Review – Love Blonde: The RAK Years

The subtitle gives it away. The RAK Years is concerned solely with Wilde’s years with Mickie Most’s RAK label — that is the early 1980s, prior to her departure for MCA in 1984.

It is also, however, the era for which she is best remembered, most notably for “Kids In America” (a staple on ’80s radio today), but also “Chequered Love,” “Water On Glass,” “View From A Bridge,” “Cambodia,” “Love Blonde.” None of which, for American readers, really made much of a dent (“Kids,” on the other hand, was a Top 30 smash), but the rest of the planet adored them.

Wilde already had a considerable pop pedigree, before she even opened her mouth. Her father was ’50s rocker Marty Wilde, her brother was ’70s aspirant Ricky. Indeed, the first time Most heard her was when Ricky called her in to sing backing vocals on some of his own demos. And while it took a while for her first single to be released (Kim worked in a pub while she waited), “Kids In America” was an immediate success.

It still sounds fabulous today, the blueprint for so much of what followed in the “new romantic” vein, at the same time as establishing Wilde at the top of the U.K. pop echelon — a status solidified when she won Best Female Artist at the 1983 BRIT Awards. And, with Ricky producing and co-writing (with their father) the bulk of her material, the three albums she cut for RAK remain archetypes of an era — maybe the last! — in which pop was still first and foremost fun.

Wilde herself played the part to perfection, the teenaged glam punk girl-next-door, home-made hair-do and thrift store threads… alongside Bananarama, taking their own first steps out at the very same time, Wilde rewrote the mainstream’s perceptions of what a female pop star should both look and sound like, a new no-nonsense “normal” in a business which had not hitherto distinguished itself in its attitude towards “girl singers.” Yes, she relied upon her dad and her big brother for material and music. But you got the distinct impression that they did what she told them.

The three original albums here are each bolstered with bonus tracks—nine altogether, drawn from b-sides and out-takes. The fourth disc, then, rolls the clock back to ask what might have happened had RAK granted Wilde the string of extended 12-inch remixes that the clubs of the day were crying out for—astonishingly, only “Love Blonde” and “Dancing In The Dark” were thus treated at the time.

Are they effective? Surprisingly so. “Kids in The America” is even punchier than the original, but layered with period synth and percussion… “Cambodia” is more dramatic… “House of Salome” more alluring. Purists, of course, will sniff haughtily and grumble about authenticity. But slip them into a synthpop mix tape and no-one will notice the joins. It’s a great listen, and a great read as well. A quality chunky box is stuffed with four gatefold CDs and a 44-page, full-color booklet, itself littered with unseen photos, rare record sleeves, studio tape boxes. Everything you could need.