May 10

KYLIE MINOGUE – “I Should Be So Lucky”

Popular87 comments • 5,645 views

#604, 20th February 1988, video

They did their best work before her, and she ended up doing her best after them, but nonetheless Kylie Minogue was Stock Aitken and Waterman’s muse: the Dionne Warwick to their Bacharach and David, the Girls Aloud to their Xenomania, the point where their particular vision of pop and its place in the world found definitive expression. They’d worked out the basics – ordinary stars who embodied optimism and hard work, songs that were a distillation of everyday feelings, a pop that arrived quickly and left quickly, that courted its market shamelessly and gave a finger to the rest. But establishing the likes of Big Fun, or even Mel and Kim, with the public still took work. Ordinary wasn’t quite enough – people needed stories in their pop. That’s what Kylie brought.

Not her own story really – not yet at any rate – but a public profile based around her role as Charlene in Neighbours. The core PWL audience knew Kylie Minogue already, liked her and believed in her. The British audience for her on-screen wedding would outnumber Australia’s entire population. There was no real need to match the songs to the character – Kylie was on her way out of the soap anyway – but the alignment of PWL and the cross-generation pop culture sensation of Neighbours was exactly what Waterman and company needed. SAW’s singles would be like the daytime soaps – immediate but familiar, unmissable but regular, full of sunlight, lively and breezy and cheap.

Kylie Minogue was their perfect vehicle. Maybe it’s because “I Should Be So Lucky” comes after two bubblegum records whose singers strained for affect but her chirpy, thin voice, which I normally find irritating, cuts through “Lucky” with conviction and clarity. She sounds as unschooled and likeable now as she did back in 1988 – considerably more likeable if you’re me, who was exactly the wrong gender, age and taste for her and reacted to PWL with real venom.

Misplaced venom, though? I’m honestly torn. PWL worked to slash the mystery and theatre away from pop, and to reaffirm its connection with the (often much wider) audience light entertainment offered. They scorched British pop’s landscape, and the kind of fantastic, futuristic, preposterous groups I’d fallen in love with in the early 80s grew still thinner on the ground. 1988 was the nadir of my engagement with pop music, and while I never cut the cord entirely it was another decade before I got really enthused with it again.

Ideas like “mystery and theatre” are easy to invoke, though, and far harder to actually manifest: they begin to act as a wagged finger as much as an inspiration. By the late 80s there was a conceited laziness around much of pop and rock – we’ve seen plenty of examples of it in Popular and there’s more to come. PWL’s cheerfully functional records worked against that. The rot had set in on early 80s creativity long ago, no thanks to Stock Aitken and Waterman. So looking back on the start of their own “imperial phase” these records provoke mixed feelings. On the one hand they anticipate the clarity and craft of a lot of 00s teenpop – much of it also performed by actor-singers who knew how to sell a situation. On the other hand they’re a direct link to the gross cynicism of Simon Cowell, beside whom Waterman looks like Joe Meek.

“I Should Be So Lucky” has something of each. The first minute or so is an uncomplicated delight – thanks mostly to Kylie and how she pushes the song forward, but also thanks to the song itself. It’s first playful, then dreamy, then suddenly sad, and then it tumbles into the chorus and everything else in your brain is brutally erased. Then it does it all again – but the payoffs are smaller, the chorus more grating, and more grating still, and the chorus seems to become the whole world… and then there’s a deft instrumental break, another chorus, and the song ends. Every time I play it there’s that same progress from freshness to ruthlessness. But the freshness entices even though I know the ruthlessness is coming, so for now Kylie and SAW are just – just! – still on the side of good.



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  1. 76
    auntypizza on 25 Jul 2010 #

    She should be so lucky . . . nasal tones (as per usual) and an unrelenting fakeness, mixed with boring “music” and an “I can’t put my finger on it” unnaturalness. A continiung ability to flash arse cheeks on all videos. Not a muscian or artist – it’s a carefully cultivated product. Get it off the shelves ASAP. I read the label and it’s all processed junk.

  2. 77
    MyopicFlashbulb on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Ive grown to like this over the years. The best version of this, is the inspired house version mashed up with Dreams, performed in the Fever tour in 2002. Spine Tingling..

    There is a certain naivety in the lyics, but in its simplicity it is also so real.

  3. 78
    Billy Smart on 23 Sep 2010 #

    Mike Stock defends ISBSL in today’s paper: “Anyone who thinks Kylie Minogue’s I Should Be So Lucky is easy should try to play it,” he says of the SAW number. “It’s in four keys, all of them really awkward, and you can’t even strum it unless you’re a really good musician.”

  4. 79
    punctum on 23 Sep 2010 #

    I thoroughly recommend Mike Stock’s memoir The Hit Factory: The Stock, Aitken & Waterman Story as a ribtickling read; it almost completely contradicts the account given by Waterman himself in I Wish I Was Me. Remember, folks, if you want to make it big, don’t listen to your friends down the pub!

