Paul Hardcastle – 19
Only one song managed to reach the top of the charts with the title consisting exclusively of a number: 19 by Paul Hardcastle. And this title should be written with the number, not in letters. After being a successful keyboardist for various artists and groups in the early 80s, Paul Hardcastle decided to start his own career and focus on disco music, achieving good success in the dance charts. Of course, this type of sounds made him familiar with samplers and synthesizers, although those instruments were still in their early days.
In 1984, in Paul’s life, the classic unexpected event happened, so that nothing would be like before. One evening, Paul watched a documentary about Vietnam, called “Vietnam Requiem.” He was struck by meny elements of the story, but one above all: the authors emphasized that, compared to World War II, Vietnam was a war without rules where lots of young people died without NY fault or experience. In particular, as the lyrics say, the average age of the combat soldiers in World War II was twenty-six. In Vietnam, it was nineteen. Some argued that the average age of the fighters was actually higher and not so far from that of World War II, but it does not matter.
Legend says that Paul started comparing his nineteen years, probably made of music, pubs and discos, being musician based in London, with the nineteen years of the boys fighting in Vietnam, told through the documentary words.
Impressed by the narration, Paul decided to record, the first documentary song in history. Paul doesn’t sing, in his most famous song. There are vocalists for some verses, but everything else is just samples of the documentary’s narrator, or news clips from the documentary itself. 19 was released on February 12, 1985, paving the way for Paul’s first album, which was titled “Paul Hardcastle”.
It must be said that the album, in addition to some instrumental disco and lounge hits, included also some songs that deserve to be mentioned, such as Don’t waste my time, with the voice of the great Carol Kenyon, who also sung in Temptation by Heaven 17, or Just for money, with the voice of Sir Lawrence Olivier telling the story of the great Valentine’s Day robbery on the Glasgow-London Royal Mail train, the same story that Phil Collins will tell in the movie “Buster”, and in his songs A groovy kind of love and Two hearts.
And so the text of 19 becomes itself a war news report, with the fighting of the last two weeks continuing 25 miles northwest of Saigon, or with the count of the fallen, and the enemy losing a total of 2689 soldiers in all of South Vietnam.
The narrator’s voice tells us about post-traumatic stress disorder, and we learn that even survivors actually often bear the consequences of the horror they experienced, and many succumb to suicidal thoughts, unable to believe that the war is really over, or destroyed by guilt over the atrocities they had to commit. And we’re told about almost eight hundred thousand men still fighting their Vietnam War.
Paul Hardcastle’s masterpiece was controversial; I remember that some radio stations, probably in the United States, boycotted the song because it would convey a negative image of the United States of America. Hardcastle has always denied this intention, bringing as evidence the many appreciations received from American veterans, who saw themselves recognized as a role through the narration of the song. Recognition that they didn’t get before, if it is true that, as the text of the documentary says, none of them received a hero’s welcome.
However, it is a fact that, despite Paul Hardcastle’s expectations, 19 became a resounding success. Some of the credit certainly also went to the absolutely irresistible pace of Paul’s sampling, for the first time used so extensively despite still being quite limited from a technological perspective. The stuttering effect on the title and on other words such as “destruction” and “Saigon” became the song’s real refrain. Success was so great and quick that producers had to quickly create a video.
There was a problem, though: no band or singer would be able to sing in the video, given the particular nature of the composition. And so Paul had another great idea: he directly inserted the documentary footage into the video, with just a minimum editing and little more. The producers also had to pay rights to the narrator, after an absolutely unprecedented cause due to the technological nature of Paul’s work.
As a good producer and mixer of his own song, Paul created several versions (all in the same style but with partly different samples), and in addition to the English versions he also created the versions commented in German, French, Spanish and Japanese. And in fact 19 became a hit in almost the whole world.
After so many years, 19 has remained absolutely in the heart and also in the imagination of us dinosaurs, both as a voice against the horror of war, and as the irresistible song that launched Paul Hardcastle among the absolute protagonists of the 80s.
Paul Hardcastle on Wikipedia