Right at the start of this year (and by ‘this year’ I mean 1987, not the actual year in which you are reading this) we had our first ever house #1: Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s ‘Jack Your Body’. That was Chicago house, and here we now have Britain’s answer…
Pump Up the Volume / Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance), by M/A/R/R/S (their 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, from 27th September – 11th October 1987
I’m pretty sure everybody’s heard the classic title line: Pump up the volume… Dance! Dance! The adjacent, ominous piano note is iconic, too. Problem is, that line and the piano note add up to about five seconds of music. The rest of the song – four minutes in its shortest edit; a good seven minutes on the 12” – suffers from the same gimmicky feel as ‘Jack Your Body’.
But whereas ‘Jack…’ was just repetitive, ‘Pump Up the Volume’ suffers from an everything but the kitchen sink, ‘what does this button do?’ approach. It makes for an interesting, if rarely very enjoyable listen. It’s a mix of distorted guitars, whale noises, your neighbours letting off fireworks in their back garden, and someone shouting Brothers and sisters, Pum-pump it up! ‘Less is more’ was clearly not the M/A/R/R/S motto.
I like the funky, more hip-hop leaning break that pops up a couple of times, in which all the effects are discarded. It’s the only part of the record that makes me want to Dance! Dance! and it doesn’t last long enough. I also like the ‘Indian’ sounding section. But, at the risk of sounding like my late grandmother, a lot of the song is just noise.
There isn’t an original note in it, either. This was a watershed moment for sampling in popular music. In its various edits and mixes, a grand total of twenty-nine different samples feature on the record, from acts such as Public Enemy, Run DMC, James Brown and Stock Aitken Waterman (who took legal action). Some of these samples amount to nothing more than a ‘Hey’ or a couple of musical notes. Anyone opposed to sampling on the grounds of musical puritanism should probably stop and consider that it would likely have been easier to write a completely original song than to stitch all these parts into something even vaguely listenable.
And that isn’t all. It’s been a while since we had a double-‘A’ single on top of the charts: well over five years. While ‘Pump Up the Volume’ is a ground-breaking record, it’s still a pop song at heart, that sits comfortably on top of the chart. The flip-side, ‘Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance)’ is a completely different beast. This has no business being at #1…
It’s abstract, arty, and avant-garde. It’s grungy and acidic. Trippy, distorted vocals with yet more samples reverberating around them, and everything absolutely dripping in harsh feedback. It’s not an easy listen, and it’s definitely not anything you’ll be dancing to – the title is misleading in the extreme. But I like it more than its gimmicky twin. It’s harsh and uncompromising, and potentially the most uncommercial track ever to make the top.
I say ‘potentially’, for I’m not sure how much airplay ‘Anitina’ got at the time. I’m guessing next to none. But it’s there, listed in the records, and from it you can pretty much trace a straight line to the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers a decade hence. And these were the only two songs that M/A/R/R/S ever released. They were a supergroup of sorts, composed of an electronic act called Colourbox and an alternative rock band called A.R. Kane, brought together in an uncomfortable arranged marriage by their label manager. Colourbox added the dancier elements to A.R. Kane’s ‘Anitina’, while A.R. Kane added the wailing guitars to ‘Pump Up the Volume’. Neither particularly liked the other’s song and they refused to work together again. And so M/A/R/R/S are one-hit wonders in the purest sense.
At least one half of this record lives on, though. ‘Pump Up the Volume’, and its nods towards hip-hop and the beginnings of acid house make it as central to the late-eighties as Madonna and the SAW stable of hitmakers. While up next, following on from this most modern of chart-toppers, come a group who have been popping up on this blog for quite a while now…