19
May 10

KYLIE MINOGUE – “I Should Be So Lucky”

Popular87 comments • 6,528 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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Comments

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  1. 31
    MikeMCSG on 20 May 2010 #

    The talk of Aussie soaps reminds me that it was around this time that Granada started broadcasting “Prisoner Cell Block H” to which I became addicted. Are there any other Wentworth devotees here ?

  2. 32
    Hofmeister Bear on 20 May 2010 #

    #31: My late Grandmother, who was also a lover of ‘Crossroads’ and early Jackie Chan movies.

  3. 33
    Billy Smart on 20 May 2010 #

    Re 22: Beat Dis was number one in the other (NME/ Capital Radio) chart for two weeks. The most surprising anomaly between the two charts in 1988 happened in October when sinister drug anthem ‘We Call It Acieed’ was number one for a week in the non-Popular chart.

  4. 34
    punctum on 20 May 2010 #

    She was already in the car driving towards the city, even if she wasn’t herself driving, in one of two videos made for “I Should Be So Lucky.” She is cruising through the bright, yellow city of Melbourne, gleefully giggling her song of unattainable fantasy to camera, mounted on the back seat. In this imagination her adulthood is no complication.

    The other, more widely circulated video, however, seemed determined to keep her as the overgrown child star she strenuously didn’t want to be. She flips herself around a teenager’s boudoir, with crudely chalked “LUV”s and flower stems on a blackboard. “But dreaming’s all I do/If only they came true,” she sings, another frustrated teenybopper (then already pushing twenty) who knows she’ll never get to meet…Rick Astley?

    Some commentators at the time accused Kylie of not singing on her hit, and that it was in fact a speeded-up Astley; while one dimly saw the logic behind that at the time, her subsequent vocal history leaves no doubt that this is Kylie singing – Pete Waterman has confirmed that they had barely 45 minutes to get the song recorded and mixed, and indeed when she arrived at SAW’s Southwark studios directly from Heathrow they professed to have little idea about who she was, or of Neighbours, despite the latter having scored record audiences for the BBC, even in its daytime slot. Perhaps they wanted to deny the concept of Charlene Ramsey, sassy auto mechanic, in favour of…an Australian Mandy Smith? Even notwithstanding this, there is a strong case for arguing that the child in Kylie has never been truly eliminated; rather than being sensually attractive, she has tended to come across as a best mate, an upbeat sister, someone who’d nod sagely at Madonna’s grey-green Abbess and carry on munching crisps regardless.

    “I Should Be So Lucky” bounces with confidence and logic, fizzes with the anti-anatomical ecstasy which comes from the foreknowledge of being yet young and alive, right down to its subtle motivic quotation from “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” in its brief instrumental break; it senses that a past may have been lost, that a future is attainable (though “I Should Be So Lucky” might still be the lobby to the antechamber leading to her final freedom) but that the present, this early, still wintry 1988, was precious and had to be seized with hands of fervent, fragile grace (her downhill glide of “And I would come a-running,” knowing that she doesn’t give a damn about Captain Wentworth’s bank balance, only that it is so absolutely RIGHT!).

    There would be more cities for her car to approach, drive through and exit; some flimsily bright, some blearily dark, gates of gold, suburbs of setbacks, avenue of triumphant comebacks. It will be one of the strangest and most drawn-out stories to be told in Popular, but for now let us preserve in our inner eyes Kylie in her first car, enthusiastic and not yet defeated; and that “I Should Be So Lucky” defies its subject matter, and perhaps even its writers and producers, to bring tactile hope. The world should be so lucky.

  5. 35
    Billy Smart on 20 May 2010 #

    I’m sure I’ve heard Pete Waterman tell a version of that story where SAW weren’t expecting Kylie to arrive and they wrote the song in half an hour while she had a cup of tea, recorded it in half an hour and mixed it in half an hour! That’s such a great pop myth that I feel inclined to believe it, however implausible.

