gets it just right. Doesn’t matter that it’s all samples when it hangs together so well!

      PS It’s the 5th anniversary of this blog in a few weeks time, and I wanted to ask some of my regular readers/commenters to write guest posts on their favourite #1 singles… Would you be interested??

      • Great! Thanks! Don’t really mind about the format, or the length (though around my usual post length would be great!) Any ideas what song you’ll choose…? (pre-1988 only as I don’t want spoilers : ))

      • Leave it with me and I’ll give it some thought. My brain is all over the place today, working on my next two books to be published – I have just completed proof-reading the PDF file for Eagles On Track, every album every song, and am now abut to do the same on one about Queen Victoria’s daughters in law (yes, quite a difference in subject matter I know…)

        My instant reaction is to choose something pre-early 1970s. I am probably, er, one of your older regular readers! Needless to say, I’ll ensure that I’m submitting something that should be fairly original so so as to put a slightly fresh angle on what you have written.

        Best, John

        >

      • The first one that occurs to me is ’Silence is Golden’ by The Tremeloes. It was not one of your favourites I know, but I have always loved it, seen the band twice in concert and met them backstage (they were really nice guys, sadly two are since deceased), and I think I can put a bit of a new perspective on it. I remember being a 12-yr-old at school when we all loved the Trems – though they rapidly became the antithesis of cool. Failing that, maybe ‘With a Little Help…’ by Joe Cocker? Or something else?

        Talking of being uncool, 30 years ago you might just have been writing a ’Never had a No. 1 – Val Doonican’ – OK sir, I’ll get me coat 🙂 But I was of the generation who grew up with Val rarely off the TV on Saturday night, the ultimate Mr Nice, who you just had to love unless you were a real dyed-in-the-wool anarchist – but it didn’t stop me from loving the Rolling Stones, Kinks and Dylan as well!

        Cheers, John

        >

      • Go for it re. The Tremeloes! I like the idea of records that I’m not keen on getting a second chance! Having said that, when I look back at the songs I named as ‘worst’ or average from the mid-60s, like ‘Silence Is Golden’ or ‘The Carnival Is Over’, I think they were often just unlucky to have been up against some of the best pop songs of all time. It really was a golden age…

        I’d like to post them during the last week in Jan – starting on the 30th if possible. The format will look much like my usual posts – a pic, and a video embedded at the end. You can send the post to me at stmckay31@gmail.com (and attach any particular pictures you’d want me to use). Also, if you have any blog or website I can link to in the post let me know!

        Cheers, Stewart

  4. Well they get points knocked off for their name alone…what a cringeworthy name!
    I see what you mean about the synths in this…at least they are not wimpy like a lot of 80s stuff. I do like the repeating synth riff that goes through it.
    Not bad for a dance song.

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