Maria Mendiola, who has died aged 69, was one half of Baccara, whose Eurodisco anthem Yes Sir, I Can Boogie reached No 1 in the UK in 1977 and is claimed to be the best-selling single ever by a female duo; latterly, it had been adopted by the Scotland football team as their unofficial song during the European football championships.
In the mid-1970s, Maria Mendiola, who had been born in Madrid on April 4 1952, was one of the dancers in a classical-style group who appeared on many Spanish television programmes. There she met Mayte Mateos, herself a former ballerina, and in 1976 suggested they set up as entertainers on their own, performing as Venus and modelled after Germany’s popular Kessler Sisters.
Their first booking, at a hotel in Zaragoza, ended in humiliation when they were fired on Christmas Eve after refusing the manager’s demands to sit in customers’ laps. Accordingly, they took themselves off to a hotel in Fuerteventura run by Mendiola’s former boyfriend, where they treated a largely German clientele to flamenco and folk songs.
One night, their act was seen by Leon Deane, who ran the German arm of the RCA record label. Immediately convinced of their star potential, he whisked the pair away to Hamburg. Neither spoke German, so Maria Mendiola used her knowledge of English to broker agreements.
By 1977, disco was in full swing. What had begun as an American phenomenon had increasingly acquired a European tinge, especially on that side of the Atlantic. In his work with Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder was exploring the potential of synthesizers, while Abba were mining continental traditions such as schlager music and chanson.
Elsewhere in Germany, Frank Farian was confecting the success of Boney M. Having renamed the duo Baccara, after a variety of dark rose, Deane oversaw the creation of Yes Sir, I Can Boogie. This blended breathy vocals, throbbing strings and suggestive lyrics in English – “I can boogie all night long” – to artfully conjure up the nameless delights of a fortnight in Las Palmas.
With Mayte Mateos dressed in black and Maria Mendiola, who choreographed their dances, in white, Baccara stormed the charts across Europe in the summer of 1977. They reached No 1 in Germany, Holland, Belgium and Sweden, among others, and though curiously they had no success in their native Spain (nor in America), they hit the top in Britain in October after appearing on Top of the Pops supported by the BBC’s orchestra.
They were the first female duo to reach No 1 in the UK (ahead of Althea & Donna) and the first Spaniards (ahead of Julio Iglesias). At one stage they were selling a quarter of a million records a week and in 1977 Guinness World Records certified the record as the best-selling single by a female group to date.
With a reported 18 million sales, Wikipedia currently has it listed as one of the top 10-selling physical singles ever (digital sales are much larger), though this is disputed. Nevertheless, such was its ubiquity at the time that even Christian Dior agreed to design an outfit for Baccara.
A follow-up, Sorry, I’m a Lady, made it to No 8 in the chart the following year, and the duo appeared regularly on Sacha Distel’s television show. Such was their popularity in Luxembourg that they were invited to represent that nation in the Eurovision competition, with Parlez-vous français? But the jury did not.
By 1981, disco’s star had set, and after the release of their fourth LP, Bad Boys, the duo split. This was on acrimonious terms, since Maria Mendiola had sued RCA on the basis that her vocal on a single, Sleepy Time Toy, had been pushed into the background in the mix. Contractually, it was supposed to have equal prominence with that of Mayte Mateos.
She won her case, forcing the label to pulp 250,000 copies of the record. The sub-text was that she suspected executives of favouring Mayte Mateos to lay the ground for her as a solo artist.
The two duly went their separate ways, but made little impression on their own. Thereafter, each performed with a new partner as rival versions of Baccara and never spoke again. Their paths almost met once when both were playing in Moscow. By Mayte Mateos’s account, Maria Mendiola crossed the street to avoid her.
As New Baccara, Maria Mendiola had some success with club hits in the 1980s, and her signature tune has been covered several times, most recently this year by The Fratellis. This came in the wake of clips on social media of the song being sung by the Scotland team.
Maria Mendiola, who had a son and married a Swede, Jan Eric, whom she met on a flight, is survived by her family and by her Yorkshire Terrier, Boogie.
Maria Mendiola, born April 4 1952, died September 11 2021