Kim Wilde: how we made Kids in America

Kim Wilde, singer

My brother Ricky hated school and left at the age of 17. He started writing songs and trying his luck with record companies. He was bowled over by the charismatic Mickie Most at RAK Records and took me along to meet him. I wore my best black-and-red punky trousers and had newly acquired blond hair which, according to one teacher, was the most creative thing I’d done at art school.

Mickie noticed me straight away. He asked Ricky: “Does your sister sing?” Suddenly, Ricky was being asked to write songs for me. He wrote the tune for Kids in America with my dad [the singer Marty Wilde] doing the lyrics. Ricky came up with the melody on a Wasp synth, a little black and yellow thing that made a bloody irritating noise if you were an older sister in the bedroom next door.

We recorded it in a studio in Hertfordshire owned by prog rock band the Enid. It was full of reptiles and other slithery things. The finished song sounded really exciting, but took a year to get released, during which time I worked in a local pub, wondering what was going to happen. When Kids in America finally came out, it sold so fast the people who regulate the charts thought it was a scam. It sold 60,000 copies a day and was only kept off No 1 by Shakin’ Stevens.

As Hertfordshire kids who grew up with Saturday Night Fever, we always imagined American teenagers were having a much better time: going to drive-ins, eating hamburgers, wearing fabulous clothes, snogging really cool kids. The song worked because everyone had the same fantasy.

Four years ago, Ricky and I were coming back on the train after the Magic FM Christmas party. They had all these exotic cocktails, so we’d stayed much longer than we planned. I’d acquired a pair of antlers and, since Rick had his guitar, I said: “Come on, let’s have a sing-song.” A passenger filmed us so there’s this footage of me on YouTube, extremely squiffy, wearing antlers and singing Kids in America. To my amazement, it went viral.

Marty Wilde, lyricist

I’d seen this TV show about teenagers in America, which frightened the life out of me. It was like an X-rated movie. They didn’t seem to have any heart. I thought: “My God, what are they going to grow into?” It was probably how the older generation had looked on me and all the other early rock’n’rollers.

The lyrics tell the story of these kids’ lives: “Kind hearts don’t make a new story, kind hearts don’t grab any glory.” A lyricist’s job is a bit like a screenwriter’s: you’re painting pictures with words. So I imagined the girl “looking out a dirty old window” but I wanted her to be the person telling the guy what to do.

When we recorded the song, we added the sound of guys drilling the road, cars going past, all sorts of urban noises. When I heard it through some big speakers, it sounded really good. I said to Mickie: “Is it going to be a hit?” He just said: “Don’t worry about it.”

I crossed my fingers and hoped it would make the Top 50. When the video appeared on Top of the Pops, there was Kim with long blond hair. I couldn’t believe it was my daughter, this girl I used to see lounging around the house. Her face could have launched a thousand ships. I just said: “Wow. Game, set and match.”