Number Ones: #42


  • PAUL HARDCASTLE 19 (Chrysalis)
  • Week Ending May 18th 1985
  • 3 Weeks At #1


Before “Platoon”, before “Full Metal Jacket”, before “Born On The 4th Of July”, this groundbreaking record was many (young) people’s introduction to the reality of the Vietnam War.

Paul Hardcastle had, up to this point, been largely unknown to the mainstream pop masses; a succession of well-received club/dance tracks had come close to nudging the UK Top 40 (Eat Your Heart Out, Daybreak, Rainforest) without going fully overground.

Inspired by an American documentary about the lengthy, ill-fated conflict, Hardcastle honed in on the shocking statistic that the average age of the combat soldier in Vietnam was a mere 19 years old. Nineteen. Just kids, being sent off to fight in unspeakably hostile conditions, then often flown back home without any help in readjusting to the horrors they’d experienced. Assuming they didn’t return home in a body bag, of course.

Nineteen. N-n-n-n-n-nineteen. And there was the hook.

Hardcastle’s masterstroke was to place this human tragedy and injustice into a cutting-edge electro-pop track, using still-nascent sampling technology to create the stuttering, memorable refrain. It could have ended up as merely a gimmick, an exploitation of serious subjects, a trivialisation of something important. Yet, the hammering home of the “Nineteen” motif actually strengthens the message, makes it more unforgettable, and as a result draws the listener in and helps them absorb the rest of the story….the little details, the appalling treatment of returning Vietnam “Vets”, the conditions these boys were wholly unprepared for…the sheer inhumanity and horror.

(Of course, in 1984 there was “Born In The U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen, which told the story of a forgotten Veteran’s struggle in the aftermath of coming home, but the message was widely misinterpreted as a pro-American political anthem, and didn’t make the cultural crossover to the UK in the same way as “19”).

In conjunction with the powerful video, “19” probably educated a generation of pop music fans more than any history lesson could have done. Plus, it was just a fantastic record which captured the post-Frankie zeitgeist for a harder-edged brand of pop.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s