THE LIST (CONTINUED)
11) Merrilyn Fox – “For Ladies Only” (Belgium 1983)
When I first began to wonder about the proliferation of the rapping technique in ’80s pop, I could cite only few examples – Blondie‘s “Rapture”, Pet Shop Boys‘ “West End Girls”, a couple I vaguely remembered, some that I only knew by name, and a few German tunes I actually wasn’t too sure about if what they offered would qualify as rap. And then, to my utter surprise, I came across a whole bunch of tracks featuring raps that had occurred outside of the only slowly expanding hip-hop/rap universe. Per-Erik Hallin‘s “The Glorious Outfit”. Lavvi Ebbel‘s “Give Me a Gun”. Wham!‘s “Young Guns (Go For It!)”. STOP‘s “Kool Katt”. Bow Wow Wow‘s “C·30 C·60 C·90 Go”. I had no idea such songs existed. I had no idea such rap songs existed.
Add Merrilyn Fox‘ “For Ladies Only” to that list. In it, the presumably Flemish Miss Fox enthusiastically promotes a nightclub that accomodates ladies only. Consider it a sisterhood version of Kool and the Gang‘s “Ladies’ Night”, where the girls really have the night to themselves. “You can take your mom and your sister, too / I mean, they’re ladies as much as you”, raps Merrilyn, sort of defusing speculations about a purely lesbian theme. She launched the song again a year later under the name La Fox (which for some reason made me think of new-millennium new-romancers La Roux), but like so many a pop-rapping pioneer didn’t get far with either rapping or singing.
12) Claudia Valenza – “Qu’Est-Ce Que Je Fais Là” (Belgium 1985)
This young lady is quite open about the fact that her parents are away, that she’s bored and at the same time overcome by strange new sensations. If it wasn’t so suggestive, it could almost be a scene from the 1980 French coming-of-age dramedy ‘La Boum’ with Sophie Marceau (or maybe the sequel). But despite “Qu’Est-Ce Que Je Fais Là” (‘What Am I Doing’) playing out as a daydream, this isn’t Richard Sanderson‘s soft rock smash “Dreams Are My Reality” (‘La Boum’s successful theme song) as the otherwise incognito Claudia Valenza discovers the sensual power of… rapping.
13) Plastic Bertrand – Stop Ou Encore” (Belgium 1980)
In francophone pop, few one-hit wonders have the notoriety of Plastic Bertrand‘s “Ça Plane Pour Moi”. Released in 1977, this infectious pastiche of punk and surf rock was a pop hit pulled out of the new-wave hat. Much later it turned out that the vocals weren’t performed by the firecracker character Plastic Bertrand (a sort of John Lydon parody but with bedroom eyes) but the song’s producer. Nevertheless the Bruxelles-born artist turned the accidental success of “Ça Plane Pour Moi” into a career. He wasn’t a singer at all, so he underlined the fun aspect of his music with bratty ’60s, bordering-on-cartoonish vocals. His completely miscellaneous output full of musical references didn’t spare rap.
The sole track to feature rapping on his third LP, “Stop Ou Encore”, is surprisingly well conceived. The title refers to a game mechanic that in English would be called ‘Press Your Luck’. Plastic imagines himself at different stages in his life and where his choices will lead him. The performance may come across comical, but the lyrics make sense and Plastic Bertrand nails the philosophical undertone. French rap fans may forgive me for sensing slight performatory similarities to Stomy Bugsy or Doc Gynéco.
The song made an unexptected appearance – in the middle of the desert, to boot – in the ’99 movie ‘Three Kings’ starring Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg and George Clooney. A sensual funk jam (if you ignore the male vocals), it must have had at least some circulation. It was actually released in the USA in ’82, there seems to exist an edit by Chicago house pioneeer Ron Hardy, and one version of the song re-uses the opening break from Kurtis Blow‘s “Christmas Rappin'”.
14) Danny Boy – “Repper de Klep” (The Netherlands 1980)
An unlikely crossover happened in 1979 when music industry veteran, Latin soul pioneer and Salsoul co-founder Joe Bataan recorded “Rap-O Clap-O” inspired by what he witnessed in his uptown New York neighborhood and the song (distributed by RCA) rose up the Dutch and Belgian charts all the way to number 3 and number 1, respectively. Next thing you know, a 13-year-old records a Dutch version of the song (also for RCA) with the help of his father, a Dutch pop singer-turned-producer.
In short – an adult American with connections in the music biz imitates hip-hop kids and is in turn imitated by a European kid with connections in the music biz. Pop Music 101.
15) Waterlanders – “Iedereen Doet (Wat Ie Moet)” (Belgium 1982)
Luk de Koninck and Hilde Van Mieghem, two Belgian actors, stage a Flemish version of “Chacun Fait (C’Qui Lui Plaît)” (’81) by Chagrin D’Amour, the most famous (but not the first) song to adopt the new rap trend for the French language. Therefore, this early song with raps in Dutch is immediately influenced by an early song with raps in French, rather than by the first original rap tracks that arrived from overseas. Never understimate how fast musical influences can branch off from the point of origin.
16) De Neus – “10 Tegen 1 Dat Hij Jansen Heet” (The Netherlands 1983)
From the country where right-wing populism has stirred up politics for twenty years now, “10 Tegen 1 Dat Hij Jansen Heet” (’10 to 1 That His Name Is Jansen’) represents an early musical antidote. A sarcastic rap track by Dutch rock band De Neus upends the all too familiar scapegoating of minorities and decides to blame the Jansens for everything because Jansen – in combination with Janssen – being the most common Dutch last name (Johnson in English), there’s always a chance that somebody named Jansen or Janssen did it.
