Bits & Pieces: Angus Batey On The History Of Cut And Paste
, April 18th, 2017 07:36
With its roots in both the avant garde and novelty music, cut & paste came of age in 1987 with the likes of Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, Coldcut, Steinski, Bomb The Bass and M/A/R/R/S. Angus Batey traces the history of this magpie movement
The strange saga surrounding the creation, release, deletion and destruction of the first Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu LP is likely well known by most people who'll find their way to this particular corner of the internet. This site's interest in current work by the artist formerly known as King Boy D is clear - not to mention entirely understandable. A fine, thorough piece by Ben Graham has shed more light on the back story than one had suspected possible, given the extensive availability of online research and theories, and the reluctance of the principals involved in shining a clarifying light on this chapter of ancient (though doubtless justified) history. 1987 What The Fuck Is Going On by the JAMs is singular in a great many ways - it's a rare album that receives a ritual burning in a Swedish field followed by a burial at sea for a handful of remaining copies discovered in a car boot on the ferry back to the UK. But the album didn't exist in splendid isolation. It arrived amid a disparate set of releases we probably couldn't call a scene or a movement but which looked and sounded quite like one. And although its music-press profile overshadowed the rest of those records, the album's effect was multiplied because of the things other similarly minded artists were doing around the same time, and the wider historical context they all were working within.
Contrary to various claims made down the years, there was a tradition of cut-and-paste, copyright-challenging records well before the invention of sampling technologies or the emergence of hip hop culture. Whether you go back to Teo Macero splicing different Miles Davis sessions into suites inspired by classical music forms, George Martin and the Beatles messing around with tape loops, or Delia Derbyshire and the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop's journeys into sound, even those folks weren't quite the lonesome pioneers they're sometimes portrayed as. Manipulation of recorded sound goes back to the invention of magnetic tape, and the first record that would recognisably fit the bill of a "cut-up" was made by a pair of American comedians in 1956. Curiously - and indeed surprisingly, given the JAMs' encounters with the legal system - the court case provoked by the many snippets of hits of the day used to make 'The Flying Saucer' may have predicted the legal back-story for sample-based music in the late '80s and early '90s, but it resulted in a very different outcome to the one everyone was conditioned to expect. In 1957, the American legal system took the view that Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman had created something new out of pieces of other people's records, and that they had a right to make money out of that new work. The pair celebrated their victory with a follow-up track made in a similar manner - 'Buchanan And Goodman On Trial' - and continued to mine the formula for a year or two.
Goodman carried on beyond his partnership with Buchanan, and kept to his established cut-and-paste methodology. 'Energy Crisis '74' included bits of Steve Miller Band, Wings and Stevie Wonder records, while 'Mr Jaws' lifted chunks of 'Rhinestone Cowboy' and 'I'm Not in Love'. His final single - 'Safe Sex Report' released in late 1987 - tackled the same topic that had inspired the first JAMs single: whether this was coincidence or consequence will probably never be known (Goodman died two years later).
The approach proved not only durable, but transportable. In 1975, the British soul DJ Chris Hill appropriated Goodman's shtick and had a Christmas hit with 'Renta Santa'. A year later, 'Bionic Santa' repeated the trick, wrangling lumps of 'The Boys Are Back In Town', 'Maggie May' and the opening credits to The Six-Million Dollar Man to similar effect: both were Top 10 hits in the UK, and were released by a major label, without creating any noticeable stirs over their legality (or otherwise). Around the same time, Nigel Grainge set up the Ensign label and Hill became its manager: they signed Bob Geldof's Boomtown Rats, made Eddy Grant a star, and discovered Sinead O'Connor. Clearly, if there were any legal problems caused by him importing Goodman's template and applying it to Britain's music industry and UK courts' interpretation of British copyright law, they proved no impediment to a long and successful career as a music-business insider. Nor is there any indication Goodman was in the slightest bit bothered by what is, at the end of the day, a pretty shameless lifting of his signature style.
