19
May 10

KYLIE MINOGUE – “I Should Be So Lucky”

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#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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Comments

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  1. 61
    Erithian on 21 May 2010 #

    Not often one gets the chance to correct Punctum, but if you click from Tom’s video link to something called the “footage version” you’ll see the alternative video that he referred to at #34, and that definitely looks like, not Melbourne, but Sydney Harbour Bridge she’s being driven across by someone who looks a little bit like “Ooh” Gary Davies. I certainly agree, though, with Marcello’s implied comparison of the two videos. The footage-in-car version is the one I remember seeing first, and the one that created my image of Kylie.

    I’d never seen an episode of Neighbours – to this day I’ve seen maybe a handful when I’ve been off work or at my mum’s (does anybody else recognise that dangerous moment when you find yourself starting to care what happens to the characters next?!). But it seems that just as in the UK we huddled in the grip of winter and watched the loveable loser Eddie the Eagle in Calgary (Kylie reached number one in the middle of the Winter Olympics), a large number of us were taking the tonic of watching a soap set in a perpetual summer where troubles were never all that dark (set against Enders at least) and the sports teams usually won – although ironically England held the Ashes at that point, but were about to lose them for 16 years.

    And if I didn’t fall for Neighbours, I certainly fell for Kylie – the healthy good looks, the optimism, the joie de vivre. You wanted to be in the car with her, you wanted to be soaking up the sun, you wanted to be waving at her in that park. It might be a simple pop song she was singing, but who cares, life is fun and that was a concept everybody could buy into: Kylie spearheaded the next wave of Aussie-philia after Crocodile Dundee. A few years later I worked with a Melburnian and found her captivating company – she also frequented the Subterania club in London and was in no way as squeaky clean as Kylie. I’ve met a good few since, but I can honestly say I still haven’t met an Australian I didn’t like.

  2. 62
    Rory on 21 May 2010 #

    I thought “bright, yellow city of Melbourne” sounded a bit odd. Should have checked the alternative video myself – you’re absolutely right, Erithian. If the opening shot of the Centrepoint Tower (as it was then known) and the many views of the Coathanger don’t do it, there’s even a glimpse of the Opera House at 2.38…

    One point I meant to make in my earlier posts, and which leads on from Erithian’s, was that the timing here was significant: 1988 was Australia’s bicentenary, and all things (and people) Australian were getting more than the usual amount of international attention that year. Kylie couldn’t have chosen a better moment to put out her travel-promo video.

  3. 63
    thefatgit on 21 May 2010 #

    “I still haven’t met an Australian I didn’t like”

    Funny thing is, you’re OTM! They’re some of the friendliest people I’ve met. Not wanting to over-generalise, but they’re like the English without the repression and the Americans without the arrogance. And VB’s not a bad tipple either.

  4. 64
    Erithian on 21 May 2010 #

    Although when I made that comment to one Aussie, she said “God you’re lucky, I’ve met plenty…”

  5. 65
    swanstep on 22 May 2010 #

    #59 LondonLee. I dunno, I’m not an expert… but back when I’d go to gay mardi gras in Sydney there was always boatloads of Monroe cross-dressing going on. And Elton/Warhol etc. have their Monroe obsessions…. But, I agree, it’s all a bit murky. I have a vague sense that there’s a point in some artists careers *after* they’ve had some mainstream success when that same wider culture spurns them as too silly/frivolous/pop etc. that *then* they (may) get ‘claimed’ as the gay community’s own, and sometimes literally sustained by that sub-culture of fans. For a few years in the ’80s, Abba almost disappeared from mainstream cultural consciousness, and the only place you’d hear them out was gay dance-clubs. Abba came roaring back in the ’90s somewhat elevated/made cooler by that period of sub-cultural attention (or something). Something like that seemed to happen with Kylie in the ’90s (certainly in the US where I was). By the time she started having big crossover mainstream hits again in ’00s she had that base in the coastal gay metropoles locked in. (I’ve never really known a time when Billie Holliday has been unavailable/out of fashion but I’ve had knowledgable people assure me that appreciation of her has had some of the same arc.)

  6. 66
    DietMondrian on 22 May 2010 #

    I seem to recall Pete Waterman telling some unlikely tale of how the song title came about: realising he needed to write, record and mix a song for Kylie in a matter of hours, he supposedly said, “Yeah, I should be so lucky.” Yeah, right, Pete.

