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Classic Tracks: Paul Hardcastle '19'

Producer: Paul Hardcastle | Engineer: Alvin Clark | Released: 1985 By Tom Doyle
Published April 2024

Classic Tracks

Paul Hardcastle’s iconic ‘19’ owes more than a little to serendipity and the limitations of the Emulator II sampler...

A UK number one single in 1985 (and international hit in 16 other countries besides), Paul Hardcastle’s ‘19’ was one of the first records to showcase the sonically manipulative powers of the sampler. With its stuttering “n‑n‑n‑n‑nineteen” hook locked to a rolling electro beat, it drew the listener into a spoken‑word commentary detailing the death toll of teenage American soldiers in the Vietnam War, and spotlighting the PTSD suffered by many of the veterans who returned home.

Hardcastle’s inspirations for ‘19’ included the Roland TR‑808 grooves of Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force’s early ’80s hip‑hop tracks ‘Planet Rock’ and ‘Looking For The Perfect Beat’, and a TV documentary that he recorded one evening on a Betamax video tape, later sampling its narrator, Peter Thomas, as the lead voice on the track.

“I just happened to be looking through the paper and seeing what was on the telly later,” Hardcastle remembers today. “And it said, ‘Vietnam Requiem’, which was the story of the young kids sent to war in Vietnam. Now, I didn’t know nothing about Vietnam. I don’t even know why I recorded it. I just thought, ‘Wow, that’s crazy. I wonder if any of this could be made into a record... telling the story, over music.’”

Recorded using an E‑mu Emulator II sampler and a TEAC half‑inch eight‑track tape machine in the front room of his house in Leytonstone, East London and mixed at Sound Suite Studios in Camden, ‘19’ stayed at the top of the British singles chart for five weeks. Thanks to Hardcastle and his record label Chrysalis releasing remixes of the track during its chart‑topping run (‘The Destruction Mix’, ‘The Final Story’), it staved off stiff competition from Duran Duran, who had to settle for number two with their James Bond theme, ‘A View To A Kill’.

“Duran Duran were most probably the number one band in the world at that particular time,” Hardcastle laughs. “I didn’t have anything against Duran Duran.

“We turned those [remix] records around within days. Chrysalis were very good at that. I was working with a guy there and we would re‑edit the video for Top Of The Pops. You had different videos for it and the record stayed there.”

8 To 19

By the time ‘19’ was released in 1985, London‑born Paul Hardcastle already had a successful recording career up and running. Music was in his blood. Back when he was a kid, his American trumpeter dad, Louis, often invited his son onstage for guest turns at his jazz gigs.

A young Paul Hardcastle on drums with his father, Louis Hardcastle.A young Paul Hardcastle on drums with his father, Louis Hardcastle.

“We used to play a lot of American bases,” Hardcastle recalls. “My dad taught me to play the drums. I was about eight and I wasn’t a great drummer. But someone that could play the drums at that age, it was a novelty. I could also play the guitar. He got me a four‑string guitar and I could play sort of two or three chords on it. In the end, he said he found it hard to get shows without me.”

During his teenage years, Hardcastle’s passion for motorbikes took over, until he suffered a nasty accident. “I had three compound fractures,” he says. “I was in traction for three‑and‑a‑half months.”

His recovery period was to last a full 18 months, during which time Hardcastle swapped a video camera he owned for a Minikorg 700S synth and began dabbling once again with music. “Three or four years before, I used to go down to Macari’s in Charing Cross Road. They always had one, plugged in, and there was a slider on the front called a Traveler. And if you pressed it, it made that whoosh sound. And I thought, ‘Yes! I’m Simon House out of Hawkwind.’ I was a massive Hawkwind fan.”

At home, Hardcastle began teaching himself chords, by overdubbing individually played notes from the monophonic synth using two cassette machines. He then responded to a music paper advert placed by a Brit funk band, Direct Drive, seeking a keyboard player. “I had started listening to club music,” he says, “and I was starting to get OK doing bass synth and little lead lines.

“I joined Direct Drive and then we did a couple of demos. I was able to buy us a little Portastudio, the very first little [Tascam] four‑track on cassette. And we started to be able to make listenable demos, rather than just us live in a basement, which sounded terrible.”

Hardcastle’s first experience of a professional studio, a 16‑track named First Light in Penge, South London, was an eye‑opener — particularly when it came to the mixing stage. “We had tried to mix, but every single fader was at the top,” he laughs. “Everyone wanted to be heard more.

“In the end, the engineer saw we were really out of our depth. And he said, ‘Look, why don’t you just let me basically get some decent levels for you? And come back in a couple of hours?’ We came back and we were like, ‘Bloody hell, that sounds good!’ So that was, I guess, the first insight into knowing what a producer would do.”

In 1982, after two singles with Direct Drive, Hardcastle and the band’s singer Derek Green broke off to form a duo. Appropriating the First Light name for their new band, they released their self‑titled debut album the following year and a second album, Daybreak, in ’84.

When the pair split not long after, Hardcastle embarked upon a solo career with a cover version of New York electronic funk duo D Train’s ‘You’re The One For Me’ — a record that had blown his mind when he heard it in a club. “I remember hearing that record,” he says, “and thinking, ‘What the hell?’”

Following a similar synth‑funk path, Hardcastle’s breakthrough as a solo artist came in 1984, with his fifth single, ‘Rain Forest’, which reached number two in the US Dance chart, selling more than half a million 12‑inch singles. Back in London, this caught the attention of a young Chrysalis Publishing A&R man, Simon Fuller, who invited Hardcastle to come in for a meeting to let him and his colleagues hear any other material he’d been working on.

One of the tracks Hardcastle played them was an early version of ‘19’. It baffled the Chrysalis personnel, but so enthused Fuller that he offered to quit his job to manage Hardcastle. “I said to Simon, ‘What does...

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