  5. 80
    Patrick Mexico on 7 Jun 2013 #

    This is okay, I’m no Kylie expert but gave it a slightly guilty 6.

    As we don’t get to talk about the Loco-Motion here, just wanted to put it out there that it was the first pop song I ever remember, along with Tiffany’s “I Saw Her [Him] Standing There” and.. good God.. Sam Fox’s “I Only Want To Be With You.” For many, many years, I believed they were the originals. Probably a bad start in life. The Smiths/JAMC/Primal Scream/Talulah Gosh/Stone Roses lineage, I guess, despised the eighties seen through a lens of sixties nostalgia. I’d call that mostly harmless, but when it’s those who embraced and succeeded from the eighties (well, Thatcher/Reaganism) plundering sixties “innocence”.. it’s a trap.

    (The first pop song I actually remember liking was Squeeze – Cool For Cats, but any hip credentials are somewhat diluted by the facts I was five, and liked it because it was on a Milk Marketing Board ad.)


  6. 81
    Billy Hicks on 8 Jun 2013 #

    80 – As a fourteen year old I thought ‘I Love Rock and Roll’ was one of the best things Britney Spears had ever written. Couldn’t understand why everyone hated it…

  7. 82
    swanstep on 8 Jun 2013 #

    @81, Billy Hicks. If it’s any consolation, not one person in a thousand is aware that the Joan Jett version is a cover (of the Arrows’ original).

  8. 83
    PurpleKylie on 18 May 2014 #

    My birthday #1! At least in the UK it was, over in NZ (where I was actually born) my birthday #1 was MARRS “Pump Up the Volume” (seems that they were quite late on that one).

    I have a bit of a soft spot for this one, which may or may not be due to that fact, yes its really cheesy and quite cheap, but it’s the right side of cheesy and brings a smile to my face.

  9. 84
    hectorthebat on 16 Feb 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)

  10. 85
    thefatgit on 9 May 2016 #

    RIP Reg Grundy. The man who brought Neighbours into the world, among his many other achievements.

  11. 86
    Phil on 9 May 2016 #

    Looking at the chords and decoding the relative minors as best I can, it looks as if the first verse is in E, the second’s in B, the little “dreaming’s all I do” pre-chorus section is in D (the saddest of all keys) and the chorus is in C, as major-key as a major key can be. And Mike Stock’s right – at least two of those are tough, whatever your instrument is (AIUI guitarists are unreasonably happy to work in E, but presumably that means they find modulating to D a bit of a stretch – and nobody mention capos, unless you’ve worked out how to put one on between one bar and the next!). Perhaps Stock & Aitken came not to kill prog but to realise it in a higher form…

    Listening to this song again I thought they’d tried to make Kylie’s voice sound full-bodied, even throaty in places – listen to that first line – but that the effect was undermined slightly by the fact that they’d obviously achieved it through multi-tracking. My only other thought – apart from nodding along to all those chord changes – was why does it have to be so tinkly? Did it always sound like that? It was irritating me royally by the end.

    Oh, and RIP Reg. Always got him mixed up with Bill, who I believe left us some time ago.

  12. 87
    Mostro on 26 May 2016 #

    MBI @44; “It’s mighty amusing to see people speak about this song in such weighty terms. I would never have guessed that this was Kylie’s “Like a Virgin,””

    It’s not that the song itself was really ever considered particularly remarkable. If anything, it’s almost always been dismissed as being utterly, lightweight fluff. (And I do agree that there’s something slightly lethargic about the backing despite its fast pace).

    The reason for its iconic status is that it manged to both hit and sum up so many points of late 80s popular culture in the UK. Kylie’s first hit. The fad for Neighbours and everything Australian. Production-line-era S/A/W manufactured pop- for good or for bad. Even for those that hated this sort of thing, Kylie and “I Should Be So Lucky” were the archetypal, go-to examples of it.

    Coincidentally, that’s pretty much the conclusion I came to recently regarding “Like a Virgin”. It’s a song I’ve never cared for; didn’t like it when I was nine or so and it first came out, and thirty years on it leaves me as cold as ever. All I hear is a mediocre song with Madonna’s studio-assisted(?) helium vocals warbling annoyingly over a backing track obviously aiming for minimalism, but ending up sounding gratingly underproduced and synthetic. (That bassline… ugh.) Not Nile Rodgers’ finest hour.

    And yet, it’s still an iconic 80s track. Having wondered what the big deal was, I realised that this was missing the point. “Like a Virgin” wasn’t Madonna’s first big hit, but it *was* the point at which she jumped from being “merely” a successful dance pop star to a pop culture phenomenon. The point at which the aspects of her personality and “controversial” image people now associate with her were first established in the public mind. In short, it was the point at which Madonna became Madonna.

    The song itself? Well, I guess you could say that it’s Madonna’s “I Should Be So Lucky”…. or maybe not.

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