Snap! was created by the German production duo of Michael Münzing and Luca Anzilotti. They were the first to use sampled dance tracks augmented by a soulful female singer and a male rapper - collectives like C + C Music Factory and The KLF followed this formula. "The Power" was a massive hit, and it was based on the rap from Chill Rob G's "Let The Words Flow" and a sample of disco singer Jocelyn Brown's song "Love's Gonna Get You," which is where the "I've got the power" line comes from.
With the track laced and the samples in place, the German producers went looking for a good female soul singer to fill out the vocals and contribute to the rest of the album. They tried to get Chaka Khan, who had no interest, but she suggested Penny Ford, who was Chaka's vocal director and main backup singer. Penny took the gig, flew to Germany, and spent three days in 1989 singing lots of vocals for the producers to work with, and improvising lyrics along the way.
In our interview with Penny Ford
, she told us: "It was more or less them picking me up by the scruff of my neck like a pit bull and throwing me in the booth with a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of champagne and turning the mike on. That's how it happened. (laughing) And I'd just create. I just sang the first thing that came off the top of my head, because I didn't understand that music, and I didn't think I'd ever have to hear it again."
The first version of this song used Chill Rob G's vocals from an a cappella version of "Let The Words Flow," but the producers replaced him with a rapper named Turbo B (Durron Maurice Butler), who they found at an American army base in Germany. Turbo recreated Chill's rhymes and added some of his own, including the "I will attack" part and, ironically, the "copywritten lyrics so they can't be stolen" line.
The song became a hit in Europe, and Chill Rob G released his own version of "The Power" in America. Not long after, Snap! signed a deal with Ariola Munich, which was a subsidiary of the mighty Arista Records, and released their version in America, which quickly trounced Chill's version because Arista had a lot more promotional muscle than the small label Wild Pitch, which had Rob's version.
If you've noticed that some people got screwed along the way, you're right. Chill Rob G has said that he never got paid the use of his words in the song, and because Jocelyn Brown didn't write "I'm Gonna Get You," she didn't get paid for her vocal sample. Penny Ford, however, did get paid and earned a songwriting credit for her improvised lyrics. That's because they needed her for appearances and because Penny is very astute when it comes to the business of music, something she learned from her family: her father produced James Brown, her brother founded Kool & the Gang, and her sister was the popular singer Sharon Redd.
This was the first rap-based track to hit #1 in the UK.
The woman singing in the video is not Penny Ford, who performed on the song. The German producers went back to the American army base and found a woman named Jackie Harris to mime her words.
OK, what other dance act created by German producers took America by storm around this time? That's right, Milli Vanilli, whose frontmen didn't sing on their records and got caught when their tape skipped at a concert, resulting in a big scandal that hit just as Snap! was picking up steam with a video starring a non-singer. Penny told us what happened next: "Well, they said they couldn't find me, because I was away at that time, I was doing work with Mick Jagger, I was still running around with Chaka doing some stuff. They said they couldn't sign me, so they just pulled some girl off the Army base and had her mime my voice. But we were with the same company as Milli Vanilli - Ariola Munich. And the fallout from Milli Vanilli had just started to happen, so they found me in a hurry, because they didn't want the same to happen to Snap! (laughs) They found me then, huh?"
Penny Ford was in London and having a very bad day when she found out that "The Power" had taken off. Says Penny: "I was ironing a shirt, and the television said, 'And the new number one record is 'The Power' by Snap!' and there's my voice. And my life changed that day. I think I got my mom on one phone and my lawyer on the other. At that point, they needed to figure out how to work that other girl that they had mime my voice on 'The Power' video out and me in. So that's when that process started."
The process meant creating a legitimate face for Snap! to represent the group and perform their songs without lip-synching. Penny was introduced to Turbo B, and they were dispatched to America to perform at a variety of events: radio station concerts, festivals, clubs, TV appearances, etc. It was Penny, Turbo, two dancers and a backing track on the road, and it got to be too much for Penny. She explained: "I had 14 years experience in the business, Turbo had none. And he was a nightmare for everybody, and especially me and basically he threatened my life and at some point I just said forget him. And I walked away. Which was the stupidest thing that I could have ever done, because I walked away from a lot of money, too. But it was chaotic. Because it was a massive responsibility, this song. It was such a big hit all over the world and it was touching people in such a positive way, and it could have been used for so much more good than evil. And he kind of screwed it up, that part of it. And I left and moved back to America, thought I was gonna have to start all over again. I started writing with some friends of mine, some substantial songs, and Randy Jackson, who is now Mr. American Idol, heard it and thought, This girl can do that and she can do this? So he gets me signed up to Columbia."
Penny later signed with Sony, which meant she could no longer sing for Snap!, and the German producers asked her to find her own replacement. Says Penny: "They called me back. And they paid me a whole lot of money to pick somebody and bring 'em back over here (Germany). Because by that time I had signed with Sony, which meant contractually I could no longer sing for them, because they were BMG. But I was not signed to Sony as a writer. So I could still write for them. So I'm not sure how it sorted out, but the girl that came after me, she was interviewing me in the same way that you are right now for a magazine, and she said she was also a songwriter. Her name is Thea Austin, and she asked me if I would listen to her song. And I don't make a point of listening to everybody's songs, I just can't listen to them all. But I listened to this song and I liked it and I wanted it for my album. So I needed to get rid of her so she didn't need that song anymore. So I asked her if she had a passport. She did, and she happens to come from the same small little ghetto outside of Pittsburgh that Turbo did. And three days later she was on a plane coming over here making another massive hit for Snap!, 'Rhythm Is A Dancer
Snap! followed "The Power" with "Ooops Up," which was a minor hit in America and their last in the States until they reemerged with "Rhythm Is a Dancer" in 1992. They had a few European hits in between, including "Mary Had a Little Boy" and "Colour of Love."