Goodman's key innovation was to use fragments of famous records, lifted out of context, to form disjointed narratives: he clearly wasn't interested in creating seamless blends from one excerpt to another (though, interestingly, it appears to have been vital for his method to have its desired effect on listeners that the song segments chosen should be widely and easily recognisable, and he did not shy away from including very well-known and high-selling records to throw in to the mix). When you hear those present at Kool Herc's block parties of the early 1970s talking about the way hip hop's founding father DJ-ed, it's evident that a consistent, even, smoothed-out listening experience wasn't top of his agenda either. The idea that one record could be blended into another without the beat dropping or dancers adjusting their steps seems to have come from Manhattan's disco clubs, with people like Pete DJ Jones, Grandmaster Flowers and Walter Gibbons not just extending percussion breaks with a second copy of the same record, but trying to do so without dropping the beat. Jones claimed to have begun doing this in 1969, and suggested that Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash were credited with inventing and developing the technique because they played to large and often very young audiences for free in public parks, while his sets were performed in over-18s-only venues to paying customers. It's also surely a factor that the hip hop block parties gave the DJs a similar role to a band - they were performers, and while some people were there just to dance, others came to watch the show. This was less likely to have been the case in a night club as the '60s gave way to the '70s.
Either way, by the beginning of the 1980s there were plenty of people keen to both re-use old records to create new compositions, and to do so in a way that was more musical than the Frankensteinian, stitched-together approach of a Goodman or a Hill. Some were club DJs who would practice their blends at home, see which ones worked in front of paying audiences, and then record their mixes for release via self-pressed 12"s or through the rather more official channels of a DJ record pool. Some - such as the Latin Rascals, whose cut-n-paste work, whether properly credited or not, are among the best of the type - were DJs making mixes, often recorded but sometimes broadcast live, to play on radio. Others were among the first wave of hip hop recording artists like Flash or Bam, whose respective milestone releases (1981's 'The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel' and the following year's 'Planet Rock') took different technical approaches to reach the same creative goal.
Both were hits, and neither seems to have inspired lawsuits. Flash's single took the expedient route of listing each of the tracks he used to create it on the label at the centre of the record - each company responsible for publishing those received a credit (and, presumably, royalties). By 1981, the label he was signed to, Sugar Hill, and its recording-artist founder, Sylvia Robinson, would have known what they could and could not do: it was at Robinson's suggestion that the first Sugar Hill release, 'Rapper's Delight', was recorded by live musicians re-playing elements of Chic's 'Good Times' rather than letting the emcees rhyme over the actual record. On 'Planet Rock', producer Arthur Baker had John Robie re-play the melody line from Kraftwerk's 'Trans Europe Express' rather than sample it, though the writer credits for the new single initially didn't include anyone but Baker, Robie and Bam's group, Soul Sonic Force. Perhaps, in part, this failure to play by what were clearly already established rules explains why the German band still ended up getting paid. In an interview in 2004, Baker told me: "Within months of the record hitting Kraftwerk showed up and got this amazing deal, one of the better settlement deals of the time because we didn't even sample anything. They called [Tommy Boy label founder Tom] Silverman and he paid 'em off. I think they got a hundred grand or something."
Perhaps stung by the megabucks payout, Tommy Boy's next major contribution to the history of cut-and-paste never got a commercial release. In 1983, the label advertised a competition in Billboard, seeking remixes of Soul Sonic Force member G.L.O.B.E. and Whiz Kid's 'Play That Beat Mr DJ'. The winning entry came not from a block-party mixmaster or a high-flying Manhattan club DJ, but a sound engineer with extensive experience constructing mixes for commercials and a record nerd who worked as an advertising executive. Double Dee & Steinski's 'The Payoff Mix' was sent to a small number of radio DJs for limited airplay and wasn't released. The duo made a follow-up, collaging James Brown songs, that they called 'Lesson 2 (James Brown Mix)', and someone - perhaps not unrelated to Double Dee & Steinski - pressed up a few hundred 12"s of the two "Mastermixes" that were listed on the label as being "for promotional use only". Their third - and best - mix, from 1985, called 'Lesson 3 (History of Hip Hop)', eventually pushed Tommy Boy into a release, but again this was limited and the copies of the 12" (which put the other two mixes on the flip side) were all intended to be promos. Inevitably, some found their way into shops, where their clearly uncertain legal status and obvious scarcity ensured brisk business at above-average prices.
