Acts of the year: Kim Wilde

The fact that Kim Wilde is the daughter of the Fifties’ pop idle Marty Wilde often obscures a much more interesting fact. Kim Wilde is the first lady of the video generation.
Her first single, the two million selling ‘Kids In America’, was helped on its way to the top of the British charts in January 1981 by a video which looked as hard, sharp and shiny as the record sounded. It subsequently became a hit in 13 other territories and established that in the Eighties, video technology has overtaken the traditional “dues-paying” route to stardom.
Rak Records realised then that Kim Wilde need never step on a stage, unless she actually chose to; the international success of four more singles and two albums vindicated their belief. Nevertheless, the stage must be in Kim’s bloodline. Dad topped the hit parade, as it was then called, in 1959 with ‘Teenager In Love’ (and had 12 lesser hits). Mum was one of the all-singing, all-dancing Vernons Girls troupe. “I don’t think anybody is impressed by daughters offamous people. They expect you to be spoilt, mindless and untalented, and sometimes they’re right,” says Kim, pointing out that in school she used the name Smith to avoid the embarrassment her family line might have caused.
Born in Chiswick, London on November 18 1960, (the same year the Americans devised the laser, and the French introduced musique concrete), the family moved to a thatched cottage in Hertfordshire, where they, including Kim, stilllive. Her main musical input as she grew up came from dad’s record collection, “everything from the Fifties to the mid-Seventies”. Sinatra, Elvis, Connie Francis and others share equal time with Brian Eno, Elvis Costello and The Clash. She also claims to have been influenced by Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin and Kirsty MacColl, although her voice betrays their influence less than it does the male neroes.
She was educated in a girls’ school in Ware and became “the naughty schoolgirl stereotype” but although she was a sweet, if slightly plump, 16-year-old when punk exploded in London, the phenomenon passed her by. “1 realised why it was happening, but I feIt no need to rebel. I’m not aggressive and I found it a bit frightening and a bit hypocritical.”
Losing weight gave her more faith in her appearance, and she gained valuable experience supplying backing vocals for dad’s band. “Mum and I did the shoo-wop, shoo-waddies until Mum feIl pregnant again. ” (As a result, she now has a baby sister , named Roxanne after the Police hit.)
Keeping everything in the family, Kim’s songs are written by Oad and younger brother Ricky. No doubt the showbusiness links between Marty and Mickie Most didn’t do Kim any harm, particularly as Most was genuinely impressed by Ricky’s uncluttered but hard-edged production work on Kim’s demos. Ricky had attempted a solo performing career as a Jimmy Osmond-style pop star, but the weenyboppers’ loss has become Kim’s gain. ‘Kids In America’ was reputedly recorded in one take, and Ricky wrote the material for the first album, Kim Wilde, inside three weeks. Released in July 1981, it folIowed ‘Kids In America’ to number two. “Ricky’s very fast,” Kim once said, “crashed my car last week.”
In fact, Kim had made a record before, but the resulting disaster is spoken of in hushed tones and, to my knowledge, copies of the offending waxing are rarer than hickeys on Margaret Thatcher. Although she has always made a point, publicly, of playing down the sexual elements in her success, the Germans call her The Bardot of Rock and her raunchy good looks have never done her any harm. “I’m a bit of a scruff at neart,” she insists, and she has a tendency to prefer men’s clothes, or hand-me-downs she rummages out of charity shops.
Exactly in which charity shop she finds her fashionable mini-skirts, lace-gussetted stillettos and gold chain necklaces remains a mystery, but Kim is adamant that “I don’t play on the sex angle because it is too one dimensional. Nothing bores me more than pin-up girls… and yet,” she sighs, “sex is supposed to be the most exciting thing in the world. So they teIl me.” Fortunately, the Wilde vocals are more than enough to counter any accusations of the sex-sell, and her desire to put a proper band together for touring purposes seems genuine enough, although she concedes, “Studio work isn’t as strenuous as singing a whole set live. I’11 need to strengthen my voice before I try that.”
