Growing up with rock ’ n’ roll icon Marty for a dad, Kim Wilde admits her childhood ambition was always to sell plenty of records – not as a chart-topping singer but in a shop flogging vinyl. In fact, the 80s superstar jokes that bursting on to the scene as a 20-year-old with her top 10 hit Kids in America scuppered her dream. And while she was obviously thrilled with the song there was disappointment to come when it was pipped to Number One by Shakin’ Stevens’ Green Door.
Kim tells how she had been looking for work as a teenager while Kids in America was being written – and her house was full to brimming with her dad’s vinyl collection. She says: “Mum sent me to the Job Centre and they said, “What do you want to do? I said, I want to work in a record shop.’ A few months later, a record shop in Hertford needed an assistant and the Job Centre sent me details.
“I felt pretty confident I could get the job because I had an immense music knowledge. We almost had a record shop in the house. But Kids in America charted and scuppered my plans. I was all set to have my dream job and it got snatched away from me by a hit record.”
The single catapulted Kim to global fame, and sold so well – more than half a million copies in the UK alone – foul play was suspected and it wasn’t included in the first week’s chart. But Kim, who has been chosen as an official ambassador along with Marty for the third National Album Day on October 10, insists she bears no grudges against Shakin’ Stevens for robbing her of the top spot in January 1981. Asked is she has forgiven him, she replies with a grin: “Oh, yes. Being ambassadors for National Album Day, I’ve been revisiting my old vinyl and reminding myself what I used to buy. I bought the single that kept me off No 1. It is in my collection. It would be churlish to hold a grudge. Kids in America has given me so much more than a No1. It’s given me a whole career.” Kim went on to become the 80s’ most successful female singer after the release of her debut single, written by Marty and her record producer brother Ricky. But she admits she was not keen on the track when she first heard the music through her bedroom wall.
Kim adds with a chuckle : “Rick was writing it on a portable synth and it made a racket, quite frankly. It was irritating. Little did I know he was writing a song that would transform my life.” But she reveals her dad’s lyrics made a better first impression. Kim says: “I could see a girl showing she wasn’t going to be talked down to by some guy.”
Marty adds: “At that point, a lot of women were a bit more subservient to men than they are now. It was one of the early songs that got across ‘ we’re in charge.”’ Kim agrees. She says: “I love that about the song as it’s how I felt about my life and where I wanted to go. I’m in charge. It was one of the earliest Girl Power pop tunes.”
Kim went on to have 17 UK top 40 hits, including Chequered Love in 1981, Four Letter Word in 1988 and 1988’s Never Trust A Stranger. She says Marty, 81 – who has a new album out next month, as well as another which he contributed to – remains her greatest inspiration. Kim adds: “Dad is an 81-year-old guy who has two albums coming out. Nobody, not even Madonna, has two albums out in one month. It’s truly awesome.”
Next month she and Marty will release their first duet together, 60s World, to mark her 60th birthday and his 60th wedding anniversary. They recorded the song during lockdown. The pair say the project brought back many childhood memories of singing and sharing music together.
Kim, along with Ricky, other brother Marty Jr and sister Roxanne, grew up surrounded by Marty and their mum Joyce’s array of records.
She says: “It was a musical education. Albums mean a hell of a lot to us. They were our Bible.” Turning to her dad, she adds with a giggle: “I vividly remember ironing your underpants to Earth, Wind and Fire.”
World Album Day is especially significant for Kim and Marty. October 10 was the day Ricky started writing the music for Kids in America in 1980.
Marty’s rise to stardom was as breathtaking as Kim’s. He had a string of hits from 1958, including Rubber Ball, Sea of Love and Teenager in Love.
He was awarded an MBE in 2017. But during lockdown, he collapsed with an irregular heartbeat and had to have a pacemaker fitted. Recalling the moment she heard the news, Kim says: “It was terrifying.” But Marty recovered and plans to tour next year. He says: “Music keeps you young.”
Kim has a Greatest Hits album and tour next year. Can she see herself still performing in her 80s? She replies: “I can now I’m seeing what he’s doing… it’s been inspiring. I’m quite excited about the albums I could make at 80.”