Jul 08

BACCARA – “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie”

FT + Popular84 comments • 8,892 views

#414, 29th October 1977

“Already told you in the first werse…”: I’m not sure whether “Yes Sir” is deceptively dumb or deceptively clever. On the one hand you can see why Goldfrapp, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and a generation of raised-eyebrow indie fans have been drawn to it. The arch and chilly fourth-wall breaking which inverts the song, recasting it as the hustle it always was, is smart stuff. On the other hand it’s not just pretending to be a low-rent “Love To Love You Baby”. I put it on a disco mix I made for my wife once, and she loathed it: all the “yes sir”, “no sir” business came across to her as creepily subservient. Which it is, deliberately, but the “Sir” in the song isn’t coming off too well either, the singer’s testy impatience effectively puncturing his illusions: no talking, no walking, do we have a deal or not…Sir?

The question goes unresolved: the track spirals out with mock-orgasmic coos, carried over from the intro, this time rather less pleasant. “Yes Sir” wouldn’t remotely be effective without its imperious strings, iconic chorus and chuckling bassline, and its those things that mean I’m writing about it now. But they’re vehicles for a calculating heartlessness that makes this record really stand out.



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  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 13 Jul 2008 #

    Reading Tom makes me realise that whenever I’ve listened to this I’ve always imagined that I’m taking the part of the singer(s), never thought about how I would feel if it was sung to me! Approached this way, it becomes a glamorous counterpart to ‘I Love to Love’, very much more a song about wanting to get up and dance in preference to wasting time flirting with a likely partner.

    Heard as being sung to me, though, I’m not sure that I’d much like this tone of playful mockery, nor being addressed as “Sir” (though maybe that’s just how things were in Spain in the seventies)

    It’s an uneasy listen for me, because it was the favourite song of one of the great unrequited loves of my life (this one wins in terms of duration – over a decade). I once found a copy of the Baccara LP for £1 in a charity shop for her and she was never more pleased with me than when I presented her with it. I rather fear that – subconsciously – the implied hauteur and power of the flirtatious singer was what she would most have liked to identify with in the song. You live and learn – sometimes both are painful!

  2. 2
    rosie on 13 Jul 2008 #

    Maybe it’s a boy thing, this wanting the woman to be subservient, but I’m with Tom’s wife here; I’ve always loathed this song. It makes me cringe with it’s wheedling, simpering tone.

    Oddly enough I read a novel this week (“White” by Rosie Thomas, in which the “white” of the title refers – I think – to both the gritty world of mountaineering and the fluffy idea of the white wedding) which wouldn’t be my normal fare but I was laid low with an infection of the urinary tract and needed something undemanding and comforting. I found myself rooting for the protagonist, holding her own on the mountaing with the macho-men, but also wanting to scream at her for being taken in by a man who seemed to me to be a psychotic control-freak stalker. And I remembered that I never could get my head around that good girl/bad boy dynamic1 with which a friend of mine, who writes some of the racier Mills & Boon books, earns a fairly tidy crust. And I can’t be doing with male domination – I like a man who is intelligent and considerate but who nevertheless knows his place. So YSICB can’t be expected to push my buttons. Give me Venus in Furs! every time!

    1Mind you, one of my all-time favourite sexy films is Buñuel’s Belle de Jour, so there’s an exception to everything.

  3. 3
    Waldo on 13 Jul 2008 #

    Baccara comprised of one pretty girl and one absolute troll. Rather like Saturday night down the old Cat’s Whiskers in Streatham. Guess who always ended up with the troll? Actually, most nights I ended up with nothing.

    I think this peculiar little piece of Euro Pop can be chalked up as a comedy record if for no other reason than the superb (misheard?) line: “Yes, sir. Already told you in the first verse. And in the chorus. But I shall give you one more chance…” Whatever the truth, there is no doubt that the girls sung this song phonetically, like The Osmonds used to do in Japanese, or they would not have been aware of just how funny this was. They certainly looked far more serious than they should have done and therefore probably missed the point, which was that the song was actually shit but because it was inadvertently humorous, the UK took to it. That’s my take on it, nohow.