The Double Dee & Steinski tracks - if perhaps less so the first (which inevitably gets referred to as 'Lesson One', even though it never bore that title) - adopted the 'Flying Saucer' convention of using the samples as elements in a conversation, but aimed for a cohesive overall feel that made each of them sound like complete, consistent compositions. 'Lesson 3' samples some dialogue from 'The Flying Saucer', as well as bits of Casablanca and Duck Soup, which are pitched in to a freestyled conversation with sampled song lyrics, musical phrases, and even track titles: the mix requires listeners to have a significant knowledge of its constituent parts if they're to get as much out of it as possible. Though 'Adventures' is the archetype of this style, it would be the Lessons that turned it into a subgenre.
(By the way: it was 'Lesson 3', not the sample it took from Led Zeppelin's 'The Crunge', that was looped by producer Prince Paul for 'The Magic Number', De La Soul's dazzling opening track on their Tommy Boy-released debut, 3 Feet High & Rising. The song uses other parts of 'Lesson 3', the coincidence of the group being a trio providing more than sufficient excuse for them and Paul to play around with the idea. Without the Double Dee & Steinski track it's even unclear whether the album would have got that title - it derives from a sample the same track took from Johnny Cash, selected because it dovetailed into the numerological concept. The celebrated/infamous court case that resulted from the group sampling The Turtles elsewhere on the album also belies the truth about sampling's supposed illegality in the late '80s: the group and Paul gave a complete list of every sample used on the album to Tommy Boy, with the label deciding to clear some, but not all of them. The label's mistake was, arguably, a failure to understand history and culture: whoever took the decision about what to clear maybe didn't realise The Turtles had been big stars, and the loop was an obvious lift from a cover of a Byrds song - so would prove very recognisable to more listeners than might have been expected to spot, for instance, 'Tread Water's re-use of a relatively little-known single by the group People's Choice. Whatever the reasons for it not being cleared, we can be certain that the court case itself played no part in erecting a prohibitive barrier to the creation of sample-based music: rather, the story proves both artists and labels knew that sample-clearance was necessary, and that by early 1989 there was already an established mechanism for carrying it out.)
The impact of the Lessons was felt widely and quickly - listen to the first of the grey-market, enigmatic Big Apple Production megamix 12"s, 1982's 'Big Apple Production Vol. 1', and you'll hear an excellent but clearly club-oriented blend of early '80s dance-pop hits without much sense of a story being told. The next, post-'Lesson 2', instalment in the series, 1984's '(Orig.) Big Apple Production Vol. II - Genius At Work', opens with a series of radio broadcasts (so far, so Goodman-esque), simulating a listener flicking between preset stations, then sets up dialogue between bits of G.L.O.B.E. & Whiz Kid's single, Bam's 'Looking for the Perfect Beat', and tiny stabs from Sharon Redd and The Tramps. '(Orig.) Big Apple Production Vol. III - Genius At Work' - ostensibly the work of a duo called Ser and Duff but, according to the brilliant history of cut-and-paste assembled in 2002 for the late, lamented Big Daddy magazine by Neil McMillan, actually created by DJ Duke, a Danish expat living in New York, and likely recorded (maybe even released) a bit before the 1987 date printed on the label - takes the same approach and applies it to b-boy-friendly, drum-heavy funk, soul, rock and Latin-tinged source material. It's largely a riff on 'The Mexican', including lengthy samples from the 1972 original by the British prog band Babe Ruth and pieces from Sugar Hill band Funky Four's 1983 rap remake, 'Feel It (The Mexican)'; but it kicks off with the ringing phone, suspicious partner and blazing breakbeat from Esther Williams' 'Last Night Changed It All' as its scene-setting opening, before racing into the Jimmy Castor Band classic, 'It's Just Begun', for its gallop to the finish line.
