Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 27

I figure most of my readers are taking it easy on this holiday week. So I will slow the pace here a bit, get caught up on some things, and otherwise take advantage of the lazy week.

Chart Week: June 29, 1985
Song: “19” – Paul Hardcastle
Chart Position: #27, 5th week on the chart. Peaked at #15 for two weeks in July.

Wow, it’s been awhile! My around the house music habits have changed a little and I haven’t been listening to as many countdowns as I did over the winter and early spring. I did hear bits of this countdown multiple times over the weekend, as it was both the Sirius and local choice. It was an interesting week, filled with both fantastic and forgettable/regrettable songs.

I was glad I heard this track, though, a song that has always stuck with me and that I don’t think gets nearly enough respect.

For sure it was unlike anything else on the chart that week. Unlike Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F,” which was just ahead at #24, it was not an electronic song built to be a soothing ear worm attached to a major motion picture. “19” was jarring and confrontational. It picked a scab that most Americans still did not want to pick. Even more, anti-war songs weren’t exactly en vogue in 1985, when we were in the heart of the Reagan era of pumping up the military.

Yet it hit. It reached #1 on Hardcastle’s home charts in the UK. While it didn’t peak nearly as high here in the States, I do remember hearing it a lot that summer. At least enough for it to make an impact on me and be a song I sought out when we transitioned to the digital file era.

What made it hit was another rather remarkable element: Hardcastle went beyond mere dancey, synth-pop and incorporated the more electro sound pioneered by legend Afrika Bambaataa. Hardcastle wasn’t mining the clubs of Manchester or Berlin for sounds. He was tapping into the hip hop sounds of New York that were about to reach the boiling point when they could no longer be confined to the “Black” audience of New York. I believe “19” deserves to be placed with songs like “Rapture” and “Genius of Love” on the list of tracks by white artists that helped force hip hop into the mainstream.

So there is that beat from New York. Hardcastle added some bits from his jazz background. And there are those unforgettable spoken lines, some pulled directly from Vietnam-era news broadcasts, that give the track a chilling, personal quality. It is easy to imagine yourself as a father or mother listening to a kitchen radio or gathered around the big, family TV hoping that the latest bulletins from Saigon don’t contain word that the area where your son is deployed has seen heavy fighting in recent days.

Put them all together and it’s a hell of a song.