Your first musical experience: it is something that you will always remember.
I’m not talking about the first single you ever bought – for some, that experience comes during their teenage years and involves a record which is seen as respectable – but the first piece of music that you listened to.
It may not be the most fashionable piece of music, as it was for me, but your soft spot towards it will remain for years.
Being an inquisitive child, with a fine eye for detail, my parents’ record collection and turntable was inevitably going to become a treasured part of my early childhood.
Unfortunately, unlike my other peers, this record collection didn’t include the likes of Abba or John Lennon.
The joys of Slade’s ‘Slayed?’ and Status Quo’s ‘Vertigo’, while becoming guilty pleasures during my teenage years, were dutifully ignored, as was my mother’s collection of Gilbert O’Sullivan LPs.
It shouldn’t surprise you that my sisters’ small selection of seven inch singles by Sonia, Jason Donovan and Rick Astley were also bypassed.
But there were two records that fascinated me during this period: BBC Records’ ‘Mr Men Stories Volume 2’ and, more importantly, ‘Swing the Mood’ by Jive Bunny & the Mastermixers.
It was easy to see why such a record would appeal to a five-year-old; after all, a young Prince William was once pictured wearing a Jive Bunny & the Mastermixers T-shirt.
Rather than seeing the plasticine-laden sleeve of Jackie Wilson’s ‘Reet Petite’, there was a comforting sight of a cheerful rabbit wearing colourful clothes.
It was immediately appealing and, after a polite request, my parents put the record on the turntable.
And the moment when the needle pressed on that piece of vinyl, as ridiculous and contrived as it may sound, my life changed.
As soon as Chubby Checker’s chant of “C’mon everybody!” started, I was captivated.
But, as with all good records, it was the music and not an animated mascot that did the talking.
It included a melody of classic rock ‘n’ roll hits – from Elvis Presley’s ‘All Shook Up and The Everly Brothers’ ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ to ‘Tutti Frutti’ by Little Richard and Glenn Miller’s ‘In The Mood’ – proving to be a perfect introduction to good music.
It also started an obsession with vinyl, something that has escalated to making regular trips to charity shops in Sheffield to purchase LPs by artists ranging from Paul Robeson and Captain Sensible to Scritti Politti and The Family Cat.
Although a general love of music was only established after I saw the video to the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Go West’ on ‘The Chart Show’ in September 1993, Jive Bunny & the Mastermixers developed a curiosity for a beloved pastime.
Savaged by the critics
Such enthusiasm, however, was rarely seen during 1989 and 1990, which is widely considered as the height of Jive Bunny & the Mastermixers’ success.
As all of their records sampled other records and scarcely used original material, the media scorned it for being unoriginal and lazy.
T’Pau singer Carol Decker, for instance, described their work on BBC One’s ‘Juke Box Jury‘ as “awful, it’s disgusting, I think they know that as well”.
Meanwhile, the show’s presenter Jools Holland described their music as a crime akin to “cutting up the Mona Lisa’s head and sticking it on a picture of my mum”.
Comedian and fellow ‘Juke Box Jury’ panellist Jeremy Hardy went even further by saying:
“[T]hey’re just gits who get rich off the backs of work done by other people. And, speaking as a revolutionary socialist, in a workers’ state they would be shot, and I would be there.”
Even the New Musical Express – in Stuart Maconie’s December 1989 interview with Andy and John Pickles, the men behind Jive Bunny & the Mastermixers – stated: “Something about Jive Bunny really does bring out the worst in people.”
This criticism, perhaps, seems unfair.
The Avalanches’ album ‘Since I Left You, for example, was critically lauded and ranked as Teletext Ltd magazine Planet Sound’s best album of 2001. The album slickly sampled of old records and films, which could be seen as a contradiction.
However, in September 1989, Beatmasters’ Richard Walmsley told Smash Hits:
“I’m getting all my samplers and I’m burning them outside the studio. I never realised the damage they could do until I heard Jive Bunny’s record.”
One possible reason for the music press’ negative reaction to the act was pointed out by Maconie, who suggested that their location of Rotherham was seen as unglamorous and “the sound of school discos, Labour club knees-up and 16 pints of Best followed by chicken vindaloo”.
Terrorvision (from Bradford) and Shed Seven (York), for example, faced similar scorn in the press during the Britpop era in the mid-1990s, showing that geographical snobbery may have played a part in the fact that Jive Bunny & the Mastermixers were hated even more than Stock Aitken Waterman amongst music journalists.
If they were based in Sheffield or Leeds, for instance, they may have stood more of a chance of being respected in the industry.
But this did not stop the group from becoming the music sensation of 1989. The initial response from major record labels was initially negative, as they thought that “the rabbit is a no-no”.
