American Top 40 PastBlast, 4/21/84: Tracey Ullman, “They Don’t Know”

In the last half of the aughts, I assembled somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty playlists of AT40 countdowns for my iPod. They stretched from 6/5/76, my first written chart, to 5/24/86, the weekend I graduated from college, just two weeks shy of a decade later. While I made an effort to space them out temporally, the particular weeks I chose to replicate were more than occasionally subject to the sets of songs that were about to debut and/or soon exit.

Of the shows I put together, the two I’ve listened to most frequently (outside of 6/5/76) are 1/29/77 and 4/21/84. It’s fair to say that on a song-by-song basis, I like the 77 show better—just take a look at that chart!—but the 84 countdown has a high percentage of tunes I adore as well. I probably selected it because it’s the only week that “It’s My Life” and “Come Back and Stay” co-existed in Casey-land.

I’ll be writing a little about all the songs from 4/21/84 this coming week (gonna do another Songs Casey Never Played post, too), but my self-imposed rules dictate that I address one of them now. The winner is Tracey Ullman, whose “They Don’t Know” is two spots shy of its #8 peak. Almost eighteen months ago, I included this song in a series of Facebook posts noting the anniversary of the death of Kirsty MacColl, who wrote “They Don’t Know” and sang backup (she was responsible for the “Baby!” before the final verse, too, since it was too high for Ullman to hit). MacColl was another of my favorites from the 90s; she was killed by a motorboat while swimming with her family in Mexico, in December 2000. I suspect I’ll move some portion of that homage (and perhaps expand on it) to the blog one of these days. She was incredibly good.

Anyway, I love Ullman’s take here, and I do love the video, but over the years I’ve realized that, even though she’s obviously playing it for laughs, the final minute makes me just a little sad—something about unrealized/misguided dreams and all that rot.

A few years after this was a hit, I watched The Tracey Ullman Show occasionally on the nascent Fox network in our apartment in Urbana. I recall the vignettes featuring what would become The Simpsons (I just heard that yesterday marked 31 years since their first appearance), but it’s what she shouted to her audience at the end each week—“GO HOME!”—that’s stuck with me the most; I’ve been known to use it from time to time, even to this day.

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