Oh man, how I love this song. It was one of my favorites of 1991, and it is still one of my not-so-secret loves today.
Do you remember the craze for all things Australian that seemed to be everywhere at the beginning of the 90s? I do. Mine wasn’t spurred on by cute koala plushies or Crocodile Dundee. No, mine was completely beholden to one thing, and one thing only: General Hospital.
On the show, they had a lot of storylines developed around Robert’s Australian heritage, and about the time I began watching it, they did a few of them “there”. Of course, it’s a soap, and there’s romance and drama and angst and obsession and running through the jungle half-dressed and in my mind, all of it was choreographed to this song. The pounding drums, the incessant beat, the synthesizers, the minor key – I know the group is called LONDONbeat, but I just knew that this was the soundtrack to my Australian fantasies.
Honestly, I’m not sure I’d ever seen the video until I went to write this post. I’m not even entirely sure that I was aware that the group was of mixed ethnic origin. The only reason I mention any of that is because it drives home to me how very much I’ve always linked this song with its imaginary place of origin. I knew the song wasn’t Australian, but it was so closely tied, aurally, to what I was visually seeing on screen and imagining that those things would sound like that I never gave its actual origin much thought.
Not too much is known about Londonbeat – a quick perusal of The Google doesn’t tell me nearly as much as I’d like to know. The group was of mixed US and British origins, which also surprised me given my youthful sureness that this song was Exotic and Other. The lead singer, Jimmy Helms, was pushing fifty (!!) at the time of this song’s release – not exactly the young, hip, (shirtless?) Australian man I pictured in my head.
In fact, Helms had already had a long career in the US and the UK as a soul singer who also sang for film soundtracks and advertising jingles before he hooked up with the other members to form Londonbeat. Sadly, info about the other three gents on this record (George Chandler, Jimmy Chambers, and William Henshall) is lacking.
Londonbeat is still together, though William Henshall left the group; they last put out an album in 2004.
So here’s the part where we talk mix-tape. This was absolutely a song I remember loving – it was sort of a secret pleasure, in that I had built up this whole mythology in my head around what it signified. The foreign, exotic Australia, watching General Hospital like I was a Real Grown-up, these characters, my first serious, serious crush on a fictitious man old enough to be my father – this song represented all of that. But I wonder whether I loved the song that much before I recorded it, or whether it was a result of having taped it. I honestly don’t remember. I know for a fact that some songs I didn’t really know super well before I recorded them – I grabbed them because I knew they were popular, and I wanted to be popular, so therefore I had to know the tunes, learn the ropes. Others I taped because I already liked them. I just don’t remember not liking this song, so I don’t know into which category this falls.
I do know that, if not here, then at least later down the line, I was very careful about which songs got the privilege of being taped first or second on each side of the cassette. In those days, when you had to listen to every single song on each side, or spend countless wasted minutes trying to rewind or fast-forward to find your jam, having the first or second spot on a side was golden. Those are the easiest to find, so I could listen to them over and over again. I’m sure that, if this song wasn’t already etched into my consciousness before I recorded it, it was certainly there shortly thereafter. It became one of my favorite songs to listen to as I fell asleep (because I always listened to music to fall asleep until it annoyed my roommates in college), and as soon as it finished, I’d hit rewind and play it again until I was sleepy enough to just let the tape play itself out.
The song hit #1 just about everywhere in April of 1991 (except France, where it only reached #11 – really, France?!) and was top of the charts on the Dance, Top 100 and Adult Contemporary charts, but oddly enough only rose to #83 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop singles, most likely because the song had more in common with Eurohouse! than it did with New Jack Swing.