All these records were finding their way outside New York, and among those who we can assume were listening avidly were Londoners Coldcut. The DJ duo's first under-the-counter white-label release, 'Say Kids What Time Is It?', was clearly influenced by 'Lesson 3', the mix arguably upping the ante with the conceptual thoroughness of its source-material selection. The theme is drawn out and expanded through samples from a Rupert Bear album, the title phrase having been taken from the US kids' TV show Howdy Doody, and music from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang gets lobbed in too: yet these are all mere prelude to the central high-concept set-piece, where the pair put Louis Prima's Jungle Book hit 'I Wan'na Be Like You' over the top of Clyde Stubblefield's deathless break from James Brown's 'Funky Drummer'. Like 'The Mexican', and therefore also like the third 'Big Apple' mix, 'Say Kids' included bits of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western soundtracks, and the Londoners even sampled from 'The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel', continuing and expanding the trend that records made in this way should feel no shame in paying overt homage to one another - but they'd managed to locate a their own seam to mine.
They called their label Ahead of Our Time, and Coldcut spent 1987 proving the slogan was no idle boast. The second of their four stone cold cut-and-paste classics that year was 'Beats & Pieces', its title likely a nod to the 'Bits & Pieces' series of mix 12"s released by various labels on both sides of the Atlantic starting in 1979 - but none of those records featured Led Zeppelin drums giving way to someone scratching Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons'. 'Kick Out the JamEs' (which wasn't technically a Coldcut single: the joke name they adopted for the release was Floormaster Squeeze - a make of mop - and it appeared on a release called 'Hot Plate 1', with a remix called 'Kick Out the JamEs (Speng)' and a b-side that included the first release by the British rapper later to be known as Black Radical Mark II) was an attempt to show their growing band of followers that you didn't have to pilfer Brown to make funky cut-ups. 'That Greedy Beat' was based on the Coxsone Dodd Studio One production 'Greedy G'.
Emphasising that cut-n-paste was not a one-way street, both 'That Greedy Beat' and 'Beats & Pieces' were sampled by the Def Jam-signed band Original Concept in their 1988 track 'Charlie Sez'. 'Greedy' was also used by Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince on a track, 'New Kids On The Block', that appeared only on a 1987 compilation album released by their label, Jive, and may have inspired Jive-signed KRS-ONE to use 'Greedy G' for Boogie Down Productions' 1989 single 'Jack Of Spades'. Meanwhile, British rapper Derek B took drums from 'Beats & Pieces' for his UK hit 'Bad Young Brother', and a London trio with a background in live funk and soul - they were in the studio with PP Arnold when they fell under 'Say Kids's spell - took inspiration from all this, too: the Greedy Beat Syndicate "sampled" Coldcut's song title, and their first single, 'Listen To The Band', also arrived in 1987, pitching the Monkees and Madonna in alongside some of the stuff the others were using (the JB's, EPMD, bits of Jesse Jackson as sampled on Public Enemy's 'Rebel Without A Pause'). It was the first in a string of great cut-and-paste 12"s that arrived ahead of an album in 1993.
