When Nicole Kidman did the ‘Bop’

Pat Wilson

Sometime in early 1984, an obscure Australian singer named Pat Wilson released a new wavish dance song called “Bop Girl.”

Don’t worry if you’ve never heard it. Few people did. The single never even cracked Billboard’s Top 100 in the U.S. It got as high as #104 on the Bubbling Under chart, then dropped off after one week.

 

That might have been the end of the story, but for one thing. The song’s video featured a cute, chubby-faced, up-and-coming 16-year-old Australian actress named Nicole Kidman. Thanks to the appearance of the former Mrs. Tom Cruise, “Bop Girl” has achieved something approaching cult status over the last few years.

 

And what of the song? It’s pretty great confection, actually. Its bump-and-grind, white R&B groove sounds like it might have been cribbed from Madonna’s “Material Girl,” but that song wasn’t released until nearly a year later. That makes you wonder if Madonna or then-producer Nile Rodgers had heard “Bop Girl” in a club and were trying to cop the “Bop.”

 

“Bop Girl” has a lot of other things going for it, though, like an impossibly catchy guitar lick and Wilson’s unaffected, enthusiastic lead vocal. The surprising appearance of fiddles halfway through even prefigures Shania Twain and Mutt Lange’s genre-mixing experiments of the 1990s. Maybe the biggest compliment you can give this record is that it really does make you wanna bop — even if you can’t dance.

 

The song was penned by Wilson’s husband, Ross Wilson, who was something of a musical star in Australia at the time, having been in the bands Daddy Cool and Mondo Rock. Of course, you can tell the record is the work of rock veterans who decided to don “hip” musical clothes and have a go at the new wave. Still, authenticity hardly matters on the dance floor, to quote the ditzy lyric, this “Bop girl’s A-OK!”

 

There’s probably a lot more I could find out about Pat Wilson. But that would probably spoil the mystery and fun of “Bop Girl.” Sometimes in life it’s best not to dig too deep and to just enjoy the superficial surface. Just ask any fan of Tom’n’Nicole.

 

“Bop Girl” was released as Warner 29361 and is out of print and not available on CD (at least not as far as we can tell). Wilson’s 1984 “Bop Girl” EP is not hard to find in used record shops, though.

 

Click here for the video. 

Desperately Faking Madonna

After Madonna became a pop sensation in fall 1984, a lot of artists copped her style. Some used her sound as an influence, but others went whole hog and cooked up copycat records that sounded uncannily like the Material Girl.

Four “imitation Madonna” records were chart hits and all of them have been virtually forgotten. Until now. What follows is a chronological list o’ discs, with their peak chart position listed first and the date they hit the charts second. If you’ve never heard these, finding them now will give you some new “old Madonna.” Sort of. Anyway, without further adieu, we present Desperately Faking Madonna:

 

1. Jellybean – “Sidewalk Talk” (#18, 11/16/85). Club DJ and remix artist Jellybean Benitez was Madonna’s boyfriend around the time of her first album. He eventually cut his own records, and this was his first chart hit. To be fair, this funky, synthesizer-fueled anti-gossip rant was penned by Madonna, who sings the choruses. But since she went uncredited and a vocal doppleganger named Catherine Buchanan sang the lead vocal, it’s listed here. Tuneful but cloying after a while. Available now on the “Flawless” movie soundtrack.

 

2. Regina – “Baby Love” (#10, 6/21/86). Regina Richards was a true one-hit wonder and never charted at all outside of this record. Madonna collaborator Stephen Bray co-wrote it with her, and it sounds a bit like some of his other Madonna tunes (“Think of Me,” “Into the Groove”). The lyric is a boldly Madonna-esque assertion of female sexuality (“Boy, there’s no one home tonight…Why should we pretend to be just friends?”). Yet the melody is sentimental, giving the song an interesting ambiguous quality. Out of print.

 

3. Tia – Boy Toy (#87, 3/7/87). Maybe forgotten singer Long Island singer-songwriter Tia didn’t have success with this record because she was too way derivative. Besides using Madonna’s trademark phrase for a title, she starts the disc by quoting her first hit, “Burning Up.” The thunderous drums and synthetic handclaps make this production sound like it was meant for the dance floor, and that’s probably where it’s best heard. Shame we can't make a time machine and go back to an 1980s club. Oh well. Very out of print!

 

4. Elisa Fiorello and Jellybean – “Who Found Who” (#16, 7/11/87). Sounding uncannily like “Live to Tell”-era Madge, 17-year-old Fiorello sings this pleading love song like she really means it. Jellybean’s production kicks a cool ’80s groove, with thwacking electric guitar and bell-like synth tones. It’s hard to imagine that back in the Reagan Era, this music sounded bold and daring and was an affront to the established rock sounds. It now comes off as positively sweet and innocent! Available on “1987: 20 Original Chart Hits.” Or try YouTube.

The Attractions go `Mad’

The Attractions - Mad About the Wrong BoyDidja ever meet those people who seem all normal on the surface, but when you get to know ’em you find out they have rooms filled with horror movie memorabilia or tons of books about serial killers?

“Mad About the Wrong Boy,” the sole LP that The Attractions recorded without Elvis Costello is kind of like those people.

It’s sweet and poppy upon first listen, with lots of shiny, happy melodies, and bubblegum-synth gurgles and squawks. It’s even got a cute cover, featuring both an adorable little dog and a tasty-looking breakfast. It’s in the lyrics that the weirdness crops up, though. Songs touch on themes like self-loathing (“Damage Me”), desperate housewives (“Highrise Housewife”), mindless conformity (“Lonesome Little Town” and “Straight Jacket”) and nuclear war (“Arms Race”). The album’s tales of British life often recall The Kinks’ “The Village Green Preservation Society,” but Ray Davies’ wistfulness was supplanted by The Attractions’ bitterness.

When the lyrics aren’t dark, they’re often inscrutable and very open to interpretation. For example, does the LP’s “Single Girl” excoriate a self-centered career woman or the “virgin vigilantes” that court her? Or is it just a breezy song with some oddball phrases thrown in? Considering how strong the song’s hooks are, maybe it doesn’t matter what writers “Brian & Hart” meant.

About that songwriting credit: “Brian & Hart” is Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve and his wife. I know this because he told it to me when I met him after a Costello concert in 1983. However, on the songs Nieve writes by himself, he confusingly uses the name Nieve. Got that? Bassist Bruce Thomas and drummer Pete Thomas chime in with a few songs (and play excellently throughout), but it’s mostly Nieve’s show.

Seeing how this is being written for “Lost in the Grooves” and not a site called “The Eighties Great Hits” or something, it probably goes without saying that the public didn’t go mad for The Attractions’ “Wrong Boy.” Rock critics – who behaved towards Elvis Costello like 13-year-old girls behave towards Justin Timberlake – could not emotionally handle a Costello-less Attractions LP and dismissed it as lightweight. But there are enough great tunes on this 16-song LP to make it consistently listenable. And to make you wish there had been a follow-up.

 “Mad About the Wrong Boy” was originally released as F Beat XXLP8 in 1980 and was released on CD in 1999 by Demon Records. It’s available on Amazon.com.