If you know “The Clapping Song”, then you’re definitely of a certain age! So do you know what happened to The Belle Stars, or is it just a “Sign Of The Times”?
The Belle Stars came out of The Bodysnatchers, a seven-piece group formed in 1979 that had just two minor hits in 1980 before disbanding. Stella Barker, Sarah-Jane Owen, Miranda Joyce, Penny Leyton, and Judy Parsons formed a new group, The Belle Stars and recruited Lesley Shone and Jenny Matthais for good measure, performing (without a name) for the first time on Christmas Day 1980!
At the beginning of 1981 they signed to Stiff Records, then home of Madness, and released their debut single, “Hiawatha” in April. Both it and the follow up, “Slick Trick”, failed to chart and Leyton left the group, to be replaced by Clare Hirst. The group’s third single, “Another Latin Love Song’, also flopped at the beginning of 1982 and the members decided on a new course. Releasing cover versions! Their first attempt was a cover of The Dixie Cups 1965 US hit “Iko Iko”, which, hoorah, charted at No.35 in the UK.
They followed this with Shirley Ellis’ 1965 US No.8/UK No.6 hit “The Clapping Song” and this time they went a little further, to No.11 in fact. They next recorded “Mockingbird”, which had been made famous by Carly Simon in 1974, but this didn’t do so well, missing the UK top 40. But with their confidence back, the girls set about writing for themselves again and at the very end of 1982, released the song that would become their signature tune, “Sign Of The Times” (which sounded very Bananarama, and maybe that was the plan?!). The song became a huge hit all over Europe in the opening weeks of 1983, peaking at No.3 in the UK and later even entering the US singles chart at No.75!
Three years into their career, The Belle Stars released their debut album in early 1983, which would eventually make No.15 in the UK and gain a chart position of No.76 in Australia. They followed “Sign Of The Times” with “Sweet Memory” (UK No.22) and “Indian Summer” (UK No.52) later in 1983, but their tenth and final release from the album, “The Entertainer”, only just scrapped into the very bottom of the UK singles chart at No.95. After releasing a new song, “80’s Romance”, in early 1984, the band broke up, just as Stiff Records was bought by Island Records and subsequently wound up the following year.
But that wasn’t quite the end of The Belle Stars. In 1986 their single “World Domination” reached No.2 on the US dance chart and even better than that, in 1989 “Iko Iko” was finally a hit in America when it reached No.14 on the singles chart. The reason for this was its inclusion in the hit Tom Cruise film ‘Rain Man’. It also made No.7 in Australia at the same time. The girls all went their separate ways, many of them forming new or joining groups into the 1990’s. In 2019 four previously unreleased tracks from an abandoned second album were released under the title of “Turn Back The Clock”.
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