Kim Wilde

Mik Glass examines the career of one of Britain’s top pop stars, and the family background that has aided her success.

The recent success of ‘Say you really want me’ has given Kim Wilde her 14th chart hit – 11 of which have been Top 30 entries. This run puts her at the forefront of Britain’s female vocalists and has silenced her initial detractors who proclaimed she was nothing more than a pouting puppet. This charge of fabrication stems from the fact that her father was no other than Marty Wilde, who himself enjoyed a few years of success under the tutelage of a guiding figure, Larry Parnes, during the years before the arrival of the best groups. After she first leapt into the charts back in 1981 with ‘Kids in America’, Kim’s records fared increasinly badly; even a change of label couldn’t seem to offer the miracle cure until she bounced back in the winter of 1986 with a faithful cover of the Supremes’ ‘You keep me hangin’ on’. Since then, her fortunes have stabilised, and she is currently enjoying the most successful phase of her career.
Although Kim has now notched up as many hits as her father, she has inherited Marty’s ability to miss out on the much-covered No. 1 U.K. single. Marty’s best effort was with ‘Teenager in love’, back in 1959, and while Kim has had the disappointment of just missing out on two occasions, she can take satisfaction in that her international following has far surpassed her dad’s, both in terms of sales and popularity. While she has topped the charts on the continent many times, taking ‘You keep me hangin’ on’ to the top in the U.S. must have done wonders for her confidence.

After marrying Joyce from the Vernon Girls, not much was heard from Marty until the early Seventies when, along with his friend Mickie Most, he tried to launch his eleven-year-old son Ricky as Britain’s answer to Donny Osmond. Between February 1973 and March 1974, four singles – ‘April Love’, ‘Do it again just a little bit slower’, ‘Mrs Malinski’ and ‘Teen wave’ – were issued, but not one could pentrate the teeny market, which preferred to import its idols. After Ricky’s voice broke, he began to show more interest in what happens on the other side of the recording booth.
It was while Ricky was recording for Mickie Most’s RAK label at the start of the 1980s that Kim Wilde made her first impression as a singer. Although it was Ricky who had the production deal with RAK, it was her backing vocals – and then her image – which attracted the attention of Mickie. A rumour which has appeared in print on at least one occasion is that Kim actually released a single before ‘Kids in America’. This has been described as a ‘disaster’, and is, of course, extremely rare. However, we have been assured by sources close to Kim that no such record exists. If any knowledgeable reader thinks they know otherwise, feel free to write in.
Before this, Kim had spent her late teens at art school, occasionally taking time out to sing backing vocals for her dad. But within months of celebrating her 20th birthday, she had been transformed from the semi-anonymous student, Kim Smith (sic), into one of the most successful chart acts of 1981. Her success came at a time when female singers like Toyah, Hazel O’Connor and Kirsty MacColl were coming into their own. None of them, of course, were any less packaged than Kim. All four rode on the back of the ‘wild woman’ punk image set by such luminaries as Siouxie Sioux and the Slits, but neatly tailored it to suit popular tastes. Carefully tousled hair and some uptempo tunes weren’t designed to endear them to a punk audience but the combination worked wonders in terms of chart successes.

