Colourbox – The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme
Some records are like tiny fizzing petri dishes crawling with cultures which will eventually find their way, well, everywhere – Donna Summer‘s I Feel Love is the most obvious example – but not all influential records are necessarily hit records. In the early 1980s the song that would shape much of the decade’s sound was the Bobby O produced Passion by The Flirts, an evolutionary next-step in pop that was appreciated, absorbed and filtered through to the mainstream by New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Stock, Aitken and Waterman and countless others. It barely made a ripple outside of the clubs, but enough people were listening – curiously, most of them English – to ensure its legendary status.
Of course you never know at the time if you’ve happened to make one of these records, so often it’s just a happy accident, like spilling something in a lab and inventing a cure for a terrible illness. I think this is sort of what occurred with Colourbox‘s The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme, an instrumental curiosity from 1986 which somehow anticipated a lot of subsequent pop.
There’s a lot going on in there isn’t there? For a record entirely without vocals it somehow manages to be very shouty, but it was packed full of sounds that would crop up well into the nineties. I suspect it started life as a riff on Ron Grainer‘s theme from Doctor Who, a trick the KLF, in their guise as the Timelords, would take all the way to no.1 just two years later. This was a brash and messy take on synth pop, sounding cheap and exciting at the same time, and its ingredients fired off in lots of directions – you can hear a little bit of the Colourbox sound in that period during the late 80s and early 90s where the lines between indie and pop blurred considerably, morphing into something called alt/dance – think Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, Jesus Jones, The Shamen and Pop Will Eat Itself. But this also wasn’t a million miles away – in fact it was really only a short walk – from the theme to Going Live!, the BBC‘s Saturday morning show. As late as 1993 Smash Hits even picked up on the similarity between it and Pet Shop Boys‘ Can You Forgive Her? Not bad going for a complete flop, is it?
Colourbox never quite cracked it, although they did score five top 20 hits on the indie chart – but they would go on – with A.R. Kane – to score at UK no.1 and worldwide hit the following year as M/A/R/R/S, with Pump Up the Volume, an even more influential record which brought sampling firmly into the mainstream. Unfortunately it also brought its makers quite a few lawsuits, so that was the last we heard from them.
Pop needs its unheralded pioneers, so let’s take a moment to salute those who fell along the way – Colourbox, you are not forgotten.
Entered chart: did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Not a bloody clue, sorry.
Arguably it’s The Moon Is Blue that could be a hit given the right cover version… and I’ve always thought that Colourbox sat alongside Big Audio Dynamite in bringing sampled soundbites into pop…
TOCWCT is a fantastic FANTASTIC record which is still waiting for someone bonkers to use it as a TV theme… B-side Philip Glass is worth mentioning too, as is their s/t album, stuffed full of similarly nasty & bouncy indie synth-pop… Nice pick!