Oct 10

KYLIE MINOGUE – “Tears On My Pillow”

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#640, 27th January 1990

A last encore for Stock Aitken and Waterman – their commercial headlock on the charts is broken, and we find their enthusiasm and imagination running out on a cloying version of the Little Anthony And The Imperials classic. Of course, this is a false impression – we’re a couple of months away from “Better The Devil You Know”, and Kylie’s second wind as a PWL act. In fact this – her only number one of the 90s – is probably the least interesting thing she’ll release all decade.

It may come from the soundtrack to The Delinquents – her Kylie-grows-up move – but as a record in itself “Tears” finds Kylie still very much part of “…And Jason”. In intent, this is her “Sealed With A Kiss” – the past stripped of its idiosyncrasy and presented as greetings-card romance. Kylie is the best thing here, though: she can’t match Little Anthony’s hurt dignity but given an arrangement which takes the song as cornball melodrama she throws herself into it, so it at least sounds like somebody involved cared.



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  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 25 Oct 2010 #

    Ugh! Synthi-horns! You get the impression that everyone other than Kylie was putting in the minimum effort possible here, secure in the certain knowledge that this was bound to be a hit.

    The next four singles after this formed a quartet of brilliance, enjoyment and sass that is all that one can hope for in pop, though. The charts can be so unfair, sometimes…

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 25 Oct 2010 #

    pleasant tune – humdrum production – another hit that I had forgotten – there’s a video of her performing in what looks like a 40s night club where K puts in a committed performance – even if she does end up dancing with a dummy in uniform. Is that a scene from the film or just for the song?

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    weej on 25 Oct 2010 #

    I have a feeling that SAW were trying to make some point about throwaway pop music with all this 50s throwback stuff, but all they seem to have proved is that you can’t recreate old pop magic.
    BTW, has anyone actually seen The Delinquents? Is it any good? Or is it notably bad? I suspect neither, much like this song.

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    Steve Mannion on 25 Oct 2010 #

    I saw The Delinquents at the time. I have no idea why as I really wasn’t a fan of Kylie in any way at this point. Dud song, dud film. Neeeext.

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    punctum on 25 Oct 2010 #

    “Tears On My Pillow” was the old Little Anthony and the Imperials weepie (“You don’t remember me” indeed, since the 21-year-old Kylie couldn’t possibly have remembered the record first hand) resuscitated to soundtrack Kylie’s long forgotten teen flick The Delinquents. Judging by the harmonic confusion in the keyboard department and the occasional miscued backing vocals, the record probably took marginally longer to make and produce than the 146 seconds of its duration; and the 1990 model of Kylie sings it with all the sunniness and cheer you would have expected her to bring to a song about obsessive loss.

    Coming from people who less than a year previously were loudly proclaiming that they didn’t want golden oldies back, SAW now seemed to be relying on them more and more; in the same year we had Jason Donovan suffocating “Rhythm Of The Rain” and Sonia making this writer momentarily wish for the actual “End Of The World.” But perhaps this indicated a pop cup running empty. Despite their septet of 1989 number ones – remembering that two of them were all-star charity fundraisers and all bar two of them involved Kylie and/or Jason – SAW had now peaked and were gently but inexorably slipping downwards. Rick Astley and Dead Or Alive were long gone (and, more tragically, Mel Appleby had gone the week before “Tears” went to number one; Kim persevered as a soloist elsewhere), Bananarama were gradually running down, Big Fun and Sonia came, did their assigned job and went, Jason’s pop star warrant was close to expiry and subsequent things like Boy Krazy never really came. There was still room for one late masterpiece – Lonnie Gordon’s “Happening All Over Again,” wherein the singer’s performance is so violently passionate that it seems set to shake and demolish SAW’s careful bouncy façade – but Gordon couldn’t follow it up.

