550. ’19’, by Paul Hardcastle

Well now, what to make of this…

19, by Paul Hardcastle (his 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 5th May – 9th June 1985

Seriously. What to make of this? I’ve listened to our next #1 three times, and still can’t think how to approach it. Do we go with ground-breaking, game-changing slice of electronic music? Hugely important, anti-war chart-topper? First #1 with only numbers in the title… Or do we go with dated, clunky, hot mess of a song?

Let’s start with this as a game-changing chart-topper. We open with a reporter telling us that: In World War II the average age of a combat soldier was twenty six, In Vietnam he was nineteen… Very few, if any, number ones have used speech to this effect, sampled and chopped up. (Paul Hardcastle was inspired to write this after watching an ABC report entitled ‘Vietnam Requiem’, and the music video features footage from it.) There’s the reporter (from ‘Vietnam Requiem’), a ’60s newscaster, and an interview with a soldier – “I wasn’t really sure what was going on” – none of which were recorded specifically for the song. It’s quite powerful: I particularly like the line about how, eight to ten years after coming home, tens of thousands of men are still fighting the Vietnam war…

Unfortunately, a lot of the message is lost behind really heavy production. The song’s main hook – the stuttering na-na-na-na-na-na-nineteen-nineteen – is probably meant to echo a PTSD-suffering soldier’s nerves, but it just sounds like Hardcastle’s cat was walking across the keyboard as he recorded. If that line wasn’t annoying enough, we also get Sa-Sa-Sa-Sa-Saigon, an electronic impersonation of a military bugle, and some very dramatic (and very cheap sounding) synth notes as we build to a finale.

Then there are the backing vocalists, who lay the song’s message on a bit thick: Destruction! Of men in their prime! Whose average age was nineteen… I don’t want to be overly harsh towards a record that is, I think, pretty fondly remembered. But it’s difficult to listen now, thirty-five years on, and hear how thrilling it may have once sounded. It’s also a bit harsh to criticise the clunky production, as techniques were limited in the mid-eighties, while Paul Hardcastle was hardly a big name with lots of cash at his disposal (this was his first Top 40 hit).

And yet. Do I particularly want to hear this again any time soon…? No, not really. It’s an interesting song, with a worthy message (it’s yet another ‘war’ chart topper – I make that four in just over a year, along with ‘Pipes of Peace’, ’99 Red Balloons’, and ‘Two Tribes’) that is clumsily delivered. But it’s definitely not boring. And that is, as always, my bottom-line. Don’t be boring!

Paul Hardcastle would only have one further Top 10 hit in the UK following ‘19’s huge success, although he continues to record and released his latest album just this year (he’s a big name in smooth jazz). And ‘19’s success was huge: a #1 across the world, from New Zealand to the Netherlands. He cleverly released it featuring different news reports, in different languages, to maximise its appeal. It’s certainly an influential chart-topper: you can hear its fingerprints in the many electronic dance #1s to come during the latter half of the eighties, nineties and onwards… But who would want to – in fact, who should – be dancing to a song about teenagers being sent to die…?


19 thoughts on “550. ’19’, by Paul Hardcastle

  1. I initially hated this back in the day. Then it grew on me after a while and I loved it. I still do, but perhaps that’s because I only hear it once in a blue moon these days. If it was back on constant radio play, I’m pretty sure I’d hate it again.It CAN be very annoying.
    Overall though, I’d give it the credit for being innovative and exciting of its time. 🙂

  2. You’re right. It had strong lyrics but was a nothing tune.
    I tell you the one I liked about that time – Camouflage. Same kinda thing. They were all Platoon-ey. Bet that didn’t get to #1 tho.

  3. At the time this was a hit I thought it was utterly boring, repetitive rubbish. Thirty seven years on I think that assessment may have been over generous.

  4. Bought and loved this at the time. Sounded fresh and exciting and anti war. Not so fresh these days but its still pretty good and beats the s out of half the stuff topping current charts over the
    last few years. One exception being kate bush running up that hill. You should review that one now 😀 i also loved camouflage and that has weathered rather better!

    • I can’t just skip forward past whatever #1 I want…! Anarchy! Though I’ll be sorely tempted when Ed Sheeran starts clogging everything up. I did consider doing this whole thing completely at random, but decided against it in the end…

  5. I had totally forgotten this one. Remember it well, now. Two years later, Tour of Duty aired for three years. Platoon came out in 1986, Full Metal Jacket in 1987, Casualties of War in 1989,

  6. Hit the wrong button…

    Good Morning, Vietnam in 1987, Born on the 4th of July in 1989, China Beach TV series…Chuck Norris’s movies, Sylvester Stallone’s movies… Vietnam, after being ignored thru the 70s, was suddenly interesting, again. No one could bear dealing with it after the fall of Saigon…so, they didn’t. There was something about the Reagan Admin that changed the mood in the country.

  7. Like Vic said…Vietnam was getting “hot” or popular again after Born In The USA. I don’t remember this one at all…It sounds very modern…and that is not a compliment lol.

  8. Pingback: 552. ‘Frankie’, by Sister Sledge | The UK Number Ones Blog

  9. Pingback: Recap: #541 – #570 | The UK Number Ones Blog

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