They eventually released their records via Parkgate-based record label Music Factory Mastermix, founded by the Pickles brothers in 1986, and their first record became a surprise summer hit in 1989.
‘Swing The Mood’ originally entered the UK Singles Chart at Number 54 in July 1989 but, within three weeks, it had reached Number 1 and stayed there for five weeks until early September.
Although it was perceived as a novelty record and a potential one-hit wonder, they proved the critics wrong when their next single, ‘That’s What I Like’, entered the UK Singles Chart at Number 4 in October 1989 and reached the top spot within a week.
‘Swing the Mood’ became the UK’s second biggest single of the year.
It was behind ‘Ride On Time’ by Black Box – which, ironically, was another act that faced copyright issues (Roy Wood, for example, had to re-record ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ for Jive Bunny & the Mastermixers’ ‘Let’s Party’ single) – and sold over 850,000 copies in total.
The Hawaii Five-O influenced ‘That’s What I Like’ also performed well, selling over 450,000 copies within its first two months of release.
And Jive Bunny & the Mastermixers were also a worldwide phenomenon – as the two aforementioned singles reached Number 1 in several countries such as France, Austria, Portugal, Belgium and Canada.
They even found Billboard Hot 100 success in America, as well as ‘Swing The Mood’ becoming Australia’s all-time best selling single at the time. They also became the world’s best selling singles act of 1989.
And, by the end of the 1980s, they act found themselves in the record books.
Their Christmas record, ‘Let’s Party’, was strategically released a week before the release of Band Aid II’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, which helped to secure them another Number 1 single after 237,000 copies were pre-ordered.
They became only the third act, behind Gerry & the Pacemakers and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, to reach the top spot with their first three single releases, which was considered as a very rare achievement at the time.
And, even more impressively, they achieved this in just 20 weeks.
They also released their first album, ‘Jive Bunny: The Album’, in December 1989, which peaked at Number 2 in the UK Albums Chart for five consecutive weeks during the Christmas and New Year period.
The label also released merchandise, including T-shirts and soft toys, which sold quickly, and there were even talks of television companies producing a Jive Bunny cartoon for children.
The commercial success of their first three singles was maintained in 1990, albeit to a more modest level.
‘That Sounds Good To Me’ was widely predicted to reach Number 1 in March 1990, and that looked to be the case in the mid-week charts, but it eventually entered the chart at Number 4. It stayed there for a further week, before slipping down the charts at an alarming rate.
The can-can inspired ‘Can Can You Party’ showed that the format of sampling vintage records was starting to become tired and contrived, yet it still reached Number 8 in August 1990.
A swift decline
The act was most popular amongst children, who were enchanted by the Jive Bunny mascot more than anything, but the release of ‘Let’s Swing Again’, which inevitably sampled swing music, marked the beginning of a swift decline in their popularity.
The slapstick violence in the promo video came as a surprise and it also was their first single not to reach the Top 10.
It climbed up to Number 19 in November 1990, after entering the UK Singles Chart at Number 25, and only stayed in the Top 40 for just three weeks.
They soon made another bid for the Christmas Number 1 spot a month later and ‘The Crazy Party Mixes’ (which, insipidly, sampled ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’ and ‘My Old Man’s A Dustman’) charted well, as it peaked at Number 13 in December 1990.
Their second album, ‘It’s Party Time’, also flirted with minor chart success and stayed in the Top 30 for six consecutive weeks.
But 1991 proved to be the beginning of the end for Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers.
The format was on its last legs, as reflected in the title of their next single, ‘Over To You John (Here We Go Again)’, which – despite raising funds for the St John Ambulance – became their first single to miss the Top 20, peaking at Number 28 in March 1991.
The act has not released another single since November 1991 and this looks likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
The record label, who are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, have also branched out into other areas, including supplying re-mixes on digital downloads and technical equipment for DJs.
If this carries on, there should be no need for Jive Bunny to make a comeback for a long time.
This feature was self-published in August 2011.
Anon (1989) Personal File: Beatmasters and Betty Boo. Smash Hits, Wednesday September 6 1989, p.26-27.
Gambaccini, Paul et al (eds) (1994) The Guinness Book of Number One Hits. 3rd edition. London: GRR Publications.
Gambaccini, Paul et al (eds) (1995) The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles. 10th edition. London: GRR Publications.
Gambaccini, Paul et al (eds) (1996) The Guinness Book of British Hit Albums. 7th edition. London: Guinness Publishing.
Gambaccini, Paul et al (eds) (1996) The Guinness Book of Top 40 Charts. 2nd edition. London: Guinness Publishing.
Maconie, S. (1989) Jiving Us Insane. New Musical Express, Saturday December 23 1989, p.36-37.
Roberts, D. (ed) (2001) The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles. 14th edition. London: Guinness World Records.