    In essence, then, by the end of 1990, in contrast to their Hit Factory of stars a few years earlier, Kylie was all that SAW had, and bearing in mind the two years left to run on her PWL contract, the team tried to up their game; “Better The Devil You Know,” a number two hit that summer, was basically more bubblegum but markedly harder musically, “Step Back In Time” was a subtler anti-nostalgia meditation than “I’d Rather Jack” (“Remember the O’Jays?” queries an audibly bewildered Kylie), but “Shocked” and “What Do I Have To Do?” from 1991 gave the first indication of real adventure in Kylie’s work. Again, though, SAW never really built on this, so it was back to the nice-try-but-no-condom Let’s Get To It album with its half-hearted entreaties to consummation and surfeit of sloppy sub-R&B ballads, together with, in their final year together, interest-free readings of “Give Me Just A Little More Time” and “Celebration” which titles in themselves may well tell their own story. After that, Kylie wandered off to work out how to become a pop star on her own, or under the guidance of different and more unexpected directors. We will have to wait a long time until the next chapter can be told here. In the meantime, “Tears On My Pillow” is efficient and professional but utterly lacking in any blood or any real grief or anger – and its lackings are drawn into far sharper focus by the next devastating entry, which tells the same story but really delineates the difference between life and living death.

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    MikeMCSG on 25 Oct 2010 #

    “The Delinquents” was only notable for Kylie’s brief topless scene with the long-forgotten Charlie Schlatter.

    It’s hard to understand why Kylie’s improved follow-ups didn’t make the summit other than that the SAW brand had now become toxic and coloured some people’s attitudes towards her.

    This really does seem like an 80s fag end. No surprise it’s been forgotten and 4 is generous for such a lifeless enterprise.

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    Erithian on 25 Oct 2010 #

    I’ve seen the video lonepilgrim refers to, and it comes from a 2007 ITV special, where Kylie gives a notably better performance and the song receives an altogether classier production than the single, which is more of a SAW wall-of-sound effort. I have next to no memory of this being out at the time, which for a number one would have been unthinkable a couple of years earlier.

    Other examples of two totally different songs with the same title reaching number one? (although this one shares the same lyrics, “Tears on my pillow, pain in my heart…” with Johnny Nash’s)

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    DietMondrian on 25 Oct 2010 #

    The Power of Love – Frankie/Jennifer Rush (plus Huey Lewis with a third song of the same title also making the UK top 10).

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    flahr on 25 Oct 2010 #

    Awful production. Vocals good. 3.

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    thefatgit on 25 Oct 2010 #

    My memory of this version is vague. Little Anthony? Johnny Nash? How about Johnny Casino And The Gamblers? And now I have refreshed my memory courtesy of YouTube, I find myself wishing the befuddled fog had remained. The production is ropey and distracts from Kylie’s performance. Strip back the synths and all the frippery that SAW ladle on, and there’s the makings of a decent cover version. The song itself is familiar to anyone who owns the Grease soundtrack, and I suspect that’s what propelled it to #1 rather than Kylie herself or The Delinquents, which I have scant memory of as well.

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    wichita lineman on 25 Oct 2010 #

    Very sweet vocal, not Kylie-on-autopilot at all, and the sleeve makes me feel all gooey. But it’s still not a patch on Little Anthony’s clipped drama.

    Re the Sealed With A Kiss/Rhythm Of The Rain re-runs: Gary Lewis & The Playboys had already done this brace of covers, in the same order, in 1968. Beyond lazy, SAW!

  12. 12
    Chelovek na lune on 25 Oct 2010 #

    Ah, well, maybe I am verging from the general perception here a little.

    Although I can see the validity of many of the criticisms: the musical backing (while being very far from the worst that SAW were providing at this time – as we have seen here on numerous occasions in the past year – and indeed is markedly superior to that provided on some of Kylie’s 1988 singles, at least) is basically devoid of emotion (and in no way reflective of the mournfulness that these lyrics might warrant: dare I even suggest that the production of it’s bookend twin, Jason’s “Sealed With A Kiss” was superior), it is a wind-up music box almost; and even Kylie, while putting in an endearing (and dare I say almost unusually fluent) performance, sounds too happy for these words. Maybe she is purposefully adopting a stiff upper lip, a determination to keep her chin up; I like to think this is the case, rather than a simple misreading of the song.

    (Although one can still wonder how a melancholy take on it would have suited her. Certainly at this early stage in her career, I really doubt that she had the range for that. Of the three big pop teenage sensations that first made their appearance in the UK around 2 years before this made number 1, Tiffany might have done – given how desperate she sounded on “All This Time”, but, ah, her pop career is already over, for all intents and purposes….)

    But perhaps all this is to over-analyse what was never intended to be more than a bit of bubblegum pop music. To listen to, and for all these flaws, this is a delight, and one that has aged surprisingly well. (At the time I was 15, self-consciously “alternative”, discovering Primal Scream and Carter USM and the Wedding Present, not making a point of listening to Kylie). It is also refreshingly short.