  4. 4
    wbswygart on 13 Jul 2008 #

    I remember when ILM did its Number Ones poll, this topped my ballot, ahead of “Johnny Remember Me”. Halcyon days.

  5. 5
    vinylscot on 13 Jul 2008 #

    Does the intro to this remind anyone else of “Don’t Leave Me This Way”?

    As with quite a few #1s around this point, there seems to be a real doubt as to how serious/sincere the performers are(Rod, Elton & Kiki, ManTran etc), and this is definitely another. Being a charitable sort, I would reckon that Maria and Mayte were being quite sincere and earnest, but I would put the blame firmly on the shoulders of their writers, a Dutch pair, who were probably more comfortable with the English language than their pleasant, if rather nondescript Spanish performers.

    I think this is borne out with a quick look at the follow-up – “Sorry I’m A Lady” which also had the double-meaning title which the somewhat crap lyrics are spun around – are they sorry that they are ladies, or sorry they don’t do that because they are ladies? Google the lyrics – they are truly terrible.

    This is apparently the first #1 by a wholly female duo, as if you didn’t know!

  6. 6
    Billy Smart on 13 Jul 2008 #

    There’s a better one coming up very soon!

  7. 7
    vinylscot on 13 Jul 2008 #

    This is true!

  8. 8
    DJ Punctum on 14 Jul 2008 #

    The black loneliness at the heart of the international nightclub; they might be anywhere, those girls – they are Spanish and sound it, but they seem anything other than happy. They are trying to attract men, but it’s clear that they’re being paid to do so, and they approach the hopeful, probably already pissed client with loveless eyes:

    “Mister, your eyes are full of hesitation/Sure makes me wonder if you know what you’re looking for.”

    Everyone’s lost here. “I’m a sensation – you try me once, you’re back for more,” with no winking of hearts but in possession of the full horrible knowledge of what will probably happen to them if they don’t make enough money. Still, they sense that they are at a slight advantage, and can call the shots to a limited degree: “Oh, yes sir, I can boogie/But I need a certain song.” In other words, you measure up, sir, or you’re wasting your money and our time.

    “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie” was 1977’s big Eurohit – along with La Belle Epoque’s aforementioned bizarre retailoring of “Black Is Black” which had settled at number two behind both “Silver Lady” and this – but it’s also one of the fundamentally saddest I know; the introduction is indeed suggestive of “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” and strings and harps cascade into instant view, surely giving Anne Dudley and Trevor Horn some ideas along the way, but the song is persistently in a minor key and its tone is defiantly low-key throughout; it’s as though Baccara are whispering the song as quietly as they can get away with in the darkest corner of the cloakroom. There is more than a hint of Abba-inspired ruined grandeur in the record’s orchestration, and the song’s second verse is about as cynical and take-it-or-leave-it dispassionate as any number one I know – “No sir,” they sing, quietly but firmly, “I don’t feel very much like talking/No neither walking (that Spanglish!),” and to demonstrate that the writers and producers had full awareness of what they were attempting, the girls sneer with barely disguised contempt, “Yes sir, already told you in the first verse/And in the chorus/But I will give you one more chance.”

    The song lopes along for a further couple of minutes, the girls’ sighs becoming ever more spacious and sensual, the strings becoming steadily more heartbreaking, the rhythm imperturbable. It is as if they can glimpse the escape to heaven above the strobe lights, but are too weak or indifferent to grasp the exit handle. “If you stay you can’t go wrong.” But is going away an option? It’s incredible that this has attained camp retrospective status; handbags in the centre of the dancefloor, dancing away to the strains of…blank bleakness? Is that the aim of camp, to run away as far from that blank bleakness as humanly possible?

