Originally published on So So Gay on 15 August 2012.
Back in the late 80s, when I was a mere baby gay, a pop tour de force burst on to the music scene. Born in London, but of Dusun-Scottish descent, Alison Clarkson was a mere 20 years old when she wrote and recorded her début album: the magnificent Boomania. Due to her apparent similarity to the character Betty Boop, though wishing to avoid copyright infringement, Clarkson adopted the stage name Betty Boo, and introduced the world to her alter-ego; an ass-kicking, no BS-ing, MCing monster, armed with nothing but a sharp bob cut and a collection of spunky pop songs.
Although Boo’s biggest hit was the slightly kitsch and commercial ‘Where Are You Baby?’, which reached #3 back in 1990, the remainder of the album is full of brassy raps delivered over hip-hop beats, matched with infectious pop choruses. Her initial break came courtesy of a collaboration with Beatmasters in 1989, appearing as the guest vocalist on the #7 hit, ‘Hey DJ/I Can’t Dance (To That Music You’re Playing)’. This single was rightfully included on Boomania, and was a great introduction to the Boo persona.
Other tracks released from Boomania were ‘Doin’ The Do’ and the superb ‘24 Hours’. The former was her first solo single and opened with the lines ‘It’s me again / Yes, how did you guess? / ‘Cause the last time you were really impressed’ – Boo certainly started as she meant to go on. The latter (embedded below) was the final single to come from her début, sadly and undeservedly reaching a paltry #25 on the UK charts. It wouldn’t be until Craig David’s ‘7 Days’ that the days of the week would again be used so well in a song’s chorus.
The great thing about her début album is how it mixes up the pace perfectly. Boo handles up-tempo and mid-tempo equally well, even throwing in the occasional curveball such as the striking and rather haunting ‘Valentine’s Day’. A particular highlight for me though is the quirky funk of ‘Mumbo Jumbo’ which sees Boo in 100% fierce mode, sending a lover packing for two-timing her. The attitude overflows here, beginning with her yelling, ‘You’re a damn liar!’, followed by the sound of a door slamming.
Coming from a rather well-to-do, suburban existence, this Boo ‘tude kind of rocked my tiny world back then – truth be told, it still does. Additionally, Boomania was the first music I owned which contained some swear words – which as a seven year-old was a pretty big deal. For fellow fans of the fabulous Spice Girls, you ought to be aware that we owe a small debt of gratitude to Betty Boo; when the creators of the Spice Girls posted their initial adverts looking for members, they said they wanted ‘five Betty Boos’. So there you have it – if there had been no Boo, there likely would have been no Spice. Maybe.
The follow-up to Boomania, entitled Grrr! It’s Betty Boo, while a solid pop effort, didn’t match the level set by her début. The noticeable difference between the two albums was the diminished ‘Boo attitude’, veering more towards the pop and away from the hip-hop beats of Boomania. Whether intentional or not, it didn’t fair that well, producing only two singles both of which unfortunately missed the top 40.
Aside from a couple of brief flirtations with the charts – once with Blur’s Alex James as a new duo called WigWam, and again with dance act Jack Rokka, collaborating on the single ‘Take Off’ – Clarkson seems to be quite content beavering away behind the scenes these days. She has written material for a number of other acts, including Girls Aloud, Paloma Faith and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, not to mention co-writing the incredibly successful Hear’Say single, ‘Pure and Simple’ – for which she won an Ivor Novello Award. However, a part of me sincerely hopes that she resurrects her alter-ego and storms the charts once more.