Penny Ford took a behind-the-scenes role with Snap!, and found more singers as the group evolved, losing Turbo B and just using female singers. Penny brought in a singer named Niki Haris (no relation Jackie Harris from "The Power" video), who was a backup singer for Madonna, and in 1993 Harris sang on "Exterminate!" and "Do You See The Light (Looking For)." The next singer Penny brought in was Paula Brown, who used the stage name "Summer." She sang on "Welcome To Tomorrow" and "The First The Last Eternity (Till the End)," which both did well in Germany and the UK. In 2006, Snap! re-formed with original singer Penny Ford and a new male rapper named Benjamin "Stoli" Lowe. They're still very popular around the world and perform at a variety of festivals, often on bills with other dance acts or DJs.
A different part of the Jocelyn Brown song where the "I've got the power" line came from was sampled on the Bizzare Inc. 1992 hit "I'm Gonna Get You."
At one point, Snap! was protested by gay rights advocates. Penny told us the story: "We were asked to do 'The Power' on something extra one night after we had done the show already. Everybody was loving us, America loved us, and it was going crazy. We were on Arista, so we had Clive Davis at our back, it was just going amazingly. And the promoter asked us if we could do 'The Power' at this one place for a benefit. And I didn't see anything wrong with it. I wasn't so tired, and Turbo and the guys were still looking for girls that night, because that's what they'd do. And so we said Okay. We went into this club, it was very dimly lit. Turbo, mind you, is pretty much from the projects outside of Pittsburgh. He didn't come from affluence, let's just say that. At that time I was traveling with an assistant, I had a female assistant. And the club appears to be half women, half men. And when they turn the lights up, my assistant and I were the only women in there. It was a drag queen event. Turbo had never been in a room full of drag queens, and he lost it. It was an important AIDS benefit, and we got done doing 'The Power,' and he was scared, and he said, 'I want to talk to the owner.' And I said, 'Don't talk to the owner, let's go to the hotel and call the owner,' because I saw trouble a-brewin'. And the owner came up to thank us for doing the show, and Turbo said, 'If you ever book me in a place like this ever again, I'll kill you.' The owner, instead of saying, 'Well, I'm sorry you were offended,' puts his hands on his hips and tells Turbo, 'This is a gay club seven nights a week.' So up he went by his neck, and then I saw drag queens diving from everywhere to protect him, and I ran. (Laughing) I left. I went down the back stairwell like Cinderella at two minutes to twelve. Here's the rub: At the bottom of the stairwell were these doors that you go through to go out. I bust through the doors, there's the paparazzi, and everybody wanted to do an interview. This was a very important AIDS benefit, and Clive Davis is our record company president, mind you. Can you see the connection of really bad things happening? (laughing) So I had to stand down there and give interviews like nothing was going on upstairs. I couldn't tell all these gay people downstairs that there are gay people upstairs being attacked. It was just when they started to make hate crimes against gays a federal offense, and it was interesting.
And then we went on the road with Soul II Soul, and there were at least 250 people, gay people I would assume, picketing every show. They formed an organization called Zap Snap! And they marched outside of every show. And that was another reason why I decided to leave Snap! Because my sister was a serious, staunch gay advocate, and it was like a blow to my family to have me out there being represented with a gay basher. So that's what started Turbo's decline."
Penny Ford describes herself as a "musical vegan," preferring the sounds of Pat Metheny and Steely Dan. Snap! took some getting used to for her, and it was a major star that helped her come to terms with it. Said Penny: "I found out really quick when Snap! hit, that I'd better find something about it that I like. Better figure out something about it you can get with, because this is the hand you were dealt, and you gotta take it seriously. And then I had an epiphany with the help of Mick Jagger. I was apologizing to him for having done that song. We were dancing somewhere in London, and the record 'The Power' came on. And he could see that I was so ashamed that that was me singing. I'm saying, 'I didn't even know, I would have maybe written something better or something if I'd known it was gonna be this big.' And he was like, 'What the f--k are you on about? This is a big hit. You're standing here dancing to it with Mick Jagger. What the hell do you want, girl?' And I was like, 'Yeah, you're right, Mick. I think you're right.' So that was the moment that I did a turnaround on that stuff."
The Russian broadcast at the beginning of the song translates to: "The American company Transceptor Technologies has started production of the Personal Companion computer." This computer was a device used to deliver articles to people with visual impairments.
The bell loop was sampled from a 1988 track by the pioneering electro DJ act Mantronix called "King Of The Beats." Mantronix got their bells from the 1975 song "Take Me To The Mardi Gras" by Bob James.
On July 5, 2011, the top 19 stories of the 39-story building housing the Gangbyeon branch of the Techno Mart shopping mall in Seoul shook violently for 10 minutes, causing the building to be evacuated for two days. Instead of an earthquake, it was found that an exercise class on the 12th floor was playing "The Power," which happened to match the building's resonant frequency and caused it to violently shake.