Dolly Dots – What a Night
London has recently experienced a surge in pavement explosions, where flames suddenly erupt from manhole covers, causing general alarm and giving the BBC something to put on their Close Calls on Camera daytime show. The official cause for these is apparently faulty electrics, but I think I’ve found the real reason: it’s all down to the Dolly Dots. Just take a look at this damning video evidence from 1987.
Yes, those pesky Dots are throwing an unlicensed dance party beneath our streets, and I don’t see a single council official doing a risk assessment, do you? For all we know the girls are still down there having a swell old time – and to be fair it does look like the best party ever. But given that their hairstyles seem to have been created by sticking a wet finger into a plug socket, it’s no wonder the odd fire has broken out. Tsk.
Who, then, were these Dolly Dots? Well, they were the biggest girl band in the Netherlands, scoring lots of perky hits between 1979 and 1988, most notably the no.1 hit Love Me Just a Little Bit More (Totally Hooked On You). But rather than take Wikipedia‘s word for it, I decided to contact my Dutch friend Arjan – who was present during Dot-mania – for some independent verification. Here’s what he had to say: “They were immensely popular, and within the gay community we still put our Dolly Dots on a pedestal. I loved them from day one even though it wasn’t cool, being a boy, to like them. Girls, however, adored them, like girls adored Madonna, and this was before the Madonna era.”
Ah yes, girls and gays – the essential foundation stones upon which the greatest pop careers are built. The Dolly Dots were so popular in their home country you could buy a range of branded wallpaper, and they even got their own movie in 1987, called – thrillingly – Dutch Treat. Despite several scenes set in a leather fetish club, it’s no Spiceworld, as this trailer demonstrates.
Given their European success, ability to handle a simple dance routine and general easy on the eye-ness, it’s quite surprising that no-one had thought to give them a push in the UK – although possibly the choreographically-challenged Bananarama were having the ports watched. But in 1987 it was finally deemed worth a punt, and so the girls were teamed with Stock Aitken and Waterman for what turned out to be their last single.
What a Night has a very particular sound to it, and that sound is of course Call Me by Spagna, which had been a colossal hit earlier in the year. This sort of thing often happens when you get a surprise pan-European smash – it’s kind of the musical equivalent of catwalk fashion filtering down to the high street. I’m not suggesting that Call Me represents haute pop couture, but S/A/W were usually first out of the traps with a knock-off, especially when the source tune was so close to their own trademark sound. This has one of those classic S/A/W middle bits that, if it catches you at the right moment – for instance on a dance floor in a provincial gay club where you’re feeling the first flush of freedom – can induce a tear or two. When Noël Coward said “strange how potent cheap music is” – a quote no doubt hanging on the wall in the PWL studios (possibly re-purposed as “strange how cheap potent music is”) – I like to think he was anticipating this very song.
S/A/W were right on the cusp of their imperial phase in 1987, but What a Night was a rare total flop for the them, failing to chart at all in the UK and only making no.18 in its native Netherlands. Xenophobia: 1, Naff But Oddly Effective Pop Tune: 0.
And that, sadly, was it for the group, who disbanded in 1988 after nine glorious but presumably quite tiring years. Member Ria Brieffies would later say “there’s more to life than being a Dolly Dot“. If those party nights are anything to go by I’m not certain I agree.
Entered chart: did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? It’s quite hard to think of someone willing to sing lyrics like “The place is jumping, don’t be square / If you come single, you’ll leave in pairs” but I have a burning desire – nay, need – to see Nadine Coyle tackle this.