Friday, 16 January 2015

50 songs to take to my grave #23: White Lines (Don't Do It)

I don't really feel qualified to write about rap music as it isn't a genre I've ever really taken to. There are obvious exceptions though.

White Lines (Don't Do It) dates from 1983, yet surprisingly it stands up pretty well even today. OK, so rap music has moved on in leaps and bounds since those early days, but so have many genres. This doesn't stop some early masterpieces becoming timeless. White Lines has a fascinating back-story. For starters, it is often miscredited to Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel. This is because the record label, Sugarhill, deliberately tried to mislead the public. Grandmaster Flash had left the label by this point yet they were keen to cash in on the success he enjoyed while at Sugarhill.

The record was also the subject of a major lawsuit. The backing track, featuring that instantly recognisable bassline, was recorded by the Sugarhill house band and was an instrumental cover of a song called Cavern by New York post-punk band Liquid Liquid. It was their record label 99 Records who successfully sued Sugarhill for unauthorised use of the song. Unfortunately, they never received a penny as shortly after the case concluded, Sugarhill went into receivership.

I vaguely remember White Lines back when it came out. I was a 12-year-old football fan who really didn't know what to make of this new kind of music. I was pretty sure I didn't much care for it, but this song seemed to get stuck in my head somewhat annoyingly. It is ridiculously catchy and contains a number of killer riffs. As well as that bassline, the hyperactive horns in the chorus just hook into your subconscious and send you spinning. Then there's the backing vocals, those Twist & Shout-style "aaaahhhs" add an element of suspense as Melle Mel instructs us to "get higher, baby". More than 30 years later (yeah, I know - thirty!), it still sounds like a great record for these reasons. And its subject matter is still sadly relevant.

Don't ever come down.


  1. Some interesting background info on a great song Robster

  2. Cavern, by Liquid Liquid is a great No Wave/Disco track which used to get peak hour play at Paradise Garage and The Funhouse back in the day.

  3. "White Lines [Don't Do It]" is such an interesting song. Mostly because the lyrics say "cocaine causes a lot of problems" but the song itself says "bring on the Colombian and gimme' a side order of supermodels to go!" There is a definite dichotomy between the track's message and vibe.