But the fourth Coldcut mix of the year was their piece de resistance: the brilliant 'Seven Minutes Of Madness' remix of Eric B & Rakim's 'Paid In Full'. It was commissioned by Island, who had picked up the rights to the Paid In Full album in the UK, and legend has it Coldcut were paid a princely £750 for a mix that would become iconic. (They included an instrumental on the 1988 compilation album, Out To Lunch With Ahead Of Our Time, under the title 'Not Paid Enough'.) The vocal line came from a 17th century Hebrew poem, 'Im Nin'alu', recorded by the Israeli singer Ofra Haza; she was subsequently signed to Warner Brothers' Sire imprint and in 1988 released an album of dance-oriented tracks. Other samples included one from Original Concept - perhaps it was this that piqued the Long Islanders' curiosity about Coldcut's catalogue - alongside some more kids' TV stuff (the Play School tie-in album Bang On A Drum remains sought-after by hip hop producers to this day) and one of the first usages of 'Train Sequence', the opening track from a 1958 Decca album called A Journey Into Stereo Sound which featured the RP tones of the actor Geoffrey Sumner declaiming lines that have gone on to feature on records by everyone from Nas to Anthrax.
The 12" was made Singe Of The Week in NME after a white-label promo was given to the paper, weeks before it was available to buy. Within days of its release, Eric and Ra were in the UK pop charts, and Cooltempo - the Chrysalis label's dance imprint, which had picked up UK rights for the first two singles from Paid In Full before Island cut a deal for the album - had commissioned Norman Cook and Derek B to do something similar with 'I Know You Got Soul'. Cook's 'Double Trouble Remix', sampling the Jackson Five's 'I Want You Back', was a hit in 1988; the Stevie Wonder-sampling 'Derek On Eric' mix only surfaced as a promo. Both records, of course, inadvertently tipped their baseball caps at the third 'Big Apple Production' mix, which included the same Funkadelic drum loop Eric & Rakim's original had sampled. Pop was, indeed, eating itself.
Whether Coldcut were the first to light upon Sumner's narration is open to debate. Although it wasn't a hit until February of 1988, when it was reissued under a deal with Mute Records' dance imprint Rhythm King, 'Beat Dis' - the debut by DJ/producer Tim Simenon, who used Bomb The Bass as a name to cover both himself and a wider, loose grouping of whoever he happened to be working with at the time - had originally been released on Simenon's own Mister-Ron label in 1987. One thing that is clear is that both he and Coldcut hadn't just stumbled across the same obscure 1950s sound-effects album, they'd also both been listening to the same cut-n-paste 12"s. 'Beat Dis' plundered kids' TV (Thunderbirds) alongside cop shows (Dragnet) for its dialogue, but Simenon went for the same Funky Four lift ("Everybody in the street/Get down to the funky beat") that first turned up on 'Big Apple Productions Vol. III'. The pugilistic guitar riff came from the Bar-Kays' 'Son Of Shaft', but he also used 'Looking For The Perfect Beat' and Original Concept's 'Pump That Bass'.
It's a terrific record, but its innovations were less to do with collage ideas or techniques than with blending those with conventional musicianship - the track has original, written bass and synth parts. The cover art would also prove hugely influential: it used the blood-spattered "smiley" badge from the first page of Alan Moore's Watchmen comic, gifting the acid-house movement its key symbol. Special mention, too, to Pop Will Eat Itself, whose 1987 single 'There Is No Love Between Us Anymore' was clearly influenced by the cut-and-paste milieu, whose 'Def. Con One' single of the following year sampled its opening drum roll from 'Dancing In The Streets', and whose 'Can You Dig It' lifted dialogue from the Walter Hill's classic New York street-gang/proto-hip-hop film The Warriors as well as including the lyric: "Alan Moore knows the score". In 2016, deep into the third part of Moore's epic Jerusalem novel, King Boy D turns up for a couple of walk-on parts: the big wheel keeps on turning. (PWEI took their name from a phrase written in an NME piece by David Quantick about the London band Jamie Wednesday in 1985. Jamie Wednesday broke up in '87 and their two songwriters formed a duo, playing guitars over drum-machine backing-tracks, in part as a result of PWEI proving that a drummer wasn't entirely necessary. They also took to using samples, and fell foul of a copyright law suit in 1992 when a single they'd released that used the phrase "goodbye Ruby Tuesday" in a lyric - not a sample - was injuncted by Allen Klein, who owned the Rolling Stones' publishing. Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine never made a cut-and-paste record, but parts of their story show how big an influence these releases had.)
