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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540. ‘I Feel for You’, by Chaka Khan

Chakakakakakaka-chakakhan… 1984 truly was the year of the in-your-face intro. ‘The Reflex’, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, now this. The most in your face of the lot?

I Feel for You, by Chaka Khan (her 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 4th – 25th November 1984

It probably stands out so much because of the rapping. Only the second example of rap at the top of the charts and, with all due respect to New Edition, this is the real stuff. The Lemme rock you Chaka Khan… lines are delivered at break-neck speed by one of hip-hop’s founding fathers, Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash. It feels incredibly modern, a female singer being introduced at the start of a song, decades before Beyonce and Jay-Z, or Rihanna and Drake.

I did wonder if the rap might have been supplied by the writer of this song, one Prince Rogers Nelson. Prince is someone with a giant discrepancy between his fame and his UK chart-toppers (one, fairly lame, #1 a decade from now). But here at least is one of his songs, transformed from the slinky disco-soul original into a clattering beast of a record.

It seems that every song which topped the charts in 1984 was either a ballad or a banger, and ‘I Feel for You’ is very much the latter. Like Frankie and Duran Duran before, this record grinds and pounds, chops and changes, with that mid-eighties reimagining of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound that’s become the vibe of the year. But while much of ‘84 has been Brit-dominated, this is a very American sounding disc, with its snatches of harmonica and horns, and its new jack swing energy.

Said harmonica was actually played by the last chart-topper but one, Stevie Wonder, while the song also features samples from his 1963 hit ‘Fingertips’, though you’d be hard-pressed to pick them out. It’s a bit of an all-star ensemble then: Chaka Khan, Melle Mel and Stevie Wonder, on a song by Prince. And it delivers: this is a great dance song, with a brilliantly funky bassline, a song that sounds like nothing we’ve heard at #1 before…

You can tell that this was written by Prince. Few people could throw out a line like I wouldn’t lie to you baby, I’m physically attracted to you… and make it work. Khan, in a brilliant move, delivers the lines like Prince, especially in the chorus: I fee-eel for you-oo… The one thing that I would change is that her voice is a little too far back in the mix.

The video ups the ‘80s Americana even further. Khan performs in an inner-city courtyard, with graffiti and wire fences, while a DJ scratches and spins, and break dancers throw shapes around her. It looks a bit funny now, but again must have looked very modern and very cool to suburban Britain in November 1984. In fact, ‘I Feel for You’ feels both new, in terms of its position in this countdown, and pretty dated, when you listen to it through your 2022 ears.

Maybe that’s why Khan’s only #1 isn’t as well remembered as her two other big hits: ‘I’m Every Woman’ and ‘Ain’t Nobody’, which would both chart twice, before ‘I Feel for You’ and then a few years later in remixes. It’s possibly the hip-hop element – of all the genres, rap ages the worst – but it’s a shame. It’s been great to discover this funky gem. Next up: a recap. Could ‘I Feel for You’ contend for the top prize…? Watch this space…

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521. ‘Candy Girl’, by New Edition

Hmm… On the one hand, you could argue that this next #1 emphatically breaks the run of eighties classics that we’ve been enjoying. On the other, you could argue that this record is as much an eighties classic as ‘Billie Jean’ or ‘Let’s Dance’

Candy Girl, by New Edition (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, 22nd – 29th May 1983

I mean ‘classic’ not so much in the sense that this song is any good; but that it is jam-packed with eighties flourishes. There is no mistaking when this record was released. And this is American eighties. We’ve had lots of ‘British’ eighties over the past three years, in the new-wave, post punk, New Romantic acts that have topped the charts. The 2nd British invasion is well underway but, as the decade wears on things will get a lot more US-led. Starting here…

Candy girl, You are my world… First things first, this is a pretty blatant rip-off of The Jackson 5’s ‘ABC’. And not just in terms of the melody: we’ve got five young, black Americans bringing a bright and peppy pop tune to the top of the charts. (They weren’t shy about the comparison either: the group’s name refers to them being a ‘new edition’ of the Jacksons.) Second things second: we’ve got rapping!

We’ve had bands toy with rap – mainly reggae acts like Dave & Ansil Collins and Musical Youth (who are another point of comparison with New Edition) – but this is the first genuine hip-hop number one. No other genre will dominate the next forty years of the charts as much as rap, so this is a bit of a moment. My girl’s like candy, A candy treat, She knocks me right off my feet… People complain about modern hip-hop lyrics, but… My girl’s the best and that’s no lie, She tells me I’m her only guy… Give me ‘WAP’ any day of the week.

It’s not just the rapping that makes this sound so modern though. The beat is clear and heavy – a glimpse ahead to new jack swing later in the decade – and the squelchy, farty synths are almost a voice in their own right. Which isn’t a good thing… Someone was let loose on the decks, and needed to be reined in. By the end they’re mimicking ‘ring a ring a roses’ like a demented playground chant…

In a classic boy-band debut single move, there’s a break to allow an introduction to the members who will soon be adorning bedroom walls the world over. Check out Mike and Bobby’s ladies… Ooh-wee… What about Ronnie’s? She’s bad… It’s incredibly cringey, but these moments always are. I’m forty years too late, and thirty years too old, to appreciate it.

If that write up sounded harsh then I didn’t really mean it to. I have to admit I’m enjoying this… Sort of. If you’re going to build a song so obviously around ‘ABC’ then you’re giving yourself a solid foundation. There’s an endearing energy to it, the boys were all just fourteen or fifteen when this was released, even if the farty synths and the high-pitched voices are a bit too much. Plus there is one of the clunkiest key-changes ever heard in a chart-topping single.

This was New Edition’s first ever release, and for some reason the UK took to them much quicker than the US (‘Candy Girl’ only made #46 on the Hot 100). In the long run, though, their American chart success would be much more long-lasting, reaching well into the 1990s. The members would also try their hand away from the group, the most prominent career being that of founder Bobby Brown’s (and not always for musical reasons…)

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