On, On, On, On…

On, On, On, On... visualization with lyrics
Photographs: Elvert Barnes (see credits), wrangel

“On, On, On, On…” is the seventh song on Bachelors Anonymous’ unreleased third album, The Big Picture, remastered and released digitally. The Bachelors tell the story behind the song.


The original “On, On, On, On…” appeared on Tom Tom Club’s eponymous 1981 album. Bachelor David had the album and the hit 12″ singles “Wordy Rappinghood” and “The Genius of Love.” But he also had a 12″ of the non-LP cover of The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk,” which included a remix of “On, On, On, On….”

We don’t recall exactly how we came to record a cover of “On, On, On, On…” except for the obvious: when sung by gay men in the 1980s, the song takes on an edge of additional defiance. It plays into the perennial fears of fanatics who even today believe that sexualities are communicable diseases.

The Recording

When we gathered our tapes for digitizing in 2020, we found we had no vocal demo of “On, On, On, On…,” but we did find a clean instrumental audiocassette. It began with, mm…, tom-toms throbbing beneath stock jungle sound effects of birds calls and mammal yowls. On stage we likely had a (now forgotten) relevant routine during that lead-in, but to avoid confusion we omitted it. From a live recording of the song at Café Largo on June 23, 1991, we learned we’d used the instrumental break at 1:27 to introduce members of our live act. Both of us felt the break should be filled with sounds from the streets. Finding protest chants that were isolated enough to be intelligible was one challenge; shoehorning them into the song’s steady beat was another. One interim version contained no ACT UP audio at all; it was the most difficult to locate.

We found a 4-track reel-to-reel version of “On, On, On, On…”—again vocal-less—containing synths Left and Right, plus an organ pad (the fourth track being timecode), giving us five tracks total. Rob used synch and scalpel to align things, then added the clanging guitar throughout and the “claps & snaps” that enter in the second verse.

Rob arranged no fewer than fifteen scratch vocal tracks for our solitary rehearsals. David was tickled at the contrast between the raucous chants and the tranquil third verse, and he couldn’t believe that the Bowie-esque sax wasn’t a new overdub.

We recorded the vocals and mixed at Scott Fraser’s studio, Architecture. Our virtual vocal coach, Jeff Rolka, had helped both of us during our home ’hearsals.

Lyrics

Lyrics available here

Demo chants:

We’re here, we’re queer,
We’re fabulous, don’t fuck with us

Say it loud, say it clear:
Immigrants are welcome here

No justice, no peace

No pipelines on stolen land

ACT UP, fight back, fight AIDS

I can’t breathe

El pueblo unido jamás será vencido

Credits

See album credits

Header image by
Elvert Barnes
On the occasion of
ACT UP 30th Anniversary Gathering Rally at the NYC AIDS Memorial at St. Vincent Triangle Park at 200–218 West 12th Street in the West Village in Manhattan, New York City, NY on Thursday afternoon, 30 March 2017 by Elvert Barnes Protest Photography
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license; additional image info

℗ 2022 Berg & Hughes

Cover Song Seal of Authenticity

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