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(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang by Heaven 17

Album: Penthouse and PavementReleased: 1981Charted:
45
  • This was the first single released by Heaven 17, a British Synth-Pop band comprising former Human League members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh on keyboards plus vocalist Glenn Gregory. It was a minor hit in their home country, peaking at #45 on the singles chart and also reaching #29 on the Billboard Dance Music/Club Play Singles listing.
  • The song's Electro-Funk sound was inspired by American Dance music bands like Cameo, Parliament and Funkadelic, which Heaven 17 were listening to at the time. Martyn Ware recalled to us: "We wanted to do something that was funky because we loved the funk, so we started off with that as an idea: let's do this really fast. Nobody's really got anything out there that's, like, 160 BPM. We used the Burroughs cut up method for making lyrics, as an inspirational start anyway. There was a magazine called Record Mirror in the UK that had a dance chart, or a disco chart as they called it in those days. We were all big fans of disco music, even though it was out of fashion then. But we didn't care. So we looked at all the titles. It wasn't all disco, there was some credible stuff. It ranged from stuff like, 'Let's All Chant,' to deep, more like Sly & the Family Stone-type stuff. We looked at all these titles because we loved the terminology. It was all very mysterious to us with words like hip talk, slang. That's why we came up with 'thang' as a part of the title. We were so excited to have 'thang' in there because it was a really cool word."
  • The lyrics of the song reference Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan and include a wry joke about cruise missiles. Ware recalled to us how the track evolved into denunciations of the UK and US political leaders: "We started out jamming together loads of these cut up titles and coming up with ridiculous lines for the song, like, 'Heart USA. I feel your power.' What the hell does that mean? I mean, really, what does it mean? We just thought it was a comedy song. I know people will read meaning into it."

    Ware continued: "Then, as we got more into writing the lyrics, we thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to have some real world people in there?' We were obsessed with Reagan coming into power and the specter of Margaret Thatcher coming into power and those were some very genuine concerns. The whole world was going to be blown to smithereens. It seems a little melodramatic now, but it was a genuine thing at the time if you remember. So we thought, 'It's time for action here. We're all political people. It's time to walk the walk.' So as it evolved, the songwriting – it only took two days to write – it turned into this really bizarre hybrid of politics and dancing and comedy and black American soul influence."
  • The song was banned by the BBC due to concerns by Radio 1's legal department that it libeled Reagan.
  • A surprise star of the song was teenage bassist and guitarist John Wilson, whose buzzes and thrums and eight bar bass solo earned many accolades. Ware told us the story behind the young axeman's contribution: "We wanted a bass solo in the middle eight. We thought it would be really cool to go with the electronics, but we didn't know any real musicians at all because we were basically just kids messing around with the tape recorder and synths. At the time Glenn was working at the local theater in town in his spare time to make ends meet - because we weren't paying ourselves very much - at a place called The Crucible where the world snooker tournament was going on as well. He went into the greenroom. He said, 'Oh, I'll ask around because it's theatrical people, there's bound to be a musician in there somewhere.' He walked into the greenroom of the theater and said, 'Does anybody play bass?' Literally. This is not some apocryphal story. This is literally what happened. And one of the stage hands [John Wilson] was this young guy who had just started, 17 years old. Black guy. Very shy, quiet was reading the newspaper. He put his hand up without looking up: 'I play a little bit of bass.' We asked him to come down because we just wanted to see if the idea would work. He said, 'Oh, I'll go and get my bass. I just bought one last week. I bought it for 20 quid, so it's not a very good bass.' It really doesn't matter. It's just the idea. We want to see if it will work. So he came down and the first thing he played was the solo in the middle of 'Fascist Groove Thang' and we all went, excuse my language, 'Fu--ing hell!' Literally, in my entire life my jaw's never hit the floor. All of us, we were going, 'This is phenomenal!' And so I said, 'Would you like to see if you can play some bass on the rest of the tune?' And he went, 'Sure.'"

    Ware continued: "After he finished the bass on the track, he said, 'Is that alright?' I said, 'I think it was alright.' 'Because,' he said, 'It's not really my main instrument.' I said, 'What's your main instrument?' 'Oh,' he said, 'I'm a rhythm guitarist.' And I said, 'Do you think you might want to go home and bring your guitar in, like, right now?' So he came back in and he sat down and plugged it in. And I said, 'I think we'd like something that sounds a little bit like Chic.' I knew it would be good because this kid's got the funk, but it was on another level. I've since talked to Nile Rodgers about this and he says, 'Wow, that kid is just awesome.'"
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