In 1982, Fun Boy Three released their first of two albums. Formed from the remnants of the breakup of pioneering British ska band The Specials, Fun Boy Three brought together Neville Staple, Lynval Golding and Terry Hall for a fleeting bit of fame. With a little help from girl group du jour Bananarama, recorded and released the single It Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It) to much success. The tribal drum driven tune was catchy and infections — just what New Wave radio lived for. My girlfriend (now wife) bought Fun Boy Three’s eponymous first effort and I recorded it to listen in my Walkman. And I played it a lot.
One day, as I was once again giving Fun Boy Three’s debut album another run-through, my mom began to sing along to It Ain’t What You Do. I stopped the cassette mid-chorus and was taken back. Now, my mom was cool. Ask any of my high school and post-high school friends. But, was she this cool? Could she be sneaking listens to I-92 “Rock of the ’80s,” the Philadelphia radio station that was the first in the area to change formats to the New Wave trend.
“How do you know this song?,” I asked my mom
She laughed. “This song,” she explained, “is from the 1930s” And she laughed again. “It was originally done by Jimmie Lunceford and his big band. I believe Ella Fitzgerald sang it.”
“Ella Fitzgerald?,” I countered, “That lady who breaks the wine glasses with her voice on the Memorex commercials?”
My mom laughed again. I started up my cassette player again and my mom picked up singing along. The next time I was at my girlfriend’s house, I checked the label on the record and, sure enough, the song was written by Melvin “Sy” Oliver and James “Trummy” Young. Oliver and Young were noted jazz musicians, with Oliver a member of Jimmie Lunceford’s band and Young, an associate of the great Louis Armstrong. (I didn’t know any of this information the time. I found all of this out much, much later.)
But my mom knew the song. And that was pretty cool.
Fun Boy Three had six top singles in their native United Kingdom, including a darker take of the Go-Go’s bouncy Our Lips Are Sealed, which Terry Hall co-wrote with Go-Go’s guitarist Jane Wiedlin in the aftermath of a short romance. Fun Boy Three only lasted a few years before the members went off to explore other ventures.
Terry Hall passed away on December 18, 2022 at the age of 63.