- Boomania, an Album by Betty Boo. Released 10 September 1990 on Sire (catalog no. Genres: Pop, Pop Rap.
- Alison Moira Clarkson (born 6 March 1970 in Kensington, London), better known as Betty Boo, is an English singer, songwriter and pop-rap artist. She first came to mainstream prominence in the late 1980s following a collaboration with the Beatmasters on the song 'Hey DJ/I.
Betty Boo Boomania
If you are say, 35 years of age and up, hearing the opening bars of “Doin’ the Do,” the 1990 smash hit single by Betty Boo will probably bring an instant smile of recognition to your face. I could easily “name that tune” with just the very first note, and so can many of you reading this very sentence, I’m pretty sure. If you are younger than 35, however then you probably only know it as that catchy song they always play at LA Fitness during your spinning class.
Betty Boo was the original Spice Girl—it’s fairly well documented that Chris Herbert, one of the music biz managers who originally “manufactured” the Spice Girls was looking for “five Betty Boos”—but this is not to imply that Boo—real name Alison Clarkson—was a pre-fab pop star because she was anything but, not only writing, but producing much of her debut album, the platinum-selling Boomania. She was the real deal, even if this was not widely recognized during her brief fame.
When she was 16 and still in school, Clarkson joined a Salt-n-Pepa influenced rap trio called She Rockers. In a chance encounter in 1988 with Public Enemy’s “Minister of Information” Professor Griff in a McDonald’s in Shepherd’s Bush—incredibly caught on video—the cheeky young Clarkson performed an impromptu rap with Griff’s “beatbox” accompaniment. This led to She Rockers going to New York where Griff produced their debut single “Give it a Rest.” She Rockers also opened for PE during some American tour dates, but Clarkson soon left the group.
Back in London, she attended a course at the Holloway School of Audio Engineering and sang as a guest vocalist on a hit single by the Beatmasters, “Hey DJ / I Can’t Dance (To That Music You’re Playing)” in 1989, which led to her getting signed as a solo artist. With the financial windfall from the Beatmasters collaboration, Clarkson loaded up on audio equipment—samplers, sequencers, keyboards—so Betty Boo could do her own do. Boomania, which spawned three hit singles, was largely self-produced on her own equipment in her own bedroom, and written by Clarkson herself.
In 1991 Betty Boo won a Brit Award for British Breakthrough Act. Boomania is packed full of pop gems in Boo’s unique style, providing 4 UK hit singles; Doin the Do, Where Are You Baby?, 24 Hours and the aforementioned Hey DJ. But opinion is better. Betty Boo was ab-so-lute-ly fabulous daaarling, (he says in faux camp style).
When Boomania came out, I played the shit out of that record. Pure pop perfection in a glossy pop art package. What’s not to love? The album’s first single was “Doin’ the Do.” The way she spits out her brassy, sassy rap out here is razor-sharp. Monie Love-level good!
“Doin’ the Do”
If you don’t think that song is absolutely amazing, please stop reading this blog. I hate you.
Annoyingly, she was seldom given full credit for her accomplishments, not even for her own highly original fashion sense!
Clarkson lamented to The Independent in 1992:
‘When you’re a girl and you make pop music, it’s assumed you haven’t got a mind of your own. But it was me who wanted the Emma Peel look.’
And she chose her musical style, too, that blend of rap and frothy pop. ‘I like the Beatles, the Monkees. I like dinky sounds. I’d like to sound like the young Michael Jackson - sweet.’ She did a course at the Holloway School of Audio Engineering and co-produces her recordings. She says it sometimes irks her how little credit she gets for that, but she offsets her frustration with the thought that ‘the people who buy my records like the sound of my voice and the tune; they’re not interested in credits’
I met Betty Boo in New York in the summer of 1990. It was in a nightclub where I was working at the time called Mars on the Westside Highway just below 14th street. I think it was her publicist from Sire Records who introduced us. I told her that I really loved Boomania and congratulated her on the clever use of the “morse code” Reparata and the Delrons interpolation (it’s not really a sample) from “Captain of Your Ship” in “Doin’ the Do,” which she seemed quite pleased someone had noticed. Obviously, she was a complete knockout and although she would have only been 20 at the time, she was reserved and serious, giving the impression of being someone who was very much in control of her own destiny. She didn’t in any way act all full of herself, either, as you would expect a young person thrust suddenly into that kind of rockstar fame might behave. I thought she’d go on to become a big star, but her second album, Grrr! It’s Betty Boo—which is excellent, too—sold disappointingly. She was on the verge of signing with Madonna’s newly formed Maverick Records—Madonna has praised Betty Boo several times in interviews—when her mother became terminally ill and she took time off to care for her, and later her grandmother, effectively abandoning her performing career.
“Where Are You Baby?”
