Friday, October 7, 2016

"They Don't Know" by Tracey Ullman

Top 10 Alert!
One-Hit Wonder Alert!
Song#:  1811
Date:  02/25/1984
Debut:  63
Peak:  8
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  It's hard to believe now, but Ullman was virtually unknown in the US at this time. In her UK home she was already a major comedy star thank to her roles on two BBC sketch programs A Kick Up the Eighties and Three of a Kind, but she had not crossed the Atlantic yet. While doing Three of a Kind, she had a chance encounter with the wife of Dave Robinson, the head of Stiff Records. Ullman was asked if she wanted to make a record and she though - why not? Some folks advised her that it was not a good idea, but Ullman forged ahead and recorded an album of retro 60s-style tunes titled You Broke My Heart in 17 Places. Her first single in the UK was "Breakaway," a remake of a 1964 b-side tune by Irma Thomas. It was an immediate hit and reached #4 on the chart. "They Don't Know" followed and became her biggest hit at #2. A third single, "Move Over Darling" (a 1963 Doris Day song) wound up at #8. The success of the album and singles pushed Stiff to try the US market. Ullman's first single would be "They Don't Know." Thanks in part to a video that featured a cameo by Paul McCartney, the song took off and got into the Pop Top 10. It also reached #11 at AC. It was a great introduction to Ullman who would go on to major success in the US on TV, but for her music career, this hit would be about it (she would have one low-charting follow-up later in the year). The single Top 10 got her pegged as a one-hit wonder. Luckily, her TV and film work made her a real star and pretty much overshadowed this oddball classic 80s tune.

ReduxReview:  I totally fell for this song when it came out. It was an excellent song perfectly dressed in 60s girl group glam. I loved Ullman's album as well, which had some really fun remakes. But the best thing coming from this for me was Kirsty MacColl (see below). I wouldn't fully discover her until 1991, but once I did I was a huge fan. She was a terrific singer/songwriter who just couldn't get a break in the US. Her untimely death broke my heart, but her musical legacy lives on. If you don't know her work, go listen. Her Galore! collection is a good starter, but her albums Titanic Days and Tropical Brainstorm are excellent. The latter contains a song that has gained some airplay over the years - "In These Shoes?" has been used on TV and even in figure skating. Bette Midler covered the song for her 2001 album Bette. The song hit #8 on the Dance chart. As for Ullman, her second album wasn't as good, but it still had a few gems. I think I became a bigger fan of her once she was on TV, but I still like to hear her albums once in a while.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This song came courtesy of Ullman's labelmate at Stiff, Kirsty MacColl. MacColl wrote and recorded her tune in 1979. Picked up by radio stations, the song ended up being a #2 hit for airplay and seemed destined to be a hit on the UK chart. Unfortunately, a strike prevented the actual single from getting distributed and because the main chart was based on sales, the song was unable to chart. Luckily, Ullman got the tune and recorded it and the song finally became a hit. MacColl even supplied background vocals for it and provided her signature "baby!" shout out at the end of the instrumental section. Despite having seventeen chart singles in the UK, including two Top 10's, MacColl was never really able to break through in the US. Sadly, she died in 2000 in a boating accident in Mexico.  2) After this song hit, Ullman's comedic skills started to get attention. Eventually she was offered her own skit show on the new fledgling Fox network. The Tracey Ullman Show debuted in 1987. It ended up being a hit and ran through to 1990. Along the way, the show nabbed ten Emmy awards with three of those going to Ullman. Most famously, Ullman's show served as the launching pad for another hit TV show - The Simpsons. Originally conceived as short bumpers for the show, the family cartoon became popular enough in its own right to get spun off into its own show. As of this blog date, the show is still on the air in its 28th season, making it the longest running American scripted show in TV history. Ullman later voiced a character in an episode as a dog trainer who is helping Bart with Santa's Little Helper.


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