  6. 36
    Pete Baran on 20 May 2010 #

    Kat @14 – My friend Sef still has the Neighbours game and it gets pulled out quite regularly (last time in the Cask in October). We all spend about ten minutes writing a few extra cards (gets knighted, invents cold fusion) and it goes down well with a club sandwich and some Porter.

    As for Kylie, I have an almost identical arc to Tom in my appreciation of the song, I don’t turn it off when it rocks up of Kylie’s Greatest Hits but it reminds me of a diffident pop hating period. Kylie in particular allowed my rockest Debbie Gibson love in the manufactured actress vs pop genius viewpoint which would probably end up in my buying a Bruce Hornsby album the same day I went to an M25 rave and finally getting my head on straight.

    (Note I didn’t like the Hornsby or the rave that much, but it put me back on the path of liking what was easy to like. Even if that was occasionally the Senseless Things).

  7. 37
    will on 20 May 2010 #

    For me this is the second of SAW’s twin peaks (their first being Respectable).

    Why do I like it so?

    That third line ‘My heart is close to breaking’, where the production sounds off-kilter and literally delirious before Kylie pulls it back from the brink of insanity with ‘I’m Dreaming/ Like you’re in love with me…

    The way the verse aurally skips to the chorus on the lines ‘but dreaming’s all I do/ if only they’d come true.’

    It takes a certain kind of genius to know that rhyming ‘lucky’ with ‘lucky lucky lucky’ will work.

    The BRILLIANT stutter effect after the second chorus.

    The fact that it takes a dark subject matter – a young girl suffering delusional unrequited love – and fashions something joyful and ecstatic out of its misery. Unlike their other clients, SAW always seemed to put the work in with Kylie’s singles, but they never again pulled off something as perfectly executed and brilliantly arranged as this. For me, it’s worth nothing less than a 10.

  8. 38
    Mike Atkinson on 20 May 2010 #

    Oh, how I loathed and despised this record at the time: SAW’s ultimate betrayal; a cheap knock-off vehicle for some here today, gone tomorrow soap star with naff hair, naff clothes, a tinny voice and an annoying “everything is wonderful!” perma-grin; the most irritating chorus known to mankind, etc etc. The usual snooty hipster response, in other words – but I was a newly re-politicised 26 year old trendy club DJ, how could it have been otherwise?

    And speaking of trendy clubs – oh, the horror of witnessing the DJ at our city’s newest and trendiest club, dropping “I Should Be So Lucky” into the middle of his set on the opening night, while it was still at Number One! I nearly choked on the lime wedge that had been shoved into the top of my bottle of Sol.

    Despite all of this, I somehow knew that “Lucky” would be fondly remembered in twenty years’ time. So there were occasions in the intervening period where I tried to make myself like it – after all, it wasn’t as if I was SAW-averse, far from it indeed – but I always ran aground on That. Bloody. Chorus. And it wasn’t even as if Kylie was helping me much; if she performed “Lucky” at all, it was in an ironic supper-club style, or even (as I witnessed at Birmingham NEC in the early 00s) in an Ibiza trance version. Anything rather than sing it straight. “I know I’ll always be a little bit naff”, she once wisely observed – but not quite that naff, thank you.

    It wasn’t until, ooh, maybe four or five years ago that the scales finally fell from my ears – but then context is everything, and nostalgia is a powerful force. So I can now enjoy “Lucky” as a wistfully optimistic reminder of other people’s carefree youth – if not my own.

  9. 39
    Hofmeister Bear on 20 May 2010 #

    I see your ‘Respectable/Lucky’ and raise you ‘This Time I Know It’s For Real’, a song which sadly won’t be on this list by the time 1989 comes around (#3 in the UK charts). Summer allegedly refused to appear in the video to the follow up single ‘I Don’t Wanna Get Hurt’ because of a superstitious dislike for songs whose lyrics have a less than positive outlook.

