Turning 30: Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie”

Before  the Backstreet Boys, New Kids on the Block, N’Synch and any other crossover boy group born in the 80s or 90s, there was the British-based group Musical Youth.  Despite the tragic stories of some of its members after their fall from popularity in the late 1980s,  Musical Youth reformed as a duo composed of original members Dennis Seaton and Michael Grant in 2001 and this year enjoyed a resurgence performing at various events during the London Olympics, declaring their return. Of course, the greatest triumph under their belt is the popular party song “Pass the Dutchie”. The classic reggae dance hit fused with soul and charm celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. “Pass the Dutchie” was the number 1 hit single from their 1982 album The Youth of Today and helped the group gain mainstream success in the UK and United States.

I say

Pass the Dutchie on the left hand side

Pass the Dutchie on the left hand side

It a gonna burn, give me music make me jump and prance

It a go done, give me the music make me rock in the dance

In 1982, I was not yet ten, and loved this song almost automatically. It was catchy and fun, even when I had no idea what was being sung after the phrase “Pass the Dutchie”. I didn’t know that the song was a cover song of the song “Pass the Kouchie” by the group The Mighty Diamonds with some major edits involved. Because the members of Musical Youth were all under the age of 18, with some members as young as 11, the Jamaican term  “kouchie” was changed to “dutchie” because “kouchie” refers to weed, also called herb. The verse, “how does it feel when you got no herb,” was then changed to “how does it feel when you got no food”, using the title term “dutchie” which in Jamaican patois refers to a Dutch oven. A few minor changes transformed a provocative song about getting high into a classic dance hit by a group of young boys from England’s poorest streets. The success of the song was not expected.

“We kind of went quiet on it and we wasn’t expecting too much if you can understand what I’m saying because the record company didn’t expect it to do as well as it did,” Michael Grant said in a 2002 interview with Designer Magazine.  He says that the song entered the music charts much higher than was anticipated by the record label. “They expected it to go in at #55 and it went in at #26 and then when it went from #26 to #1 they were caught a bit on the hop because they weren’t expecting the level of sales it generated.”

But, sales it generated. And with the sales came appearances  and performances on Saturday Night Live, MTV and shows all over the world.  After a year of outstanding accomplishments and opportunities, the group suffered financial and other personal setbacks almost immediately, their popularity waning and career practically dissolved less than five years later. But, what lingered behind and marks their presence as a group worth mentioning will always be their hit “Pass the Dutchie”. Happy 30th.

-Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman

Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman can be found on KhadijahOnline.com.

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