If you're looking for the band with the least street credibility in the world, whose name alone makes people cringe, then look no further than Black Lace, the equivalent of the naughty seaside postcard, who would record almost any song, whatever damage it did to their image.
They were formed as a foursome in Ossett in Yorkshire in 1973 by, Steve Scoley, Terry Dalton, Colin Routh (born September 8, 1953) and Alan Barton (born eight days later). They struggled on the pub and northern club circuit for years, eventually getting a big break when they were chosen to represent Britain in the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest held in Israel. Their song "Mary Ann" was released by EMI but did not perform well on the charts, peaking at number 42, nor did it in the contest where it finished seventh, a long way behind Israel's second consecutive winner, Milk & Honey, with the song "Hallelujah."
After this comparative failure, Routh and Barton split the group to continue as a duet, retaining the name Black Lace as they looked around for a style of music that would work. They found it in the discos of Spain, where a song called "Gioca Jouer" was getting everyone up on the floor. It was seemingly a silly ditty encouraging audience participation, and when translated into English, it was called "Superman." It took off in the discos back in the U.K. too -- particularly the dance element, which had the audience performing such movements as sleeping sneezing, and combing your hair, and it ended with the superman movement of holding one's arm out in the air pretending to fly. The band signed to the independent Flair Records and the single reached the Top Ten in the late summer of 1983.
For the follow-up, they again looked to the European holiday disco market and again returned to the U.K. with a Moroccan hit by the Sargossa Band called "Agadou" which they anglicized into "Agadoo," achieving one of the biggest singles of 1984. "Agadoo" also came with ridiculous dance movements called push pineapple, shake the tree, and grind coffee, and despite being one of the most hated singles of the year, it was heard everywhere, from radio stations to discos to wedding parties, and Black Lace had finally found their niche. At Christmas 1984, they hit the Top Ten again with "Do the Conga," a dance song which had everybody snaking along behind a leader, kicking their legs out and generally having a good time, and throughout 1985, the hits continued with "El Vino Collapso," "I Speaka Da Lingo," and "The Hokey Cokey." Hardly surprisingly, the band unleashed an album on the public on the specialist TV advertising label Telstar, Party Party 16 Great Party Icebreakers which, along with their hits "Superman" and "Agadoo" provided an assortment of the worst, least street credible songs of the past few years, including "Hands Up Give Me Your Heart" (a hit for Ottowan), "Ob La Di Ob La Da" (even the Beatles could be totally un-cool), "Wig Wam Bam," "Simon Says," "The Bump," and even "The Birdie Song," a major but derided hit from 1981 by the Tweets. A more serious song was included, a version of "You'll Never Walk Alone," a song that the two members of Black Lace would take to number one in 1985 for a fund raiser after a fire at the Bradford City Football Stadium -- as members of the charity ensemble the Crowd.
A couple more albums followed in the same style including Party Party 2 and Party Crazy, but since the band knew what the joke was and always played up to it to the maximum, the novelty took a long while to wear off, and besides, someone had to make fun party records to counter the new sounds of gothic rock and indie guitars that began to permeate the music industry in the mid- to late 1980s. (The band was even immortalized by the TV show Spitting Image with the song "The Chicken Song," a parody of "Agadoo" which went all the way to number one in the early summer of 1986 and featured even more unlikely dance moves to go along with each line of the song, including hold a chicken in the air, stick a deck chair up your nose, etc.)
Their fun image was brought to a sudden halt, however, when Colin Routh got into serious trouble for having an affair with an under-age girl. He left the band, leaving Barton to carry on with a new sidekick, Dean Michael, but the magic and fun of Black Lace were gone. By 1986, Barton had accepted an invitation to replace Chris Norman as the lead singer with the considerably more credible band Smokie. He managed to juggle both Black Lace and Smokie for a while, but eventually devoted his full attention to the latter band, changing them from a soft rock outfit into a comedy routine-based outfit, even re-recording one of their biggest hits, "Living Next Door to Alice" with blue comedian Roy Chubby Brown as "Alice (Who the Fuck Is Alice)."
Barton's place in Black Lace was taken by lookalike and soundalike Rob Hopcraft, so the band continued with a totally new duo as if nothing had happened, still living on the disco circuit and still playing the old party hits. Barton was killed in Germany on the March 23, 1995, when the Smokie tour bus crashed into a ravine in a hailstorm. With its new personnel, however, Black Lace continued into the 21st century, as well as Colin Routh, going under the name Colin Gibb and performing the Black Lace show on the island of Tenerife, both acts living on past glories, and especially the song "Agadoo," which had the dubious honor of being voted by Q Magazine's reader and music critics as the worst song ever in 2003, beating "Orville's Song" and "There's No-One Quite Like Grandma." ~ Sharon Mawer