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Interview: Stephen Duffy talks Duran Duran, Lilac Time, Robbie Williams



Stephen Duffy Duran DuranStephen Duffy zoomed into the orbit of Duran Duran in their formative years and again in 2002 as the Devils with Nick Rhodes – the resurrection of the Duran album that never was. Plot the track of The Hawks, Tin Tin, The Lilac Time and his collaboration with Robbie Williams and you can discern the trajectory of a songwriter who has always stuck with what feels right…  By Ian Peel

Nearly four decades ago – on 23 June 1983, to be precise – Smash Hits ran its first-ever mention of Stephen Duffy. It was nothing more than a tiny news piece but it said a lot in just a few words and set the tone, and set the ball rolling, for a life in pop that has never stopped evolving.

“Tin Tin, the duo which includes former Duran Duran member Stephen Duffy,” it read, “release a new single this week entitled Hold It. They’ve also formed a production company called Dugro Ents for young people who ‘despise traditional music biz values’. Sounds like a long way from Duran Duran…”

Duran Duran, Tin Tin, The Lilac Time, Me Me Me, The Devils, Dr Calculus… Stephen Duffy’s career in forming groups is almost as illustrious as his solo work, and yet he’s been off the grid since writing and touring Robbie William’s Intensive Care album and 2009’s extensive compilation, Memory & Desire – 30 Years In The Wilderness.

“I now live in Cornwall with my family,” Duffy told Classic Pop in 2014. “We didn’t mean to… it was a spur of the moment thing. Or it could be a witness protection programme I’ve forgotten about.”

Stephen Duffy was born in 1960, making him the same age as John Taylor. He collided with John – then, of course, Nigel – during their first year at Birmingham Art College, and Duran Duran Mk1 was promptly formed with the addition of John’s old friend Nick Rhodes (two years younger than either of them) plus another friend, Simon Colley.

The quartet’s anti-rock-establishment ethos was obvious from their chosen instrumentation: though Taylor played guitar, Colley supplied the left-field choice of woodwind, Rhodes twiddled the knobs on a small yellow-and-black monophonic Wasp synthesiser, and Duffy, resplendent in tight leather trousers, reluctantly took over the singer’s microphone while brandishing an unnecessarily difficult-to-play fretless bass, purchased – he later admitted – because he didn’t know what basses were supposed to look like. 

One thing Stephen Duffy did know was that his new friends seemed absolutely driven to succeed.

“I had never met people with such ambition before,” he informed VH1 many years later. “They wanted to be famous – I was the lead singer, shrieking in a sort of effeminate manner…” 

Stephen Duffy Duran DuranWhen you were at Birmingham Art College with Nick and John, had you already decided on a career in music? What else was going on at the time?

I went to the same careers office as Jeff Lynne, but about a dozen or so years later. My uncle’s band Bobby Valentine And The Valets became Carl Wayne And The Vikings. Before that, my grandfather played drums in big bands in Birmingham. We all played the same venues: the Crown, the Golden Eagle. I had to leave, to go further. Sign to Sire, play at Danceteria instead.

I saw Dexys Midnight Runners before they’d decided on the donkey jacket and woolly hat look. Only one looked like that – there was also a fisherman complete with nets, a pirate, and a 19th century watercolorist. I made up the last one as I can’t bring the picture into focus… it was very good, though. Kevin [Rowland] had Tannoy announcements from a railway station played between the songs. Everyone was out and about – The Beat, The Coventry Automatics who became The Specials, the UB’s – but the best two who no one ever mentions were The Au Pairs and The Nightingales.

With the Dark Circles album in 2002 it was fascinating to hear how Duran Duran might have sounded, had history been just a little different…

All of the music we did as The Devils was the stuff that John, Nick and I got together for the first Duran shows, those three or four gigs. The newer numbers were taken from material that I made at the time that I kept editing. I’d carried this desk around for years – it had gone in and out of storage – and every time I got it out of storage I’d open the drawer and there would be this cassette: on one side there was a Duran rehearsal and on the other side there was the first Duran gig at Birmingham Art College. And then I just happened to be at a Vivienne Westwood event and I saw Nick for the first time in 20 or so years. I went up to him and said “Nick…” and just he looked up at me and said “Why did you leave?”

Unfortunately at that point John was sort of divorced from the group. That would have been great, if it had been the three of us who started the band. But there’s still time. The 40th anniversary is coming up in 2018, so I’m keeping the year free, because obviously it’s what everyone’s waiting for! 

