Owned since: 2013
Genre: Throw-back 60’s girl pop
Where I bought it: Thrift store
Label/pressing: Stiff/Ariola Benelux
It’s weird to talk about Tracy Ullman on this site. She most likely is just known as the person whose show started the Simpsons and little else. Even though she is still to this day the richest female English actress/comedian but hasn’t had any massive projects in the last few years. A bit part in Mrs. America comes to mind and a BBC one show and that’s all that comes to my mind. Mostly her run of HBO shows were really popular but still, they’re barely discussed these days.
Her music career on the other hand is even weirder. Two records in the 80’s for (massive) punk indie Stiff which were recorded at the start of her stardom really taking off. Mostly consisting of covers and all slacked in a big 50/60’s throwback fashion to girl pop. Massive hits also; They Don’t Know reached No. 2 in the UK and No. 8 on the Billboard charts and the album itself reached number 34 on Billboard and 14 on the UK charts. You most likely heard the lead singles without even knowing it was Ullman. Since it is mostly covers, I thought it was maybe fun to break down this record with the originals and covers:
Original by Jackie DelShannon, most famous version by Irma Thomas
A Brill Building pop classic written and performed by the always great Jackie DeShannon. A hyperactive girl-pop song that highly hangs onto soul music and which seems to be running out of breath at several moments. Still a great floor filler. The Irma Thomas version slows it down a fair bit, but is still a great swinging soul song with some infectious chorus work.
Clearly more indebted to the original DelShannon version with it’s fast guitar and drum backing it , it also for sure carries a bit of Ullman’s more sing-talky singing style. She isn’t the greatest singer and boy this record sure doesn’t hide it, but it gets by on how much fun it is.
Long Live Love
Made famous by Sandie Shaw
Sandie Shaw mostly best known for the Smiths era Morrissey being a massive suporter of her which led to that Hand in Glove version she fronted after coming out of retirement. Beside that, a short run as a massive pop idol in the UK. A great version of (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me and bouncy winning Eurovision effort Puppet on a String. This was another big hit for her in her usual style. Big brass backing and slight hand-clap backing with Shaw near reggae(!)- like singing a top of it. A big hit in Europe around the time and a solid little song. Check out here the very 60s psychedelic pop record Reviewing the Situation also which rules.
A very synth up version from the original which does also include the brass. Poorly. I think this is the weakest song on the record because the musical backing is just too much bar band at 2:00 a.m., trying to get to their set.
Made famous by no-one really?
Boy this is a deep cut. Sandy Posey is a mostly forgotten country-pop singer who recorded this for a B-side. An extremely depressing slow burn ballad about, well, a relationship falling to pieces I know this one through an obscure girl-pop collector. This has made several mixes I’ve made over the years, such a great song.
Posey’s vocals aren’t that far off from Ullman, so this is a very good fit. The more sleek 80s backing works fine on this song melo-dramatic themes also. Solid stuff.
Oh What a Night
Made famous (twice) by the Dells
There are two famous versions of this, so you know it’s good. The original 1954 single is a doowop classic for all the right reasons. Smooth, warm and unstoppablly catchy. The 1969 soul recording has of course a horny spoken word intro and then slowly veers in a slightly slower version of the original. I prefer the snappiness of the original, but both versions rule.
Ullman transforms it into a power-pop ditty which was a very good choice. Extremely catchy and laying more focus on the lead vocals/guitar makes this pretty much a new song.
Life is A Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)
Made famous by Reunion
Novelty single time! Pretty much a proto Losing My Edge with all the name checking of all the acts of the 50’s to the 70’s. Packaged in some solid riffs and hooting and hollering this is a fun one. Also seemingly the basis for that McDonalds million dolar menu vinyl thing.
Stays pretty close to the original with Ullman rattling off a near endless list of bands to the very 70’s soul chorus. It’s sweet.