    And so while I agree that TOMP is not of the same calibre, or in the same league, as, well, three of her next four singles (“Shocked” I don’t care for. It is clearly trying to do something different, but I don’t think it quite works. “Step Back In Time” is just delightful, though – really proof of Kylie coming of age, and “What Do I Have To Do” is even better, really superior pop indeed), it serves it purpose – of providing agreeable aural entertainment – very well, and leaves off before one can be bored by it. To me this warrants at least a six. And also my surprise to find that I now think of this as the best no 1 since Black Box.

    It doesn’t all really add up, but it is an irrational pleasure to listen to.

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    MBI on 25 Oct 2010 #

    The vocals on this are AWFUL. Love is not a GADGET! If we could START ANEW! I’d actually defend Kylie’s performance on “Hand on Your Heart,” but this is deplorable. Rolling Stone, I understand, called this version of the song “incompetent,” and I agree.

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    anto on 25 Oct 2010 #

    Haven’t heard this in years. Very much a stray week/everyone broke after Christmas/movie soundtrack fluke number one.
    Agree with MBI about the vocals. The anunciation of “start a-nooo” got on my nerves in 1990.

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    swanstep on 25 Oct 2010 #

    Kylie looking very fetching on the sleeve (her best photo up till this point?) is pretty much the highlight of this record (which is new to me). Awful backing track. 3.

    Ear-peeking ahead to Kylie’s next few singles, I don’t hear anything to get excited about.

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    wichita lineman on 26 Oct 2010 #

    This is Kylie’s Hopelessly Devoted To You isn’t it? The Delinquents was kind of Greasey, I’m sure that’s what SAW are going for.

    Defending the backing track, I like the way it sounds like an off-centre record, slightly woozy and wonky, an effect enhanced by the droning brass; it reminds me of I Love You Love Me Love.

    Re 15: Gosh. Are you just being contrary?

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    Billy Smart on 26 Oct 2010 #

    Re: 12 – Agreed, ‘What Do I Have To Do?’ is the absolute pinnacle of the quartet, doing many of the things that SAW were best at; desperate and defiant unrequited love songs, pop-house influences, heavenly host backing vox, call and response “you!” and “do!”s… It certainly left a deep impression upon me. I vividly remember my 18 year old-self spending hour after hour alternately playing it and ‘Motown Junk’ by the Manic Street Preachers, each single building upon the emotions of the other one in my disturbed and overactive mind.

    But I think that WDIHTD isn’t as well-remembered as the other three singles because it lacks an imaginative hook to register in the public Kylie narrative – ‘Devil’ says “marked improvement”/devil/Michael Hutchence, ‘Step’ = Disco/comic seventies nostalgia, ‘Shocked’ = ‘sexy new image’/risque.

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    Erithian on 26 Oct 2010 #

    Billy #17 – but who on earth would think of combining Kylie and the Manics?

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    Tom on 26 Oct 2010 #

    To be fair on Kylie, “Love is not a gadget” is a tougher sell in 1990 than in 1958, when “gadget” meant something modish, portable, miniaturised… obviously the word hadn’t lost any meaning by 1990 but it just seems more awkward as a line, the word sticks out.

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    Mark G on 26 Oct 2010 #

    I’m amazed that no-one’s mentioned the song’s appearance on the Grease soundtrack. Surely, that’s where most of the target audience would have known it from!

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    wichita lineman on 26 Oct 2010 #

    (penny drops)

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    Steve Mannion on 26 Oct 2010 #

    The only 90s Kylie singles I’d give more than 6/10 to are Better The Devil You Know, Confide In Me, Put Yourself In My Place, maybe Did It Again and the Towa Tei collaboration G.B.I. (which also has a good video, if you like the idea of Geisha Kylie at all). Her 00s stuff really is a lot better on the whole. Haven’t bothered to check out ‘Aphrodite’ yet even tho I liked her previous album ‘X’ quite a lot.

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    Rory on 26 Oct 2010 #

    Never having heard this before,* I’m surprised to find myself agreeing more with Chelovek than the nay-sayers. The woozy backing reminds me of some of John Lennon’s 1970s covers of golden oldies, not at all what I normally associate with SAW, so that’s less bad than I feared; and Kylie’s vocals seem fine for the material to me (again, never having heard the original). I wasn’t expecting world-weariness from a song called “Tears on my Pillow”; instead, it brought to mind the best line in Waiting to Guffman (“I’m going home and I’m gonna BITE MY PILLOW!”) – the kind of line only a teenager (or near-teenager) can deliver without sounding camp.