The Devils was very strange because obviously we’d led such different lives, but we just slotted back – it’s as if we were brothers or something. You could never imagine Nick with a pedal steel guitar, but we had such a load of fun getting that old gear together. We pretended that the last record that had come out was Remain In Light by Talking Heads, we pretended it was 1979. We didn’t use any kind of equipment that wasn’t around then.

Let’s talk a little about The Lilac Time. Though it started as a DIY project, the band soon got picked up by a major label…

The strange thing with The Lilac Time was we kept on being sent to America, which was lovely, but I don’t think the Americans really wanted us. Now when you look back at amazing tours in little vans with no spare guitars, no roadies, just with a driver… we went all through California, absolutely wonderful life experiences. I just wanted to carry on making records like the first one but we were encouraged to Americanise the sound towards drive-time FM radio. But we weren’t really thinking about making records for commuters in cars. More like commuters on penny-farthings.

You can hear all this play out on the third Lilac Time album – 1990’s All For Love & Love For All – with Andy Partridge producing.

At that point, XTC were very big in the States. Their Skylarking album was the beginning of that college rock thing. It was a bright idea, and Andy was brought in to toughen it up, but the great gift he gave us was [engineer] John Leckie, and we got on so well that he finished up the album. If only we could have carried that into the next album… only John understood what we were up to. He also had an amazing wealth of stories about Paul McCartney, The Plastic Ono Band, Simple Minds and The Fall.

Read more: Stephem Duffy talks Dr Calculus

Read more: Top 40 Duran Duran songs

Stephen Duffy
Stephen Duffy, 1980s

How did it feel to re-enter modern pop with Robbie Williams… and how did it feel to leave again?

Going into it was easy because I’d just done The Devils, so I was using a lot of those techniques with Rob: the idea that there’s no point on working on something that you then have to fix; capturing moments of exuberance when you’re writing a song and you don’t know where it’s going. It was amazing to get back into these big old studios, like A&M, and to see the end of that era. 

They phoned up when the record came out and said it had sold a million copies in a day, and I thought “My God, obviously I’m never going to experience this again”. 

Then later I thought, well, I don’t think anybody will experience that again… sadly, not people like me who’ve come through the singer-songwriter path. 

It eventually sold eight million copies or something. But when I left I went right back to being the Kiss Me bloke who left Duran Duran – as they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. It didn’t fit my story, or Rob’s either. It was as if it never happened. 

But being part of that big machinery made me realise I had made the right decision by not being in the Durans. I was happier in a little van going around the US with no roadies in The Lilac Time. Obviously, I was a hopeless pop star – it only lasted about 15 seconds for me. I enjoyed my first seven albums – The Ups And Downs to Astronauts – but it’s the eight after that which I feel closest to and the happiest with. 

But I know, to most people, I made one single. And however thankful I am to that record, I’m glad I don’t have to sing it every night to make a living. So that period did answer a lot of questions. I realised I had made all the right decisions: swimming against the tide was easier than going with the flow. 

Read more: Stephen Duffy 2019 interview



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Rick Astley – Whenever You Need Somebody review



Celebrating 35 years since the teaboy from Newton-le-Willows went global, at this remove it’s bizarre that Rick Astley was ever doubted. Sure, the perennial patronising of working class northerners in pop helped make Astley’s background seem unlikely for a superstar but, as soon as he sang, it was obvious there was a major talent ready to burst forth. In Astley, SAW had a gift for bringing their pop to life. Sure enough, Never Gonna Give You Up packed about 306 hooks around Astley’s boom, with Whenever You Need Somebody and Together Forever just as factory ready for eternal chart dominance.

However, the production trio didn’t get to be so successful without knowing when to ease up on the froth when necessary. Aware that Astley’s voice was composed enough not to need trickery, it’s great to hear a more soulful, relaxed backing let Rick tell the story in The Love Has Gone and the easy bounce of No More Looking For Love. Only the clunky office drama You Move Me really shows its age, sounding like it was written by someone who’s never been a wage slave in their life. 

