I first heard Mama Told Me by Fantastique in the summer of 1991. Working on a restricted service licence station in the grounds of my old school, it was played by the late Phil Pearson on his show late one night. "The is the one that destroys them in the discos" he confided. The song stuck with me ever since. Going to university I discovered it in the library of the student radio station and would sneak it in on the Monday night disco show I presented there. I may have been the only one hearing me play it. But it was a genuine thrill to get to do so.
Fantastique were the creation of their producers, former members of Dutch pop group Catapult who, when their own careers as performers began to wind down, formed production house Cat Music. They would write and produce songs for other established continental acts but also developed a sideline of manufacturing club acts of their own, recruiting people to front the hits they knew they could still create.
Dick Dam and Astrid Leuwener were deliberately chosen to fit the stereotype of the Dutch everyman, he with the mane of fair hair and Noel Edmonds beard, she statuesque and permed. Neither could necessarily sing, the vocals performed by session singers Marian Pijnaker and Cor van der Hoogt, but this hardly mattered. You would be hard-pressed to find many Eurodance acts of the period who were nothing more than a front for the studio wizards.
Fantastique would release six singles and one full-length album during their two years of existence. Most are magnificent hi-NRG disco hits typical of the period, but they had hidden depths too with peace anthem (and unabashedly Abba-aping) Your Hand In My Hand a curiously uplifting listen.
Their defining moment however was their debut. Mama Told Me was four minutes of unabashed party fun. With its brassy-laden march rhythm, vocodered vocals, a keyboard riff unabashedly inspired by Lipps Inc's Funkytown, and singalong "let's do it, let's do it" chanted vocals it proved to be a guaranteed floor-filler across the low countries that summer and remained a DJ staple for some time afterwards.
Mama Told Me had created enough of a stir for a British release to be attempted. Freddie Cannon of Carrere UK snapped up the licence in the hope of adding it to the roster of continental hits which were the French label's speciality. But they were surprisingly late to the party, despite Discogs suggesting the release of the single in the UK was as early as 1982, 45Cat lists the issue of CAR317 as being as late as July 1984. But that kind of fits an attempt to make it a summertime smash. Sadly for whatever reason the track never took off commercially, the belated British release of Mama Told Me a frustrating misfire.
The few copies sold had generally found their way into the hands of mobile and club DJs who continued to spin the track as a proven and guaranteed floor filler, perfect for those times when everyone was so buzzed it didn't really matter how familiar they were with it. It meant Mama Told Me would spend the next few years resurfacing and enjoying strange surges of low-level demand. It crept close to the printed charts for the first time in 1984 and came closest of all when Carrere re-released and re-promoted the single in time for Christmas 1986. It reportedly spent most of the next year selling an average of 300 copies a week and it is rumoured to be one of the country's biggest-selling singles never to formally make the charts (its best performance was No.84 on the "next 25" listing in January 1987, notably in the same week that Steve Silk Hurley's Jack Your Body began its own journey to the top of the charts and point dance music culture in an entirely different direction altogether).
If you heard Mama Told Me in Britain during the mid-late 80s it would generally be in one of two places. Either at the local underage teens club night or perhaps even more specifically when the funfair rolled into town, one of those tracks which seemed to be in the repertoire of every Wurlitzer operator. Enough to ensure it gives you a strange sensory rush of candyfloss and hot dogs to hear it. Comments on the uploads of the track on YouTube bear this out, the bottom line filled not with Dutch and Belgian people remembering a hit of old, but 40 and 50 something Brits all marvelling at having heard something buried deep in their teenage memories and happy to finally be reminded just what the track was called. References to "Buddy's Nightclub in South Shields" or roller discos and caravan park holidays abound. It was the go-to party single for a generation of DJs and their clientele. But commercially a resounding and eternal flop.
I once tested it out myself on an unsuspecting audience. During my one and only DJ slot at the student union's own Sugarhouse nightclub in Lancaster I stirred it in at the climax of a 70s night. Cheating, because it wasn't really a 70s track of course, but it had the same energy as all the guaranteed bangers that had preceded it. I doubt any of the flushed faces below knew what it was they were dancing to, but every person left in the place in the small hours of that morning were stomping like their lives depended on it. Two approached me wide-eyed at the end.
"Who was singing THAT!?"