Tuesday, 2 June 2009

1985 Paul Hardcastle: 19

With the world seemingly ever on the brink of a nuclear apocalypse, anti war songs and sloganeering therein were common parlance throughout most of the eighties. Anti cold war that is: being a song that specifically targeted Vietnam, a war over some twelve years previous and one in which the UK had no involvement, '19' appears akin to the square peg hammered into a round hole and about as relevant as a campaign to bring the boys back home from the Crimea.

From this distance, '19' reminds me of Laurie Anderson's 'O Superman' from earlier in the decade; that is, a track that by virtue of its uniqueness stands at odds with the rest of the music in the charts surrounding it and neatly splits opinion between those who see it as a work of depth and genius and those who see it as an irritating novelty to be endured with gritted teeth.

Built around a dry, documentary sourced voice sample, '19' verbally details the after effects of the war on the psyche of US soldiers.
Take away this stuttering narrative and the music behind it looks ahead to the future rather than back to the usual 'Nam soundtrack of guitar soaked and stoned psychedelia; '19' is powered by straight ahead uptempo House, music to dance rather than protest to.

Hardcastle's musical background was steeped in synthesised dance and the four to the floor electronic drum beat rhythm and sparkling keyboard fills were well ahead of the game in 1985; it's certainly brighter and busier than Mr Fingers's definitive Chicago House statement 'Can You Feel It' released the same year, and if you added a thick bassline you'd have the sun kissed sound of New Order's 'Technique' four years early.

House music is something of an acquired taste though, and taken out of the banging environment of a sweaty club in the early hours then it can seem akin to playing paintball in your bathroom instead of out in the woods; it's just not the same. What '19' does, and does well, is to dilute the purity of the genre with a 'message' that you can either take at face value or treat as little more than a novelty backing, albeit one with an element of danger that will appeal to disaffected youth who've seen too much Rambo. Either way, it garners it an audience it would not otherwise have and provides the music with a tempered focal point for the uninitiated to get to grips with.

Probably the most memorable aspect of the song is the recurring gimmicky hiccup of 'N N N N N Nineteen', and whether this is a fitting tribute to the war dead is a moot point. But whatever your viewpoint,
it did both provide the eighties with one of it's most definitive and unique musical moments whilst hanging an albatross round Hardcastle's neck that he's never been able to shake off. It's a burden so heavy that even his official website bears the address paulhardcastle19.com. But better, I suppose, to be remembered for one thing than not to be remembered at all.

No comments:

Post a Comment