“I’m On My Way”—dig the wunderbar “Lady Madonna” break! Those are the original horn players from the Beatles song, too.
Since disappearing from the public eye, Clarkson has worked behind the scenes of various prominent pop singles as a jobbing songwriter. One of her compositions—“Pure and Simple,” originally written for Girl Thing, but relegated to an extra track on the Japanese issue of their CD—was recorded without her knowledge in 2001 by Hear’Say, winners of the audition-based UK reality TV show Popstars, and became the best-selling single of that year, receiving an Ivor Novello Award. She’s also had her songs performed by Girls Aloud, Louise, Dannii Minogue, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor.
Ambivalent about the state of the music industry, in 2001 Clarkson told The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis:
This audition-based pop star thing just didn’t exist when I was around, or at least I wasn’t aware of it. I came from a hip-hop background, did very credible underground music. As a pop artist, I had my own image. I had got to help the directors with the videos, I worked very closely with an art designer on the sleeves and stuff. It’s completely different now… Popstars was the whole thing I completely loathe in pop music. I don’t like the idea of people being auditioned to be in a pop band. They may as well be working on a cruise liner. Pop music will not evolve if it carries on like this. I think Popstars exposed how a pop group is made. It should put an end to it completely. Even if “Pure and Simple” was a successful record, I’m not that passionate about it. I’m more passionate that the programme itself might have changed people’s view about pop.
In 2006, she returned with a briefly-formed alliance with Blur’s Alex James in a band called WigWam. I think this song, titled “WigWam,” is one of the catchiest things I’ve ever heard. Play it twice. Even if you don’t like it the first time, by the second play it will be forever stuck on repeat in your head. (I wish the video quality was better, but that’s not under my control…)
WigWam only released two songs before the project was abandoned, here’s the B-side, the loopy “Robbie Rapman”:
Betty Boo deboos in 1989 in with “Hey DJ / I Can’t Dance (To That Music You’re Playing)”
A deluxe, two CD expanded edition of Grrr! It’s Betty Boo is being released by Cherry Red on March 27th
Betty Boo – Boomania
I am starting a new feature…
Betty Boo Boomania Review
that shines a light on the albums that were underrated at the time of their release, deserve wider acclaim now, or have aged better as the years have progressed. There are a couple of reasons why I am featuring Boomania as the first album of this feature. For a start, the woman behind the Betty Boo alter ego is Alison Clarkson. She is fifty today (6th March), and Boomania turns thirty later this year. I also remember Boomania fondly when it came out. I was seven when the album came out, and Boomania, to my young ears, was an exciting and exceptional addition to 1990. At the end of the 1980s and the start of the 1990s, there was this wave of great Dance, Club, and Pop music that was defined by its anthemic, fun, and catchy tone. This feature from Louder than War, published in 2016, talks about what was happening in 1990:
“It’s 1990. Pop/Rock Music was in flux. Madchester! Soul II Soul. Rock was ‘Dead’ – apart from in the USA where punk was ‘breaking’. I was still young (at 26) and my musical identity was somewhat in-flux too. Goth had become a joke. The Mary Chain were repeating themselves. The Pixies were the only band that mattered until the fledgling Manics emerged… so even I resorted temporarily to Pop Music as a source of tacky disposable joy.
Neneh Cherry was cool -due to her associations with the Slits and Co -and was the Queen of Pop – peerless and majestic rap/pop which never sounds nothing more than joyful.
Salt’n’Pepa had appeared on the Tube as early as 1987 (My Mic Sound Nice, Check One, My Mic Sound Nice Check Two, Are. You. Ready!) pre-major label make-over and were inspirational and a gap must’ve appeared in the market for a UK equivalent.
Deee-Lites Groove is in the Heart was the party record of 1990 but Betty Boo just looked fabulously right and we wanted her to be Grrrreat!”.
I was just musing, when thinking about Betty Boo/Alison Clarkson, about another British talent who released her debut album in 1990. Monie Love was born a few months after Clarkson; both are London artists and, in terms of their rapping style, there are some similarities. If Monie Love’s debut, Down to Earth, was better reviewed – and she and Betty Boo were very different in terms of their backgrounds -, I think there was something in the air in 1990. Maybe it was a continuation of the 1980s’ gold, but 1990 was a stunning year for music. Maybe Betty Boo got overlooked when you consider we had Soul II Soul and Deee-Lite owning the airwaves. What I love about Betty Boo is how she mixed elements of the cartoonish with the serious. Clarkson, as a twenty year old, was sassy and mature, but there was a sense of the throwaway and camp in her videos. That mix of the sassy and flirty can be heard in big hits like Doin’ the Do and Where Are You Baby?
