CSFTD #29: Malcolm McLaren – Double Dutch

An odd choice again for a classic track but one that emphasises McLaren’s talent for writing and producing what at one and the same time is both unique and incredibly catchy. I could have gone for Madame Butterfly from his 1984 album Fans, which attempted to fuse opera with 1980s R&B and which is therefore much ‘classier’ almost by definition But there’s something about Double Dutch which defies anyone who plays it (or watches the video as here) not to put it on repeat.

McLaren was a musician, impresario, visual artist, performer, clothes designer and boutique owner, notable for combining these activities in an inventive and provocative way. He is best known musically for inventing and popularising trends, originating a protest style at his Chelsea boutique SEX in the 1970s together with his girlfriend Vivienne Westwood, out of which arose the Sex Pistols, whom McLaren managed, recruiting Johnny Rotten as front man. He also managed Adam & the Ants and Bow Wow Wow and was an adviser to the New York Dolls.

But McLaren was also a solo performer in his own right, popularising hip hop and world music, later diversifying into funk and disco, the dance fashion for ‘vogueing’ and merging opera with contemporary electronic musical forms, as with Madame Butterfly.  He was quite happy to shock – the Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’ controversially satirising the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977. What he would have made of ‘the Queen at 90’ doesn’t bear thinking about. Through his teens the relatively uneducated McLaren, from a poor North London background, had been a student of the Situationist movement, which promoted absurdist and provocative actions as a way of enacting social change. In 1968 McLaren tried unsuccessfully to travel to Paris to join the demonstrations there which were referred to in CSFTD #28 St Vincent. Instead, with a fellow student he took part in a ‘student occupation’ of Croydon Art School. Later he used some of the movement’s ideas in promotion of pop and rock groups.

Double Dutch is from his 1983 album Duck Rock which he made in conjunction with producer and co-writer Trevor Horn (see CSFTD #21, The Buggles) and The World’s Famous Supreme Team, a duo of hip hop radio disc jockeys from New York City who hosted a hip hop and classic R&B radio show and were among the first DJs to introduce the art of scratching to the world, and it mixed together influences from Africa and the Americas, including hip hop, bringing hip hop to a wider audience. Two of the singles from the album (Buffalo Gals and Double Dutch) became top-10 hits in the UK (Double Dutch made #3, his highest charting single), with Buffalo Gals a minor hit in some major cities in the US though surprisingly that was not the case with Double Dutch.

The song concerns the skipping game Double Dutch in which two long jump ropes are turned in opposite directions and jumped energetically by one or more players jumping simultaneously. It is popular worldwide. Competitions in Double Dutch range from local community parties to world championship level. McLaren’s narration mentions several New York Double Dutch troupes by name, notably the Ebonettes, which he describes as his favourite team and which figures prominently in the chorus.

The song is not without its controversies. The Mbaqanga (Zulu) group The Boyoyo Boys took legal action against McLaren over the similarity of Double Dutch to their own hit 3 Mabone. After a lengthy legal battle in the UK, the matter was settled out of court, with payment made to the South African copyright holders, songwriter Petrus Maneli and publisher Gallo Music but Trevor Horn and McLaren retained their song writing credits.

I suppose the question is could anyone other than McLaren have turned this into a hit song? The guy seemed to be ahead of his time in everything he did. Even the key change at 3:25 is a work of genius.

© D J Bentley 2016