    The song? Tinny, cheap-sounding. Three out of 10 (would have scored less but it’s got a certain earwormy quality and I need to reserve the ones and twos for some forthcoming SAWness).

  7. 67
    23 Daves on 23 May 2010 #

    I realise I’m a bit late to this thread (and I’m also new here – hello!) but I was hoping somebody might be able to verify a fact about this record.

    I seem to remember that one of the criticisms which was fired at the single at the time was that it wasn’t actually as popular as its stretch at number one suggested. Apparently (if my memory is working properly) its fourth week at the top saw the lowest sales ever registered for a number one prior to that point, and the first, second and third week’s sales were also slight enough to only just nudge above the competition (hence “Beat Dis” being number one in various rival charts). Can anyone verify this? The track has certainly had an enormous amount of longevity for a low-selling number one if those reports are true.

    Personally, as a newly transformed indie kid I harboured a lot of ill will towards Stock Aitken and Waterman at this time and would regularly dismiss Kylie’s work to anyone who would listen. On relistening these days, I’m actually slightly surprised that my opinion hasn’t changed one jot, since I’ve left an awful lot of my snobbery behind for other singles of this period. I still find it tinny, irksome, and above all else rush-recorded (I can well believe those myths about SAW quickly writing and recording it in a few hours – it certainly sounds plausible, and it’s a mystery to me why they’d brag about it). Having given this some thought for the first time in years, I have to wonder if they weren’t really sure about Kylie’s potential at this point, and decided not to waste an enormous amount of studio time on her. Certainly, later Kylie productions sound a bit more considered and careful.

    This would have to be a 3 from me, I’m afraid.

  8. 68
    Alan on 23 May 2010 #

    my entirely un-authoratative (sp?) and heat-and-booze-shot recall is that the late show special ‘The 80s’ shown on NYE 1989 had Never Gonna Give You Up as the 80s song that sold the least in a week to get to #1.

    This wikip article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UK_Singles_Chart_records#Lowest_selling_number_one only mentions tracks starting in the 90s – but does mention another (obv bunnied) Kylie track

  9. 69
    Snif on 24 May 2010 #

    I see Pete Waterman wrote and produced this year’s UK entry for the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest…

  10. 70
    Tom on 24 May 2010 #

    #67 23 Daves – hello and welcome first-commenting person!

    #69 Yes he did – it has a few PWL-ish touches buried in a sea of slop

  11. 71
    lockedintheattic on 24 May 2010 #

    #69 – Not sure that fact about low weekly sales is correct, I don;t remember hearing it at the time, and this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Should_Be_So_Lucky states that it was the third best selling single of the year, so I doubt it’s weekly sales were that low. I do however definitely remember that her next but one number one did hit a new milestone in low sales for a number one (apols if that’s a bit too much info on a bunnyable song).

  12. 72
    23 Daves on 24 May 2010 #

    #71 – Thanks. I probably am getting muddled with a certain other Kylie single then, unless ISBSL’s fourth week at the top was an abnormally poor one. It seems surprisingly difficult to call these facts up online, actually – you would think that an authoritative overall sales list would be uploaded somewhere.

  13. 73
    rosie on 25 May 2010 #

    This is what I think of as the “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” of the 1980s – not necessarily a damning comment because CCCC is a track for which I have a great deal more fondness and respect now than I did at the time, not least following Tom’s insightful fresh look in these pages. Its infectious, naive jolliness seemed to catch something of the spirit of the time, of a country growing increasingly tired of Thatcherism and looking for a new way through whimsy.

    It still irritates me though.

  14. 74
    loomer on 31 May 2010 #

    I’d give this 8 as it sparks some serious nostalgia and was when I first really got into music. Unsurprisingly, the backing track is identical to Sinitta’s “Toy Boy”, which I liked even better.

  15. 75
    Dave Roberts on 30 Jun 2010 #

    #71- I think you are correct. ‘Lucky’ sold by the bucket-load, and had sold well in excess of 500k by the time it had spent four weeks at number one. In it’s fifth week, it clung on to the top with quite low sales (c. 30k, I think?) which was very low for the top selling single in the UK at that time, although in overall terms I believe it sold over 650k and was in the top 4/5 best selling singles for the year (behind Cliff Richard, Yazz, and the Kylie/Jason duet.)

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.”

  19. 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!

  20. 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.)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tLbF2uecQY

  21. 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…

  22. 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).

  23. 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.

  24. 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)

  25. 85
    thefatgit on 9 May 2016 #

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

  26. 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.

  27. 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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