Apr 09

MUSICAL YOUTH – “Pass The Dutchie”

FT + Popular66 comments • 7,691 views

#508, 2nd October 1982

I swear I never even knew what drugs were…UNTIL I HEARD MUSICAL YOUTH. The rumour swept round school sometime after their Blue Peter appearance: the song isn’t about a “cooking pot” at all, it’s about… the other kind of pot. Did this fill us with new-found respect for Musical Youth and their song? Absolutely not, we all hated it. So instead what we believed was that while we, posh white boys from Surrey, knew about the “real meaning” of “Pass The Dutchie”, Musical Youth themselves were such chumps that they’d recorded the song in all innocence.

Reader, the chump was I: the Youth were wasted on the young. These days it takes about half a second of the song to bring a smile to my face – “THEES generation” – ker-WHUMP! “Pass The Dutchie” is gimmickry alright, but it’s gimmickry with ambition, the very best kind. It’s trying to fuse the tweenie energy of “I Want You Back” with the easy sunshine swing of “Uptown Top Ranking”, and throw in a dollop of social conscience too. Also, as will become apparent over some upcoming entries, a fight was on for what “pop reggae” might mean – a flavouring, a dilution, a museum piece? With those viral, Yellowman-style “biddly biddly bong” vocal lines – the primary source of my schoolboy disdain – Musical Youth were channeling more recent Jamaican sounds, more successfully, than any of their grown-up pop peers.



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  1. 31
    intothefireuk on 23 Apr 2009 #

    It was ok – the chorus was/is a little irritating and the novelty value of the ‘drugs’ ref didn’t seem to last long. My chart reggae of choice would have been ‘Walking On Sunshine’ at this time and there seemed to be much better singles in the chart for me to spend with i.e. Duran, Talk Talk, Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, Dexys, Kid Creole, Mari Wilson, Shalamar, Evelyn King, Fat Larry and even, shock – horror, Dire Straits (Private Investigations).

  2. 32
    Tim on 23 Apr 2009 #

    I was 12 or 13 and just old enough (or, put it another way, had a big brother old enough) to have heard Musical Youth on John Peel and to know they had had a single out on 021 records (home of the Au Pairs! I liked the Au Pairs). I also had a nascent indie-ist’s sense of the importance of something being cool and real/proper.

    So I was kinda sorta wary of the naff elements of the way MY were presented (why did they have to colour code the lads?) but their having grown out of something which fell into the “cool” bucket gave me an excellent excuse to think this record was good. That was a result, because I really liked it, and still do.

  3. 33
    LondonLee on 23 Apr 2009 #

    Re: #25 My wife sings a version of “Super Trouper” to our 2-year-old entitled “Super Pooper”


  4. 34
    pink champale on 23 Apr 2009 #

    this is super lovely. i haven’t heard it for a while so i might be imagining this, but isn’t part of why it sounds so summery and cheerful because it uses that great staple of 80’s kids tv, the steel drum, in a way that most (even pop) reggae doesn’t really. (conversely i may be imagining this lack of steel drum use in most reggae).

    i really can’t remember whether i liked it at the time though. biddly bong was certainly a big playground catchphrase, and i probably liked the fact they were also from birmingham (though to be honest, to nine year old me in solihull, aston may as well have been the moon), but i have a feeling that i didn’t really get reggae. certainly later, even until i was in my late teens, reggae was pretty much the only musical genre that i flat out didn’t like. it was a beautiful thing once i realised that it wasn’t reggae that was boring and plodding and dull and fatuous, it was BOB BLEEDING MARLEY (and particularly pretty much everything on ‘legend’).*

    but anyway, did john peel break them? certainly the inner sleeve of the album features a great bash street kids style cartoon telling the story of the yoot, in which he features heavily (in a predictably avuncluar role).

    when we were horrible teenagers we thought the band members’ sundry burglary convictions were hilarious and used to sing the chorus as “pass the telly on the left hand side”.

    finally, i’m not sure whether no one’s mentioned this until now because it’s so obvious or because it’s crazy talk, but isn’t the “thiiiiis generation” intro (nicked from U-roy, btw) sampled to great effect by public enemy on ‘fear of a black planet’?

    *er, possibly this view is not universally held.

  5. 35
    Billy Smart on 23 Apr 2009 #

    Re #24 Hurray! Another Marleysceptic! I can sometimes hear good things in The Wailers musically, but he is for me the dullest and most platitudinous songwriter in the entire rock canon.