Far more than just its singles, Whenever You Need Somebody is one of the great SAW albums. Following its vinyl reissue, the 2CD edition adds a host of B-sides and remixes. It’s maddening that the digital edition adds an extra four tracks, especially when even that doesn’t account for all the PWL remixes from its original singles. A 3CD set was needed, but at least the many mixes that make it, like Phil Harding’s mighty 12″ of Never Gonna Give You Up and Pete Hammond’s House Of Love mix of Together Forever, show PWL’s affinity with early rave. Astley has long enjoyed the last laugh. Here’s why he should have been smiling all along. 


Read more: Making Rick Astley’s Whenever You Need Somebody


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Space is the place – Marti Pellow interviewed



In 2021, Marti Pellow was a man on a mission – and even a global pandemic wasn’t enough to stop him recording an ambitious double album inspired by a diverse cast of musical heroes. Here the former Wet Wet Wet frontman tells Classic Pop about looking to the future – and letting go of the past.

“Freaks are born to rule the world,” isn’t the sort of line you’d normally expect to hear being sung by Marti Pellow, whose trademark grin and unpretentious brand of blue-eyed soul-pop have always marked him out as a relatably ordinary kind of superstar.

But the former Wet Wet Wet frontman’s new album, Stargazer, finds him channelling everything from David Bowie’s alien freakoid DNA to Ray Davies’ vaudeville pop – via Curtis Mayfield, Marc Bolan and Harry Nilsson – in a persuasive homage to his lifelong musical heroes.

“I’m wearing my influences on my sleeve, unapologetically so,” says Marti, who’s on typically Tiggerish form as he Zoom calls Classic Pop from his impressively well-appointed man cave (complete with actual four-poster bed) in Windsor.

“The day you first realise you’re going to be a musician, it invades you, it discombobulates you, it rattles you up internally,” he adds of the sounds and visions that fired his youthful imagination. “I can remember watching Ziggy Stardust on TV, or watching The Old Grey Whistle Test, and thinking, ‘This is incredible. This is what I want to do.’”

Nearly half a century after Ziggy played guitar, the instrument proved to have a decisive impact on Marti’s 12th solo record – his first since signing a new deal with BMG. “I usually write on the piano, so picking up the guitar was a real revelation,” he says. 

“Because I’m not exactly one of the best guitarists in the world, it makes me explore things differently. I was also listening to a lot of Bowie and The Kinks, and that all changed the soundscape of the record. In a way, it was about me connecting with the songs as a dreamer.” Hence the stargazing.

Clocking in at over an hour, the double album was recorded over two socially distanced four-day sessions in Monnow Valley in south Wales. With producer Andrew Scheps – whose engineering credits include U2, Metallica, Beyoncé, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Adele – at the helm, every track was captured in two or three mostly live ‘stream-of-consciousness’ takes.

New York Angel – the song in which he sings of freaks being born to greatness – is one of several cuts on the album to tip its hat to the Thin White Duke, and is performed with an appropriately Bowie-ish drawl. 

“It’s not meant as a pastiche, but it’s fun to discover that timbre of my voice,” says Marti, citing Anthony Newley as another inspiration. “I’m lucky to have been afforded the luxury of many different guises,” he adds, pointing to his successful 20-year side hustle as a musical theatre star, taking lead roles in the likes of Chicago, Evita and Chess. “I understand that thing of putting on different guises to explore characters.”

Would Marti consider himself a music geek, in the Nick Hornby sense? “I’ve always been a collector,” he says. “Waiting in record shop queues with my fellow geeks was how I would get my information. Some of them would be making fanzines – this was Glasgow, during the whole Postcard Records era. I loved all that underground thing.”

Despite being named after a Scritti Politti lyric, Wet Wet Wet – which Marti formed in 1982 with former Clydebank High School friends Tommy Cunningham, Neil Mitchell and Graeme Clark – famously eschewed Glasgow’s thriving post-punk scene in favour of a sound inspired by the likes of Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye. “But our background was actually very alternative,” explains Marti.

“We’d go watch Magazine or The Fall or The Slits, and then maybe catch a John Cooper Clarke or a Linton Kwesi Johnson poetry reading. We were discovering this whole musical landscape that was available to us, not just soul music. 

“When I sang, though, this sound came out that had been inspired by my parents’ record collection – Al Green, Carla Thomas, Ann Peebles. That was the music that, around 15, 16, I really gravitated towards. My apprenticeship started with those singers and those writers – once I heard Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions and The Isley Brothers’ 3+3, I knew what clothes I wanted to wear.”