    So, not too bad. 5.

    By the way, @14: Aussie rock/pop singers have traditionally adopted American accents when singing, shortening their vowels in words like “can’t” and dropping the y sound in “new”. By the 1980s clearer Australian accents could be heard on records by Midnight Oil, Spy vs Spy, the Radiators and the Uncanny X-Men, but mostly on the rock end of the spectrum. So Kylie’s “anoo” was nothing noo, especially for a cover song.

    *Actually, if this was covered on the Grease soundtrack I almost certainly have heard it before, because the girls in my grade 5/6 class used to put that on the tape-deck all the time at school. So maybe some subliminal memory has made me better-disposed towards it. Strange, given that I couldn’t stand the stuff at the time.

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    Rory on 26 Oct 2010 #

    I can imagine Kylie as one of those girls playing Grease on the classroom tape-deck in 1978, picturing herself as a future Olivia Newton-John.

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    LondonLee on 26 Oct 2010 #

    And she was, at least in one unhappy instance.

    I’m pretty sure 99% of ‘Shocked’ is the video, without that it’s rather ordinary, at least next to Better The Devil and What Do I Have To etc.

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    swanstep on 26 Oct 2010 #

    There may be a skinny blonde aussie chick exception to this point, but most young kids (especially) skipped the sha-na-na and old rock ‘n’ roll cover bits of the Grease (movie) s/track. I remember maybe playing through that stuff once (and have no memory of TOMP either from that or the movie), but thereafter the first disc got played through only up to at most Greased Lightning (most often you’d just play the first four tracks, Grease/Summer Nights/Hopelessly Devoted/You’re the one that I want, and call it a day!). If one was feeling exceptionally Grease-y one *might* put on the end of the second disc beginning with Olivia N-J’s reprise of Sandra Dee. [The Saturday Night Fever s/track was *patchy* with all of its instrumental disco score(Salsation, Night on Disco Mountain, etc.) pieces, but there was ‘good stuff’ all the way to the end too. Grease, by way of contrast, was pretty famous for being extremely front-loaded.]

    @16, Wichita. I was sincere: Better the Devil You Know strikes me as tepid stuff. But I was led to sample it by the early whispers of praise for it here so I was aware that my view was likely be a minority one. Wouldn’t be the first time! You may vaguely recall that I had little time for the PSB imperial #1s…

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    Chelovek na lune on 26 Oct 2010 #

    @17, oh I don’t know about that, exactly.

    Maybe the chorus is a bit weak/subtle/4 years too late in a perhaps-they-should-have-offered-it-to-Spagna way (delete according to taste): those lines “always inside my head/never inside my bed” will do nicely as a memorable not-quite-hook. Yeah, it is a bit more sophisticated and less straightforward than a simple pop song, for all the glitter sparkling all over it.

    I’d say of her 90s singles only “Put Yourself In My Place” is better than “What Do I Have To Do”, in all. I really can’t be bothered with all that Impossible Princess wanna-be Indie stuff, and don’t understand why why why it was released on DeConstruction records.

    (“What Kind Of Fool” strikes me as being a bit more overlooked than it warranted being, even though it’s clearly not absolutely top-grade stuff, and, erm, having just watched it on Youtube, she was trying rather too hard to look “sexy” in the video. But it does seem to represent a look back to 1987, pre-Kylie SAW, more interested in a good dance beat and decent vocal than the pop charts. But by the time it came out it was too late for all that…).

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    Billy Smart on 26 Oct 2010 #

    I like ‘What Kind of Fool’ an awful lot, too! Thematically, its the type of song that SAW always did well, though it isn’t any bit as good as ‘What Kind of Fool’ by All About Eve.

    I had the same sense of letdown that LondonLee had for ‘Shocked’ when ‘Word Is Out’ came out – a weak song supported by SexKylie marketing. The wider public weren’t having it, either, as seen in its number 16 chart position.

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    Mark G on 26 Oct 2010 #

    “Shocked” has that brilliant Italo-piano intro.

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    Chelovek na lune on 26 Oct 2010 #

    @28 I agree with every single point in that post! Can’t see the wood for all of the trees….Though I wouldn’t want to rate in order the songs entitled “Two Hearts” by Kylie, Cliff Richard and Phil Collins. All of them sub-standard, to varying degrees… (Ok Cliff’s is by far the worst)

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