  10. 40
    punctum on 20 May 2010 #

    There’s a chapter on “This Time I Know It’s For Real” in my upcoming book, The Blue In The Air, to be published by 0-Books in November. The perfect Christmas gift, even if the author does say so himself.

  11. 41
    thefatgit on 20 May 2010 #

    I’m glad there are a few more champions for this. I was beginning to feel like a lone voice for a bit there. The fact that I have warmed to it after so many years, simply put, is that I value the optimism of ISBSL more now, than I did then. And Kylie herself, was sugary sweet and bad for you then, but like many nostalgic conversations that drift into the realms of favourite childhood confectionery, it’s the sherbet dip-dabs and CurlyWurlys we remember most and with most fondness, even if they were incredibly messy to consume. So girl-next-door, innocent Kylie vs sophisticated, mature Kylie? It’s not really as simple as that. There are strong arguments for both.

  12. 42
    Rory on 20 May 2010 #

    My score of 4 represents warming to it after many years. I even considered a 5, but it’s still a record I endure more than find pleasant, so 4 it had to be. I don’t mind the first minute or so, but the bright shiny repetition soon outwears its welcome. Quite a feat, really, for something under three minutes long.

  13. 43
    vinylscot on 20 May 2010 #

    I’m rather surprised at the negativity surrounding this one. To me, it’s one of SAW’s crowning glories, and is closer to “You Spin Me Round” than to their later cr*p.

    I can only think that this negativity has more to do with what KM was to become, than the song itself. It’s as if this was not worthy of Dame Kylie, and it would have been more convenient for everyone of she had just skipped the first few bubble-gummy tunes…

    … but without this (and Locomotion) Kylie wouldn’t have had the chance to progress; she would have carried on being a middling Ozzie soap/tv star and we’d probably never have heard of her (in UK anyway) after she left Neighbours. There would have been no recording career; no gay “iconism”; no fairytale princess with the country (world?) willing her through yet another doomed personal relationship, or getting behind her during her (admittedly life-changing and totally not trivial) illness.

    Although Tom marked it one point higher, this seems less popular than its predecessor Tiffany’s rather poor bubble gum. I think if you strip away the “what came after” from this, and just concentrate on the song and the performance, it’s well worth a seven at least.

  14. 44
    MBI on 20 May 2010 #

    Again, speaking as someone who never ever heard this song before being exposed to it here, 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,” — but again, that’s largely because I hate it so much.

    Gotta say that I don’t hear the “strong” melody everyone’s talking about; in fact, my main objection to this is the melody, particularly the chorus, is extremely sloppy and weak, and Kylie sounds terrible singing it. Moreover, it just sounds EXHAUSTED. Compare this to something genuinely effervescent (say, Bananarama’s “I Heard a Rumour”) and it feels to me like the difference should be stark and obvious. “You Spin Me Round” and “Never Gonna Give You Up” are nothing but energy from the first notes; meanwhile, “I Should Be So Lucky” is just a tired, limping slog of a song.

  15. 45
    David Belbin on 20 May 2010 #

    I seem to recall that Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin) once covered this – or at least a snatch of it – but I can’t for the life of me remember what song he dropped it into. Probably not ‘Stairway To Heaven.’

  16. 46
    Rory on 20 May 2010 #

    Speaking only for myself, vinylscot, my “I Should Be So Lucky” animosity was fully formed at the outset, not developed in hindsight (and has softened because of what came later). “Locomotion” had been harmless party music, but “Lucky” was actively annoying. The response to the Kylie phenomenon I described above was based on her first two singles, not her subsequent pop career, which we had no inkling of. SAW by 1988 were seen as a musical sausage factory churning out a succession of disposable singers, and there was no reason to suspect that Kylie would be an exception.

