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45 at 45: The smut and laughter of Baccarat’s Yes Sir, I Can Boogie

“I love seeing artists years after their sell by date has expired, and yet they are still clinging on by their fingerprints.

A few years ago at some carnival thing in Spain I saw Baccara ‘perform’.

By this time the two original members had fallen out, and each of them was performing under the Baccara name but with a new member. 

I don’t know which version I was watching, and all these years later they look so different anyway would I have even noticed?

Of course, there was only one song that people wanted to hear, and only one other song that some of the audience might of remembered.

They were miming to backing tracks, no backing singers, no dancers on the stage.

On the plus side it was free and I got to tick it off my bucket list.”

— user Bob60 at music nerds form

Admittedly though, that indifferent recollection could have been written be any number of audiophiles, or even just a plain common or garden pop tart. Me? I don’t believe in the concept of Guilty Pleasures because you should never feel guilty about music that brings you joy. Though I freely admit, my veering over to the dark side in a belated appreciation of “a certain song” made famous by an almost forgotten Euro duo took me a little bit by surprise. 

Maybe I want to keep my reputation? Oh, sod that. It‘s confessions on a dance floor, and I‘m first in line.

Around 2004 I belatedly took ownership of More Monty: From And Inspired By The Biggest British Film Of All Time, a companion piece CD to Annie Dudley’s Oscar-winning soundtrack of the film about Yorkshire male strippers The Full Monty.

Nestled among the dance favourites and timewarp nuggets — Chic, Sylvester, Odyssey, Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin et al — in tenth position, between Sister Sledge and Evelyn King was, ta-dah…Baccara’s Yes Sir, I Can Boogie, that breathy, jokey mucho maligned disco 45 from (gasp) 45 years ago. How can it be? 

Having spent a week at No. 1 on the British charts at the end of October 1977, I was certainly aware of the the song but that was about it. In my eight year-old’s infant consciousness, the sultry vocal pair disappeared as quickly as they arrived, and three decades later I couldn’t even recall if they were French or Spanish.

Still, this telly take actually sports a live vocal. Oh, joy!

“You try me once you back for more…”

Singing in their smiley pidgin English at a time when Manuel from Fawlty Towers was conveniently a telly fave, the whole sorry affair is cheesier than Kylie and Jason singing a medley of Cliff Richard songs while being dipped in a vat of Dairylea. But somehow the insistent ear worm qualities of the track grew on me to such an extent that I even mentioned it to a Dutch friend of mine during a breather from clubbing at Brussels’ infamous La Demence.

I know, right.

Paul Nieuwenhuisen — for it was he — told me he liked it too and that Baccara had another hit called Sorry I’m A Lady. With a nonplussed look on my face he even decided to sing a bit at me

“Sorry I’m a lay-deee!”

I guess you had to be here, but it was pop prep for our impending holiday in Ibiza anyhow.

Spain. They were from Spain, see. Que?

Baccara were not only the first female duo to reach No. 1 in the UK but also the first Spaniards, ahead of swarthy, smarmy crooner Julio Iglesias.

Arguably one of the greatest disco tracks ever, Yes Sir, I Can Boogie went on to shift a jaw-dropping 16 million units and featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the highest selling ever single by an all-female duo, though admittedly there’s not exactly been much competition in that department. 

With its irresistibly cheesy melody and uncomplicated, celebratory lyrics, this most joyous of songs was recorded in the Netherlands as a fun pop (late) summer pop single in 1977, and assumed pole position in Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Israel, Switzerland and the UK before being replaced at the top of the latter chart by ABBA’s The Name Of The Game. All this is deliciously ironic as I recall I reading on an internet forum dedicated to the Swedish Fab Four that Baccara are apparently a crime against music.

When two become four, to coin a phrase then, though I realise that has group sex connotations. But that’s OK because Yes Sir had a bit of a sensual vibe to it — particularly the moany intro clearly inspired by Thelma Houston’s Don‘t Leave Me This Way via a poppers rush of Donna Summer’s climactic Love To Love You Baby — and we Brits who gave the world the Carry On films and Are You Being Served? love a bit of smut. 

That said, I don’t think many people wanted Baccara to expand on their oeuvre, even if they showed slight promise with that fabulous piece of fuzz guitar that bursts through on the outro. They were never going to be an albums act, and Sorry I’m A Lady sounds like an inferior rewrite tossed off in less time it takes to listen to it. It even has the same number of syllables in the title (groan).

Oh, those Spaniards.

The brilliantly hysterical use of Boney M.’s Rasputin in Jodie Whitaker’s swan song as Doctor Who just emphasises how nostalgia is a powerful weapon in how we’re able to enjoy old chestnuts that we were too cool to like at the time. I have no shame admitting that I do like about half a dozen Boney M. choons and sometimes give them a spin when I’m glass cleaning or being silly with my pussy. Either way, Windows and mirrors will gleam! 

Someone said it’s almost impossible to get below the standards of those lovely, charming and talentless ladies of Spain, which is a bit harsh. I prefer artistically challenged. But like Boney M., Baccara never broke any musical barriers because they weren’t meant to. They added little to the history of music – but they were fun. Hooray, hooray indeed. We need a bit of fun in this serious world more than ever right now.

Yes Sir, I Can Boogie was meanwhile taking on a life of its own, and in the 21st century has been featured in numerous telly adverts, from Cadbury’s Dairy Milk to H&M and covered by everyone from Sophie Ellis-Bextor to Goldfrapp. It goes back to that old Frank Sinatra quote. If you have a hit record, you have a career. I’d imagine most folks, certainly of my vintage, know that hit so it makes sense that when Baccara perform it, regardless of who’s in the line-up, people would applaud and cheer. In fact, the song took on on a melancholy hue with the news that one half of the duo which brought it to the world has passed away.

María Mendiola, the white-wearing choreographer opposite the black clad former ballerina Mayte Mateo, died in 2021 aged 69, surrounded by her family at her home in Madrid. She’d fallen out with Mateo years earlier and both girls had been somehow able to use the band name in slightly varying forms, each performing with a new partner as rival versions of Baccara and never spoke again. Their paths almost met once when both were playing in Moscow. By Mateos’s account, Mendiola crossed the street to avoid her.

As a throwback to happier times, here’s the song again, this time with two-piece. You‘re welcome.

Maria Mendiola is survived by her family and by her Yorkshire Terrier, Boogie. The news of her death was delivered by Maria’s most recent bandmate Cristina Sevilla, prompting an outpouring of remembrance on social media. Amid these expressions of condolence, many of the most heartfelt messages were from Scotland, where Yes Sir, I Can Boogie had been reborn, like a tartan phoenix from the disco ashes, as unofficial theme tune of the national soccer team. Like the Pet Shop Boys’ Go West, the camp classic that set dance floors alight had been granted, incongruously, an unlikely second life as a football anthem. 

From beneath a spinning glitterball at Studio 54 to machismo-packed terraces under floodlights, it‘s a song that has surely had one of the most far-fetched journeys in pop, as I already told you in the first word.

I guess you could say Se a vida é.

Steve Pafford

Maria Mendiola, April 4 1952 — September 11 2021

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