Stargazer finds the 56-year-old casting back to those formative years on songs like Teenage Rebel, a T-Rex-riffing glam stomper he describes as “the most Clydebank track on the album”. But it’s far from a nostalgic reverie. “For me, it’s an angry song,” he says. 

“A lot of my father’s friends were unemployed, the shipyards were getting padlocked shut. 

“I remember coming out of school and walking the streets, thinking: ‘What am I going to do? Is music going to be my vocation?’ There was a real fear of the unknown. There’s a line in the song about ‘a schoolyard matador’, and there was definitely a behind-the-bike-shed sort of bravado, a kind of ‘well, fuck you’. But it was also a time of uncertainty. There was a spike and there was a coldness in the air that was brought on by Thatcherism and all that sort of stuff.”

The young Mark McLachlan (Marti was a school nickname, and Pellow his mother’s maiden name) was training to be a painter and decorator when he suddenly announced his intention to become a pop star instead. His dad wasn’t convinced.

“I know why my father would be hesitant,” says Marti. “Because he knew a man who could possibly get me into the shipyards, he knew a man who could get me onto a building site – but he didn’t know a man who could get me on Top Of The Pops. So there was a fear, there was an element of, ‘I don’t really know how I can help my boy here, the way my father helped me.’”

Fortunately, Marti didn’t need connections, having been blessed with both a golden voice and an unshakable self-belief. “Youth and arrogance is a heady combination,” he laughs. “But I knew that it was going to happen. In my head, it was non-negotiable.

“Very quickly I saw people chipping away at their dreams. A friend would say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be an actor’. But they ended up as a butcher. They didn’t fulfil the journey that was in them, because real life came knocking on the door. But I kind of rode it out.”

Marti Pellow
Marti Pellow, 2021

When success came, it came big: a brace of hit singles – including Wishing I Was Lucky, Sweet Little Mystery and Angel Eyes – earned Wet Wet Wet a BRIT Award for Best Newcomer, and their 1987 debut album, Popped In Souled Out, was only held off the top spot by Michael Jackson’s Bad.

For follow-up The Memphis Sessions, Marti and Graeme Clark made a pilgrimage to Tennessee to persuade one of their idols, American producer and bandleader Willie Mitchell, to work with them: legend has it Bobby Womack opened the door to them and told Mitchell ‘a couple of white kids’ were here to see him.

Just when it seemed like their progress might be faltering, the Wets scored a huge hit single with Goodnight Girl, which spent four weeks at No.1 in 1992; two years later, they recorded their ubiquitous cover of The Troggs’ Love Is All Around, from the soundtrack to Four Weddings And A Funeral, which took up residence at the top of the UK charts for a colossal 15 weeks, before the band got fed up and deleted it.

They sold over 15 million records, and enjoyed a jet-set lifestyle to match. But by the late 90s, the Wets were disintegrating and, behind the boyish, clean-cut image, Marti was battling an inexorable slide into alcoholism and heroin addiction, which culminated in an overdose in a Chelsea hotel.

Though it was undoubtedly a large contributory factor, he’s reluctant to pin all the blame on the pressures of fame. “I always think I would have been what I would have been,” he says. “I knew as soon as I had my first drink that I loved it, because it made me feel different. Just as I loved the feeling when I was on stage and playing music and connecting to an audience.

“It’s all or nothing with me – if I’m going to do a thing, then I’m all about that. I think that’s in my nature, whether that happened to be my music, my addiction, my love for my woman [he’s been with partner Eileen Catterson, a former Miss Scotland, for more than 20 years], my family…. It’s like, yeah, I’m going for this.”

While the rock’n’roll highway is littered with such casualties, Marti set about getting clean with his usual focus and determination, and never looked back. “I worked hard at getting clean and sober,” he says. “And that’s one thing that I’m so proud of, having those 20-odd years clean, without a drink and a drug. Every day I go, check, check…”

After a seven-year hiatus, Wet Wet Wet reformed in 2004 – a reconciliation partly cemented at Marti’s mother’s funeral – and continued as a going concern for another 13 years, alongside Marti’s solo and musical careers. In 2017, though, the tension between those competing demands finally snapped, and Marti quit the band, seemingly for good. How are relations between them today?

“I don’t talk to them,” he says, matter-of-factly. “We don’t really talk to each other. That’s just the way it is.”

These are friends he’s known since school, though. That must be tough?

“Just by saying that statement there, you know… you can interpret it yourself. I think we’ll just leave it at that,” he says. 

