Don’t Call Me Baby (C Coates/A Van Dorsselaer/D Morrison) 1999 and Who the Hell Are You (A van Dorsselaer/C Coates) and Everything You Need (A Van Dorsselaer/C Coates) – Madison Avenue 2000
Melbourne’s Madison Avenue were singer/dancer/choreographer/lyricist Cheyne Coates (real name April Coates) and DJ/producer Andrew Van Dorsselaer who met in a Melbourne nightclub in 1998.
Andy Van and his DJ friends had been releasing dance music via their own label Vicious Vinyl for several years, but after one of their records, Coma by Pendulum, went top 40 in July 1997, Andy Van decided to get serious.
His vision was no less than world domination of dance music, a rather fanciful goal given the monopoly of such markets by Europe, UK and the US at the time, but he was convinced that he could establish a disco-house dance collective that would rival such groups as Everything But the Girl, Moloko, C&C Music Factory and Soul 11 Soul.
The song Don’t Call Me Baby, was evolving and part of the process was to record a demo with guide vocals, initially the song was earmarked for a group known as the Wolfgramm Sisters, and Kelly Wolfgramm had cut a demo of the song. Cheyne Coates, a co-composer, was also a talented session singer and she too recorded a demo of the song, Andy van recalled how casual this process really was “ Cheyne sang on an $80 microphone with the DJ/producer John Course on the phone in the background and the door open in the studio, in the a cappella you can actually hear John talking in the background.” Andy van liked the special quality with which Cheyne infused the vocals, comparing her to US “Queen of House” vocalist Crystal waters, who topped the US Dance Charts 6 times in the 1990’s, ultimately the original Cheyne Coates demo became the record released to radio stations, background noises and all!
The recording was a classic slice of Europop dance/house music with a metronomic beat, stuttering bassline, and Cheyne Coates sassy, sexy lyrical put-downs and ego-pricking feminist techno “Don’t think that I am that strong/ I’m the one to take you on/ Don’t underestimate me/ Boy I’ll make you sorry you were born” …” “Behind my smile is my IQ/I must admit this does not sit with the likes of you/ It’s time you knew I’m not your baby/I belong to me/So don’t call me baby.”
The duo recorded in Melbourne, it was an addictive earworm of a song, and was released to international acclaim, the bassline was sampled from a 1980’s hit Ma Quale Idea by Italo disco singer Pino D’Angio, who had in turn borrowed the bassline from the disco hit Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now by US R&B duo Gene McFadden and John Whitehead.
When first released in the UK in November 1999, the song only reached #30 but re-entered the charts several times in 2000, prompting a re-release, whereupon it sold over 93,000 copies in the first week and knocked Brittany Spears Oops…I Did It Again, off the top of the charts in May 2000.
The success of the song in the UK surprised the duo, Andy Van commented at the time “We were in the UK for 5 weeks to promote it. We visited every radio and TV station and had interviews with every magazine in the country. Each week we were getting updates that it was going to debut in the top 20, then the top 5 … when we made number one it was great, but it certainly wasn’t the be all and end all”
To put Andy van’ s comments into perspective, in 2000 there were no less than forty-two songs which rose to #1 in the UK, usually they stayed there for about one week, as the TV talent quest alumnus including boybands, girl groups and subsequently their individual members who went solo, released records and claimed their fleeting moment of fame.
Don’t Call Me Baby charted #1 in the U.K, #1 in NZ, #2 locally and #2 on the U.S dance charts, Madison Avenue became the first Australian dance act to top the UK charts and the first Australian-produced number one single in the UK since Men At Work’s Downunder some 17 years earlier.
The promo video focuses on Cheyne Coates who leads a team of dancers in a club as she sings the song and moves to the beat, fans liked the dirty disco ambience and loping rhythm of the song as captured in the clip, Coates moves fluidly and the outfits got skimpier as the clip starts to fade out, it was on high rotation with MTV and dance clubs around the world in 2000.
The single also garnered no less than four Aria awards in 1999 including Single of the Year, Madison Avenue released their debut album, Polyester Embassy, recorded in Melbourne with Van Dorsselaer and Coates producing which climbed to #4 locally, and their next hit single, Who the Hell are You was lifted from the album in June of that year and went straight to #1. Cheyne Coates continued to deliver vocals that were defiant and edgy, she was sassy and moved like a dancer, and radiated attitude from every pore, the song was another hit in the UK where it climbed to #10 and it also topped the US Dance charts.
In 2001 Madison Avenue took out the most coveted prize at the International Dance Awards in Miami, Florida, and in the process beat out such international acts as Destiny’s Child, Madonna, N-Sync and Britney Spears. The promo video for Who the Hell Are You was a fast-moving, sexy, dance club scenario, filmed at the Salt nightclub in South Yarra (Melb), the video won the ARIA Award for Best Video of the year.
Cheyne Coates doubles as the bartender and dancer, the club interior and the dancers costumes are resplendent in what would become known as a Frozen shade of blue and there is an East-Meets-West ambience with Cheyne resplendent in a Russian ushanka (fur hat), long blonde wig, and faux fur cropped top and shorts, Soviet red stars are prominent and vodka was the choice of libation for the clubbers, this duo were clearly both very much at home in such a vibey club environment.
Two years later Salt nightclub would be the scene of an horrific fight between rival Vietnamese groups, with a machete-wielding gang forcing two young men to flee for their lives and leap into the nearby Yarra River to escape, resulting in their drowning deaths, the club was closed in 2002.
Everything You Need was the third single and it charted well in Australia at #8 but the band were losing traction overseas, #33 in the UK and #24 on the US Dance chart indicated that the band needed to reboot and re-invent their sound.
But they didn’t, instead they released a cover version of Little River Band’s 1978 hit Reminiscing, which gave the duo one last top 20 hit in Australia in March 2001.
Andy Van and Cheyne Coates split in 2003, he returned to the clubland dance grooves he preferred while Coates pursued a solo pop career under the name of Cheyne, I’ve Got Your Number was a minor hit for her at #30 in 2004, but there were no further chart entries.
Cheyne Coates is also remembered for a rather curious performance she gave at the 2000 ARIA Awards ceremony when while performing a medley of her hits with supporting dancers, she called for a glass of water(?) mid-chorus, and proceeded to dance around the glass, the actual contents of the beverage were never revealed.