The first anyone knew of Kim Wilde was when she vaulted up the charts in 1981. 'Kids in America' was a great pop song, but more than that it was a very clever piece of music. Picking up some of the threads of the New Wave sound, it bounced its brisk sixties hook-lines off a glossy, modern production. For a debut single it was remarkably polished, and led many to disclaim her as a puppet figure, with strings pulled by her famous family and manager Mickie Most. Nine years later she has still to shake off the criticism, born out of lazy journalism and mean-mouthed petty jealousies.
The origins of 'Kids in America' are now well publicised. Kim's father Marty and brother Ricki were arranging to do some session work. Marty couldn't make it, so Kim was invited along to run through a version of a song that they had composed .Nothing more was thought of it until Ricki decided to play the tape to RAK boss Mickie Most, an old family friend. Most promptly declared that the song would be massive. And it was too. As Kim elaborated: "I still regard it as a bit of a fluke, actually. When we made those original demos I think he (Ricki) made a far better job of the vocals than me..."
As everyone knows, Kim has a famous father. Not that famous min, just mildly well known, and fondly remembered. His best known single remains 'Teenager in Love' from 1959. Nowadays he still works the night-club circuit, and, in harness with his son Ricki, looks after Kim's copyrighting and publishing. In the early days especially, he also co-wrote many of the songs. In the sixties he married Joyce Baker from the Vernon Girls. When the hits dried up he made a good living as a songwriter. His most famous compositions gracing the singles and LPs of some remarkably diverse acts ('Ice in the sun' - Status Quo, 'I'm a tiger' - Lulu, 'Jesamine' - The Casuals, 'Love me, love my dog'- Peter Shelly).
Son Ricki's brief career came early in the seventies, supposedly as Britain's answer to teen-pop sensation Donny Osmond, but with a bit more rebellion. There was an avalanche of publicity, four singles ('April Love' / 'Do it again just a little bit slower' / 'Mrs. Malinski' / 'Teen Wave') and then, nothing. Nobody was buying and Ricki Wilde decided his talents lay elsewhere. Apparently he was getting stick at school for being such a nonce.
Almost by accedent, Kim would complete the trilogy of Wildes on the pop circuit. She was born in Chiswick, London, on November 18th, 1960 (real name Kim Smith), and was educated at a girl's school in Ware. By the time she attended a one year Art foundation course in St. Albans, Punk had turned into New Wave, but was still very much in vogue. She liked the Clash, sure, and Elvis Costello was respected for his lyrical abilities. Punk fashion escaped her, even when everyone wanted to play her PiL's 'Metal box' album, which she describes as 'total dirge'. Her taste in music would spring largely from her father's record collection: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Billy Fury and Connie Francis are among the favourites, alongside nearly all of Spector's sixties production work with girl groups.
The early eighties were a ripe time for female vocalists. If Toyah and Hazel O'Connor stayed closer to their Punk roots, Kim was still mentioned in the same dispatches .There was still overt criticism about her using her relatives to write songs for her. In her defence she would say that eventually she would use her own material. Sh ejust ddn't want to rush it: "You can't just be a songwriter; you've got to write twenty shit songs before you come up with anything that's any good."
'Chequered love' became the second single in May 1981. A slightly more predictable, conventional pop song, it confirmed her standing by reaching no. 4. The pressure was obviously on to compound the success of Kids...
"Rick had been up to see Mickie (Most) about three or four times and each time he took four or five songs with him. Mickie wasn't sure about any of them ad time was running out. We had to get a new single out. On his last trip Ricki played the first three and Mickie wasn't too sure about them. The last track was Chequered Love and he picked that. It was the last song we had written and it was pretty near to the deadline. We recorded it in two days."
If the single had just been a little stronger, it would doubtless have hit the number one spot - a feat which has escpaed all of the Wildes to date.
'Chequered Love' would be quickly followed by another single, 'Water on Glass', and the eponymous debut album. The lyrics to 'Water on Glass' concerned a rare disease where the victim continually hears sound in their head. Widely misinterpreted as a pseudo-Psychedelic song, it was actually an early indication that Kim's songs would not always tread the empty headed pop territory which her critics had charted for her.
The album fared well in the charts too, enjoying an eleven week run and peaking at no. 3. Reviews were mixed, the NME describing it as "slight". Indeed it was, the Wilde clan were taking few chances this early in their daughter's career. However, it was worth the price of admission for Kids alone, with the added bonus of a reggae-fied 'Everything we know' and 'Water on glass'. Meanwhile, people were still talking about Kim - Marty Fry of ABC praising the video for 'Chequered Love' and Howard Devoto of Magazine offering his services as keyboard player! Her first concert gtour would be the subject of a high profile TV docmentary.
'Cambodia' would prove just a little too much for the charts to handle. Although it reached No. 12 it would signal a decline in Kim's fortunes. The video was banned from Top of the Pops for its erotic content, which virtually guaranteed its failure. Kim was bemused by the decision. "I don't see the logic. Just because a snake crawls over my foot..." Everybody seemed to ignore the lyrical stance.
