642. ‘Dub Be Good to Me’, by Beats International

Tank fly boss walk jam nitty-gritty, You’re listening to the boy from the big bad city, This is jam hot…

Dub Be Good to Me, by Beats International (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 25th February – 25th March 1990

I often find writing intros to be the hardest part of a new post. Not today: for who can argue with those opening lines? Jam hot, indeed. (Not that I have a clue what he’s on about, but hey ho…) Off we go, then, into a #1 single a little less intense than ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, but perhaps every bit as iconic (that word again…)

If you listen carefully, both this record and Sinéad O’Connor’s predecessor follow a similar beat. It’s very nineties, as if both these records were setting the tempo for the decade to come. Other than that, though, they’re very different beasts. ‘Dub Be Good to Me’ takes us for a stroll through the backstreets of the big bad city. The laconic harmonica sounds like a train rumbling past, the horn towards the end sounds like a sad busker, the humming break in the middle sounds like the crazy guy you’d cross the road to avoid…

Meanwhile, you can just picture the singer walking along with a ghetto blaster, singing the title line: I don’t care about your other girls, Just be good to me… Like Soul II Soul and Black Box before it, this record is a more modern, stripped-back version of dance music, another step away from the sample-heavy culture of the 1980s. Just a beat, that harmonica, and a female diva giving it large (Lindy Layton, who in some places gets a ‘featuring’ credit on the record).

Not that ‘Dub Be Good to Me’ doesn’t contain a sample, or two. Actually, it’s pretty much all samples. The lyrics and melody come from The SOS Band’s 1983 song ‘Just Be Good to Me’. The bassline is the Clash’s ‘Guns of Brixton’, the harmonica is from Ennio Morricone’s theme for ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, and the catchy intro rap is called ‘Jam Hot’, and is by Johnny Dynell. I know that for some sampling is a sin, that music should always be original. But it takes a special ear to hear music from acts as disparate as The Clash, Morricone, and a little-known rapper, and spot a number one hit lurking among the noise. And, unlike some recent dance hits, all the samples seem to have been cleared and consensual, with no subsequent legal battles for Beats International.

For the record, I have no problem with sampling. The more imaginative, the better. Sometimes you’re maybe left with a hot mess. But this record is a masterclass in sampling various pieces into a very smooth, very cool piece of music. Beats International were the brainchild of Norman Cook, whom we last met playing bass for The Housemartins. To say that Beats International were a musical departure for him is something of understatement, but I’d also say that there’s a cheeky, indie ethos to both acts. Beats International are described on Wiki as a ‘loose confederation’ of DJs, rappers and musicians, as well as a graffiti artist who would paint as the band played on stage.

They weren’t around for long, as after two albums they disbanded (they did get one Billy Bragg sampling follow-up Top 10 in the wake of their biggest hit). Cook moved quickly on to form another band, ‘Freak Power, before going it alone as Fatboy Slim. We’ll meet him again before the decade is out. Back in 1990, though, we’re left with a cool and funky glimpse of things to come. And it’s jam hot…


4 thoughts on “642. ‘Dub Be Good to Me’, by Beats International

  1. Now we’re talkin’! This is a timeless tune … well, I know it is distinctly ’90s, but I never tire of it. So bouncy; so feel-good. Even if it comprised mainly of samples, it takes some talent to mash them together into something as flowing and coherently as this.

    (I have that Johnny Dynell track on a NY Dance double vinyl – one of several terrific tracks on it.) 🙂

  2. very different from the brilliant Jam & Lewis original creation (via SOS Band) and I dont rate it as highly as that one – that one is a throbbing synth dance monster and this is more of a wistful shuffle. I do like it though and Norman Cook has remained good throughout. He had a solo minor hit with Won’t Talk About It – then recycled it for the follow-up to this.

  3. Not my thing…NEXT
    As Schroeder from the Peanuts said…Musicians don’t dance…and I live by that.

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