    That’s another reason “Lucky” felt so significant in early 1988, even if you didn’t like the track itself. Which way was the Kylie phenomenon developing? Would SAW’s involvement be the end of her? Given their track record, that seemed quite plausible. Kylie was already on course for a pop career; “Locomotion” was huge in Australia before SAW had ever heard of her. (You can compare snippets of “Locomotion” and the SAW-produced “The Loco-Motion” at Wikipedia; they’re hardly worlds apart.) Who’s to say that her parallel-universe non-SAW career wouldn’t have ended up with some kind of UK success? On the other hand, she could equally have been Australia’s biggest one-hit wonder. Luck is such a large element of success, and Kylie was fortunate, fortunate, fortunate.

    If she hadn’t become a pop star, Kylie might have translated her soap stardom into a lasting TV or movie career. If there’d been no “Locomotion” and “Lucky”, critics might have hailed her 1989 movie The Delinquents as a breakthrough into serious acting, and I might even have gone to see it. But instead it was overshadowed by a pop career that was already far more successful than any small Australian movie could hope to be.

  17. 47
    FC Ljubljana but logged out innit on 20 May 2010 #

    The Locomotion is amazing. “My little baby sister can do it with ease!” AND KYLIE ACTUALLY HAD A LITTLE SISTER OMG. In the playground for some hilarious reason we swapped ‘come on baby, do the locomotion’ with ‘come on kiddies, do the the heavy metal stuff’ despite it not scanning very well.

    Pete @36 – I must play this game again! [Des] finds [magic door to Narnia] in [the Coffee Shop] and [takes this opportunity to shove Jane through it and throw away the key].

  18. 48
    Snif on 21 May 2010 #

    “There would have been no recording career; no gay “iconism”

    That’s something I’ve occasionally wondered: how does one get to be a gay icon? Who decides? What are the necessary criteria?

  19. 49
    LondonLee on 21 May 2010 #

    Surviving.

  20. 50
    swanstep on 21 May 2010 #

    Garland and Monroe died v. young. Survival’s definitely optional!

  21. 51
    Mike Atkinson on 21 May 2010 #

    What are the necessary criteria?

    They’re best exemplified by Diana Spencer. As someone once noted, she passed through the following key stages:

    1981–1986 Fairytale princess
    1986–1992 Femme fatale
    1992–1997 Diva
    1997– Icon

  22. 52
    wichita lineman on 21 May 2010 #

    Judy Garland was a ‘survivor’ before she stopped surviving, if that makes sense. She survived Louis Mayer’s busy hands and decades of pill popping, but the show went on. Her final wedding was only attended by a very small number of gay friends – Johnnie Ray was best man because he just happened to be in town.

    Other gay icon ingredients: showgirl trappings – feathers, sequins, ie dressing like a proper pop star. But not being haughty. And having a camaraderie with fans. Kylie is but Laroux isn’t.

    Is Britney a gay icon since her breakdown?

    Is Geri Halliwell is the only singer I can think of who has tried REALLY HARD to be a gay icon (ticks most of the boxes above) but, as far as I’m aware, hasn’t become one.

  23. 53
    Mike Atkinson on 21 May 2010 #

    You need a certain vulnerability, masked with a certain attitude – most usually Tough Sassy Diva or Little Miss Sunshine. We respond to the tension between the two.

  24. 54
    Mike Atkinson on 21 May 2010 #

    And also neediness, of the your-love-will-validate-me variety. Although this doesn’t really apply to Kylie, admittedly.

    Triumph over adversity also scores well – failed marriages, battles with addiction, etc.

    And we also like it when an artist transcends their limitations, i.e. I know I’m not the most talented, but I am MAKING AN EFFORT. Again, it’s the tension that we respond to. This definitely applies to Kylie, and I’d say it also applied to Madonna circa Like A Prayer/Blonde Ambition.

  25. 55
    JLucas on 21 May 2010 #

    Rufus Wainwright pefectly described how Kylie has risen to the higher echelons of gay icon status.

