The 1950's was the decade of the big band orchestrated crooning of Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford, and Nat "king" Cole, the jazz influences of Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, the beginning of rock 'n roll and the birth of the teen idol. But as musically rich and diverse as this period was it was in the final year of that decade that things really became interesting. In November of 1959 the number three record in the nation was an infectious single with an unusual new sound. This song was by an obscure and enigmatic pop vocalist named Miss Toni Fisher and it was called "The Big Hurt".
Not much is known about Miss Toni Fisher except that she was born in Los Angeles in 1931 and she died in 1999. Similarly not much is known about the making of her smash hit "The Big Hurt" which she recorded in "stereOmonic" sound for the tiny and equally not well known Signet record label. But one very important thing of note is known about this recording. In the timeline of electronic music "The Big Hurt" goes down in history as being the (and I quote from The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits) "first hit recording to feature an electronic "phasing" gimmick." In the phase technique sections of the vocals or the music or both slide through an eerie shifting electronic fuzz, phasing (not fading) the sound in and out creating a spacey futuristic sound. This experimenting with the phasing effect would become very popular inducing more electronic experimentation in recorded music in the years to come.
Even Miss Fisher's voice complimented or rather, was made for this then new "gimmick" because if honeybees could sing they would sound like Miss Toni Fisher. The vibrating bee like hum of her voice and the phase effect created a most interesting combination. "The Big Hurt" is rather tame by today's synth pop standards, but the 1959 music lover must have approached this attention grabbing infectious electronic morsel with a curious fascination. I'm sure some probably found this song a strange but fun novelty. But whatever the 1959 audience thought of "The Big Hurt" they were obviously enthralled by it, as the record buying public propelled the song into the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100. Though not really radical (as rock and roll had already introduced radicalism to pop music) "The Big Hurt's" futuristic phase was progressive and innovative. In a way one could say that Miss Toni Fisher's "The Big Hurt" was the low-tech beginning of what would eventually become synth pop.
Psychedelic rock bands of the 1960's found that the phase could be used to create musical LSD. With songs like "Green Tambourine" bands like the Lemon Pipers used the phase to create musical drugs that took an electronically altered mind on a psychedelic trip.
In the 70's the maestro Giorgio Moroder phased Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" into a top 10 gold record. The German electricians Kraftwerk purchased tickets on the "Trans Europe Express" and phased their way across Europe and the world. By the time the Old Masters Moroder and Kraftwerk finished with the phase it was no longer a gimmick, it had become just one of the many intricate electronic primary colours you would find on the palette of any electronic music artist from then on.
The phase was a springboard that launched an adventure in electronic experimentation. This experimentation gave way to the mastery of electronics by those who wanted to make music with untraditional technology. The electronic craftsmen of the 1980's harnessed this electrical energy and started an electronic revolution called synth pop. This synth pop revolution was lead by the likes of Ultravox, Gary Numan, OMD, B.E.F, Yaz, Duran Duran, Talk Talk, Visage and The Human League who have all gone on to become influential legends in the electro universe.
Thanks in part to the pioneering innovation of Miss Toni Fisher's "The Big Hurt" we are now in the midst of a synth pop renaissance. Today a gigantic electronic iceberg floats in a sea full of synth popsters who wield the phase like a tool using it to create a variety of exciting sounds. The phase has also given birth to an arsenal of electronically tangible synthesized sounds that are themselves sometimes electronically altered and phased. You can find various forms of the phase along with electronically generated buzzes, whirls, bloops, bleeps, clicks, chugging keyboards and creamy synth washes in the works of all of today's synth pop artist like Ganymede, Ladytron, Erasure, Colony 5, Mount Sims, Fr/action, Depeche Mode and Xero/G. Don't believe me? Check out Spray's "Leave It To the Girls, Boys" and just try to stay out of the way (and still) as zillions of red-hot positive and negative electrons of girls and boys are jettisoned from your speakers and fly about the room as they bounce off of your walls floor and ceiling. You won't be able to decline Bis' offer of "Protection" as the penetrating electronic rain they create scalds your brain. Adult's "Skinlike" stretches its distorted electronics into a razor thin laser beam and slices your mind and body to shreds. If you want an excellent recent example of what "The Big Hurt's" phasing sound was like give a listen to Miss Kittin & the Hackers "L'Homme Dans L'Ombre", it's definitely an intoxicating electronic tribute to the "phasing gimmick".
As for Miss Toni Fisher, she had one more top 40 hit record in 1961 but it did not perform very well as it only reached #37 on the Billboard chart. Then as enigmatically as Miss Fisher had phased into the music scene in 1959 she just as enigmatically phased out in 1961 and was never heard from again. If you can hear me there in electronica heaven I want to say thank you Miss Toni Fisher for "The Big Hurt" your pioneering contribution to synth pop.
Don't burn it, buy it. Miss Toni would appreciate it.