Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Paul Hardcastle: 19

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While synthesist Paul Hardcastle had several hits in the UK, his US one-hit wonder was the anti-war song “19” that charted on Billboard’s Hot 100 at #15 in 1985. The title was taken from the first line of the narration that the “in World War II the average age of a combat soldier was 26 – in Vietnam, he was 19.”

Dealing with the topic of Vietnam War veterans who returned with post traumatic stress disorder, it was somewhat controversial in the US, and the song was slow to chart. I was one of the programmers at the time that waited to add the record due to the subject matter. It was only after MTV made the single a hit that I reluctantly added the record and it began its slow ascent up the radio charts.

The artist and the author in Atlanta - 1985

That was not the case in the clubs as it was a number one dance record in the US, as well as being a number one hit in the UK, Austria, Germany, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. In Canada, it peaked at #2. In 1985, the pain of the Vietnam War still lingered in the US and it was not as popular as elsewhere in the world. In non-English speaking countries, the original narration was re-recorded in the national language, which made an easier path for success elsewhere.

The narration came from a 1984 ABC documentary, “Vietnam Requiem,” that dealt with the post traumatic stress disorder with which many Vietnam vets were still coping in the 1980s. ABC sued Hardcastle for his use of the narration, but was unsuccessful in the litigation. I would have thought that ABC could have won this case as others with lesser amount of usage set the precedence. The narrator was Peter Thomas who at 88 still narrates the TV shows “Nova,” “Forensic Files,” and “Medical Detectives.” His voice has also been used for numerous TV commercials spanning several decades.

Following the success of “19,” his former US label, Profile Records, re-released the instrumental single “Rainforest,” which charted the second time at #57. It failed to chart in the US when it was initially released in 1984. You occasionally hear “Rainforest” on the Weather Channel.


  1. One of the modules in the popular DAW program 'Reason' is called NN-19, after this song. The name "Reason" comes from Neal Stephenson's book, "Snow Crash".