By the time 'Seven Minutes Of Madness' proved this was not just a trend, cut-and-paste had gone mainstream. The key event was probably the late-August release of a weird art-house experiment from one of the quintessential indie labels. Colourbox and AR Kane were encouraged by their 4AD label to collaborate on a single, but the groups had little in the way of common ground. They each ended up writing and recording their own song, and handing it over for their counterparts to add to. Quite how and why London "rare groove" DJ Dave Dorrell and scratch champion CJ Mackintosh got involved was never made entirely clear, but somewhere along the way, they sprinkled snippets of the same kind of stuff that Coldcut, Double Dee & Steinski, the people behind the Big Apple Production records and Bomb The Bass were all using over the top of Colourbox's track. (The song also sampled 'Put The Needle On The Record', an early 1987 cut-and-paste track by Criminal Element Orchestra - a nom-de-guerre of Arthur Baker.) The resultant song took its name from a Rakim vocal, lifted from 'I Know You Got Soul' and speeded up; whether Island would have commissioned Coldcut to make 'Seven Minutes of Madness' without 'Pump Up the Volume' becoming a huge hit is one of history's great unknowables, as is wondering whether the record would have made it to Number One had the production team Stock, Aitken and Waterman not issued an injunction over a minuscule snippet from their 'Roadblock' single. The controversy briefly halted distribution and was perceived at the time as an attempt by SAW to keep their boy Rick Astley at the top of the charts for a bit longer - but the spat undoubtedly boosted the M/A/R/R/S' track's profile. Primed by 'Pump Up The Volume', the slew of similar releases that followed took up residence in the charts, from S'Express's 'Theme From S'Express' to Coldcut's 'Doctorin' The House' and beyond. It wasn't long before the parodies arrived, and even those were hits - Star Turn on 45 (Pints)' 'Pump Up The Bitter' reached Number 12 in the summer of '88.
But it would be the legal shadow hanging over the records that most strongly ties the JAMs to the rest of the cut&paste outfits. Questions of influence are complicated by the obfuscated official timeline: the discography published on the insert that came with the second JAMs album claimed a January 1987 release for the initial white-label promos of the first JAMs single and a commercial release in March, yet reviews of the former didn't appear until March and the latter seems not to have arrived in shops until May. It's possible that the JAMs had heard 'Say Kids' before they made the single, likely they heard it before they completed the album: Yet for the most part, 1987 is not so much a cut&paste record that slides neatly in to the Coldcut/Steinski/MARRS ecosystem than a strange, acerbic, determinedly individualist rap record that clearly grew up in a similar environment, breathing in the same sets of influences but interpreting and using them in different ways. The songs are less tapestries woven from snatches of other people's records, and more rap tracks built from drum machine beats into which unusually large, often incongruous, usually very recognisable samples are inserted. What separates it from the rap records of the time is King Boy D's and Rockman Rock's willingness to let those samples take up much larger portions of the songs, and the use of those samples as primarily a means of gaining attention rather than as musical ingredients first and foremost.
The first JAMs record, 'All You Need Is Love', is a case in point. Like with some of the stuff Coldcut used in 'Say Kids', the samples are chosen thematically: the song is about the public-health crisis developing back then around AIDS, with pieces of a government-funded TV advert placed next to bits of 'Touch Me (I Want to Feel Your Body)', a hit by the topless model Samantha Fox, chosen to highlight hypocrisy around mainstream public and media attitudes towards sex. It's crude but effective, provocative and punchy - not a skyscrapingly great record, and certainly one that has proved more durably interesting than transcendent or timeless: but it's clear that was never the objective.
