I first discovered The System about four or five years ago when I was downloading some Doug E Fresh beatbox tracks. Fresh featured on one of The System’s album tracks and I had a look at what else they’d done… man, The System were hot! The System were David Frank and Mic Murphy and most of the best tracks I found were from their 1983 album ‘Sweat’ which included ‘You Are In My System’ and ‘It’s Passion’.
I found out later that ‘It’s Passion’ was originally written for Madonna, before The System had formed. Madonna was living in the apartment above David Frank’s, and at the time Madonna was unsigned. They were all set to record the vocals when Madonna insisted that the drummer that was in her band co-produce the track. Frank was determined that the track would be purely electronic, having recently bought a full synth and drum machine set-up, and was worried that Madonna’s drummer would introduce guitars and other rock elements. So instead Frank pulled the plug and searched for another singer to do the vocals. Mic Murphy (who at the time was Kleeer’s road manager) stepped in, thus forming the group, and ‘It’s Passion’ became the single that got them signed to Mirage. When listening to the track it’s easy to imagine what it might have been like with Madonna’s vocals… but she did alright in the end.
One of David Frank’s earliest bits of kit was the Oberheim OBXa. This analogue synth was part of Oberheim’s “X-System” (which included the DMX drum machine) and it’s probable that Frank and Mic Murphy named themselves after this. The OBXa can also be heard on early 80s tracks by Depeche Mode, Gary Numan and Prince.
Whenever I talk to people about The System I often call them the R&B Vince Clarke, as Frank shared Clarke’s gift for innovative sounds and programming, whilst Murphy added extra heat with his “guitar electrix”. I don’t remember The System from when I was young and it’s possible they didn’t get much exposure over here in England, but they were definitely pioneers of the electronic R&B sound over in the States. The b-side to ‘You Are In My System’ (the vocodered ‘Now I Am Electric’) is a real surprise – the 151bpm tempo must have been almost unheard of for the time. I contacted David Frank recently and he told me, “It was great back then. It was all new. I would love to see that frontier-like environment emerge again”.
Other tracks worth checking out include ‘Baptize The Beat’ which featured in the film Beat Street, ‘Sweat’, ‘Stand Up & Cheer’, ‘I Wanna Make You Feel Good’ and ‘Heartbeat Of The City’. They also performed ‘The Pleasure Seekers’, one of their biggest hits, on an episode of Miami Vice. ‘You Are In My System’ was also covered by Robert Palmer (both versions being released at the same time but with The System’s version winning out), but one of the most amazing things I found out about The System was that they were behind the production of Mtume’s ‘Juicy Fruit’, Chaka Khan’s version of ‘I Feel For You’ and ‘Sussudio’ by Phil Collins. You can’t mess with that.
‘You Are In My System’, 1982
Posted by Manny Z
‘Now I Am Electric’