The wonderful and talented British comedian Tracey Ullman is prolly not best known for her comedy here in America, but more for her 1984 hit, “They Don’t Know.” Tracey Ullman, for “they” who “don’t know,” is also an author, director, dancer, the richest female comedian in Britain (the third-richest overall) and through her Fox television show, THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW (which aired from 1987 to 1990), she was responsible for getting The Simpsons on the air. THE SIMPSONS debuted their own show on December 17, 1989, and is still on TV today.
In between a number of British sketch comedy shows and THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW, Tracey released a pop covers album in November 1983 titled, YOU BROKE MY HEART IN 17 PLACES. The album features covers like Doris Day’s “Move Over Darling,” Blondie’s “(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence Dear,” and two songs by the late, great Kirsty MacColl – the album’s title track and “They Don’t Know.”
Kirsty MacColl originally recorded “They Don’t Know” in 1979, and was a big U.K. radio hit. When Tracey Ullman recorded her version, Kirsty reprised her original “bay-ay-be-ee” that appears in the middle of the song. If you listen closely, you can tell it’s Kirsty there and not Tracey.
Tracey even got Paul McCartney to do a cameo for the “They Don’t Know” video (she had appeared in Paul’s film, out around that time, called GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROAD STREET).
“They Don’t Know” was a big hit, reaching No. 2 in the U.K., No. 7 in Canada, and on the BILLBOARD Hot 100, it spent 2 weeks at No. 8 in April / May 1984. She would reach the Hot 100 once more with the follow-up single, “Breakaway” (No. 70; No. 4 in the U.K.). In her homeland, she had 3 more Top 40 hits before going back to acting.
This year, Tracey Ullman started a new British sketch comedy TV show called TRACEY ULLMAN’S SHOW, with 6 episodes having aired already and more on the way. She also recently appeared in the 2014 Academy Award-nominated adaptation of the Broadway musical, INTO THE WOODS, starring Meryl Streep, Maine native Anna Kendrick and Johnny Depp.
As much as I love her version of “They Don’t Know,” I hope Tracey Ullman’s legacy here in the U.S. will last longer than the 3 minutes of the song, and “they” WILL KNOW and remember, like I do, how incredibly talented and funny she is…