Yet if you found out about this music by reading the British music press you'd have thought the JAMs must be so far out ahead of the cut&paste pack as to be eclipsing the others with their wit, creativity and skill. This is important, because back then, the British music weeklies were the only places you could really find out about any of this stuff. Steinski's superb 'The Motorcade Sped On', which fitted dialogue from news broadcasts of the assassination of John F Kennedy over a breakbeat bedrock, received its only commercial release on a free 7" single given away with copies of NME in February 1987. If you weren't a regular visitor to certain central London record shops in the days immediately following a delivery, you might never find out about a record like 'Kick Out The JamEs' until you saw it in some DJ's playlist in Music Week, by which time there would be no copies left to buy.
Yet compared to what Coldcut or Steinski were doing at the same time, the JAMs' stuff is rudimentary. They had drafted in a skilled DJ to perform some of the scratching - Cesare, who would find a berth in 1988 as a member of the Stereo MCs - but this wasn't a group that spent too much time on a quest for aural perfection. What the JAMs had that their cut&paste peers largely didn't, though, was an understanding of and access to the media, courtesy of King Boy's alter ego, former Echo & the Bunnymen manager Bill Drummond. Each step they took through the year was chronicled by NME, Sounds and Melody Maker, their saga becoming pop-culture's most compelling soap opera. Whether you consider the records to be brilliant or not, few will deny the PR campaign was of next-level excellence. (Compare this to Coldcut, whose records got reviewed in the papers but whose publicity machine was practically non-existent. A small flyer that came with copies of 'Kick Out The JamEs' invited fans to send their name, mailing address and a photo to an office just off Regent Street: curious and naive, not yet a journalist but very much a fan, I turned up at that address one weekday late in 1987, to be greeted by a bemused receptionist for the Big Life management company, who very politely took down my details and apologised that they didn't have any Coldcut records I could buy. I never heard from them again.)
So well-oiled was their publicity machine - and so vital had they become to the music magazines themselves - that the JAMs even got a bit of extra press out of the January 1988 release of the '20 Greatest Hits EP/Big Fat 45'. This bootleg white-label purporting to be a "new" JAMs single called 'Borderline' was actually the work of Haggis, aka Kid Chaos, some-time touring guitar-player with The Cult and member of Zodiac Mindwarp's Love Reaction, and his partner in the indie label Fierce, Steve Gregory. It's pretty awful, a deliberately ham-fisted melding of 'When the Levee Breaks', 'Pretty Vacant', 'White Riot' and 'Love Removal Machine', with a b-side featuring an Eric Morecambe joke over a breakbeat. But it will have improved the cashflow at a certain Hanway Street record shop in those difficult weeks after Christmas, and the coverage it received in the music press kept the JAMs' story going during the otherwise dead time between the release of the Petula Clark-sampling single, 'Down Town', and the arrival of the second LP in February. If one didn't know better, one might have wondered whether Rockman Rock - a founder member of the Love Reaction - hadn't perhaps put his former band mates up to it.
Nobody was using the verb "trolling" in 1987, but that's what the JAMs were doing to the music industry. It didn't matter that Buchanan and Goodman had won their case in the 1950s, or that nobody took Grandmaster Flash to court for 'Adventures': there was a widespread belief that sampling high-profile stuff would lead inevitably to an appointment with an elderly gent in a strange wig, swiftly followed by bankruptcy and prison. Yet aside from SAW's gripe with 4AD, the makers of these records remained conspicuously not in gaol. It may have been the blatancy of the JAMs' tracks - particularly 'The Queen & I', which used virtually all of Abba's 'Dancing Queen' - that provided a perfect opportunity to portray the group as vigorous defenders of the right to freedom of musical speech: but that portrayal in itself became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Shout loud enough about how you're going to face consequences for your actions, and someone might just decide to call your bluff.
