First records are an important thing. Whether they’re retrospectively embarrassing or downright bizzare, those initial singles and LPs come to form the foundation of our tastes. We gladly return to them time and time again. That is, unless, like me, you’re desperate to forget the utterly terrible purchases you made all those years ago. Pete Doherty, however, has remained regret-free.
Born in Northumberland into a military family, Pete Doherty’s early life was not what you’d imagine. As one of the UK’s last great enigmatic frontman, one would expect him have been born in the backseat of a taxi, or maybe on a Persian rug in the midst of some hedonistic hippie gathering. In reality, Doherty’s childhood was characterised by the drab pseudo-suburban layout of the various residential Army garrisons he lived in across Britain and Europe. This featureless environment, coupled with his strict catholic upbringing, made Doherty understandably keen to find some means of escape. He eventually found one in the secondary world offered up by books and pop music.
Speaking in an interview in 2009, shortly before The Libertines reunited to perform at Reading And Leeds Festival, Doherty described how many of the songs he listened to when he was growing up were, as you’d expect, the same songs sung by the troops: “Growing up in an army barracks I remember hearing a lot of army-related songs,” he began. “Mostly about Hitler’s genitalia or lack of, the QM’s stores and one perennial favourite, that went something along the lines of ‘left, right, left, right, left’, which I could hear belting out from the parade square even as I put on the turntable my first ever single purchase – Jive Bunny and The Master Mixers, ‘Thats What I Like’.”
The playful track acted as the perfect counterpoint to the monochrome conformity of life in an Army Garrison. “For me, this song was the soundtrack of your second to last enclaves of upwardly mobile underclass muttering disciplined, salute-signalled obedience to the very last enclaves of bona fide [t]officer class ‘Ooray ‘Enries,” Doherty said.
Released in 1989, ‘That’s What I Like’ is as much a product of the traditionally working-class music halls as it is of the proliferation of sampling. Half novelty pop song, half musical collage, the track was devised by father and son duo, Andy and John Pickles. They’d had another hit with ‘Swing The Mood’ a few months earlier and decided to repeat the formula one more time, this time blending the theme from Hawaii Five-O with samples of doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll tunes by the likes of Little Richard and Chub Checker. The venture landed Jive Bunny their second number-one hit, staying in the charts for three weeks, at which time Doherty heard it tumbling out of his radio, soundtracking the site of yet another troop parade.