  6. 36
    wichita lineman on 23 Apr 2009 #

    Re 25: 26 to 1, that’s right. I think Happy Talk went from 33 to 1 just weeks earlier, which may still be the biggest bound to no.1 in chart history*. Previous record holder was the Beatles’ Hey Jude which leapt from 27 to 1 (not wanting to re-re-stir a hornets’ nest!).

    *Also seems to have only spent three weeks in the Top 10, two at number one, which was surely a uniquely quick rise and fall prior to the nineties when it became the norm.

    Re 35: Another Bob Bleedin Marley sceptic here. I genuinely don’t get his legendary status, compared to an innovator like King Tubby – is it purely marketing? If it’s down to his making reggae better known around the world, I don’t see how that makes him any more significant than Bill Haley (who was surely more innovative). Happy to be enlightened. And I do love much of the Wailing Wailers album.

  7. 37
    LondonLee on 23 Apr 2009 #

    Has anyone seen the Will Smith film ‘I Am Legend’? I mention it because I caught it on cable the other day and Bob Marley features prominently in it. Smith’s character drives around a 28-Days-Later deserted New York in a SUV blaring out Marley tunes (all the obvious ‘Legend’ ones) and then he meets another survivor of the virus, a 30-something woman who has never heard of Bob Marley which would be ludicrous in itself if it wasn’t obviously just so Smith could give her a little lecture on what a great man ol’ Bob was because he believed he could cure hate with a song (I think Smith actually uses those words). Smith’s character is a doctor see, and he’s trying to find a cure for the nasty zombie virus. Get the connection? It was a rotten, stupid film anyway but that sent it right off the cliff.

  8. 38
    Conrad on 23 Apr 2009 #

    Bunny Wailer “Blackheart Man”. One of my favourite albums of all time. An absolutely beautiful record.

    I don’t mind Bob, but agree he gets a disproportionate amount of coverage.

    The Marley-sceptic could check out the 1975(?) “Live at the Lyceum” album, as much for the raw energy and gusto of the band as Marley’s vocal performances. Much more to enjoy than on some of the too-nicely-produced studio recordings of the same period.

  9. 39
    Pete Baran on 23 Apr 2009 #

    The Marley connection in I Am LEGEND is even more explicit, as his son, who he failed to save, was actually named Marley. Of course he should have called him Legend and then the film would have been “He Was Legend”.

    The music links don’t stop there with I Am Legend. Will Smith plays Robert Nevil, who I am sure was known as Robbie Nevil in younger days. I am sure when he looked out at a deserted New York he could not help but mutter the words of C’est La Vie under his breath.

  10. 40

    “I am Babylon by Bus”

    my reggae-snob pals upthread had a constant joke-refrain — possibly semi-derived from our pals 10CC — abt students (most of them were students too) coming up to the DJ (ie of them) and saying “Have you got some decent reggae? UB40?” — in their sourer moods this became “Have you got some decent reggae? Bob Marley and the Wailers?”

    there’s actually a nice — if unlinkable — piece in the newest new york review of books about him (ostensibly about books about him, one by the great viv goldman), and his role as a third-world liberation icon: how a lot of his pan-global reach was because of his simplicity and translateability… it made me want to relisten, but i never got my 4-CD box set back off the guy who lived downstairs (cousin of lloyd coxsone) (he said)

  11. 41
    Pete Baran on 23 Apr 2009 #

    A lot of Bob is played here at SOAS, and I have never minded him. But certainly what you say is true about his status, one wonders how much his untimely death also caused this (or stopped a global juggernaut that would have got even bigger). He was a terrific performer whose recordings are often a lot more anodyne than they needed to be, but perhaps this does bring in the universality of his music. It is important that he was a black superstar who was not American and made both is mixed race and African ties very explicit. So certainly he is seen as a non-violent liberation icon of many African students. Plus students love him as an excellent dope ambassador (though many overlook the potential links between excessive dope smoking and cancer, which Bob died of).

  12. 42

    yes i meant to say that — he was 36 when he died! he would only be 64 now

    he’d had time to shift his style and approach once, massively (the early all-wailers stuff is undimmed, partly bcz bunny w has such a fab voice)

    pete you know as well as i do that it was not dope it was d4nny b4ker killed BM, by stampin on his toe playing football (it’s even mentioned in the nyrb! tho it shamefully redacts the name of the guilty party…)

  13. 43
    peter goodlaws on 23 Apr 2009 #

    I heard Baker killed Bambi too but I don’t believe it.

  14. 44
    AndyPandy on 23 Apr 2009 #

    no 34: if that’s the “thiiis generation” which is followed by “rules the nation” it was sampled on a few hardcore tracks too – and all ths time I never realised it came from Musical Youth – I haven’t heard this track since about 1983 though!

