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Sep 10

JIVE BUNNY AND THE MASTERMIXERS – “Swing The Mood”

Popular94 comments • 6,232 views

#632, 5th August 1989

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.

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Comments

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  1. 76
    weej on 1 Oct 2010 #

    Hmm, just checked out “Maybe” – pretty good that, never heard it before. It made number 6, and she still got dropped? I guess we’ll have a few opportunities to discuss this later anyway.

  2. 77
    Steve Mannion on 1 Oct 2010 #

    Not really convinced by the idea that 1989 wasn’t seeing much great music, but then I’m really bored by the whole ‘this year was good, that year was bad’ trope beloved of so many music critics (not that I didn’t succumb to it in the past) now.

    That said, what makes the charts of this time look particularly appealing to me is the diversity represented within them, not just in terms of race, gender, age, location, image (inc. “beauty standards”) and so on but in terms of cultural and political positions. You can see band dynamics and templates here that seemed to become ‘unworkable’ 10-15 years later. As a pretty successful all-girl pop rock group The Bangles are one of the more obvious examples…but in recent times the entire band concept itself has become less desirable. Many of the artists you’d hear 21 years ago on a Sunday evening seem evermore of their time as recent years offer no equivalent voice or visage, regardless of their quality. I suppose I am saying if the charts are to feature mostly tat, let it be as many different types of tat as reasonable – and the late 80s seem unmatched here. I remain fascinated by and have come to look more fondly upon a period – and an industry/media relationship – that allowed for a broader range of both brilliance and bobbins in a nation’s hit parade. It often feels a case of smarter people in simpler times. Bit of a moany old man’s argument I know, but so be it!

    I don’t think JB is part of what kicked off a process of wrecking all that but it probably is something Simon Cowell would’ve done if someone else hadn’t thought of it first (I’m sure it fuelled his “imagination” tho, argh).

  3. 78
    thefatgit on 1 Oct 2010 #

    In an ideal alternate universe, JB is replaced by an acid house revival of Russ Conway and Winifred Attwell with Simon Cowell pulling the strings in the background.

  4. 79
    rosie on 1 Oct 2010 #

    Sorry, thefatgit, but however hard I try I can’t conceive of a universe which is both ideal and contains Simon Cowell.

  5. 80
    thefatgit on 1 Oct 2010 #

    Even in an ideal universe, we need a villain :)

  6. 81
    anto on 1 Oct 2010 #

    I didn’t realise that “You On My Mind ” only managed a modest no.28.
    Mind you the follow up ” Forever Blue ” was also swooningly goregous but I don’t think it even grazed the top 40.

  7. 82
    wichita lineman on 1 Oct 2010 #

    SOS became a million selling sensation in Japan soon after – which in spite of popular belief is very rare for a foreign act. Their PRS cheques are probably bigger than Jive Bunny’s

  8. 83
    swanstep on 2 Oct 2010 #

    @anto, 81. Agree about Forever Blue (and that if that couldn’t become a hit then there’s no way You on my mind could or should become one). Luxe Bacharach-pop only breaks through on very rare occasions I guess, but Lisa Sounds-like-an-Airport coming up after Jive Bunny 2 sort of counts.

  9. 84
    Chris Gilmour on 2 Oct 2010 #

    As mentioned at #42, this started as a track on one of the Mastermix DJ subscription albums and its popularity snowballed from there, so not a cynical attack on the charts as such, more the creation of a monster without necessarily realising it at the time. I’m quite taken with the idea, if not the reality, of a couple of mobile DJ’s from Rotherham having the second best selling single of the year on an indie label, winding up ‘real’ music lovers and the rest of the record industry in the process.
    Saying that, I haven’t heard it properly for a long time, and bloody hell it’s horrible. One!

    PS: ‘C-c-come on everybody’ always cracks me up, after hearing Chris Lowe singing it over the intro to ‘Single’ on the Radio 1 documentary they did in ’96.

