How M/A/R/R/S' 'Pump Up the Volume' Became Dance Music's First Pop Hit
M/A/R/R/S' 1987 dance classic "'Pump Up the Volume" became dance music's first genuine pop hit.
It's only logical that a landmark of musical cut-and-paste would have gotten its start thanks to MTV. In the spring of 1987, the music video network was about to launch in Europe and hired London dance DJ Dave Dorrell to compose music for commercial bursts. He told authors Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton that his job was "to put as many edits into 15 seconds as possible."
This would be the impetus for one of the most important records of the 1980s: M/A/R/R/S's "Pump Up the Volume," a hit in the fall of 1987. Concocted by Dorrell and fellow club spinner CJ Mackintosh along with siblings Martyn and the late Steve Young of Colourbox and A.R. Kane's Alex Ayuli and Rudy Tambala, "Pump Up the Volume" wasn't the first hit record to feature a prominent sample, but it was the first big hit to be made up largely of samples. Instead of a chorus, there's just the title phrase, sampled from Rakim, over a beat that cribs from James Brown, the Bar-Kays, the Last Poets and the Montana Sextet, not to mention Public Enemy, Wolfman Jack and a fire engine.
M/A/R/R/S' strutting groove and anything-goes drop-ins make the track sound both fresh and inevitable, a bedrock anthem. (Not everyone agrees: In 2000, a writer for Salon complained the song had "been played so many millions of times that hearing [it] yet again is more painful than nostalgic.") In fact, "Pump Up the Volume" was essentially the pop crossover track from an era full of similar DJ-oriented cut-ups, many of them issued illegally.