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45 at 33: Voice of The Beehive’s Don’t Call Me Baby

Thirty-three years ago, Voice Of The Beehive were one of the few shining lights to emerge in a fallow period when straightforward pop music was at a bit of a low ebb. 

The Anglo-American alternative act were the bee’s knees for all of five minutes when in the summer of ’88 they scored their biggest hit with Don’t Call Me Baby. Sit tight and let me cast your mind back…

Transatlantic cartoon combo Voice Of The Beehive is probably best known in its initial incarnation with Mike Jones (guitar) assisted by the then defunct Madness rhythm section of Daniel Woodgate (drums) and Mark Bedford (bass, before being swiftly replaced by Martin Brett) underpinning a slightly Bangles-esque showcase for sisters Tracey Bryn and Melissa Brooke Belland, transplants from California who settled in London in part because they felt the British music scene would be more amenable to the breezy, polka dot pop they wanted to create.

After the toe-dip of a couple of fledgling 45s, the band delivered their debut album Let It Bee in June 1988, punnily swiping its moniker from the Beatles’ swansong, Let It Be.

If the joyous, buoyant music was touched by vintage girl group sunshine, the lyrics often told a different story. Largely penned by Bryn, then pushing the big 4-0, the happy/sad tales exhibited a take-no-prisoners feminism and a bracing willingness to offer reportorial assessments of the indignities heaped upon women. Let It Bee includes the deliciously titled There’s A Barbarian In The Back Of My Car, a co-write with miscreant rocker Zodiac Mindwarp, the result of which is about an accurately dismal an assessment of the male half of the specifies as exists on a pop record.

That they aspired to great intangible timeless things is a given. With Don’t Call Me Baby they hit that mark like George Best scoring a hat trick at Wembley. The LP’s key single, the song reached No.15 in the UK a fortnight before the album dropped.

On first impressions, it comes across as fairly conventional tale of romantic woe, with a caddish paramour deploying terms of affection to one woman while another is “waiting in the car.” 

But to say VOTB played it by the numbers with a safe formulaic stab at a hit single is to miss the point. This is like a showcase of how it should be done. We need safe formulaic pop to be of a standard. And it at least needs to be sung by ballsy girls with long hair and leather jackets who look like a cross between The Bangles and Strawberry Switchblade, or what’s the point of anything?

If these fundamentals aren’t adhered to somewhere we end up with garbage (not the band, they’re great) in the charts and there’s never a cross over between art and commerce. Don’t Call Me Baby is a quasi Byrds meets beat generation attempt at garage rock breaking through Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.

Except it’s none of those things in any way but in its heart. Because in my mind, I’ve always heard the declaration of the title as broader, essentially declaring independence from any lousy dude who tried to diminish the singer in any way. It’s a revolt against sexism that happens to have a killer hook. That may not be the most accurate assessment when the track is given a literal reading, but I’m convinced that’s the spirit that imbues it.

Ever been chatted up by an Irishman?

Steve Pafford

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