|Single by Paul Hardcastle|
|from the album Paul Hardcastle|
|B-side||"Fly by Night"|
|Released||17 February 1985|
|Paul Hardcastle singles chronology|
The song has a strong anti-war message, focusing on America's involvement in the Vietnam War and the effect it had on the soldiers who served. The track was notable for early use of sampled and processed speech, in particular a synthesized stutter effect used on the words 'nineteen' and 'destruction'. It also includes various non-speech, re-dubbed sampling, such as crowd noise and a military bugle call.
"19" features sampled narration (voiced by Peter Thomas), out-of-context interview dialogue ("I wasn't really sure what was going on") and news reports from Vietnam Requiem the ABC television documentary about the post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by Vietnam veterans. In 2009, the song placed at 73 on VH1's 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders of the 80s.
"19" had huge international success in the charts; it went to No. 1 in the UK (for five weeks), a number of other countries worldwide, and reached number 15 in the US Pop Charts and number 1 in the US Dance and Club charts. "19" became the top-selling single in 13 countries. This was helped by the fact that versions of the song, spoken by well-known local news anchors, were recorded in French, Spanish, German and Japanese. The song received the Ivor Novello award for Best-selling single of 1985. The song's English-language release came in three different 12" versions - "Extended Version", "Destruction Mix" and "The Final Story", each with an alternative cover design.
Background and content
Hardcastle was inspired to create the song after watching Vietnam Requiem, and comparing his own life at 19 to those of the soldiers featured: "...what struck me was how young the soldiers were: the documentary said their average age was 19. I was out having fun in pubs and clubs when I was 19, not being shoved into jungles and shot at."
The title "19" comes from the documentary's claim that the average age of an American combat soldier in the war was 19, as compared to World War II's 26. This claim has since been disputed. Undisputed statistics do not exist, although Southeast Asia Combat Area Casualties Current File (CACCF), the source for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, shows a large number of deaths (38%) were ages 19 or 20. According to the same source, 23 is the average age at time of death (or time of declaration of death). The song also comments that while the tour of duty was longer during World War II, soldiers in Vietnam were subjected to hostile fire [more frequently] almost every day.
Musically, the song was inspired by electro, particularly Afrika Bambaataa, although Hardcastle also "added a bit of jazz and a nice melody", and beyond the sampling of the documentary narration, the song incorporated pieces of interviews with soldiers. The song's pivotal hook: the repetitive ""N-n-n-n-nineteen", was chosen due to the limitations of the early sampling technology used. The E-mu Emulator could only sample for two seconds, so the hook was based around "the only bit of the narrative that made sense in two seconds." Hardcastle wasn't optimistic about the song's chances in the charts. His previous two singles for independent labels had failed to make it into the UK's Top 40 and the musical policy at Radio 1 was felt to be unsupportive of dance music. News interest in the song helped, with the 10th Anniversary of the End of the Vietnam War seeing Hardcastle interviewed by Alastair Stewart of ITN.
Tony Blackburn, then breakfast DJ for Radio London was an early supporter of the song and it quickly reached number 1 in the UK and around the world. Hardcastle produced different mixes of the song to help maintain interest in it. Although the song did not climb as high in the United States chart, Hardcastle claims "it outsold everybody else for three weeks solid, it only reached number 15, because back then the chart was based on airplay as well as sales." The song was held back in the US by some radio stations refusing to play it, feeling that the song took an anti-American stance, something Hardcastle denies, noting "I had tons of letters from Vietnam vets thanking me for doing something for them."
The success of "19" meant that Hardcastle's manager Simon Fuller, who had recently left Chrysalis Records to set up on his own label, was able to use the funds to continue his business. He named the business 19 Management in acknowledgment of its great significance to Fuller. Fuller went on to become the most successful British music manager of all time. He was behind the success of the Spice Girls and the talent show American Idol. Hardcastle has continued his connections to 19 Entertainment and in 2009 created the sound for the end card used at the end of 19's shows.
The song's reliance on sampling also caused problems with legal clearance. Ken Grunbaum recalled in 2012 that "there were no precedents for something like this. We ended up having to pay royalties to the narrator, Peter Thomas."
After the song's unexpected, rapid climb to the top of the UK Singles Chart, Chrysalis asked directors Jonas McCord and Bill Couterie to rush a video into production. Due to the lack of a band able to perform the song, the video was primarily composed of clips from the Vietnam Requiem documentary, edited together by Ken Grunbaum. The first version of the video included footage from the television networks NBC and ABC, including a newscast by ABC anchorman Frank Reynolds. After it was aired on MTV in the US, NBC and ABC objected to the "bad taste" of using the serious clips in a "trivial" form of "propaganda." McCord and Couterie were forced to produce a new cut incorporating public domain footage, but ABC permitted Reynolds' audio to remain. Couterie asserted at the time that the television networks opposed the video because it involved rock music:
|“||What is the difference between the words in our song and the 7 o'clock news? The only difference is rock'n'roll. And why did they love the documentary and hate the video so much? Every word in the song is from the film, and there was never any argument with the facts. The only difference is the music.||”|
Charts and certifications
Certifications and sales
In the same year of release, British comedian Rory Bremner, using the band name The Commentators, released a parodied version of the song as "N-N-Nineteen Not Out", about England's poor performance in test cricket, with references to the England cricket team's disastrous 1984 home series against the West Indies in which the England captain David Gower had averaged 19. In 2002, Hardcastle admitted in an interview with Q magazine that, despite objections from Chrysalis Records, he did actually contribute towards the making of The Commentators' version of the song.
Other uses in popular culture
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Simon Fuller (...) produced "19" for Paul Hardcastle- a very cheesy slice of Eighties' synth pop
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- Vietnam Requiem at the Internet Movie Database
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- Simpson, Dave (24 September 2012). "How we made the pop song 19 by Paul Hardcastle and Ken Grunbaum". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 25 September 2012.
- Perone, James E. (2001). Songs of the Vietnam conflict. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-313-31528-2.
- Roush, Gary (2 June 2008). "Statistics about the Vietnam War". Vietnam Helicopter Flight Crew Network. Archived from the original on 6 December 2009. Retrieved 6 December 2009.
Assuming KIAs accurately represented age groups serving in Vietnam, the average age of an infantryman (MOS 11B) serving in Vietnam to be 19 years old is a myth, it was actually 22. None of the enlisted grades have an average age of less than 20.
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