Marti Pellow and Wet Wet Wet

Later, though, he returns to the theme. “Closing that chapter with Wet Wet Wet, and going away and being able to do what I wanted to do as a solo artist, that’s been very important to me. This is an album I couldn’t have done with Wet Wet Wet. But it was living inside me, and I think it’s important that I go and explore that. And so that’s why, if I think about Wet Wet Wet and stuff like that, I always think: it’s a shame the way it ended, you know.

“I wanted to embrace my solo career and they couldn’t really get on board with that. When I chose to take my foot off the pedal with that to focus on writing my music or going and doing musical theatre, it just wasn’t acceptable to them.”

In June, Wet Wet Wet will release The Journey, their first new studio album in 14 years – and the first with their new frontman, former Liberty X singer and The Voice winner Kevin Simm. Is Marti happy for the band to roll on
without him?

“Well… I’m doing what I’m doing and they’re doing what they’re doing,” he says, cautiously. “I said, ‘Hey, I don’t want that to happen…’ But then it was all kind of lawyers and stuff like that, so you just go, ‘Well, I’ll park it up’. Move on. So I moved on.

“Wet Wet Wet is part of my make-up,” he adds. “I’m extremely proud of that wonderful back catalogue of songs and I continue to sing those songs today. It’s part of my DNA. But when it was opened up to me that I could write with other people, that I could go out and dance with other people, that was a great revelation to me.”

Marti Pellow and Wet Wet Wet
Marti Pellow (third from right) in Wet Wet Wet

For an illustration of a man enjoying his freedom to cut loose, look no further than the strutting, Curtis Mayfield swagger of new song Urban Alligator, or Black Horse – an infectious 11-minute funk workout that covers an entire side of Stargazer’s vinyl edition.

“The night before we recorded it, me and the band sat up shooting the breeze and listening to a lot of music,” says Marti. ”I may also have supplied a few bottles of nice whisky I’d been saving for the occasion – for them, not me,” he clarifies. “The next morning, they all showed up a wee bit kind of rough, and we just decided to groove. And that’s when we cut Black Horse.”

Elsewhere on the record, Marti indulges his love of 70s West Coast rock with the ballad Don’t Be Scared, featuring a beautiful string arrangement by David Campbell (father of Beck). Lyrically, the song tells the story of a man who’s lived his whole life without love – but is promised by an angel all that will change in the great beyond. Would Marti describe himself as a spiritual person?

“Well, I don’t know…” he reflects. “I don’t see God as a guy in a big chair. But there has to be something more, for me. Do I believe that I’ll walk with my mum and dad again? Yes, I do believe all that, that’s non-negotiable. I just hope that the next time I meet my father we’re not arguing! ‘Get a real job!’” he laughs. “I love those thoughts, and Don’t Be Scared is about not being scared to go there and explore that.”

Four decades after defying his father by refusing to get a real job, Marti finds himself in a good place. When not making the album, he’s spent the past year “brushing up on my baking and cooking skills”, and keeping in touch with fans via his Lockdown Sessions, whose mix of music and chat – recorded in his spare bedroom – have racked up more than 12 million views. Now, though, he’s straining at the leash to get out and show the world his latest face.

“The engine’s running and I’ve got my foot on the pedal,” he says. “As soon as it’s safe to get out on tour, we’ll be jumping on it. I’ve got a new record, a new record company, there’s a great buzz. I’m definitely navigating these strange times with a smile on my face.”

From someone like Marti Pellow, would we really expect anything less? 

Read more: Soft Cell interview

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“The greatest period in hip-hop was the time before recorded rap” – Run-DMC interview



Run-DMCRun-DMC took hip-hop to the mainstream VIA crossover classics Walk This Way and It’s Tricky, but split after the death of Jam Master Jay in 2002. In 2021, rapper DMC talked to Classic Pop about his time in one of the most seminal rap groups of all time… By Will “ill Will” Lavin

It’s not often that a hip-hop icon will rap for someone one-on-one, but that’s exactly what happens when Classic Pop asks Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run-DMC what we should call him at the start of our Zoom chat. 

“You could call me Darryl, you could call me D/ You could call me Darryl Mack, you could call me DMC,” he begins, tweaking the lyrics to the title track from the group’s 1985 album, King Of Rock.