After its release in January 1981, ‘Kids in America’ became a huge international hit and established the name of Kim Wilde in many countries, not least on the continent where she still has a large following today. In the U.K., the song – reputedly recorded in just one take – was kept off the top spot by revivalist Shakin’ Stevens’ version of the 50s hit, ‘This Ole House’. Though picture sleeve copies shouldn’t be too hard to find, 7″ test pressings now fetch £ 4.
Managed jointly by Mickie Most and her mother, with father Marty and brother Rick taking care of the writing and production of the music, Kim’s years with RAK Records never quite capitalised on her initial impact. ‘Kids’ established the archetype for the string of singles which followed. All employed an uptempo dance beat, but it was the infectious choruses which seemed to implant themselves firmly in the minds of the public. Perhaps the best of these was the third single, ‘Water on glass’, whcih, after a shaky mock-hard rock start, was soon put on the right course by Kim’s charmingly nasal vocals. Import picture sleeve copies of these early singles are quite sought after by collectors and can still be picked up at a reasonable price. Portuguese copies, for example, have been spotted for as little as £ 2,50. While ‘Chequered Love’, ‘Water on glass’ and ‘Cambodia’ all followed ‘Kids’ into the Top 20, each fared progressively worse in terms of chart placing. However, her eponymous debut LP proved successful, reaching No. 3 and enjoying a 14-week run in the charts. Including the first three singles (though not the B-sides of the latter two), ‘Kim Wilde’ did not always find charitable words from the ‘quality’ music papers: ‘It is the classic emptiness of pop presented with serious style and not much shame’, wrote one ‘NME’ scribe. True, Ricky had taught the captains of industry a thing or two by penning most of the material in just three weeks; and who could deny that a lot of money – an estimated £ 250,000, £ 75,000 on image alone – had been invested in Kim’s ability to sell records. As it was such as easy target for the knockers, many have overlooked the fact that it was just this ‘classic emptiness’ which delivers some of pop’s finest moments.
Kim’s last Top 20 hit for RAK was ‘View From A Bridge’ in spring 1982, after which it was announced that in just 18 months, she had already sold more records than her dad Marty had done in his entire career. Although there was no U.K. 12″ release of the single, copies were made available on the continent and have since become collectors’ items. Another rarity from this time was her appearance on the ‘SFX’ tapezine, No. 2. Copies of this short-lived venture are highly sought after today and collectors would have to pay up to £ 4 for this now.

By mid-1982, she had a deal with EMI/Liberty in the U.S. and ‘Kids in America’ did well to achieve a Top 20 placing in this most lucrative of markets. However, Kim’s appeal in the U.K. was on the wane as ‘View From A Bridge’ could get no higher than No. 16 and the LP only just scraped into the Top 20. ‘Select’ was tainted by the inclusion of more M.O.R. material which, presumably, was intended to widen her market. The sleeve dispensed with the idea of Kim fronting a backing band and featured a portrait by the famed Rolling STones’ photographer Gered Mankowitz.
One of Kim’s rarer singles was ‘Child Come Away’, released in November 1982. Coupled with ‘Just Another Guy’, neither song came from an album and it soon sunk without making much impression. Around this time, Kim bought her own flat and soon installed a pinao. As early as March 1982, she had been airing in interviews her intentions to write her own material. However, it was to be a while before the fruits of her labours were given a public airing.
It became obvious that Kim’s career was in need of a radical relaunch by the end of 1983. After a rare bout of touring at the end of 1982, she all but disappeared from the public eye until the release of the ‘Love Blonde’ single in July. The first to be issued on 12″, it was an improvement on her previous effort and was rewarded with a Top 30 placing. Foreign picture sleeve copies are pupular with collectors, and Dutch, German and Spanish editions can be bought for less than £ 5 apiece. Yet the follow-up, ‘Dancing In The Dark’, sunk almost without trace. One month later, the ‘Catch as catch can’ LP, which contained both sides of both singles, did disastrously. It was no surprise, then, that Kim became a prominent name in the various ‘Where Are They Now?’ features that recur seasonally.
When Kim returned, in September 1984, out went the kitsch appeal, the sanitised rebel-next-door; in its place was a more mature, altogether classier image which, again, could be seen as tailor-made to suit the demands of the time. The launch of this new image came with her first recordings for MCA – two singles in quick succession, ‘The Second Time’ and ‘The Touch’. Both were issued as 12″ extended releases, though only the first showed any signs that the world was ready for a Kim Wilde revival. Surprisingly, RAK had not capitalised on Kim’s visual appeal to the extent of issuing picture discs of every release, and so it was not until ‘The Touch’ that this ready-made collector’s item was employed. However, the head-shaped disc couldn’t help the single any higher than No. 56. ‘The Touch’ did spawn one real collector’s rarity, a one-sided Master Room acetate, which is worth around £ 30.

