This post is sort of about Tracey Ullman, but is more about Kirsty MacColl and the Boomtown Rats.
At first I thought Tracey Ullman was a little too well-known for a Á¢€Å“Lost in the 80sÁ¢€ post. After all, her first single, Á¢€Å“They DonÁ¢€â„¢t KnowÁ¢€, peaked at #8 on the charts in 1984, hardly obscure by any stretch. But I found when talking to people about TraceyÁ¢€â„¢s music career just about all of them said the same thing: Á¢€Å“Tracy Ullman used to make records?Á¢€
Sure. But not only did our Tracey make records, she made damn good ones that evoked the 60s girl group sound while sounding surprisingly contemporary. The backing tracks had a beefier sound and almost punkish urgency that made her records more than just mere nostalgia mining. And like any good girl group singer, Tracey was more than happy to blend into the musical wallpaper and surrender to the song and whatever producer she happened to be working with.
TraceyÁ¢€â„¢s only hit in the States, Á¢€Å“They DonÁ¢€â„¢t KnowÁ¢€, was originally recorded by the incredible and dearly missed Kirsty MacColl, who had quite the storied recording career herself. Kirsty also became the backing singer du jour in the late 80s, appearing on albums from the Smiths, Talking Heads and, um, Frida.
Tracey and her label Stiff liked what Kirsty was doing, so after Á¢€Å“They DonÁ¢€â„¢t KnowÁ¢€ hit, Kirsty contributed a few more songs and backing vocals to the following full-length Ullman album, Á¢€Å“You Broke My Heart in 17 PlacesÁ¢€. The title track was a MacColl composition and featured her typically genius wordplay Á¢€” Á¢€Á¢€¦cuz you broke my heart in 17 places / ShepherdÁ¢€â„¢s Bush was only oneÁ¢€. Probably lost on the majority of people here in the States, but heyÁ¢€¦you canÁ¢€â„¢t beat the tune.
That album did well enough in the UK (and here, actually Á¢€” it peaked at #34 on the charts), that a quick follow-up was in order. Not one to mess with a winning formula, Á¢€Å“You Caught Me OutÁ¢€ was another pastiche of the 60s and new wave, featuring more Kirsty-written songs, including, yes, the title track. Á¢€Å“You Caught Me OutÁ¢€ was, again, originally recorded by Kirsty and was co-written with members of the Boomtown Rats, who also played on the track, giving it a driving, punky feel. Unfortunately, contractual snags prevented KirstyÁ¢€â„¢s version from ever being released until years after her untimely death. Meanwhile, TraceyÁ¢€â„¢s version was even more hyper, the organ higher in the mix, the beat more insistent, the vocals more histrionic. Is it blasphemy as a Kirsty fan to say I prefer TraceyÁ¢€â„¢s version?
Á¢€Å“You Caught Me OutÁ¢€ the LP also featured a cover of Á¢€Å“I Know What Boys LikeÁ¢€ by The Waitresses. That Butler guy gets around lately.
While Á¢€Å“You Caught Me OutÁ¢€ was never released stateside, Rhino has put out a compilation CD that features TraceyÁ¢€â„¢s first LP in its entirety, along with some b-sides and a healthy portion of the second LP, as well. Get it at Amazon .
The cute video for “They Don’t Know” features a surprise cameo at the end:
Neither song was released as a single.