As house tunes go, there are few tracks that have been surrounded by as much controversy with respect to authorship and release as Bob Sinclar‘s (more accurately, Thomas Bangalter‘s) 1998 French-house anthem “Gym Tonic“. A classic example of the French Touch sound, this particular track has become almost mythical in terms of its origins, release and legacy. With all the conflicting stories going around the net about this one, this post will be based largely on what seems to be the most reasonable and accepted versions of the story and, hopefully, will provide the most accurate version of the facts without getting Mr. Bangalter and Mr. Sinclar in the same room to sort it out (because that will likely never happen).
Let’s go back a few years to the 1998 Winter Music Conference in Miami. Thomas and Bob meet and hit it off. They start talking music and in the discussion it is revealed that Bob wants to make a track using the funk classic “Bad Mouthin’” by Motown Sounds. Allegedly, Thomas quickly produces the track and adds a cheeky vocal sample from a Jane Fonda‘s Workout record (2-3-4-5-6-7-8 and back along with some intro snippets). With the track done, Bangalter hands it over to Sinclar for use on his debut album “Paradise“. Bangalter’s only request is that the song not be released as a single and that his name is not anywhere on it (likely for not having cleared the rights for either sample). Sinclar agrees and the track is added to the album.
Fast forward a few weeks to when the initial feedback for Sinclar’s album starts coming in. The album is great (and it is), but DJs are going bananas over one particular track: Gym Tonic. This is where things get interesting (and complicated).
Despite promising Bangalter that he wouldn’t release the track as a single, the pressure is starting to come down from Warner Music, the label responsible for distribution of the album on Sinclar’s Yellow Productions imprint. There is allegedly some attempt from Sinclar to reach both Bangalter and his manager Pedro Winter. No success on either attempt. With increased pressure to get a proper single out to support the album, “Gym Tonic” is released as a single albeit with the words “promo only” tacked on to it. This reaches Bangalter’s ears and the lawyers start going at it. But there’s one more heavyweight about to get involved.
The single attracts the attention of Jane Fonda herself and her legal team who are none too pleased about her vocals being sampled without permission. This further ramps up the litigation with rumours that Fonda wanted as much as $30,000.00 to clear the sample. Meanwhile, Sinclar’s album is in stores and selling well, all thanks to Bangalter’s production work.
The fallout from this whole episode had some stiff ramifications for Sinclar and our ears as well. In response to Sinclar disregarding his wishes, Thomas Bangalter removes Sinclar’s remix of “Music Sounds Better With You” – Stardust from all future pressings of the CD single (the initial run of discs did include and are now highly sought after). In addition, Warner goes ahead and commissions a “re-make” of the single by Spacedust under the name “Gym & Tonic“. While the Motown Sounds sample remains, the vocals are re-recorded (poorly) by a session vocalist and the Spacedust single ended up hitting #1 on the UK singles chart (with a dreadful video to boot, see above). Lines are drawn and it is assumed that Bangalter and Sinclar will never work together again, or even speak to each other, over the mess.
Controversy aside, one can safely say that the original Thomas Bangalter mix of “Gym Tonic” is a bona fide French-house classic and one of Bangalter’s best productions. He even goes so far as to include snippets of the scratch samples that he used on his solo production “Spinal Scratch“. The result is a pumping, swirling dancefloor bomb and if the vocal hook doesn’t get stuck in your head, the insanely catchy Motown Sounds sample will definitely do the trick. It’s still a treat to drop this one on an unsuspecting crowd today and despite the controversy and fallout from its creation, this one has held up extremely well and your crowd had better be ready for a good workout here (pun fully intended).