Move Over Darling
Made famous by Doris Day
A Doris Day song written by her son and (in)famous Beach Boys collaborator Terry Melcher. Pretty much one of the best songs Day ever recorded, a wonderful little pop song beautifully arranged. Heavy Beach Boys string and backing vocals, before that became a thing, on this also. Also yes this already sounded like from years past in 1963, it seems. Movie this is from is pretty good, also.
I might like this version even more, the song gets some much needed sexuality added to it which fits perfectly with the lyrics. Ullman trying here best ye-ye girl vocals on this and boy it works perfectly.
Made famous by Marcie Blane
Another Brill Building effort this time penned by Gary Klein and Henry Hoffman. A shrill but honest song about a girl falling in love with a boy and fantasizing about him. The chorus goes ‘you’re not a kid anymore’. It’s fine.
This becomes a near ABBA like song on here which boy is a good fit to get the shrill slightly whiny stuff of the original out of here. Very clearly Kristy MacColl in the backing of this also. Loud brass stabs all over this one also.
They Don’t Know
Made famous by Tracy Ullman, original by Kristy MacColl
I love Kristy MaccColl. She was a tremendous singer and songwriter who might be best known for that Pogues song these days, but released a ton of great singer songwriter records. Even that is not including the great sling of singles she released on Stiff. This is her debut on Stiff, a pure ode to the Brill Building pop writing of Ellie Greenwhich mostly and one of the best singles to come out of the 80s. Extremely bittersweet and powerful.
Ullman’s version is also her best known song and not the last MacColl cover. Follow up You Caught Me includes a very good verison of the title track and a tremendous cover of Terry. This ramps up the bittersweet feeling quite a bit with bells and Ullman just sounding like a dead ringer for Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las. Bigger and far more of its time than the original, but both versions are just extremely good songs.
(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear
Made famous by Blondie
Oh hey it’s one of my favorite Blondie songs. First appearing on the band’s Plastic Letters, this is the band going full on (again) Brill Building but more the Carole King side of songs. Extremely catchy and the right kind of punchy and poppy to make it stick forever if your head. With some tremendous keyboard organ work on this also. Written by Gary Valentine, who also penned X Offender, but recorded after he left the band.
A full blown 80s power-pop song pretty much that leaves a lot of the pieces of the Blondie song there, but ramps up the guitar work a fair bit. Harry’s vocals for sure are missed on this, Ullman’s aren’t bad but just slightly too high pitched to make it reach the levels the orginal did.
You Broke My Heart in 17 Places
Made famous by Tracy Ullman, written by Kristy MacColl
The title track is a fun one, clearly showcasing early MacColl tropes and this also recalls ABBA a fair bit. It’s the short sentence lyrics and drum beat that does it here. Fun little song.
I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten
Made famous by Dusty Springfield
Goosebumps all over for me. Legit one of my favorite Springfield songs, it’s this haunting love song has been covered tons of times (my favorite being by Marc Almond and Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknel) but nothing reaches the original’s pure power. Big massive orchestra shout fest that sounds deeply personal but also straight off a Bond soundtrack.
This speeds up the song a fair bit and keeps the big orchestra sound but also turns it into a bit of a forgettable version. It does have a tremendous little break around the chorus.
Overall You Broke My Heart in 17 Places is very much a product of the early 80’s obsession with the 60’s. Loads of good covers on this, most of them makes me want to pick up the originals instead, but it was also a great fit for Ullman. Not being a professional singer, she does tremendously well here and the whole tongue in cheek retro atheistic was the right way to go. Just look at this tremendous K-tel looking cover art.
Just loads of fun and a really good way to get into some classic 60s and 70s singles.
The second album is fun also but mostly because it includes her best song. A loud stomping version of MacColl’s Terry which I’ve included on so many mixes. Poorly, the rest of the record is a bit less good than this one so I purged it in a record cleaning session some years back.
SLOOT THOUGHTS: THIS IS UP MY ALLEY. I’M MAD I ENJOYED IT