Friday, November 28, 2008

It's A St-st-stutter Rap

Earlier this year the U.K. band Ben’s Brother scored a hit at home with the catchy pop love song ‘Stuttering (Kiss Me Again)’ (UK#41). It wasn’t the first time that the speech disorder had cropped up in the title of a British chart hit - history does have a habit of repeating itself after all. In 2001 Joe Ft. Mystikal scored a UK#7/OZ#19 hit with ‘Stutter’, and back in the late 80s a trio of British comedians did likewise with a cheeky, and very humorous novelty song called ‘Stutter Rap (No Sleep Til Bedtime)’. Whilst the employment of stuttering by vocalist Jamie Hardman in the Ben’s Brother hit was done so to illustrate a love struck young man overcome by nerves, the artist behind ‘Stutter Rap (No Sleep Til Bedtime)’ utilised the concept of stammering for comic effect. Not very politically correct I know, but it was only one facet of the whole tongue in cheek approach by Morris Minor & The Majors - and it proved very effective.

So who were Morris Minor & The Majors, and just what inspired them to record ‘Stutter Rap (No Sleep Til Bedtime)’? At the heart of the project was comedian, actor and writer Tony Hawks, whose alter ego was Morris Minor. The Majors were credited as Rusty Wing and Phil Errup (puns very much intended), but their real identities became, and remain, a bit of a mystery. By the late 80s the novelty song had become less common on the mainstream charts than at the start of the decade. There were exceptions of course, including The Firm’s ‘Star Trekkin’ (see earlier post) and Alf’s ‘Stuck On Earth’ (bit of an extraterrestrial connection there), but it was rarer to see a comedy based song take off on the charts.

The song ‘Stutter Rap (No Sleep Til Bedtime)’ was an inspired parody of the Beastie (or is it Toastie) Boys hit ‘No Sleep Til Brooklyn’, which featured on the legendary rappers 1987 debut album ‘Licence To Ill’. That album also yielded the worldwide hit ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)’. ‘Stutter Rap’ was produced by one Grand Master Jelly Tot AKA Jakko M. Jakszyk, also a singer/guitarist, who has worked with the likes of Dave Stewart and Sam Brown (see earlier posts). The Morris Minor & The Majors song hit the airwaves in December ‘87 and soon thereafter stammered its way onto the British charts. It was backed by a hilarious promotional video which played on the comical lyrics, pushing the whole geek rapper motif to the hilt, and also featured a cameo from Queen base player John Deacon (wearing a blue wig). ‘Stutter Rap (No Sleep Til Bedtime)’ escaped its own mouse trap to climb all the way to a peak of #4 in the U.K. and soon after b-b-b-b-bulleted to #2 here in Australia. I recall watching the OZ top 50 countdown on the ABC’s Rage every Saturday morning, back at that time, and the first time I saw the video for ‘Stutter Rap’, I hopped it to my local record bar that very morning to nab a copy. The song went on to sell over 220,000 copies around the world, and earned Morris Minor & The Majors the tag of one hit wonder in the U.K., but in Australia the trio were to have one more affair with the charts.

One thing that wasn’t uncommon on the charts during the late 80s, at least in Britain and Australia, were songs emanating from the production houses of Stock, Aitken & Waterman (some may have thought it a plague). Thus Morris Minor & The Majors found the inspiration for their second single ‘This Is The Chorus’, released in mid ‘88. It was a none too subtle jab at what was perceived as the formulaic, assembly line style song writing by the popular production/writing team of Stock, Aitken & Waterman. The accompanying promotional video played on that theme and featured look-alikes of several artists from the Stock, Aitken & Waterman stable, including Rick Astley, Mel & Kim, Bananarama, and Kylie Minogue (who was still a huge ‘Neighbours’ icon at the time). There’s a bit of connection there with ‘Stutter Rap’, which features a brief sampling of the theme tune to ‘Neighbours’ - ah useless trivia, can there ever be too much?. ‘This Is The Chorus’ managed to put the ‘S’ in hit here in Australia, and cloned the success of its source of inspiration by peaking at #27 during September ‘88. Though I was guilty of buying a handful of Stock, Aitken & Waterman brand singles at the time (we all have these momentary lapses of reason), in my defence I also purchased ‘This Is The Chorus’ to support the production team of Schlock, Aching & Wateringcan in their fight against banality in pop music.

‘This Is The Chorus’ represented the last comedic pot shot on the charts from Morris Minor & The Majors, though soon after Tony Hawks transferred the concept to a British TV sitcom called ‘Morris Minor’s Marvellous Motors’. It was written by, and starred, Hawks as a fictional bandleader who tries to balance an aspiring pop career with managing a garage. I’ve never seen an episode so can’t comment on whether it was funny, but it certainly qualifies as bizarre by way of concept. Perhaps the fact that the show only ran for one season provides a clue as to it’s comic merit.

Of course Tony Hawk has gone on to have a great deal of success across a number of professional endeavours, from best selling author, actor, radio personality and still aspiring musician with his latest project called Probably Peru. Being the sci-fi geek that I am, I can recall him from a guest appearance in the Red Dwarf episode ‘Better Than Life’ (plus some voice over roles), but if you live in the U.K. I’m sure you’re a lot more familiar with the comic talents of Tony Hawk. I’d be very interested to know the real names behind The Majors’ characters of Rusty Wing and Phil Errup. If anyone out there has any inkling, please let me know by comment.

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