“People always ask me what does my name mean/ D’s for never dirty, MC’s for Mr Clean/ But sometimes I tell them when certain people ask/ That DMC means that Darryl makes cash.” As far as introductions go, it’s up there with the best of them. And as far as his name, we settle on D.

It’s been 40 years since DMC and his bandmates, Joseph “DJ Run” Simmons and the late Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, came together in the New York suburb of Hollis, Queens, to form Run-DMC.

Often regarded – rightly so – as one of the most influential groups of all time, through their hard-hitting reality raps, gut-busting beats and innovative fashions (Adidas, anyone?), the trio helped cut through racial barriers and catapult hip-hop onto a global stage, making way for a new creative force that continues to dominate pop culture today.

Besides being the first hip-hop act to be nominated for a Grammy – for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Group – for Raising Hell in 1986, Run-DMC were also the first to appear on MTV, on American Bandstand, Saturday Night Live and the cover of Rolling Stone.

In 2009, they further cemented their legacy when they were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. But, for all their accolades, DMC is quick to point out there were many artists before them who played a big part in their jet-fuelled, meteoric rise.

“People don’t understand that the greatest period in hip-hop was the time before recorded rap,” DMC says. He adds that, while some people credit Run-DMC with starting hip-hop, there were many artists doing it in the streets way before the trio took it to the mainstream.

Speaking of their seminal 1986 cover of Aerosmith’s hit from 11 years earlier, DMC recalls: “Before we made Walk This Way, Melle Mel and Kool Moe Dee rapped over the track. They just never did it on a record.” While that may be true, it was Run-DMC’s version which would become one of the biggest-selling hip-hop tracks of the 80s.

Run-DMC’s latest release sees them collaborate with boutique vinyl brand 12on12 to curate an exclusive limited edition 12″ compilation, complete with bespoke artwork from rising LA artist Reena Tolentino (aka RT).

Offering a fascinating insight into the group’s influences, it highlights early rap trailblazers as well as songs that helped form the sonic foundations of a burgeoning hip-hop sound as it emerged and evolved in New York in the late 70s and early 80s.

“It’s just a fraction of the hundreds of songs that allowed us to exist,” DMC explains. “These songs define not just our childhood, but our existence during a time of death, destruction, despair and struggle. When you go back to that time period, the Bronx was burning.

“We had to make something out of nothing,” he says, remembering hip-hop’s early inception. “Well, people thought we had nothing but in fact we had everything. The songs that were playing around us at the time, we had to utilise in order to show the world who we are.

“So before [The Sugarhill Gang’s] Rapper’s Delight, before [Afrika Bambaataa And The Soulsonic Force’s] Planet Rock, before we were sampling, we would use this white group from Germany, Kraftwerk. We used their sonic vibe because it felt exactly the same way that we were feeling.”


Kraftwerk wielded an enormous influence on the early years of rap and beyond. From Afrika Bambaataa, The Fearless Four and Sir Mix-A-Lot, to more recent artists like Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z and Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon, the German giants are forever woven into the fabric of hip-hop, which is why their 1977 classic Trans-Europe Express features on Run-DMC’s 12on12 compilation.

“They are the foundation,” DMC says. “There is no hip-hop without James Brown or Kraftwerk.”

Another track that was instrumental in the early growth of hip-hop chosen for Run-DMC’s playlist is Chic’s 1979 classic Good Times. Its deep, resonant bass riff and string stabs wound up being the foundation upon which rap’s first hit single, Rapper’s Delight, was built.

Used without permission, Chic’s Nile Rodgers and the late Bernard Edwards threatened to sue Sugar Hill Records for copyright infringement. A settlement was later reached that gave Rodgers and Edwards songwriting credits.

“I never liked Rapper’s Delight, because it didn’t sound like Good Times,” DMC admits, explaining he wasn’t a fan of the label’s decision to have the track reproduced, as opposed to sampling the original. “We were mad that Sugar Hill Records didn’t use the real one. With them replaying it, they took away the realness of it. It sounded plastic and corny.” 

DMC thinks back to the 70s, when DJs Grand Wizzard Theodore and Grandmaster Flash played Chic’s original break at block parties, and how “hard” the record sounded. 

DMC and Def Jam Records co-founder Rick Rubin often discuss the superiority of Good Times. “Even though it was a disco record, it was hard,” explains DMC. “We thought Rapper’s Delight was fake, because it didn’t sound like Nile’s. It sounded way too clean.”

