508. ‘Pass the Dutchie’, by Musical Youth

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when it comes to the UK singles chart you are never too far away from a country, or a reggae, hit. These two genres seem to withstand the vagaries of taste, and trend, to pop up time and time again.

Pass the Dutchie, by Musical Youth (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, 26th September – 17th October 1982

And you’ll be relieved (at least, I am) to find out that this next #1 is of a reggae persuasion, rather than a country one. The intro is exuberant: a young voice announcing that This generation, Rules the nation! Attention duly grabbed, we slip into a gentle rhythm. Pass the dutchie pon de left-hand side…

First things first: what’s a dutchie? It’s a Jamaican cooking pot, which makes sense given the song’s refrain: How does it feel when you’ve got no food…? (And which probably seemed quite relevant given unemployment rates in the early ‘80s…) Except, one of the songs on which this is based is called ‘Pass the Kouchie’, and a kouchie is a cannabis pipe. So, what we actually have here is a bunch of kids hitting #1 with a thinly-veiled ode to the pleasures of the herb! Except all drug references are now food references.

This is a really fun record. You can imagine Musical Youth as the children of Dave and Ansil Collins, or the younger brothers of Althea and Donna. They were British-Jamaicans from Birmingham, aged between eleven and fifteen when this record made top spot. I was fully prepared for this to be a cheese-fest – ‘Musical Youth’ conjures up images of an after-school theatre club – but it’s pretty authentic. Yes, it’s on the poppier side of reggae, but there’s an grittiness to it that shines through.

The star of the show is the band’s youngest member: Kelvin Grant was only ten when he recorded that memorable opening line, and his subsequent tongue-twisting raps. (Legitimate question: Is he rapping? Or is he scatting? Or is there another reggae-specific term for what he’s doing? If he is rapping, then I’d say we have our first rap chart-topper!)

Musical Youth didn’t last too long beyond their sole chart-topper. They had one further Top 10 hit, but they packed a lot into their short time together. They worked with Donna Summer, won a Grammy (‘Pass the Dutchie’ also made the Billboard Top 10) and were the first black act to be played on MTV, which seems amazing given that MTV had been around for over a year before this record came out…

Sadly, the members haven’t had the happiest of lives since their early fame. Legal troubles broke the band up, and bassist Patrick Waite ended up in prison before dying aged just twenty-four. Musical Youth are now a duo, but they have continued to record and perform. More happily for fans of the genre, we are hitting a bit of a reggae groove at the top of the charts. More to follow…

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