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Apr 09

MUSICAL YOUTH – “Pass The Dutchie”

FT + Popular64 comments • 4,973 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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Comments

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  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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)

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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)

  11. 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”

  12. 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

  13. 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.

  14. 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

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