They Don't Know (Kirsty MacColl song)

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"They Don't Know"
Kirsty MacColl They Dont Know.jpg
Single by Kirsty MacColl
B-side "Motor On"
Released 1 June 1979
Format 7" Vinyl, 7" picture disc
Recorded 1979
Genre Pop
New wave
Label Stiff Records
Songwriter(s) Kirsty MacColl
Producer(s) Liam Sternberg
Kirsty MacColl singles chronology
"They Don't Know"
"Keep Your Hands Off My Baby"

"They Don't Know"
"Keep Your Hands Off My Baby"
"They Don't Know"
They Don't Know single.jpg
Single by Tracey Ullman
from the album You Broke My Heart in 17 Places
A-side "They Don't Know"
B-side The B-Side (UK)
"You Broke My Heart in 17 Places" (US)
Released 9 September 1983 [1]
Format 7 and 12" single
Recorded 1983
Genre Pop
Length 3:00
Label MCA/Stiff
Songwriter(s) Kirsty MacColl
Producer(s) Peter Collins
Tracey Ullman singles chronology
"They Don't Know"
"Move Over Darling"

"They Don't Know"
"Move Over Darling"
Audio sample

"They Don't Know" is a song, written and composed by Kirsty MacColl, who recorded it in 1979. It became popular on radio in the United Kingdom, reaching number two on the Music Week airplay chart.[2] However, complications involving a strike at her distributors prevented the single from being shipped and promoted properly, preventing release of the single. MacColl's version of "They Don't Know" thus failed to appear on the official UK Singles Charts, which was then entirely sales-based.

Although the song was not taken from an album, it later appeared on MacColl's compilation Galore[3] (amongst others).


Speaking with the NME at the time, Kirsty MacColl recalled: "When I was with the R&B outfit Drug Addix, Stiff Records paid for some demos to be done with the band, but they didn’t really like them. When they heard that I'd eventually left (The Drug Addix) they called me and said: "We'd like you to come and play us anything you’ve got." I said 'I thought you didn't like the demos.' and they said: "We hate the band, but we quite like you". When they asked if I had any songs, I said 'Oh yeah, loads!, even though I didn't at all. Then I thought, 'Oh God, I'd better write something before I going to see them.' And that's when I wrote They Don't Know. I went round with a cassette, singing to an acoustic gutar. They liked it and signed me."[4]

Track listing[edit]

  1. They Don't Know (K. MacColl)
  2. [Turn My] Motor On (K. MacColl)[5]

Tracey Ullman version[edit]

In 1983, Tracey Ullman recorded a version of the song. Already well known in the UK as an actress and comedian, "They Don't Know" was issued as her second single there, reaching number two on the UK Singles Chart. MacColl performed backing vocals on Ullman's version and reprised her original "bay-ay-be-ee" in the middle of the song, because Ullman had a very limited high-end range. The song was also included on Ullman's debut album, You Broke My Heart in 17 Places.

The track was released in the United States the following year, as Ullman's first single there. At the time, Ullman was almost a complete unknown in the US, as her TV appearances had not been seen in that country. Publicity for the single was aided by the fact that the video for "They Don't Know" featured a cameo from Paul McCartney; at the time it was filmed, Ullman was filming a minor role in McCartney's film Give My Regards to Broad Street. "They Don't Know" eventually reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 11 on the Adult Contemporary chart in the United States.

It is sometimes erroneously reported that Ullman's version of "They Don't Know" simply uses the backing track from MacColl's original single. In fact, Ullman's version is an all brand-new recording, and the two versions are noticeably different: Ullman's version, which was produced by Peter Collins, is in a different key, and it features a very slightly faster tempo, a distinctly different arrangement and a guitar solo that differs substantially from the one played on MacColl's version, which was produced by Liam Sternberg. The confusion may stem from the fact that Ullman did use a previously-existing MacColl backing track when recording her own version of MacColl's "Terry" in 1984. (Both versions of "Terry" were co-produced by MacColl.)

In 1997, "They Don't Know" became the theme song for the final three seasons of Ullman's HBO television series Tracey Takes On.... The Ullman version was also used as the theme for the opening credits of Our Nixon, a 2013 documentary about U.S. President Richard Nixon.[6]


Chart (1983–1984) Peak
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[7] 6
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[8] 5
Canada Adult Contemporary (RPM)[9] 9
Germany (Official German Charts)[10] 35
Ireland (IRMA)[11] 1
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[12] 8
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[13] 10
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[14] 15
Norway (VG-lista)[15] 1
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[16] 2
US Billboard Hot 100[17] 8

Other cover versions[edit]

  • In 1994, a cover by American power pop Gigolo Aunts was included on the Volume 10 compilation (Catalog Number: 10VCD10), distributed by RTM/Pinnacle.
  • In 1997, Young Fresh Fellows covered the song for their album A Tribute To Music.
  • In 2001, Kenny Howes and the Yeah! included a cover on their self-titled album. The album was later re-released in 2002 under the new title of Until Dawn.
  • In 2006, indie band The Boyfriends covered the song as a B-side for their single "Once Upon a Time".
  • In 2006, Katrina Leskanich released a cover of the song.
  • In 2011, after performing the song live in concert, Kim Wilde recorded a studio version for her album of cover songs Snapshots.
  • In 2011, Andrea Corr included a cover on her solo album Lifelines.
  • In 2013, Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs covered the song for their album Under the Covers, Vol. 3.
  • In 2014, country singer Lydia Loveless recorded a version for her album Somewhere Else released by Bloodshot Records.[18]
  • In 2014, a cover by American singer-songwriter Graham Alexander was included on the compilation Here Comes the Reign Again: The Second British Invasion.
  • In 2016, Boys Forever, the band fronted by Veronica Falls Drummer covered the song and released it as a B side of his single Poisonous, he played it regularly live too.

Live cover performances[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Gajarsky, Bob (27 February 1995), REVIEW: Kirsty MacColl, Galore (I.R.S.), Consumable on line, archived from the original on 30 June 2012, retrieved 4 February 2011 
  3. ^ "Galore - Kirsty MacColl". Retrieved 30 October 2014. 
  4. ^ From Croydon to Cuba... An Anthology (booklet). EMI. 2005. 
  5. ^ "They Don't Know 7" single - Kirsty MacColl". Retrieved 30 October 2014. 
  6. ^ Hachard, Thomas (17 March 2013). "Our Nixon". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  7. ^ " – Tracey Ullman – They Don't Know" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  8. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 6730." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  9. ^ "Top RPM Adult Contemporary: Issue 6732." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  10. ^ " – Tracey Ullman – They Don't Know". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  11. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – They Don't Know". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  12. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – week 44, 1983" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40 Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  13. ^ " – Tracey Ullman – They Don't Know" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  14. ^ " – Tracey Ullman – They Don't Know". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  15. ^ " – Tracey Ullman – They Don't Know". VG-lista. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  16. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  17. ^ "Tracey Ullman Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  18. ^ "". Retrieved 13 March 2014.