Where does one even begin?
How about this: back at the start of the “late 80s phase” of Popular I wrote about how the charts became a free-for-all between radically different visions of what pop was for: a futurist, bricolage-driven club music? A cheap production-line soundtrack for the everyday? Or a time machine for grown-ups to travel back to when music meant something? These strands in 80s pop seemed to be aimed at utterly estranged audiences, so the idea of something pulling all three together was insane. But isn’t this exactly what Jive Bunny is doing?
OK, no it isn’t. The Bunny may have become a joke to aim at anyone making mash-ups or bootlegs these days, but the coincidence of “Swing The Mood” and dance music is mostly just that. As everyone realised, the tradition the Mastermixers were working in was the Stars On 45/Hooked On Classics disco mix one: get a pile of old records and stitch them together over a beat. This could, of course, be done well or badly: the original Stars on 45 records are memorable mostly because they dropped a tortuously annoying chorus – “remember Twist and Shout!!” – over their poorly copied sources. What is true is that club culture’s leap back into the mainstream led to a rash of “megamix” hits, starting with Mirage’s “Jack Mix IV”, but 1990 was the really big year for that sort of thing, so Jive Bunny was actually ahead of the trend.
How about the idea of pop as a conveyor belt? For all that Pete Waterman distanced himself from the Bunny’s output, saying he wouldn’t be seen dead releasing this stuff, PWL had done their bit to shift expectations of pop away from glamour and wealth and towards the cheap and the cheerful. An accuser might see Jive Bunny as reaping this particular harvest. But the truth is nobody that summer saw the Bunny as pop: everybody, no matter who you talked to or who they liked, perceived the record as something entirely alien, a single only other people were buying. Sonia, Sundays and Soul II Soul fans were united in horrified awe as the rabbit clung to the top for five endless weeks.
And how about the nostalgic element? Most late 80s pop which looked backwards did so because the past was either classier or more innocent. There was bugger all classy about the Mastermixers, who went there just because it was more familiar. They had seen a gap in the market and now they danced through it. “Swing The Mood” is ultra-functional: the people who’d been teens 30 years before, when most of the source records charted, were now seeing their own children getting married, and Jive Bunny records gave DJs at those weddings something to play as a readymade oldies set, a chance for the proud parents to shine or embarrass themselves.
For a lot of other people this was culturegeddon, proof that – at a moment of accelerating creativity across British music – the charts were simply broken. The Bunny may not have been caused by any particular late 80s trend but he still pressed every possible anti-pop button in a way most novelties didn’t: cheap, lazy, tacky, recycled, nostalgic… the only relief was the knowledge that surely, surely, this was your classic one-hit wonder.
The degree of loathing Jive Bunny inspired – more so at this stage, later on a kind of weary Stockholm Syndrome set in – makes it tempting to reassess his records positively. This is unfortunately quite difficult: all you can say is that it’s no longer actively painful to hear. To the Mastermixers’ credit, they keep the old hits coming quickly and don’t linger on anything too long, and they don’t actually give Jive Bunny a voice (though I always hear the barked “C-C-CMON EVERYBODY” as being him). On this single they’re taking more technical care than they sometimes would, but even so every sample here makes you want to hear the original, where the sex and swing hasn’t been drained out. A good mix record builds new contexts – this rock’n’roll waxwork show doesn’t even try.
Actually, “Swing The Mood” does do one intriguing thing: it erases the distinction between the Glenn Miller bed of the track and the late-50s records it frames – 1941 and 1959 are both just “oldies” now, a cultural redshift taking place as the rock’n’roll era drops out of sight. The continuity between sounds isn’t one that would have made a lot of sense at the time, so in this small way maybe Jive Bunny is building context. Whether that one bit of interest is worth sitting through a cartoon rabbit ‘cutting and mixing’ “Tutti Frutti” is entirely your call.