If there was any justice in the world, Kirsty MacColl’s debut single They Don’t Know, a perfect distillation of defiant love in the style of ‘60s girl groups (and rather perfectly described by The Guardian as “as if the Byrds had been writing for the Shangri-Las”) would have been a huge hit in 1979.
As it was, an ill-timed distributor’s strike meant, despite heavy radio play, the single didn’t make it into the shops and instead it barely made the UK charts. It took Tracey Ullman and a fancy video featuring Macca himself to make it a top 10 hit (No.2 in the UK and, amazingly, No.8 in the US) a few years later but, to my ears anyway, MacColl’s original, which celebrates its 40th anniversary today, remains the superior and definitive version.
The daughter of legendary folk singer Ewan MacColl and most famous for covering Billy Bragg’s A New England, and calling Shane MacGowan a “scumbag, you maggot” in maybe the most over-rated Christmas song of all, Fairytale Of New York, MacColl was tragically killed by a speeding motorboat while on holiday in Mexico back in 2000. All these years on she remains one of Britain’s most underrated songwriters.
Her brief but brilliant career though is celebrated with a park bench plaque in London bearing the lyrics to one of her most famous songs, Soho Square — “One day I’ll be waiting there, no empty bench in Soho Square” — by which fans still gather every year on her birthday proving how much she is still missed 15 years on.
BONUS BEATS: Oh, alright then, here’s Tracey…