Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em turns 30 years old today, and it is still the best selling hip hop album of all time (and probably always will be since nobody buys albums anymore). If you weren’t around in 1990 it’s difficult to understand just how ubiquitous “U Can’t Touch This” was. IT WAS EVERYWHERE. Children, adults, grandparents, dogs, everybody could tell you what U could touch and what U definitively could not touch.
Today on 80s Baby in honor of M.C. Hammer’s breakthrough release I’m going to take a critical look at “U Can’t Touch This” as well as all of the other videos for the singles on the album, regardless of whether they provided instructions on touching. If you’d like to learn what the rise of M.C. Hammer was like from somebody who lived it first-hand, I recommend checking out Will Miles’s appearance on Stand By Your Band, the excellent podcast from Tom Thakkar and Tommy McNamara. Will’s father represented M.C. Hammer when Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em was released. While you’re there you can also check out my episode talking about Tom Waits.
U Can’t Touch This
A simple, straightforward video for a song that leans so heavily on the source material, “Superfreak” by Rick James. On the sample scale of Gnarls Barkley using a spaghetti western soundtrack for “Crazy” to Puffy’s “I’ll Be Missing You,” the reliance on “Superfreak” clearly makes this fall on the Puffy end. Sample heavy or no, this video made the dancing and the pants famous and sold 10 million+ albums so Rick James was a good call.
The sample train keeps rolling down the track. My wife wasn’t familiar with this song and shortly after I started playing it she asked “Isn’t that “When Doves Cry?”” It sure was! And also Faith No More’s “We Care A Lot.” One knock against M.C. Hammer was that his lyrics were repetitive. I have no idea where this charge came from. He only says “we’ve got to pray just to make it today” eight times and “we need to pray just to make it today” six times over the course of this video. But what about all the times he didn’t say it? There were at least eight more opportunities to slip it in during the last minute and a half. I’d say Hammer showed restraint.
“U Can’t Touch This” had parachute pants but on the whole this video is a much better showcase of 90s fashion. You get all kinds of versions of 90s high fashion such as silk shirts and brightly colored dress pants, and streetwear including an excellent satin Sixers Starter jacket. Hammer mostly sticks to his signature suits but he also gets into a church suit and one of my favorite articles of clothing from the 90s, the tank top with a neck that goes down to your belly button. I can’t believe this fell out of favor as workout wear.
Have You Seen Her
This is a cover of a song by the Chi-lites. The M.C. Hammer version made it all the way to number four on Billboard, which is even more impressive when you realize that this is unlistenable. I admit I didn’t watch too much so maybe it gets good at some point but I couldn’t get past M.C. Hammer’s singing, which sounds like somebody reading a speech in front of their sixth grade class. Fun fact: Following 9/11 Clear Channel put this on a list of songs that radio stations should not play because asking “have you seen her” could remind people of losing somebody.
Here Comes the Hammer
Ooh baby, Hammer’s getting cinematic up in here. At the time this was one of the most expensive music videos ever made, so I guess it’s worth it that the actual song doesn’t start until 3 1/2 minutes into the video. Yes, this also contains a sample, in this case “Super Bad” by James Brown. It also includes video of Brown, which is a little odd because Brown was very much alive at the time and you’d think would have been available for the video. This is by far the most entertaining of the videos released for singles from this album, but it’s also kind of insane and makes no sense? In the ballroom it’s 1929 but Hammer is doing James Brown’s dance from something that came out 40 years later, also James Brown looks like a ghost and James Brown wasn’t born until 1933. None of this is helped by M.C. Hammer and his crew demonstrating by their improv that they desperately needed somebody to write dialogue for them. Plus, M.C. Hammer sees what is clearly himself doing his moves and his reaction is to get angry rather than question why he’s sitting at a table watching himself perform. Luckily you don’t have to think about it for too long because the crew is zapped to another location where they get to see spooky versions of themselves performing. Next stop is M.C. Hammer in space? It’s not entirely clear. Finally they end up in the spooky house where they started. It’s quite a ride, plus one of the guys in M.C. Hammer’s dance crew has the same hair as Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element crossed with Cory Matthews when he tried to straighten it on Boy Meets World.
This is What We Do
While “This is What We Do” wasn’t on Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em it was also released in 1990 as part of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack (if you listened to the whole album over the phone for $45 you already know that). This sounds like they went back to the “We Care A Lot” well again by copying the cadence. The video is just dancing because they make it clear that dancing is “what we do.” Oh man this is so boring. Can something be both a bonus and a drain at the same time?
There you have it. All the hits from the best selling hip hop album of all time. Cherish them.
Were you into M.C. Hammer? What was your favorite song? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.
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