  15. 45
    crag on 23 Apr 2009 #

    Re#31- pretty sure that would be Johnny Jarvis which 9-year-old me found totally terrifing and depressing at the time with its none-more-bleak portrayal of the teenage and early adult life which awaited me-god, just thinking about it sends a shiver up my spine even now

    Re#44- PTD was also sampled by Public Enemy on Revolutionary Generation in 1990..

    i always thought my true love of pop music etc kicked off in 1983 so i’m suprised how clearly i recall the suprise and shock i experienced when this leapt from #26 to the top-helped by my big sister purchasing a copy. Like most comments here i liked it then(dont recall any drugs discussion about it at my school whatsoever though) and i still really like it now- Tom’s “I Want You Back”/”Uptown Ranking” interface description is spot on too. 7 seems about right.

    Didnt MY do a version of the Jimll Fix It theme at the fag-end of their career btw?

  16. 46
    Tim on 24 Apr 2009 #

    Bob Marley’s not my absolute favourite either but it may be that some of the sceptics underrate his best work as a reaction to his legend status (and the fame of some of his less-great stuff)?

    Some of those late ’60s / early 70s recordings with Lee Perry were important chunks of early reggae; he was there or thereabouts as reggae slowed into roots and hit its broadest Western audience; also purists may not like but the mid-late 70s period stuff with the slightly rocky overtones was the birth of “international reggae” as I believe it’s known.

    I think Pete’s right about his status as a liberation icon, and that surely counts towards a lot of people’s fondness for him. The other thing is, the guy was an absolute, slam-dunk, charisma-packed *star*: it’s surely true that there were greater innovators in Jamaican music during the period but comparing BM to the great King Tubby (as I think Wichita does upthread, not meaning to be fighty) is maybe a bit like saying “I don’t get why Mick Jagger is this huge legend when Joe Meek was much more innovative…” The star thing is important, I think.

    Lastly: Bob’s highest-profile work has not always been kindly treated by remixers over the years.

  17. 47

    shd be “outernational reggae”, surely?

  18. 48
    ace inhibitor on 24 Apr 2009 #

    45 – johnny jarvis, yes. thanks crag. and 2 minutes of wikiresearch suggests a tucker’s luck link, in that mark farmer who played johnny jarvis was also in grange hill. (I can’t for the life of me imagine why everyone else is discussing bob marley rather than this sort of thing)

  19. 49
    DV on 24 Apr 2009 #

    Perhaps already mentioned by one of the zillion other commenters is how Musical Youth got to appear on some schools and colleges ITV programme to talk about song lyrics and how they are like poetry and stuff, an effort to make the English language trendy with the young people. Sadly, the powers that be kept showing the programme long after Musical Youth ceased being even remotely popular, causing a whole generation of youngsters to turn away from English literature.

  20. 50
    wichita lineman on 25 Apr 2009 #

    Re 46: Kinda sorta… but always easiest when it’s a combination of zeitgeist originality and star quality (eg Jagger w/Satisfaction). I was dangling the baldy, t shirt wearing King Tubby in the air as a floating stalking horse, and yes I agree w/Meek comparison. But that still doesn’t reeeeally explain Marley’s appeal beyond the cartoon student smoke haze and the odd great pop song (eg Is This Love). Must’ve been lots of better singers (from my vague knowledge) who would have been equally well positioned at the start of the 70s, politically and artistically.

  21. 51
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 25 Apr 2009 #

    i: well he stepped up into the opportunity of vast global reach and worked at it, hard — it may not be easy to see from comfy uk-perspective, where we were maybe yearning for a bit MORE fussing and fighting, but in the africa and elsewhere, the appeal was that marley had seen that for real and upclose, and knew that those stuck in it (in kingston or in harare or where) wanted out of it; he had found a way out, but knew and paid mind to those who hadn’t, and made music call for an end to fussing and fighting, which may seem like pat truisms if you live in a land free of actual gun-infested war, but if not, well, not…
    ii: so i think part of the point was that — in africa in particular — he very evidently didn’t consider it a “secondary territory” after the us and the uk’ exactly the opposite: he shaped his message for the third world first ,and that was a courtesy noted and beloved
    iii: more complicatedly (and he was a ver shrewd guy), i think his message was enormously appealing and flattering to the doper aristocracy who (in the 70s) still ran the US music-media… they heard this charismatic black guy from an island they’d never thought about somehow mirroring their peacenik sentiments back at them… this rarely goes down badly, esp.when you’re a bit insecure after the hurtful stuff local black militants may have fired your way now and then
    iv: this is the most complciated element of all, becaus i think the one that — in the uk n particular — backfired: here he wasn’t the ambassador of reggae to pop (in the way that he certainly was in africa); he was the ambassador to rock, and the regime within rock changed very sharply… his arena scale of address, his enhanced rock-ordinaire flavouring and production, his apparent jones for pothead platitudes (he’s actually a much better writer than this i think, but his grounded realism likely strikes a nation of disenchanted suburbanites as exotica and cliche, and doesn’t inflect his songs for us the way it does for people who actually walk every day in bare feet on earth or concrete floors) (or did in the 70s, shall we say); by the late 70s he was in pink floyd territory for a lot of younger brit listeners, i think — who wanted angry and spiky and parochial, and in a sense banded with those who were set aside and marley stepped into the whole world’s limelight (bunny wailer and peter tosh; lee perry, king tubby; the apocalyptic toasters; high dub)

