Black Box: how we made Ride on Time

‘We didn’t realise she was singing “Right on time”. It was a mistake, but the title stayed – some people thought we were being clever’

Daniele Davoli, DJ and production

I was an avid collector of disco and funk records. On my first trip to the US, I spent most of my time in secondhand vinyl shops and found Loleatta Holloway’s Love Sensation. At the time, I was playing with my Akai S900 sampler when I was DJing and searching for a cappella vocals to enrich my set. When I listened to Love Sensation, I thought: “This is good stuff.” People were using a lot of powerful vocals in their records – like The Power by Snap. My bandmate Mirko Limoni and I wanted to make the most energetic record in the world, and we were trying to collect material for that.

We thought our track had potential. But when we took it to major labels, they all declined. They kept saying: “It’s obvious you’ve got talent, but this is not the style of music you should be making.” They played us Stock Aitken Waterman-style Italo Hi-NRG records: they were behind, while we wanted to embrace the future. In the end, Discomagic [then the largest disco/house/dance label in Italy] was the only one prepared to release it. They used to export a lot to Ibiza.

Alfredo, who was the DJ at the Ibiza club Amnesia, bought it. Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway and Paul Oakenfold went to Amnesia and heard the record. So Oakenfold and Rampling decided it was time to go to Rimini, which was like the Italian Ibiza, where they bought as many copies as they could to take back to England. Later, Oakenfold told me he had paid for his holiday with copies of Ride on Time he had bought in Rimini and then resold.

In the meantime, the label Deconstruction called Discomagic said they really wanted to license the first track Mirko and I made together – Starlight’s Numero Uno. Discomagic said: “Unfortunately, we just licensed it to Beggars Banquet. But we’ve got something we think is even better.” Deconstruction told me they couldn’t believe their ears when they heard it. And that was Ride on Time.

They knew it sampled Love Sensation and it needed clearance. They negotiated with Salsoul Records in New York and agreed $5,000, way before the release. They paid the money but someone forgot to check the signed contract got sent back. So a guy came in on a Monday and said we had to put a new a cappella on the instrumental by Wednesday. [The band got a session singer, long rumoured to be M People’s Heather Small, to re-sing Holloway’s vocal; on TV performances, model Katrin Quinol mimed to it.]

I couldn’t believe my luck the first time we were on Top of the Pops. We were in the same room as Phil Collins and Eurythmics – and they were talking to us!

Mirko Limoni, keyboards and production

The Loleatta Holloway sample came first. Daniele played it to me and Valerio [Semplici], the third guy in Black Box. We looked at each other and said: “Wow, what’s this?” We decided to try some ways to put some music under it. The piano came quite quickly, and we played all the things together in loops of four bars or eight bars, just to understand if it could all fit together in the same record. It took a month.

Our bad English was the reason it was called Ride on Time. We thought she was singing “ride on time”, but it was “right on time”. Of course it was a mistake, but the title stayed. It’s one of those mistakes that’s funny. Some people thought we were being clever.

We thought we would sell a maximum of 1,000 copies for clubs. For us, that would have been like winning the London marathon. It was a big surprise when it blew up. Of course we were happy about it, but then the problems came. The same day we took the plane to England to be on Top of the Pops, we had to deal with the American lawyer threatening us.

I didn’t realise, while I was living it, how big Ride on Time was. When I look back, it seems bigger than it did at the time. My best memory of it is the night we received the phone call from Deconstruction after the midweek charts to say we were going to be No 1. The record had entered the charts at 39, then went up in four or five weeks to No 1 and stayed there for six weeks. When we learned it was No 1, it was very emotional.


Interviews by Michael Hann

The GuardianTramp

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