'View from a bridge' reached no. 16 in early 1982, but it would be her last substantial hit for some time, as 'Child Come Away' failed to break the top forty. The new album, 'Select', managed no. 19, which must have been a terrible disappointment, in truth, it deserved no better. Kim had chosen to court a new audience, and her teen fans had been left behind. She was still massive on the continent, but the album plodded along without conviction. For the rest of Kim's RAK material, only 'Love blonde' in 1983 would come anywhere near the charts. The album 'Catch as catch can' reached no. 90, signalling the extent of her demise. As 1984 dawned, she had been all but forgotten by the music industry.
Evidently, changed were needed, the first of which was a new four year deal with MCA. Kim's first recording for them was to be 'The Second Time' in 1984, which scraped into the top thirty. It was a self-conscious attempt to impose a classier, more sophisticated image. Gone were the jeans and jacket of yester-year, it was time for high heels and soft focus. Kim recalls it with some regret: "I felt the Second Time project worked well sometimes, but mostly was an embarrassment. At the time my career was at its lowest, my confidence to trust my instincts, impaired. I knew something wasn't right, but I felt I should give the project a fair shot. Unfortunately it reflected badly on an album I'm very proud of - Teases and Dares."
The album would finally unveil the first songs written by Kim, 'Fit in' and 'Shangri-la'. It revived her fortunes slightly, reaching no. 66 in the charts. It would also feature 'The Touch', copies of which were relased in a shaped picture disc format. In the charts at the same time was RAK's greatest hits package, which compiled her singles, and some B-sides and LP cuts, 'The Very Best of Kim Wilde' found even less favour, peaking at 78
In April 1984 Dave Edmunds remixed 'Rage To Love', which became her first top twenty hit since 'View From A Bridge', two years previously. It was a mre memorable song than its predecessor, sounding much less forced and contrived. It would be followed by almost a year and a half of recording inactivity. In the meantime she would consolidate her popularity in Europe with a series of gigs, and numerous press and TV interviews.
It would take a version of the Supremes' 'You keep me hangin' on' to restore her to the Top end of the UK charts. It was an excellent cover, receiving praise even from the song's famous writers Holland, Dozier and Holland, reaching no. 2 in September 1986. For Kim it was a return to her roots, a return to her own record collection, and her enthusiasm for the song shone through. The Christmas duet with Mel Smith, 'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree', with accompanying silly video, provided her with another hit, and Comic Relief with lots of mullah. Earlier charity projects included the Ferry Aid single, 'Let it be', and a track on the Anti-Heroin LP.
She was soon teaming up with Junior for the 'Another Step (Closer To You)' single, which also made the Top Ten. 'Say You Really Want Me', her second single of 1987 featured on the soundtrack to Running Scared. Next up were a series of singles penned by Kim in tandem with Ricki, such as 'Hey Mr Heartache' and 'You Came'. The first featured Junior once more on backing vocals.
Although her enthusiasm for touring the UK has not increased with time, she has pulled off two major coups in recent years, supporting Michael Jackson ("The highlight of my life") and David Bowie in Europe. Her dedication to the continent has resulted in some leanings towards European Soul in recent times, particularly the single 'It's Here', alongside the ballads and dance tracks which we have come to expect.
It is not unique for the UK to neglect one of their foremost talnts. Kim must take some of the responsibility for this, doing so little promotion in this country, but it seems strange that an artist of her profile does not feature more regularly in the nations playlists and publications. The strenuous attempts of the Wilde fmaily to keep their personal affairs private have antagonised a media which sees pop stars as public property. Her squeaky clean image (with the exception of a few raunchy videos) is actually quite refreshing in an era which back-biting and mud-slinging has become a byword for the music industry.
Kim Wilde is a throwback to yester-year, a time when recording artists were pretty boys and girls with good voices, in that order. She sings conventional pop to a contemporary beat, but within that framework she works extremely well. No longer Little Miss Innocent, as the music papers dubbed her on the release of 'Kids in America', she is now doing quite well in the big bad music world, thank you very much.
Kim provided backing vocals on Johnny Hates Jazz' Turn Back The Clock. The group featured Calvin Hayes, son of Kim's sometime label boss, Mickie Most.
When she supported Michael Jackson on his European tour, she didn't actually get to meet him until the sixteenth concert. She thinks he's a very nice person, and not a loony at all!
One of the lesser known aspects of Kim's life is her charitable work. She is involved with many charities and gives up a lot of free time helping raise funds.
The Wilde family home is based in the Hertfordshire village of Knebworth, just down the road from the grounds of Knebworth Hall, where the pop festival is held.
My thanks to Ray Johnson, of the Kim Wilde Collectors Club, for his help with this article. The Club can be reached at P.O. Box 4, Haverhill, Suffolk, CB9 9DW.