Saturday, 16 March 2013

Grandmaster and Melle Mel 'White Lines (Don't Don't Do It)'

Chart Peak: 7

YouTube

Originally charted at No. 60 on 15th November 1983. Entered the Top 40 for the first time on 12th June and rose with a bullet to No. 12 by 26th June.
Ironically, I've been too tired to write this entry for a couple of days. But I promise nothing stronger than coffee has contributed to my finishing it.

Here's a really long-running hit. Between this and the aforementioned 'Relax' (which made its Top 75 debut the week after this) it rather seems that people in 1984 liked buying songs that told them not to do things. Or did they? The title phrase "don't don't do it" could of course be read as a double negative or as emphatic, and it's widely believed that the song was originally planned as an endorsement of drug-induced partying rather than the anti-narcotic warning it became in the end. Whatever the truth of that, it seems that there is slightly more to the message than the evils of substances themselves; there's a bit of social comment about racial bias in policing with the reference to businessman caught with large amounts and bailed; this is allegedly a reference to John DeLorean, who was subsequently cleared on the grounds of entrapment. It's also well-known that many of the people involved with this track succumbed to temptations. And so did Grandmaster Flash, who takes no part in the track with the "Grandmaster" credit merely there to mislead the public and associate the track with the success of 'The Message' a couple of years earlier. Perhaps they were trying to convince themselves as much as us.

When I originally heard this at the age of 5 of 6 I couldn't understand the subject matter in anything but the vaguest terms. However, I still remember the song, particularly that distinctive bass line, which I didn't realise at the time was based on 'Cavern' by Liquid Liquid (also the source of the "something like a phenomenon" lyric). Apparently Liquid Liquid never got paid for that either, which makes it hard to resist a "free bass" pun. To be fair, Sugrahill's use of the part is creative and much more directly funky. In both songs the bass is a spine with vocals and other parts seeming to come and go in a way that was pretty unusual for a pop song at the time, perhaps less so now. Coincidentally, the rather disjointed and fractured progress of the arrangement  reminds me of David Bowie's 'Golden Years', another record famously made on cocaine. Even more so than the Bowie track, though, this maintains a constant groove that makes it more easily listenable but also strengthens the creepiness when he says "now I'm having FUN baby". I couldn't resist playing this one through after the Frankie song in the previous post and I can imagine this would have sounded awesome in a club at the time too, but intentionally or not it says something too.

Also appearing on: Now 31 [with Duran Duran]
Available on: The Best Of Grandmaster Flash & Sugar Hill

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