508. ‘Pass the Dutchie’, by Musical Youth

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when it comes to the UK singles chart you are never too far away from a country, or a reggae, hit. These two genres seem to withstand the vagaries of taste, and trend, to pop up time and time again.

Pass the Dutchie, by Musical Youth (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, 26th September – 17th October 1982

And you’ll be relieved (at least, I am) to find out that this next #1 is of a reggae persuasion, rather than a country one. The intro is exuberant: a young voice announcing that This generation, Rules the nation! Attention duly grabbed, we slip into a gentle rhythm. Pass the dutchie pon de left-hand side…

First things first: what’s a dutchie? It’s a Jamaican cooking pot, which makes sense given the song’s refrain: How does it feel when you’ve got no food…? (And which probably seemed quite relevant given unemployment rates in the early ‘80s…) Except, one of the songs on which this is based is called ‘Pass the Kouchie’, and a kouchie is a cannabis pipe. So, what we actually have here is a bunch of kids hitting #1 with a thinly-veiled ode to the pleasures of the herb! Except all drug references are now food references.

This is a really fun record. You can imagine Musical Youth as the children of Dave and Ansil Collins, or the younger brothers of Althea and Donna. They were British-Jamaicans from Birmingham, aged between eleven and fifteen when this record made top spot. I was fully prepared for this to be a cheese-fest – ‘Musical Youth’ conjures up images of an after-school theatre club – but it’s pretty authentic. Yes, it’s on the poppier side of reggae, but there’s an grittiness to it that shines through.

The star of the show is the band’s youngest member: Kelvin Grant was only ten when he recorded that memorable opening line, and his subsequent tongue-twisting raps. (Legitimate question: Is he rapping? Or is he scatting? Or is there another reggae-specific term for what he’s doing? If he is rapping, then I’d say we have our first rap chart-topper!)

Musical Youth didn’t last too long beyond their sole chart-topper. They had one further Top 10 hit, but they packed a lot into their short time together. They worked with Donna Summer, won a Grammy (‘Pass the Dutchie’ also made the Billboard Top 10) and were the first black act to be played on MTV, which seems amazing given that MTV had been around for over a year before this record came out…

Sadly, the members haven’t had the happiest of lives since their early fame. Legal troubles broke the band up, and bassist Patrick Waite ended up in prison before dying aged just twenty-four. Musical Youth are now a duo, but they have continued to record and perform. More happily for fans of the genre, we are hitting a bit of a reggae groove at the top of the charts. More to follow…

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507. ‘Eye of the Tiger’, by Survivor

We’re meeting some of the decade’s big hitters now (pun fully intended). ‘Fame’, to ‘Eileen’, to this. And it’s another iconic intro. Synths growing, and growing, while a guitar goes chuckachuckachucka… It’s almost disco… Then Bam! Bam bam bam! The chords smash as hard as Rocky Balboa’s punches.

Eye of the Tiger, by Survivor (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, 29th August – 26th September 1982

I love it when the beat drops, and we settle into a groove. The bass riff is great (it’s heavily-influenced by ‘Another One Bites the Dust’). Right here, twenty-seven seconds in, this could be one of the best chart-toppers ever. Except, from this point on it’s all a bit of an anti-climax. It’s a record that shows its hand too early; and the remaining three and a half minutes are a bit of a plod.

Having not listened to this song properly in years, I was fully expecting to be won over by its poodle-rocking silliness. Big hair, power chords, even the title is ridiculous. But the vocals are too earnest. The lyrics are cheesy, and not good cheese. Cheap triangles of Dairylea cheese. It’s missing something, or maybe it’s just been ruined by its prominence in pop culture. It’s been used too many times with tongues in cheek. Hell, it’s been used too many times without tongues in cheek. (Plus, the band didn’t even that big hair…)

It’s polished. It’s glossy. But that’s not really the problem. Most pop music released in the 1980s was glossy and polished. It’s also got a great hook: away from the intro, the best bit is clearly the He’s watching us all with the eye….. Of the tiger line. But. But but but. ‘Eye of the Tiger’ is, I’m sorry, rock music for people who don’t like rock music. All the ingredients are there, but it never builds to anything. It plays it too safe. It’s just verse, chorus, verse, chorus… fade. There’s no solo! Where’s the solo? You’ve got that iconic riff, and no solo? So wrong.

It’s too earnest. That’s the problem. Earnestness in rock music never appeals to me. File it alongside other motivational classics, such as ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ and ‘You’re the Voice’, that I’d happily never hear again. Maybe it’s an American thing… We’ve just had ‘Fame’ (I’m gonna live forever…) and now this (Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past, You must fight just to keep them alive…) While in between a bloke in ill-fitting dungarees from Wolverhampton sang an Irish jig about getting into a girl’s pants.

For me, this song exists solely on a ‘Best Rock Album in the World’ CD that got heavy rotation in our family car way back when. I’ve never seen a Rocky film, and it definitely doesn’t feature in any of my regular playlists these days. It’s a childhood memory, and not even that fond a memory… I didn’t particularly like it even as a kid. (I do have a huge soft-spot for 80s hair-metal, though.) Sadly, ‘Eye of the Tiger’s success won’t herald many other hard-rock chart-toppers, and Survivor themselves wouldn’t have another hit until ‘Burning Heart’, from ‘Rocky IV’. Sadly for them, they weren’t invited back for ‘Rocky V’, and that was that as far as their UK chart career went.

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