    his charisma – apart from its biracial aspect, which must be a part of it but is hard to talk unmuddledly about — is that of a fit, wiry, very smart man who would surely be lethal as muscle for any cause or party, and had gracefully and i think boldly chosen not to be; to turn his strength against that

    perry used to say that chris blackwell hypnotised marley: i think that’s pretty telling, for a sense of what the community back home expected of him, in terms of direction of energy… even those jamaicans who were angry with him, who felt he’d sold out or taken a wrong turn, didn’t think of him as just one-singer-among dozens: they weren’t astonished by his fame, they were confused by his use of it

    (and frankly, the angry were in a minority: other musicians mainly, with the usual jealousies and gripes and ambitions-tied-up-in-principles

  22. 52
    Billy Smart on 25 Apr 2009 #

    NMEWatch: 18 September 1982. An enthusiastic appraisal from Adrian Thrills;

    “The sound of young black Britain dipping into its roots and coming up with a musical sensation to rock the nation.

    With their signing to MCA Records came the suspicion that Birmingham’s aptly named Musical Youth were going to be marketed as no more than a novelty band – a black Haircut 100, perhaps – on account of their tender years. Such is unfounded, however, on the strength of ‘Dutchie’, their debut single for the major, which stands purely on its musical merits, free from any gimmickry.

    The song is a woodentop skank which scans its way back through the band’s rich musical inheritance to the period towards the end of the ’60s when Jamaican music was making the vital graduation from rock steady to early reggae. the nearest thing to it is perhaps The Beat circa ‘Hands Off’ and ‘Ranking Full Stop’.

    One could argue that all the Youth do is assemble a collection of the reggae cliches we have all known and dubbed for years – a lickle bass to wind up the waist, some neat three-part harmonising and a talkover that goes “bong-bong-diddily-diddily-diddily-bong” – but the fact is that they put those cliches across with a conviction and style that gives them a new freshness. Musical Youth… the best-dressed chickens in town.”

    Thrills made ‘Young Guns’ by Wham! single of the week. Also reviewed;

    The Clash – Straight To Hell
    Elvis Costello & The Attractions – From Head To Toe
    Spandau Ballet – Lifeline
    Ultravox – Reap The Wild Wind
    Aztec Camera – Pillar To Post
    A Certain Ratio – Knife Slits Water

  23. 53
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 25 Apr 2009 #

    “no more than a novelty band – a black Haircut 100, perhaps” — dear god adrian thrills was a fullbore idiot

  24. 54
    wichita lineman on 26 Apr 2009 #

    Inclined to agree, Lord S. Uncanny resemblance to Griff Rhys Jones always made me uncomfortable in his presence.

    Equally alarming – NME made Wham Rap AND Young Guns singles of the week?

    (drifts into Knife Slits Water and Pillar To Post reverie)

  25. 55
    pink champale on 27 Apr 2009 #

    sorry for derailing this into a bob marley thread. coming back on what various people have said

    yes, i like the ‘wailing wailers’ record a lot too, probably because peter tosh and bunny were a lot more in evidence and because they weren’t really trying to make any big statements. as the only big hit i like is ‘no woman no cry’ i might like the live at the lyceum record more, but i don’t think it’s just down to the production on the later stuff i’m not that keen on the early lee perry albums either.