Equally, the lyrical content of Ricky’s songs is often more than the moon-June, illusion-confusion gibberish which is the stock in trade of most pop successes. One of his most ambitious efforts, the story-song ‘Cambodia’, released in November 81, had less success than it merited because the accompanying video was deemed too erotic to show on Top Of The Pops, the major outlet for pop videos in Britain. “I don’t see the logic,” Kim protested, “Just because this snake crawled over my foot…”
A second album, Select, released in May 1982, established the fact that Wilde was a long term prospect, with a breadth of material not really reflected in the singles, which tended to be up-tempo, well-crafted rock, veering gradually towards MOR, probably in an at tempt to establish a wider “marketing base”. Although apparently having total faith in Mickie Most’s ludgement, Kim has clearly also benefitted from Marty’s experience and he does accept that he has tended to be overprotective towards her, fearing that she might make the same mistakes he did at her age. Fortunately Kim seems well aware that she’s never really nad it hard, “I suppose I’m pretty conventional,” she says, defending her obvious pleasure m.such arts as cooking and organising parties. “But what’s normal? Most kids don’t want to have people round for dinner parties, so maybe I’m abnormal. Right?”
Despite the setback over ‘Cambodia’, the follow-up in April, ‘View From A Bridge’, kept her name in the public eye and gave her a fourth Top 20 entry, but the popular demand to see Kim on tour has created enough pressure for Rak to be considering a third album in September 1982, supported by a nationwide tour. In a remarkably short period, Kim has sold over six million records, more than Marty did in his entire career; but each successive release has made a smaller impression on the charts, and critical response to the second LP was varied, giving the impression that the press consider Kim’s 15 minutes of fame is already over. By the standards of most releases, however, it was a thoughtful, exciting and well-crafted record.
Mickie Most, having put ?250,OOO ofhis money into the act, (?75,000 reportedly being spent on the image alone) feels that her current success is only the beginning. She has now signed to EMI/Liberty for American release and, if she has significant success in the US, Most sees her ultimately moving into films. The success of Human League and other British acts might help pave the way for her, but Americans are notorious for wanting to see performers on stage before parting with their money to buy an album.
Inevitably, af ter such a meteoric rise, the critical backlash has come largely in the form of attacks on her looks and accusations that she is merely the mindless front for the real creative team of Ricky and Dad, although Ricky’s production of the second LP did take a share of adverse comment. Kim, however, seems to have no qualms about singing her brother’s songs, pointing out that he seems to have a natural understanding of the way she thinks. In March, she told The Face, “I desperately want to write songs and perhaps that’s why I haven’t done it… I want to write a brilliant standard with my first effort.”
One of the lessons she’s learned from Marty, is the ability to look at her success objectively. “I feel maybe it’s some sort of kitsch appeal, but I think you can take that too seriously. It’s no big deal.”
Apart from being aware of that, and of the fact that her looks definitely help to sell records, she shows an intelligent interest in other women and a desire to understand her own admiration for them. “I’m very aware ofwomen and their beauty. I’m interested in looking at beautiful women.”
Citing her role-models as everyone from Joan of Arc to Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe and (oh, really?} Debbie Harry, she says, “I’ve had my picture taken so many times I can really respect someone who’s able to get it across like that. It’s not just natural.”
On the other hand, her fascination with the opposite sex is a subject of endless joumalistic musings. She has always expressed an interest in Adam Ant’s preferences, and once announced that she’d love to duet with Elvis Costello. The song she had in mind? ‘Sleepless Nights’. Soon after Steve Strange publicly declared himself smitten by Kim at a party in January, their names were briefly entwined in every tabloid and music paper; but that skirmish, for Kim, is simply more grist to the mill. “We could have avoided all that publicity.” she grumbled later.
“I didn’t know all those media people went there, but I’m not sure that Steve didn’t. It’s things like that that I’m sussing out now.”
In hard chart statistics, it may look as if Kim Wilde is riding the down escalator to oblivion but when she says, “I’ve always wanted to be famous, and I know I can handle it.” it’s impossible not to remember Mark Twain’s immortal remark – “There are three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies and statistics.”