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 â€œLost in the 80sâ€ post. After all, her first single, â€œThey Donâ€™t Knowâ€, peaked at #8 on the charts in 1984, hardly obscure by any stretch. But I found when talking to people about Traceyâ€™s music career just about all of them said the same thing: â€œTracy Ullman used to make records?â€
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.
Traceyâ€™s only hit in the States, â€œThey Donâ€™t Knowâ€, 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 â€œThey Donâ€™t Knowâ€ hit, Kirsty contributed a few more songs and backing vocals to the following full-length Ullman album, â€œYou Broke My Heart in 17 Placesâ€. The title track was a MacColl composition and featured her typically genius wordplay â€“ â€â€¦cuz you broke my heart in 17 places / Shepherdâ€™s Bush was only oneâ€. Probably lost on the majority of people here in the States, but heyâ€¦you canâ€™t beat the tune.
That album did well enough in the UK (and here, actually â€“ it peaked at #34 on the charts), that a quick follow-up was in order. Not one to mess with a winning formula, â€œYou Caught Me Outâ€ was another pastiche of the 60s and new wave, featuring more Kirsty-written songs, including, yes, the title track. â€œYou Caught Me Outâ€ 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 Kirstyâ€™s version from ever being released until years after her untimely death. Meanwhile, Traceyâ€™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 Traceyâ€™s version?
â€œYou Caught Me Outâ€ the LP also featured a cover of â€œI Know What Boys Likeâ€ by The Waitresses. That Butler guy gets around lately.
While â€œYou Caught Me Outâ€ was never released stateside, Rhino has put out a compilation CD that features Traceyâ€™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.