  9. 9
    Erithian on 14 Jul 2008 #

    This one featured in my annual office Christmas quiz a few years back – “what links “Yes Sir I Can Boogie”, “Rocket” by Mud and “True” by Spandau Ballet? It was that year’s Answer No One Got, but I’m sure the Popular comments posse won’t have trouble with it…

    We’re approaching the time covered by the last “Which Decade” on Mike’s Troubled Diva site, and “Sorry I’m A Lady” was in that early ’78 top ten. It didn’t fare too well in Which Decade, being a retread of “Yes Sir…” without the leavening humour. Or so I thought before reading Marcello’s post which interprets YSICB as being voiced by, essentially, a couple of hookers. I’d seen it more as a Spanish package holiday equivalent of what the Dancing Queen would say to someone chatting her up but who didn’t quite match her standards. Not that I’ve studied the lyrics in depth, mind you.

  10. 10
    DJ Punctum on 14 Jul 2008 #

    Bizarrely, they represented Luxembourg in Eurovision 1978 with a song entitled “Parlez-Vous Francais?” It came seventh.

  11. 11
    Mark G on 14 Jul 2008 #

    They should have let the funky music do the talking.

    and so the circle goes around again.

  12. 12
    mike on 14 Jul 2008 #

    Once again, I am reminded of how much time and energy I spent loathing and despising the chart music of 1977. As with “Silver Lady”, so with “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie” – and yes, maybe it was the unwitting bleakness that got to me in this instance. The song strives for light-hearted sassiness but achieves nothing more than joyless desperation, the grim mood further accentuated by that horrible, lifeless Eurodisco arrangement. Unlike many commercial disco hits of the day, this one has resisted all my attempts at posthumous re-contextualisation, and not even its camp factor can redeem it.

    That said, I did enjoy both the Goldfrapp and the Sophie Ellis-Bextor covers: the former accentuating the mechanised/de-humanised bleakness, and the latter… well, here’s a copy/paste from something I wrote elsewhere:

    “I love the way that [Sophie] effortlessly recontexualises the whole essence of the song, turning it right around from the dead-eyed, wilfully gormless, no speaka da lingo mista, port-and-lemon swilling Desperate Slapperhood of the original, and transforming it into a sly, knowing, effortlessly commanding, I-call-the-shots-round-here-Mister signal to arms. In this context, the lines “already told you in the first verse, and in the chorus, but I will give you one more chance” take on a gently chiding, finger-wagging, amusedly world-weary quality which I find utterly charming.”

  13. 13
    mike on 14 Jul 2008 #

    Incidentally, my dear departed Dad once turned down an invitation to have lunch with Baccara. It was the early 1990s, and times were hard, both for Baccara and for my father. He had been reduced to doing legal work for a chain of shit local discos, and they had been reduced to touring them…

  14. 14
    Tom on 14 Jul 2008 #

    On the dead-eyed disco tip, The Cheeky Girls’ “Have A Cheeky Christmas” is the office-party seasonal knees-up Baccara never wrote.

  15. 15
    Waldo on 14 Jul 2008 #

    Erithian #9 – Okay, I give up. What’s the answer? Will I kick myself? And by the way, you’ve bunnied yourself!

    I ought to mention that on “Gary and Mary’s UK No 1 Lyrics Site”, the comical line to which I and Marcello refer is listed as “Yes, sir, already told you in the first word. And in the cold. But I shall give you one more chance”. I don’t think this is right at all.

  16. 16
    Billy Smart on 14 Jul 2008 #

    Got it! All three songs refer to their own verse/ chorus structure!

  17. 17
    DJ Punctum on 14 Jul 2008 #

    By the nineties, weren’t there two Baccaras doing the rounds, Bucks Fizz-style?