  10. 85
    MichaelH on 2 Oct 2010 #

    Re comments much further upthread, I’m going to stick up for the right of people to have been remembering the 50th anniversary of WWII 50 years on – I think it’s hard for us to comprehend Britain being involved in an existential war, but in 1989 a great many more people who would have fought in that war would have been alive, and the folk memory of the war as part of the fabric our society would have been very much more prevalent. If anything, I think Jive Bunny and its bizarre video represents the death throes of nostalgia for the war years, as the balance of cultural and political power shifted from those who remembered the war to their children. In the 80s there were still war films on at primetime every weekend, WH Smith still had books by Sven Hassel (now, there’s a genuinely fascinating story) clogging up its bestseller charts. By the 90s, that had had passed – aside from the let-us-give-thanks special anniversaries. There are kids today who’ve never even seen Where Eagles Dare. Fancy.

  11. 86
    polished concrete on 3 Oct 2010 #

    I really love there music we often played the cd I had bought.
    Cool stuff

  12. 87
    wichita lineman on 3 Oct 2010 #

    Polished concrete, eh? I just walked past Archway Tower and there is a plaque announcing it as an important ‘brutalist’ building. It’s brutal, alright, but surely too polished to be brutalist?

    Oh, and I’m already looking forward to further JB Popular entries. I really am.

  13. 88
    swanstep on 1 Feb 2011 #

    OK, finally heard Swing the Mood out for the first time, at a wedding this past weekend. It seemed to go down OK in that setting, but it was notably frustrating to the older generations for not sticking long enough with its component tunes.

    2 big surprises for me at the wedding: (i) the most recent tune played, Bad Romance (at least the mix the dj had) didn’t work (sounded muddy, and tempo seemed all wrong for everyone-in, vigorous, non-posing, dancing); (ii) I saw her standing there (which I’d previously thought of as a real also-ran Beatles tune) was like a wild animal through a loud PA. The dance-floor exploded – a real revelation. I think the dj had one of those recent mono remasters – it sounded simply fantastic, pure energy.

  14. 89
    Don Endriss on 31 May 2011 #

    Yea only to nr 28 in 1989 , but a great record. Most masterpieces go unnoticed.

  15. 90
    AndyPandy on 31 May 2011 #

    I believe one of Jive Bunny was an ex-miner who used his redundancy money to launch the project – and i think one of them later became one of he driving forces behind probably the biggest label of the early 2000s hardhouse boom Tidy Tracks which IIRC used the same studios.

    PS When I worked for ParcelForce in Parkgate, Rotherham around 2001 I would sometimes park outside the Jive Bunny studios in Parkgate to use a nearby shop – a big wooden Jive Bunny proudly marked the place as late as the early millenium – he probably still does.

  16. 91
    Auntie Beryl on 19 Jan 2013 #

    Ultra-pedantic intervention: the Mirage hit that introduced house medleys to the charts in 1987 was “Jack Mix II” c/w “Jack Mix III” in June of that year. “Jack Mix IV” matched the number 4 peak of its predecessor that November.

    I have nothing positive to say about “Swing The Mood”. No wonder Black Box were welcomed so warmly.

  17. 92
    mapman132 on 29 Jul 2014 #

    And so my school group left Salisbury just as this was about to hit #1. Someone asked in the above thread if anyone knew someone that bought this thing: Yes, one of my school friends did, bringing it back to the US like a virulent plague. Actually I can’t remember if he bought it in England or a few months later when it was released in the US but the effect was pretty much the same. And so the trilogy of #1’s during my first trip to the UK ran the gamut from Great to meh to Yuck. The only question left about Pop ’89 is how come Fine Young Cannibals never had a UK #1 – it certainly seems like they should have :)

    #62 To set the record straight, STM actually peaked at #11 on the Hot 100. Perhaps it went top 10 on one of the competing countdowns? On American Top 40 it was also the very first song played on the year-end 1990 top 100 countdown – which was also the very last time I’ve ever heard it on a US radio station. Thank goodness.

  18. 93
    Chap_with_Wings on 11 Sep 2014 #

    I was 13. I liked it.

  19. 94
    sbahnhof on 26 May 2015 #

    #48 about the divide between those old enough to remember JB, and those young enough to have avoided it…

    I was 5 at this time, and Popular is the first I’ve ever heard of Jive Bunny. I’m quite surprised, but glad. Maybe the lack of original elements has meant JB’s been erased from the collective memory, to an extent. Most of the era’s other No 1s, I’ve heard or at least heard of.

    Interesting that some younger people weren’t bothered by it. Maybe they assumed it was some unknown DJ?

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