Clearly, history shows that someone - most likely Abba or their publishers - did indeed take exception to the album's wholesale pilfering, and the JAMs were forced to destroy all unsold copies of 1987... and required to hand over the masters. A letter the group received at the end of August 1987 from the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society was reproduced in the Who Killed The JAMs? album artwork in February 1988: it doesn't mention Abba or their label, Polar, as the members the MCPS were writing on behalf of, though that was the story that did the rounds. Reading the letter, it's clear that, had the JAMs perhaps not used quite so much of Abba's original, and/or had they played the game a little bit differently, a deal might well have been achievable. Again, we can consign this to the dustbin of alternative histories we'll never be able to witness - but when you've spent a year telling every journalist you meet that sampling is theft but should be allowed for creative reasons, and you've called your label the Kopyright Liberation Front, then you're hardly likely to start doing what everyone else in the music industry was doing, and agreeing to pay royalties in exchange for the right to use someone else's music on your own records. It's not as if "compromise" was a word that didn't exist in the JAMs' dictionaries - they had edited the Beatles sample that kicked off 'All You Need Is Love' between its initial limited white-label distribution and its commercial release a couple of months later - but the only revision they subsequently consented to was the entire excision of every sample from the album (bar the one they'd sought and obtained permission to use, from The Fall's 'Totally Wired') to create the post-injunction The JAMs 45 Edits non-album. It was a rubbish record, but a cracking story.
The realisation quickly dawned that polemical hip hop wasn't really where King Boy and Rockman's hearts lay. For all that 'Next' is wonderfully weird, 'Hey Hey We're Not The Monkees' delightfully wrong, and the JB's-sampling 'Don't Take Five (Take What You Want)' spectacularly barmy, the album is a piece of provocative conceptual art first and foremost, the satisfying musicality of its final configuration of considerably less importance than the effect that it had on the vested interests it was designed to needle. This is not true of what was to follow, starting mere weeks after the album's release when 'Whitney Joins The JAMs' emerged in August. The record is a treat: King Boy implores the then reigning queen of the globe's discotheques to become a member of his band, over a sparkly tinkle of replayed Mission: Impossible theme and 'Shaft' samples. (One more aside - the last one, I promise: Mission: Impossible figures in another early "mash-up" - a splendidly entertaining 1968 single by Alan Copeland that blends the theme with 'Norwegian Wood' to striking effect. Whether King Boy and Rockman knew this record at the time is another matter entirely.) When La Houston breezes in - initially through the gasps and ululations that open her worldwide hit - his delight is audibly unconfined.
It's a fine piece of music, beautifully and exuberantly crafted yet immediate and of its precise moment: it comments adroitly on the JAMs' copyright saga but it manages to stand up as a truly great pop record in its own right. Like the Lessons, 'Say Kids' and 'The Flying Saucer' it tells a story through samples. It's also much more technically accomplished. It's as if, as the BPMs rise (at 120 we're in house territory, versus the album's resolute adoption of head-nod hip-hop 100-106), the JAMs' interest in the music had increased.
Drummond made a video in 2013 in which he said that his first exposure to the Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks was such a crushing disappointment - "there was no revolution! Just albums to promote and sell" - that he went home and listened to Donna Summer. 'Whitney Joins The JAMs' takes some of what he clearly wanted to hear in punk rock - the spirit of irreverence and insurrection that fuelled the ideas behind 1987, if not all of the music contained in it - and allies it to his one true love: pure pop. Early in '88 King Boy and Rockman (or their car, anyway) would follow the much more discofied, far better, and much less press-worthy Who Killed The JAMs? album with the 'Doctorin' The Tardis' single - its title a nod to Coldcut's first proper hit - and publish The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way), an acerbic commentary on all that ails the music business, and how a broke but determined revolutionary can get the industry's machinery to work to their benefit. Even better, they turned KLF from their label to their band name, dived deep into Italian house, decided to meld that form with stadium rock, and made a string of some of the best and most ridiculous singles of all time. But 'Whitney Joins The JAMs' feels like the crucial link between the high-concept, backstory-first attention-grabbing of their debut album, and the unquestionably great records that would eventually follow.