  18. 18
    Erithian on 14 Jul 2008 #

    Spot on, well done Billy – you’d have won the office quiz hands down. The question was used in the quiz just before Natasha Bedingfield wrote some uninspired songs about being an uninspired songwriter. Yes, Baccara’s reference to the first verse and the chorus always made me smile – the main redeeming feature of a pretty mediocre record.

    And Waldo, I think SB only really gets involved once you start discussing the merits of an upcoming number one outside of the context of the track under discussion – so a connection between Baccara and the other SB, however tenuous, makes mention of them legit – m’lud.

    Funnily enough, Mike’s reference to “reduced to touring shit local discos” reminded me of the Cheeky Girls even before Tom chipped in there. Sadly there are rumours that Lembit and whichever-one-it-was have split, ending the most embarrassing episode for a major political party since David Icke told the Greens he’d have to step down because of an announcement he was about to make.

  19. 19
    jeff w on 14 Jul 2008 #

    They’re just on a break (according to Cheeky Girl’s mum today). She hasn’t broken off the engagement.

    Why am I admitting I know this?

  20. 20
    mike on 14 Jul 2008 #

    Needless to say, I preferred my “meta” done Punk Style:

    “Second verse, same as the first…”

    “Third verse, different from the first…”

  21. 21
    rosie on 14 Jul 2008 #

    But none of them do it as succinctly as Matching Mole’s Signed Curtain

  22. 22
    Billy Smart on 14 Jul 2008 #

    This song is responsible for one of my favourite music press punning headlines. For an Andrew Mueller article about the Palestinian music scene: “Yasser, I Can Boogie”

  23. 23
    Erithian on 14 Jul 2008 #

    “Second verse, same as the first” isn’t necessarily punk style – it was used in “I’m Henery The Eighth I Am” and quite possibly before that.

    Punning headlines – sadly we never saw the great French captain involved in internal strife for club or country yielding the headline “Zidane, You’re Rocking The Boat”.

  24. 24
    Waldo on 14 Jul 2008 #

    #16 and #18 – I must say that I am having difficulty in finding the link with Mud’s “Rocket”. Could someone enlighten me, please. I must be having a lost brain day.

    Marcello #18 – You’re right, of course. Unfortunately for poor Erithian, he was tangling with the Old Testiment Spoiler Bunny, who will have you over for fucking anything!

  25. 25
    Billy Smart on 14 Jul 2008 #

    Les Grey announces “Second verse!” in his trademark cod-Elvis style.

  26. 26
    Waldo on 14 Jul 2008 #

    Second verse same as first…

    “I’m in heaven when I see you smile!!!!…..”

    Grand drinking song, that. Lordy!

  27. 27
    Waldo on 14 Jul 2008 #

    Thank you, Billy. That reminds me of my great hero, Hendrix muttering “Listen to this bit…” before embarking on a second verse of (I think, from memory) “Gypsy Eyes”.

  28. 28
    Erithian on 14 Jul 2008 #

    Waldo #24 – yes, beware the fundamentalist Spoiler Bunny.

    I also wonder if the local paper in Norfolk ever covered a behind-the-scenes row at the local Ridgeons League club with the headline “Diss Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us”…

  29. 29
    mike on 14 Jul 2008 #

    Erithian #9 – here’s that Troubled Diva Which Decade Is Tops For Pops “Sorry I’m A Lady” discussion in full (scroll down for reader comments).

  30. 30
    Waldo on 14 Jul 2008 #

    Erithian – That “Diss town…” reference puts me in mind of an incident when Crystal Palace played Wolves in the early 1970s at Selhurst and a massive punch-up took place, the main contributor being the home team’s large but entirely donkey-like centre forward, Gerry Queen. This, of course, resulted in the headline: “QUEEN IN BRAWL AT PALACE!”

    I can just imagine an enraged mid-forty-something Brenda in tweedy togs and headscarf piling into Sir Alan Fitztightly and his staff for leaving the crusts on the cucumber sarnies.

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