Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Average Age - Nineteen

By the time Paul Hardcastle scored the massive U.K. chart topper ‘19’ in 1985, he was already a well established writer/producer on the electro-funk scene. The London born keyboardist/producer enjoyed success on the burgeoning British underground dance scene, before forming his own recording label Total Control Records during 1983. He released several tracks under the pseudonym project First Light. First Light scored two minor hits on the U.K. charts with ‘Explain The Reasons’ (#65 in May ‘83) and ‘Wish You Were Here’ (#71 in Jan ‘84).

Hardcastle debuted on the charts under his own
name in April 1984 with the U.K.#41 hit ‘You’re The One For Me/Daybreak/A.M.’, credited to Paul Hardcastle Ft. vocals by Kevin Henry. This was followed up by the minor hits ‘Guilty’ (UK#55) and ‘Rain Forest’ (UK#41/US#57) which was the first track to break for Hardcastle in the U.S. In late ‘84 he released the track ‘Eat Your Heart Out’ (UK#59) which continued his work with vocalist Kevin Henry. Hardcastle was also making a name for himself remixing other artists work including a reworking of the classic ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ by Ian Dury & The Blockheads.

In May 1985 Paul Hardcastle released the track that would become synonymous with his career, and would become a landmark in the new digital age of popular music. ‘19’ hit the British charts during the first week of May 1985, and a week later it was sitting at #1. The track was dominating the airwaves and a powerful promotional video was produced for television, featuring a collage of original news and archival footage from the Vietnam conflict, mixed with some effective visual effects imagery. The song spent five weeks at the summit of the British charts, becoming one of the biggest selling hits in the U.K. for 1985, and soon going on to hit #10 in Australia and #15 in the U.S. (also #1 in France and Germany), selling over three million copies in the process.

The title ‘19’ referred to the average age of U.S. combat soldiers who served during the Vietnam conflict. Over an infectiously catchy electro-funk rhythm track Hardcastle used voice samples of several American commentators and soldiers, in addition to a female singing chorus. The strong theme behind the song aimed squarely at the futility and brutality of the Vietnam conflict that so divided the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s, and the loss of innocence experience by so many young people. One of the spoken word lines states ‘In World War II the average age of the combat soldier was 26; in Vietnam it was nineteen - n-n-n-n-nineteen’. In part the electronic stutter of ‘n-n-n-n-nineteen’ helped to propel the record up the charts, as it became an instant pop catchphrase. Incidentally it also inspired the U.K. parody hit ‘N-N-Nineteen Not Out’, a comic pastiche of Hardcastle’s single, which thematically took aim at cricket rather than the Vietnam conflict. It was a UK#13 hit for the Commentators featuring comic Rory Bremner.

‘19’ not only made an impact for its harrowing theme, but because it was one of the first major hits to extensively use digital sampling technology, taking snippets of sound or ‘sound bites’ and using them in a rhythmic repetition, crafting a song around them. It was a pioneering development in a new ‘sampling’ sub-genre of music that would, for good or bad, make its presence felt strongly on the popular music scene in the decades to come. Of course the digital pathway utilised by Hardcastle, was merely a technological extrapolation of the old school analogue medium of tape cutting and looping, used as far back as 1966 by The Beatles on the Lennon masterpiece ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. The song was written by Hardcastle with William Coutourie and Jonas McCord and produced by Paul Hardcastle himself. Tracks such as M.A.R.R.S. ‘Pump Up The Volume’ owe much to Hardcastle’s work in the studio.

The follow up to ‘19’ was ‘Just For Money’ which was another strongly themed track, featuring voice samples from Laurence Olivier, Bob Hoskins, Ed O’Ross and Alan Talbot. ‘Just For Money’ may not have been another ‘19’ but it did reach #19 on the British charts late in 1985. Both tracks were featured on Paul Hardcastle’s self titled album (UK#53), which also included the 1986 UK#8 hit ‘Don’t Waste My Time’ (OZ#66) featuring vocals from Carol Kenyon. Hardcastle hit the U.K. charts twice more during 1986 with ‘Foolin’ Yourself’ (#51 - featuring Kevin Henry) and ‘The Wizard’ (#15 - adopted as the theme to BBC TV’s ‘Top Of The Pops’). Hardcastle also released the album ‘Zero One’ in late 1985, and released the dance remix ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag’ (UK#73) under the pseudonym of Silent Underdog. He had previously recorded material with the dance project Direct Drive, with two of those tracks coming to light on the U.K. charts during 1985 - ‘Anything?’ (#67) and ‘A.B.C. (Falling In Love’s Not Easy)’ (#75).

In September 1986 it was announced Paul Hardcastle would be part of the line-up behind the Disco Aid charity project, along with the likes of Jaki Graham and Aswad. During the next few years Hardcastle combined his own solo work (‘Sound Syndicate’ album in 1987) with specialising in TV soundtracks, and remixing work for other artists such as Barry White, Johnny Logan and Sinitta.

The 1988 concept album ‘No Winners’ yielded the last two mainstream chart hits for Paul Hardcastle, with ‘Walk The Night’ (UK#54) and ‘40 Years’ (UK#53), but he would continue to be a major player in both dance and jazz fields.

Due to contractual disputes Hardcastle couldn’t release material under his own name for a brief time, so in October 1990 he released the 12 inch single ‘Swing’ under the moniker of The Deff Boyz, released on his newly formed Fast Forward Records label. The single reached #4 on the U.S. Billboard 12” sales chart, also becoming a huge dance hit across Europe. In 1992 he joined forces with singer Jaki Graham again to form the duo Kiss The Sky. They released two albums, a self titled effort in 1992 and ‘Millennium Skyway’ in 1994.

From the mid 90s through to now Hardcastle has maintained a prolific level of artistic output. To surmise briefly, his work and achievements have included - releasing five solo albums titled ‘Hardcastle’ through ‘Hardcastle 5’ (the most recent released in February 2008); releasing five albums under the pseudonym of Jazzmasters, from ‘Jazzmasters’ (1992) to ‘Jazzmasters V’ (2006), regularly topping both British and American jazz charts; voted Billboard’s Best British Contemporary Jazz Artist for 1999; from January 2007 hosting a still running weekly radio show on the Broadcast Architecture Smooth Jazz Network across the U.S.; his single ‘Lucky Star’ spent several weeks atop the British Smooth Jazz charts in early 2008.

At time of writing Paul Hardcastle is due to release a multimedia DVD package in late 2008 titled ‘Journey To Another State Of Mind’. And as if Paul Hardcastle himself wasn’t producing enough material, he now has two children who are making their own mark on the music scene. Daughter Maxine is working on tracks for a forthcoming album, and son Paul Jr. has played on his dad’s jazz oriented albums (playing sax, guitar and keyboards) and at age 16 earned his first ever radio play on Jazztrax.

Far from being a one hit wonder, Paul Hardcastle has forged a phenomenally successful career in contemporary/jazz/dance music spanning over a quarter of a century - with all signs pointing to much more to come.

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