17) Max ‘n Specs – “Don’t Come Stoned and Don’t Tell Trude!” (The Netherlands 1980)
In rap, we can appreciate ambitious song concepts – as long as we get them. Songwriters still would do well to heed a little thing called format. Which we might describe as a logical structure that has evolved over time. Depending on genres, various formats exist. Such preexisting formats can be one aspect that bothers people about pop music but they do serve certain purposes.
“Don’t Come Stoned and Don’t Tell Trude!” sounds like ripped from a musical, and while smashing songs can come out of musicals (we featured one in the last installment of Early Sightings of Rap in 1980s Pop), this one’s just too episodic despite its 8 minutes running time in the unabridged version. Two small-time crooks discuss a job while reminding themselves not to let a woman called Trude in on it. But where’s the backstory? What happens next? Why shouldn’t Trude know about it?
Max ‘n Specs (whose members also played in bands such as American Gypsy and Robinson Cruiser) continued to ride their little crime wave the follwoing year with – the sung – blaxploitation homage “Han’s Up! (Street Junglecats)”, which cast them as streetwise hustlers ready to take over the music industry. With lyrics like “To deal with us you better have eyes in your back / cause we are (steet junglecats) / We’ll make a bundle with those 24 tracks / cause we are (street junglecats)”, “Han’s Up!” is actually a lot closer to the world of rap than “Don’t Come Stoned and Don’t Tell Trude!”, especially in spirit.
18) The Star Sisters featuring Grandmaster O. Exciter [Adam Curry] – “Are You Ready For My Love (The Rap Mix)” (The Netherlands 1986)
Stars on 45 was a briefly but hugely popular Dutch project overseen by Jaap Eggermont who produced a number of disco medleys with re-recorded pop hits. The first one topped the Billboard charts on June 20th 1981 and sold more than a million copies in the US alone. Recordings focusing on single artists would follow, including a tribute to The Andrews Sisters in ’83 by three ladies under the name The Star Sisters. The trio spun off from Stars on 45 with three albums, soon adjusting their styling to the present and singing original material. Overall, however, still very much facing the promised land of pop culture, the US of A. Their second to last single (without accompanying album) was “Are You Ready For My Love”, which also came with a ‘Rap Mix’.
The credited rapper Grandmaster O. Exciter is for once not some accidental anonymous stand-in. The short rap is performed by a certain Adam Curry, at the time radio and TV presenter in Holland and husband of Star Singers lead Patricia Paay. Mr. Curry eventually went to work for MTV overseas, where he was a key figure in getting MTV online in the early ’90s. He’s also an oft-cited podcast pioneer who early on was looking for ways to make the format profitable.
19) Luna Twist – “African Time” (Belgium 1982)
The earlier ’80s were probably the last time white Westerners could get away with talking about ‘Africa’ as if they were describing a dusty diorama. The pop charts were not spared from the stereotyping, Toto‘s “Africa” and Rose Laurens‘ “Africa (Voodoo Master)” charting high in European countries in ’82 and ’83, while Band Aid‘s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (’84), for all its good intentions, is often cited as one of the most misguided pop songs ever.
Belgian band Luna Twist‘s “African Time” has a much lower profile and its proposition is less transparent. Like a previous entry in this list, the original clip for this song features blackfacing as a reference to the 1920s, which, as bizarre as it is, may be explained with the use of irony in intellectual art, but is also a clear hint at the problematic lack of context American black music typically came upon when it arrived in Europe. Danish DJ Universe, referring to late ’70s/early ’80s funk, disco, boogie and rap, notes that his country’s musicians didn’t take these genres seriously enough, concluding that ‘Danish music imitating trends from the other side of the pond often balanced on the line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation.’ There’s a good chance things weren’t much different in other countries.
“African Time” doesn’t want to be a rap track, but it does feature rap-like vocals from a group that normally sang. It appears to mock the social life taking place over the weekend where “you got to be hip, cooler than your friend” and “shake to the rhythm of the latest beat in the neon heat”. The “African time… ticking around… deep in your heart” seems to be some kind of counterpoint – or not – to the superficial nightlife. Either way the contrast between the rapped and the sung vocals works well, and it’s a pity that this fine specimen of local phenomenon Belpop didn’t hit like certain other Western pop songs relating to the African continent did.
20) T.C. Matic – “Putain Putain” (Belgium 1983)
Russia’s current longtime autocrat is known as Vladimir Poutine in French. Technicalities aside concerning translations from the Cyrillic to the Roman alphabet, if the French would try to pronounce ‘Putin’, it would sound an awful lot like ‘putain’, which happens to be the most common curse word in France. ‘Putain’ (a dated term for ‘prostitute’) today is an expletitive that is used in all kinds of situations. Even though the translation to English usually goes for a stronger word, in T.C. Matic‘s “Putain Putain” it might be equivalent to ‘damn’.
“Putain Putain” is a surreal, sarcastic tune from one of the major acts of Belpop, a description for Belgian pop originating in the first half of the ’80s. It contains profanity, a plea for European unity, dick jokes, bisexual advances and lyrics in three languages. T.C. Matic singer Arno often shouted in the manner above. Going solo in ’86, he is a national treasure. He has been described as the ‘Belgian Tom Waits‘, ‘indestructible’ and a ‘monument of the Flemish accent’ (when he sings/speaks French). He’s a pop anarchist at heart, in ’84 recording the lines “A song for the rappers, a song for the wankers” (he considered “headbangers”, “handclappers” and “crappers” as well), an indication of the punk subversiveness present in his songwriting. Fun fact: when Marvin Gaye spent eighteen months in Ostend between ’81 and ’82, where he wrote “Sexual Healing”, Arno, who had been working as a sous-chef at a seafront restaurant, regularly cooked for the soul legend.