598. ‘Pump Up the Volume’ / ‘Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance)’, by M/A/R/R/S

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…

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581. ‘Caravan of Love’, by The Housemartins

Reintroducing that most niche of chart-topping genres: the festive a cappella #1…

Caravan of Love, by The Housemartins (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 14th – 21st December 1986

Following on from the Flying Pickets’ ‘Only You’ from three years before, The Housemartins give us more warm and fuzzy feelings for Christmas, using only their voices (and some finger clicks). Hand in hand we’ll take a caravan, To the marvel land… One by one we’re gonna stand up with pride, One that can’t be denied…

The lyrics are uplifting – everyone being free, the young and the old, love flowing – vaguely religious, but not preachy. The harmonising is beautiful, led by a spectacular lead vocal from Paul Heaton (imagine an angelic Morrissey…) My judgement may be clouded by the fact that I’m literally listening to his honeyed tones as I type these words, but is this the 1980’s best chart-topping vocal performance? The he’s my brother… line is the pick, up there with the finest fifties doo-wop.

Every woman, every man, Join the caravan of love… Stand up, stand up… It’s a clarion call, but is it for a revolution, or for God? The song had been written by one half of the Isley Brothers (Isley-Jasper-Isley) the year before, with religion in mind. The video for the Housemartins’ version makes the religious intent very clear: Heaton plays a preacher in a pulpit, and the band have crucifixes shaved into their heads… I’m normally one for the separation of church and pop; but this I can just about stomach, because it’s about love rather than sanctimony.

Speaking of Morrissey, this single-week number #1 represents one of the very few moments that ‘80s indie made the highest reaches of the charts (much like Europe flying the flag for hair metal last time out…) The Housemartins had made #3 earlier in the year with the jangly ‘Happy Hour’, and their albums had pithy titles like ‘London 0 Hull 4’ and ‘That’s What I Call Quite Good’. They were clearly going for the Christmas #1 here, ticking all the feel-good boxes, gaining support from both indie kids and their grandmas, but were foiled at the last by an even more unexpected hit… More on that next time.

They split in 1988, but this is just the start for two of The Housemartins… Heaton went on to form ‘The Beautiful South’, before going solo. In a fun coincidence, he is literally on top of the UK albums chart as we speak… Meanwhile bassist Norman Cook became a DJ and producer with Beats International and then as Fatboy Slim. And I can think of at least three ‘90s chart-toppers that he’ll account for…

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