    i can see why bob marley became a star – he was clearly pretty charismatic, and also more ambitious than anyone else, and i can totally see the importance of him as a third world liberation icon, and there’s a lot in the idea that his simplicity makes him globally translatable – it does seem that, much more than any of the other big beasts, he is liked absolutely everywhere in the world. but what i’m much less sure about is him being a great ambassador and popularise of reggae – his big hits mostly a bit rubbish and i would think put off as many people as they attracted. particularly as the popular notion has always been that bob marley pretty much *was* reggae, even though what he was doing had increasingly little to do with anything that was actually happening in jamaica (not that i know all that much about what was happening in jamaica (other than that everyone listening to the police of course!) but the great bass culture book argues this convincingly, and it feels right to me). what with him and the brummie bunny botherers it feels to me sort of as if the big popularises of guitar pop had been not the beatles and stones but neil diamond and the dave clarke five.

    incidentally, ‘tucker’s luck’ made a great impression on me at the time – it was traumatising to see that despite tucker alan and bennie being kings of the school (and to every viewer, the coolest people in the whole world) that didn’t mean anything out in the real world

  26. 56
    Martin Skidmore on 27 Apr 2009 #

    Tim and Mark say many sensible things about Marley. I remember at the time having liked him from just before he broke big over here, and being a little mystified about it. I think there is a common tendency when looking at minority musics to select a single representative, and from then on everyone takes it for granted that that one act is The Greatest in their genre and we don’t need to think about it any more. I really like the early recordings, up to and including that wonderful live album, and not so much the later stuff, but there are lots of acts I like and play more, from the poppier, rootsier and dubbier ends of the reggae range. I found it a bit depressing on my one trip to Jamaica how dominant Marley is there, at the expense of lots of other great acts.

  27. 57
    wichita lineman on 27 Apr 2009 #

    Thanks for the lengthy Marley analysis, Pink and Lord.

    Martin, it didn’t feel to me, aged 10 or 11, like reggae was so much of a minority music by the time Marley became hard to ignore (’76-ish), it was something that popped up fairly regularly on TOTP, and half the older girls at school seemed to have 1000 Volts Of Holt.

    John Holt and Ken Boothe didn’t get the Chris Blackwell spend, and presumably weren’t so keen to embrace the rock, un-JA moves Marley made that Lord S points out (though they weren’t too embarrassed to go pop, which made for playground hits but not student adoration).

    I’d really much rather hear any of Musical Youth’s three hits than anything by Bob Marley. Pop over rock – I’m not really surprising myself here, but I’d never thought of Marley’s moves as rock moves. Could explain my general ‘meh’ feeling towards him.

    Thanks chaps, I can see clearly now!

  28. 58
    AndyPandy on 27 Apr 2009 #

    Didn’t “Bass Culture” make the point that ‘No Woman No Cry was the last time you’d ever have heard a Bob Marley track on a Sound System or at a Blues Party ie played to a black dancefloor.

  29. 59
    Mark M on 27 Apr 2009 #

    Re 59: As I recall writing here somewhere before, the rock remodelling of Marley is made very vivid in the Classic Albums episode about Catch A Fire: you can hear the songs being made sludgier, draggier for an audience of stoners (and Europeans) presumably presumed to be suspicious of reggae as bouncy, one-hit wonder pop. It goes directly against what most people would assume is the path to more commercially viable music, but shows that Blackwell had an astute grasp of the market at that moment.

  30. 60
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 27 Apr 2009 #

    i know i started it, but i’m not sure the term “stoner” shd be used too deprecatingly in this context — i don’t imagine marley was shocked! shocked! at the concept behind kaya: unless we’re making a mood distinction between types of weed that I FOR ONE am out of my depth discussing

    (i know no one will ever write this book — bcz the ppl who know won’t be capable — but i’d still ove to see something that really exactly ties in styles and contexts of music with a detailed study of the drugs that go with them, stripped and myth and bullshit in all directions)

  31. 61
    Malice Cooper on 30 Apr 2009 #

    My one memory of this was seeing them on some kids show and my grandmother making her fingers into a gun and shooting them off one by one.

    Lenny Henry again parodied them as all 5 members of the band

    “never gonna go to school, no matter wot dee mamma say”

  32. 62
    Pete Baran on 1 May 2009 #

    @60, it already sort of exists. Its the Narcotic Suite at the end of Music For The Jilted Generation

  33. 63
    Abraham David on 3 Dec 2009 #

    I missed their music alot. It reminds of when we were young in tghe 80s. i was born 1969, i.e. in the same age bracket with the musical youths.

  34. 64
    hectorthebat on 29 Oct 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1980s (2001) 101
    Village Voice (USA) – Singles of the Year 6

  35. 65
    Musicality on 20 Jan 2020 #

    So catchy, though hasn’t stuck in the memory.

  36. 66
    Gareth Parker on 23 May 2021 #

    I’m in agreement with Tom’s 7/10 here. A fun single in my opinion.

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