The new LP, ‘Teases and Dares’ at last introduced the world to Kim Wilde, songwriter, on ‘Fit In’ and ‘Shangri-La’, the latter having already appeared on a B-side and turning up in extended form (4.45) on issue 5 of the magazine/LP ‘Debut’. While ‘Teases And Dares’ failed to make much of an impression in the album charts, it still managed a higher placing than ‘The Very Best Of Kim Wilde’, issued a month earlier. As well as including all her RAK singles, ‘The Very Best Of…’ also included some B-sides and LP cuts. This compilation was accompanied by a video EP release, which featured promo films for six of her eight singles for RAK.
It was Dave Edmunds’ remixing of ‘Rage To Love’, issued in April 1985, which provided Kim with her best chart position since spring 1982. This time, the 12″ version included a ‘US mix’ of ‘The Second Time’, while a second Kim-shaped picture disc must have sold in greater quantities than the first. Import picture sleeve copies again fetch up to £ 5.

One of the most popular collector’s items among Kim’s army of fans is the 3-LP boxed set of LPs issued in France in June 1985, on the Pathe Marconi label (1552383). At present, this collecton of her first three albums fetches around £ 15.
After this flurry of activity, it seemed as if Kim Wilde had once again slipped into oblivion. However, during this ‘lay-off’ period, she still proved big in Europe where she preferred to play live. But no-one really could have predicted just what a success her next offering would be.
When ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’ reached No. 1 in the U.S. at the start of 1987, Kim received a telegram from Lamont Dozier, one of the celebrated Holland/Dozier/Holland songwriting team, congratulating her on the fresh treatment of the old Supremes’ hit. In the U.K., the No. 1 spot again proved just out of reach as the song gave Kim her biggest hit since ‘Kids in America’. An LP, ‘Another step’, seemed to confirm her return and with the sale of her infamous mini-skirt at Christie’s in 1986 for £ 400, it seemd as if she had turned over a new leaf.
12″ promos of the single fetch £ 3,50, but most collectable is a U.S. 12″ which featured a different picture sleeve and a 9.02 mix not on the U.K. release. This sells for £ 6.50.
Since then, Kim has been very much in demand on various projects. She participated on the Ferry Aid single, ‘Let it be’, sang ‘Something better’ on the ‘Anti-Heroin Project’ LP and appeared at the Aids benefit in April at Wembley alongside Ricky and Marty singing Elton John’s ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’.
Her best recent move, however, has been teaming up with Junior for a single, ‘Another Step (Closer To You)’, which enjoyed a long chart run, reaching No. 6. The 12″ featured an extended version, in addition to the 7″ take and the usual B-side, ‘Hold Back’.
Kim’s most recent single, ‘Say You Really Want Me’, originally graced the 1986 film, ‘Running Scared’ and this time MCA pulled out all the stops in promoting it. In addition to a limited edition 7″ gatefold sleeve, early 12″ copies came with a video poster. There was also the ‘controversial’ video ploy, which found Ms. Wilde enjoying the company of four hot-blooded males. From awkward adolescent to “slinky, sexy and very physical”, Kim Wilde has finally come of age.
Although her bursts of popularity have been highly irregular, she has proved to be one of the top U.K. chart acts of this decade. For newcomers to the Wilde phenomenon, three of her LPs, ‘Kim Wilde’, ‘Select’ and the essential ‘The Very Best Of Kim Wilde’ have been made available at budget price, while those who have switched to the CD format can purchase her two most recent albums. As a further indication that she is back on top, a video EP has recently been reissued.

How long this resurgence will last is anyone’s guess. Of course, it is easy to forget that during her spells of inactivity in the U.K., she continued to build up her audiences elsewhere. One sphere in which she has yet to convince her British following is in concert, where she has been reluctant to perform.
Incredible though it may seem, Kim has proved to be by far the most successful member of one of Britain’s best-known entertainment families. While this once proved to be an obstacle in her career, it seems as if Kim Wilde has finally broke free of the stigma of being merely the visual product of a family affair.