Friday, September 12, 2008

Pushing The Pineapple Of Cheesiness

The 80s was a decade that threw up plenty of cheesy music, you know the kind of tune that makes you cringe just a little bit (or a lot), but you still find yourself humming along and tapping your feet to it (when you think no one’s watching). The 1984 Black Lace hit ‘Agadoo’ was one such song. It’s not that it was such a bad song, it’s just that you probably wouldn’t want to get caught singing along boisterously to the tune on the car radio, let alone carrying out the dance moves. You’d reserve that sort of performance for the office party or summer barbeque, when the element of being moderately inebriated could be mounted as a credible defence. But hey, we’re all retro tragics here, so my hands are up in saying that on occasion (when all eyes were averted) I busted a move or two to ‘Agadoo’, and I was too young to drink in 1984, so there were no mitigating factors, aside from having a momentary lapse of reason - damn that admission could come back to haunt me.

‘Agadoo’ was the only hit that U.K. duo Black Lace scored in Australia, the song peaking at #16 in late 1984. There was a compilation album of sorts released here as well, also called ‘Agadoo’, that charted in early 1986 (#81), but most of Black Lace’s chart success came in Britain and Europe. Black Lace originally formed as a quartet in Yorkshire during 1973, comprising Steve Scoley, Terry Dalton, Colin Routh and Alan Barton. After several years mucking around the local pub and club circuits, Black Lace was selected as Britain’s official entry in the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest. The song they performed was ‘Mary Ann’, but Black Lace could only manage seventh place (the Eurovision contest was won that year by the Israel entrant Milk & Honey with the song ‘Hallelujah’). ‘Mary Ann’ was released as a single (as most Eurovision entries were) and reached #42 on the U.K. charts in March 1979.

In 1981 Black Lace then trimmed down to the duo of Colin Routh and Alan Barton, with their focus turning more towards being a good time novelty music act of sorts. The duo then looked for a song that would break them on the charts. Around that time there was a tune called ‘Gioca Jouer’ which seemed to be evoking silly behaviour on the dance floors of Spanish discos. Phil Charles had originally recorded an English language version of the tune called ‘The Joker’, but Black Lace called their version ‘Superman’. When it was released in 1983 it did the trick in British discos, encouraging patrons to shed off any sense of self respect and carry out a sequence of nonsensical dance moves, including sneezing and combing their hair (well I guess the 60s threw up the ‘Monkey’ and the ‘Mashed Potato’ so why not). ‘Superman (Gioca Jouer)’ climbed to #9 on the British charts late in 1983, giving Black Lace the commercial hit they coveted. The back sleeve of the single cover featured step by step dance instructions to accompany the song ‘Superman (Gioca Jouer)’, ending with the words ‘Have a great time!’ - there was no mistaking Black Lace for having a musical agenda any more serious than encouraging people to enjoy themselves. Of course that ethos would be confirmed by dancing pineapples and Hawaiian style shirts adorning the covers to Black Lace’s next, and biggest, hit single.

‘Agadoo’ was another song that originated from the European disco market. It had originally been recorded as ‘Agadou’ by the Saragossa Band, and had been a huge hit in Morocco of all places in 1981. Black Lace’s English adaptation bounced into the British charts in the Northern summer of ‘84, eventually peaking at #2, not long after ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ by Wham! had been #1 (giving an insight into the summer psyche of the British at that time). ‘Agadoo’ also reached #16 here in Australia, and I do recall Molly Meldrum ‘pushing the pineapple’ and ‘shaking the tree’ on Countdown at the time. Despite being universally lambasted as one of the most trite and frivolous songs of all time, there must have been a large number of those same critics that bought the song on the sly.

In November 1984 Black Lace’s record distribution company Flair Records went belly up, in the process taking most of the royalties from ‘Agadoo’ with them. But the release of their debut album ‘Party Party’ eased the pain somewhat. The album was astutely released just in time for the Christmas party season, and bolted to #4 on the U.K. album charts late in 1984, selling over 650,000 copies in its first five weeks of release. The album also yielded another British top 10 hit in time for the Christmas party season with ‘Do The Conga’ (#10) - well if it proved a good enough song theme for Miami Sound Machine.

The good time hits continued for Black Lace throughout 1985, though not with the same degree of potency. ‘El Vino Collapso’ (UK#42), ‘I Speaka Da Lingo’ (UK#49) and ‘The Hokey-Cokey’ (UK#31) continued Black Lace’s assault on good taste as well as the charts. Just in time for Christmas they released the album ‘Party Party 2’ (UK#18) via the TV label Telstar, the album featuring a medley of cringe-worthy cover songs ranging from Boney M and the Village People, to updated versions of 60s classics like ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’ and ‘Twist And Shout’. The album was designed for one purpose only - parties (possibly children’s) - well I guess the title kind of gives that away. Interestingly in amongst the camp chaos a version of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was included, with Black Lace earlier having contributed to a charity version of the song credited to The Crowd, that went to #1 in Britain in June of ‘85.

The minor hit single ‘Wig Wam Bam’ (the old Sweet song - UK#63) and album ‘Party Crazy’ (UK#58) hinted that the novelty value was fast wearing off for Black Lace, so far as record buyers were concerned. Though in the English summer of ‘86 the cult TV show Spitting Image scored a UK#1 with their parody of ‘Agadoo’, titled ‘The Chicken Song’, with the lyrics ‘push pineapple, shake the tree’ replaced by the even more bizarre ‘hold a chicken in the air, stick a deckchair up your nose’. Soon after though the party was brought to an abrupt and scandalous halt by the controversy surrounding singer Colin Routh’s affair with an underage girl. Barton tried to carry on with a new sidekick in Dean Michael, but the chemistry wasn’t there. Soon after Barton accepted an invitation to replace vocalist Chris Norman in the touring version of Smokie. For a few years Barton continued to work in both outfits, scoring Black Lace’s last chart hit ‘I Am The Music Man’ (UK#52) in 1989, but soon after he focussed fully on Smokie. His influence shifted the Smokie sound/image from soft rock to comic musical act. Black Lace did continue on post Barton with Rob Hopcraft joining Dean Michael, but the band were limited to playing the disco party circuit.

Tragically Alan Barton was killed in a bus accident, whilst on tour with Smokie during 1995. Former Black Lace bad boy Colin Routh, took on the new moniker of Colin Gibb and revived the Black Lace name in the late 90s with Rob Hopcraft. ‘Agadoo’ was reissued in 1998 and reached #64 on the U.K. charts second time around. The duo still play the European disco club circuit, wheeling out the hits to drunken party goers. ‘Agadoo’ had the dubious honour in 2003 of being voted by a panel of readers and music writers for Q magazine, as being the worst song ever - not a bad accomplishment in a warped kind of way, though I’m surprised it out voted the ‘Macarena’.

Love them or hate them, one thing is true Black Lace never took themselves seriously enough to really care much for critical acclaim, if anything wearing their distinct lack of chic as a badge of honour, forging a 25 year career, and selling several million records in the process (along with no less than fifteen appearances on Britain’s ‘Top Of The Pops’).

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