    “[Madonna] subverts everything for her own gain. I went to see her London show and it was all so dour and humourless. She surpasses even Joan Crawford in terms of megalomania. Which in itself makes her a kind of dark, gay icon… I love Kylie, she’s the anti-Madonna. Self-knowledge is a truly beautiful thing and Kylie knows herself inside out. She is what she is and there is no attempt to make quasi-intellectual statements to substantiate it. She is the gay shorthand for joy.”

    I would add to that. Kylie makes high-quality, aspirational pop music and seems to genuinely enjoy it. Dozens of ageing female singers from Madonna and Cher to Sheena Easton and Geri Halliwell have recorded what might be described as ‘gay pop music’ but in a very deliberate attempt to score a hit. It comes across as patronising and joyless, something Kylie never is.

    Love At First Sight is in my opinion one of the most wonderful pop performances of the last decade. The song could have been middling in lesser hands, but Kylie’s performance enfuses it with pure unbridled joy. She loves what she does and she loves her fans. Anyone who has attended one of her concerts can attest to that. You never sense that she’s merely going through the motions (With the exception of her last days at SAW, but frankly who can blame her?)

  26. 56
    JLucas on 21 May 2010 #

    Geri Halliwell is an interesting example of somebody who attempted to announce and fashion herself as a gay icon. It worked at first, her early solo hits capture the cheeky charm of the best Spice Girls material. But it very quickly became laboured and irritating. It’s Raining Men was paradoxically her biggest hit and the song that killed her career, if you ask me.

  27. 57
    swanstep on 21 May 2010 #

    Kylie’s performance enfuses it with pure unbridled joy.
    I fail to hear any special performance quality on that track. Or any other really – she’s just not that sort of artist is she? Isn’t that the force of Wainwright’s observation? She’s the ultimate sunny, uncomplicated, unthreatening, disco dolly. Almost anyone else of note would bring bring more performance quality, but those extra colors and shadings and psychodramas and concepts are precisely what K. represents temporary freedom from.

  28. 58
    Billy Smart on 21 May 2010 #

    One of the things that makes (the best of) Kylie’s eighties hits so attractive is her gaucheness, like she’s stumbling into grown-up life. Madonna, however, sounds hard as nails and worldly-wise (Like A Virgin!) right from the off to me, even on Borderline and Holiday, which are probably her youngest songs.

  29. 59
    LondonLee on 21 May 2010 #

    Re: #50 Marilyn Monroe is a gay icon? News to me. I know she had the requisite tragic life but I’ve never thought of her as that.

    And, as said above, Judy Garland died relatively young but she was around a long, long time.

  30. 60
    lex on 21 May 2010 #

    I never know what to think about the “gay icon”: on the one hand, there are plenty I identify with, from Mariah to Tori to Madonna, but every time I see people try to define it, it feels a bit reductive, or not encompassing enough of the complexity that draws me to those figures. And similarly, there are “gay icons” who leave me cold – I utterly reject any taxonomy that requires me to give a shit about Princess Diana, for example – and I really hate the way that many third-tier pop stars presumptuously pitch their personae as the quintessential fag hag. Geri’s been covered, but it’s also present in a more subtle, and thus more actually irritating way with people like Sophie Ellis-Bextor. The kind of girl who goes “oooh I love gay men!” gets air from me.

    I’ve never understood why Kylie is a gay icon (let alone Dannii (pre-X Factor), for heaven’s sake – there’s rooting for the underdog and then there’s degrading yourself as well). I like a fair number of her songs, even love some, but in terms of what she herself brings to the table in terms of personality (vocal or otherwise) or charisma or, you know, anything distinctive at all, there’s absolutely no more reason she should have sustained a two-decade career than Rachel Stevens.

    As for this one, it’s sort of unhateable, but why or when I’d ever actively want to listen to it is beyond me. It’s actually one of the first songs I remember – not hearing it, but knowing about it, knowing how the chorus went because it was all over the primary school playground without necessarily knowing who Kylie was. Even that is not enough to make me feel active affection for it though, so 5.

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