These are the two songs that we all remember from the album, but there is huge quality throughout. 24 Hours and Don’t Know What to Do are classic Pop gems and, throughout Boomania, there is plenty of energy and vitality. Like all good albums, there is emotional blend and balance – Boomania would be too exhausting were it all wild jams and giddy choruses! Although some feel Boomania has not aged well and was very much a product of its time, I feel it is an underrated album that warrants a second spin. Other albums I will include in this feature have fared better through the years and are regarded more fondly, but one cannot dismiss the big moments and confidence that runs through this 1990 debut. This article from 2012 digs deeper into Betty Boo’s Boomania:
“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”.
I think there is some interesting Pop music coming through now that takes from what was around in 1990, whether it was Betty Boo, Madonna, or The Sundays. I think there is a relative lack of joy in Pop. Do people look back and feel albums like Boomania are too twee and gleeful? Unlike some of her contemporaries, I think Betty Boo managed to bring plenty of attitude and class to the party.
Although Betty Boo burned brightly for a short time – Boomania’s 1992 follow-up, GRRR! It's Betty Boo, was not as successful as her debut; she is yet to release a third album -, I think Boomania is a great album that deserves more respect. Last year, Classic Pop caught up with Alison Clarkson and asked her about that debut album and how she got into music:
“Growing up, pop music and football were Alison Clarkson’s twin obsessions. Duran Duran (John Taylor in particular) would battle it out with Glenn Hoddle and Garth Crooks for space on her bedroom wall, but it was Adam Ant who was the adolescent Clarkson’s biggest musical crush. “His videos were like mini films,” she coos. “I think they probably had a huge impact on when I started making records, that I wanted videos to be a bit more fun.”
The arrival in the mid-80s of a tornado of searingly provocative, lyrically inventive hip-hop bands would however prove the catalyst for Clarkson to strike out as a musician. She devoured the work of Public Enemy, EPMD, LL Cool J and Erik B & Rakim before forming the Salt-N-Pepa-inspired She Rockers with chums Donna McConnell and Dupe Fagbesa while still at school. Keen to make her own records, she signed on for a sound engineering course, only to drop out after a year. “It was far too technical,” she winces, “I just wanted to get on and make music”.
“Though she succumbed to Rhythm King’s desire to hire a seasoned producer to sprinkle some professional fairy dust over her bedroom-demoed tracks, it’s clear that Clarkson, for all her diffidence, had a steely determination to remain in control of her artistic output. The Betty Boo persona wasn’t committee-cooked or crafted by a gaggle of image consultants, it was 100% Alison Clarkson. A long-time fan of The Avengers TV show, she’d been inspired by that series’ Emma Peel, the feminine, kickass superspy played with flirtatious relish by Diana Rigg. “The way she looked, the catsuits, it was so simple, but so powerful,” enthuses Clarkson. In the Doin’ The Do video, she’s there, strutting imperiously around a school in a leather jacket and hotpants, topped by her iconic black bob ‘do. As videos go, it feels electrifyingly rebellious”.
I do miss some of those Pop artists from the 1980s and 1990s and wonder, if they arrived now, would they fit in? 1990 was a brilliant year for music, and Betty Boo was part of a Pop/Rap wave that managed to blend the fun with the strong. She was not a marketed and committee-spun Pop artists that one might have found on Top of the Pops at the time. Will we ever see another Betty Boo album?
“But what about new Betty Boo material? With her back doing the live thing, is there any hunger to finally put out that long-waited-for third album? It’s not even like ‘Betty Boo’ has ever gone away. It’s never just been a professional alter ego. Even today, most of her mates call her ‘Boo’. And that famous black bob with the flipped-up sides is comfortingly intact, three decades on. “It just does that,” she smiles. “Because I play a lot of tennis I try not to get it cut too often. It was flat when I left the house, then it just went whoop!”
As regards that new music then…?
“Now I feel like it’s the right time,“ she says, “because even people that were before me, like Bananarama, they keep making records and I’m thinking, I’ve gotta do it! What’s stopping me?”
What indeed? But who would the performing Betty Boo be at 49? What would a middle-aged Betty Boo rap about? “That’s the thing!” she laughs. “Country life? Tennis? I’m hoping the spark will just come. I think I’ve got quite a few fans out there who’d still like a record from me and I’d do it just for them really”.
As it is Alison Clarkson’s birthday today, I have been compelled to look back at the debut Betty Boo album and wonder whether people got too fixated on the two big singles – Doin’ the Do and Where Are You Baby? – and ignored the rest of the album. Sure, there were stronger albums out in 1990, but I think Boomania could provide inspiration to artists/bands emerging now regarding how to write a Pop gem – in fact, 1990 in general is a year many acts should study closely. Although there are no plans for another album, I do believe Betty Boo is touring this year. Nearly thirty year after its release, the epic Boomania…