The Belle Stars Story – Extra Bonus Edition.

Well this is all rather unexpected. When I put pieces together about pop groups that I have enjoyed, I do make sure to track down everything about them. So not only do I feature their single and album releases, but also any TV appearances or magazine covers, because I feel that they are a part of the story too. A while ago I looked back at The Belle Stars, who had some success in the early-80s.

They started out as The Bodysnatchers, before changing their name and a few members, they briefly hit the big time with “Sign Of The Times”, but then the hits decreased in size, and their final single “World Domination” was released when they had been reduced to a trio (and I discovered recently this reached an unofficial no. 186 in May 1986).

One of their biggest hits actually came a few years after their split when one of their songs was used on the Rain Man soundtrack. They then briefly went on to the nostalgia circuit about 15 years later, although this seemed to consist of three random women. But recently, I discovered that there is another part to this story which completely passed me by when I put the original piece together, so it’s time to correct that.

In 1987, the former Belle Stars frontwoman Jennie launched a new group called Dance Like A Mother (I’m not sure what content the word “mother” is being used in here…), which was a duo, the other member being the guitarist Melissa Ritter, who I’m fairly sure was never a Belle Star herself, although there were so many of them over the years.

Their first single was “You Ain’t So Tough”, which was co-written and executive produced by Narada Michael Walden (who had a couple of big hits himself in the 80s), and one critic described this as “a tight dancefloor fare in a dense and supportive production”. What is notable about the video is that this is a parody of Robert Palmer’s famous “Addicted To Love”.

Now I make this the sixth different video that I am aware of to parody this, the others being Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman”, Bowling For Soup’s “1985”, Mr Blobby’s “Mr Blobby”, Tone Loc’s “Funky Cold Medina”, and the man himself’s “Change His Ways” (better known as “the one where he yodelled”). There can’t be any more examples, can there?

“You Ain’t So Though” reached no. 94 in Australia in June 1987, but this didn’t make the Top 100 in the UK. This was also released across Europe, and there was a performance on Dutch music show TopPop. The second single was “Private Number”, but I can’t find any videos or chart positions for this, and not long after this, without an album being released, Dance Like A Mother split. I think that is everything now…

The YouTube Files – The Belle Stars Story (Part 1).

Over the past couple of years since the whole Bananarama excitement, I have wanted to discover more about 80s pop music. Having another think recently, I decided that another group that had a interesting career and are worth featuring here are The Belle Stars, who were just about the only other British all-female group who had some success in the early-80s along with the Bananas. Again I am doing this about 35, indeed nearly 40 years after it all happened, so it might not be 100% comprehensive, but as usual it’ll consist of a look back at some of their hit singles, magazine covers, and TV appearances that I have tracked down on YouTube. b1

Many people think that the early-80s were an exciting time for pop music, and trends changed so often, that bands came into fashion just as quickly as they went out. They would go on to have only one Top Ten hit single in the UK, but they released 15 singles over almost a decade. The story of The Belle Stars actually begins in 1979, when an all-female Ska group called The Bodysnatchers formed (following an advert that said “Rude Girls Wanted”), who were fronted by the beehive-hairstyled Rhoda Dakar. In February 1980 their first single “Let’s Do Rock Steady” was released on the 2-Tone label which reached No. 22 and caused something of a buzz that led to them making two Top Of The Pops appearances in March and April 1980, along with the cover of Record Mirror in March 1980. b3

In July 1980 their second and final single “Easy Life” was released which reached a less successful No. 50, and after touring alongside other acts including The Specials and The Go-Go’s, by October 1980 The Bodysnatchers had come to an end, but some members decided to stay together and form a new group called The Belle Stars. Again, this was a septet, and after the departure of Rhoda, a new frontwoman was required. b7

They were a group of rather mismatched women who played a variety of instruments (why have one saxophonist when you can have two? But you should know by now how fond I am of female saxophonists from the 80s… especially ones from Hull), who were frontwoman Jennie McKeown alongside Stella Barker, Miranda Joyce, Penny Leyton (replaced by Clare Hirst), Sarah-Jane Owen, Judy Parsons, and Lesley Shone. It would take them a while, but they would eventually have some success. b8

There was a hint of some of the future interest they would attract when they appeared on the cover of Sounds in March 1981 whilst still virtual unknowns, and Smash Hits tipped them to be big, describing them as “hot socks!“. The first single under The Belle Stars name “Hiawatha” was released on Stiff Records in May 1981 but it didn’t chart. This was also a Ska-influenced song. A septet making Ska music on the Stiff label? Now where have I heard that before? The following two singles, “Slick Trick”, released in July 1981, and “Another Latin Love Song”, released in October 1981, didn’t chart either. It seems that they were beginning to struggle, maybe it was time to try something a little different. b2

In March 1982 Jennie appeared on the cover of Melody Maker alongside Paul Weller after providing some vocals for The Jam. In June 1982 “Iko Iko” was released which reached No. 35, and The Belle Stars finally achieved their first Top 40 hit. This was a cover, it brought them their biggest success so far, and the TV appearances were starting to increase. However, there was frustration that another version of “Iko Iko” entered the chart at exactly the same time and did make the Top Ten. Also in June 1982 Jennie appeared on the cover of Smash Hits which is nice. b5

One month on in July 1982, “The Clapping Song” was released, which reached No. 11. This was another cover that became their biggest hit yet, and it featured a dance routine that you were encouraged to do. There was also a video made for this one. In July and August 1982 they made their first two appearances on Top Of The Pops. In August 1982 they were on Summertime Special. In September 1982 they appeared on the cover of Jackievlcsnap-00005

In October 1982 “Mockingbird” was released, but this reached only No. 51. It was yet another cover. In December 1982 The Belle Stars featured in an Afternoon Plus documentary that looked behind the scenes at the making of their music, plus some information such as how they got together, and also how they were being promoted by their record label. Contributors included future NME editor Steve Sutherland. vlcsnap-00009

In December 1982 they performed “The Clapping Song” on Top Of The Pops for a third time as part of the Christmas special, but they were almost beginning to get a reputation as a novelty covers band. It was decided that at the start of 1983 their next single to be released would be an original song called “Sign Of The Times”. This was a make or break moment for them, and this one really did need to be a success, or it could spell the end for The Belle Stars. What will happen next? Find out in part two coming soon!