M/A/R/R/S - Pump Up The Volume
It still sounds great and, yes, like nothing released by 4AD prior to it reaching number one nor since. From the eighth second, when Pump Up The Volume declares itself open with the declaration, "That's right...this has got to be the greatest record of the year", it's such a funky mash of samples, soul and scratching that you'd be a fool to argue with it.
Before Pump Up The Volume, 4AD was the home of Cocteau Twins, The Birthday Party and Dead Can Dance, had album covers designed by 23 Envelope that were displayed in art galleries and had just discovered a couple of weird rock bands from the US - Throwing Muses and The Pixies - who were set to shake things up a little. They also had a pair of bands that didn't quite fit with anyone else but looked as though they could do something together and so, prompted by 4AD boss Ivo Watts-Russel, Colourbox and AR Kane collaborated on Pump Up The Volume with mixer C.J. Mackintosh and DJ Dave Dorrell.
Pump Up The Volume threw samples from old soul records onto hip-hop beats and, with its use of scratching and dance production, it was genuinely innovative. Even better was finding it at the top of the charts, which helped to bring both hip-hop and dance into the mainstream. Listening to it now, it feels slightly dated but that is due more to the technology used to create it than any advances in techniques. For example, the bass line that drifts in over the drums sounds clearly artificial but Pump Up The Volume has the analogue appeal of someone messing around with tapes and loops than digitally cutting and pasting inside a sequencer. As a result, the song doesn't flow so much as jump from moment to moment, with one section about 2m30s in being the token funk workout complete with James Brown samples. Nothing outstays its welcome and as well as sounding fresh then, Pump Up The Volume sounds great even now.
Most disappointing of all, however, was that M/A/R/R/S didn't ever get around to a follow-up. Following disputes about money between themselves and 4AD as well as the threat of legal action from Stock, Aitken and Waterman over the use of some unauthorised samples from their song Roadblock, M/A/R/R/S broke up leaving only this one song.
But what a song. What's really surprising about Pump Up The Volume is that it's still available as a single some sixteen years after its release. The only problem is that for fans of shiny silver discs, there's little point in looking as the CD version has been deleted, which means going back to 12" vinyl. Do it anyway or track down a compilation with the song on it - look for anything called Pump Up The Volume or buy the the Best of Colourbox 1982-1987 - for this is such a funky, sexy, thrilling record that it's almost essential.