As the purpose of the group’s new compilation is to shine a light on some of the most important songs to influence hip-hop’s early beginnings, it wouldn’t be right not to include Run-DMC’s own Rock Box.

The 1984 track brought rock and rap together for the first time, in a genre-defining moment that helped rap cross over to the mainstream, as well as breaking down colour barriers, which paved the way for a new wave of Black artists to take over the airwaves for years to come.

But things could have been so different if Run and DMC had had their way. “We didn’t like it at first,” admits DMC, revealing that producer Larry Smith and Jam Master Jay were responsible for fighting to keep it the crossover behemoth that it is today.

“Me and Run were thinking from a limited hip-hop perspective. It was supposed to just be the beat, and then the guitars were supposed to come in and play for maybe four to eight bars. We wanted it to be like the hip-hop in the park. We wanted to be the church of the street, not realising we could be The Rolling Stones.”

The addition of Eddie Martinez’s riff – which many regard as the hip-hop equivalent to Eddie Van Halen’s riff on Michael Jackson’s Beat It – turned Run-DMC’s little hip-hop in the park idea into a timeless rock‘n’roll stadium anthem. It also paved the way for their even bigger rock-rap crossover, Walk This Way, with Aerosmith. “There is no Walk This Way if there’s no Rock Box,” DMC maintains. 

Other tracks on the 12on12 compilation include The Sugarhill Gang’s Apache (Jump On It), MFSB’s Love Is The Message and Seven Minutes Of Funk by The Whole Darn Family, which was famously sampled on Ain’t No N***a for Jay-Z’s 1996 debut album Reasonable Doubt. 

One song that appears that might surprise some is Kenny G’s The Look Of Love. Although he’s been enjoying a resurgence as of late, thanks to recent collaborations with the likes of Kanye West (Use This Gospel) and The Weeknd (In Your Eyes), for years Kenny G – who started his career playing as part of Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra – has been the butt of countless jokes.

The mainstream has long cracked jokes that Kenny makes elevator music; there are hundreds of Facebook groups claiming he killed jazz because of his smooth sound. 

DMC doesn’t entertain the criticism. “Kenny G is on there because it’s music,” he boldly states. “He’s got some great riffs and lines that we can sample. People think we’re just about James Brown, Kraftwerk and beats. No, it’s Bob James’ Take Me To The Mardi Gras. It’s Rush’s Tom Sawyer, it’s Toto. It’s little orphan Annie’s Hard Knock Life. Why would anyone think that these hard B-Boys from the city wouldn’t listen to some Kenny G?”

The saxophonist’s inclusion on the playlist is also a homage to Run-DMC’s long-time DJ, Jam Master Jay, who was murdered in his recording studio in 2002. “We wanted to put something on there that Jay would have picked,” DMC explains.

“You’ve got to understand, when people look at DJs – and this is where racism, separation and ignorance is funny – they will look at this young, Black man and assume he knows nothing about jazz or opera. There’s a stereotype there. But in fact the best producers are DJs and musicians because they know a thing or two about music.”

Of course, Jay’s bread and butter was rap, his ear always firmly fixed to what the streets were doing. Instrumental in developing the careers of Onyx – whose 1993 track Slam is a quintessential hip-hop anthem – and 50 Cent, Jay worked with many artists via his own label, JMJ Records. Even though rap’s landscape has changed hugely since his death, DMC thinks his former DJ would have been right in the thick of things if he were still alive.

“Jay would be producing all of these guys right now. He’d have a ‘Young’ this, a ‘Lil’ that,” he says, referencing the names favoured by many of today’s rappers. “There’s no question Jay would have a Lil Baby or an artist like that right now. He’d definitely have a label position, too.”

Underscoring Jay’s importance to Run-DMC, DMC adds: “If you look at our evolution, Jay was always the one that transformed into what was happening at the time. If you look at Jay’s style, he was the guy that got dreads. He was the guy that got braids. The way Run-DMC dressed, that was because of him.”

Before DMC jumps off the call, there’s one final question that needs to be answered. Being that it’s been 20 years since Run-DMC put out Crown Royal, their seventh and final album, have the surviving members talked about lacing up their Adidas once more to do another album?

“It can’t happen,” DMC says, pointing out the lack of Jay’s presence behind the turntables. “That’s like trying to put The Beatles back together without John and George. You just can’t do it.”

Run-DMC’s limited edition 12on12 vinyl is out now

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