Monday, June 25, 2018

Kylie Minogue, Version 1.0: Australia's Answer To ... Rick Astley?

By 1987, Stock Aitken Waterman had everything they could have ever wanted ... except their very own Madonna. I guess Hazell Dean wasn't going to cut it? Putting their mind-numbingly repetitive stamp on established veterans like Bananarama was all well and good, but they needed someone more fresh, more green, more pliable - someone they could mold into their own tacky Hi-NRG image. But where, oh where, were they going to find her?

She came from Down Under.

Kylie Minogue was a star on the Australian soap opera Neighbours, where, per Wikipedia, she played a "schoolgirl turned mechanic." Oh, one of those. After an early version of "The Loco-Motion" (not the better known, re-recorded version) became a #1 Australian hit, she headed to England to seek fame, fortune, and, as fate would have it, Stock Aitken Waterman. Little did the trio anticipate the magnitude of the moment. From Wikipedia:
After the success of her debut single "Locomotion" in Australia, Minogue traveled to London to work with Stock Aitken Waterman, a successful British writing and production team. They knew little of Minogue and had forgotten that she was arriving; as a result, they wrote "I Should Be So Lucky" in forty minutes while she waited outside the recording studio. Mike Stock wrote the lyrics for the song in response to what he had learned about Minogue prior to her arrival. He believed that although she was a successful soap star in Australia and very talented, there must be something wrong with her and figured that she must be unlucky in love.
Something wrong with her? What the hell dude? She was 19! Yeah, I'll tell you what was wrong with her: choosing to work with Stock Aitken Waterman, the guys who brought the world Rick Freaking Astley, had one lousy production formula that they ran into the ground, and who were known to pass brutally harsh judgment on 19-year-old Aussie soap stars they barely even knew! Well, you better believe that after the single became a UK #1 hit, they didn't think there was anything wrong with her then. Although most Americans probably assume that "The Loco-Motion" was Kylie Minogue's only US Top 40 hit until "Can't Get You Out of My Head" crossed over more than twenty years later, "I Should Be So Lucky" actually peaked at #28 over here - which ain't too bad for a single from an entirely unknown quantity that reeked from top to bottom of glitzy Eurotrash. The verses kinda sound like the bridge of Astley's "Together Forever," but I'll be honest, I'd rather stare at Kylie Minogue in a music video than Rick Astley.

The clip features footage of our Aussie ingenue prancing around in a credulity-stretching apartment (Q: Who has a bathtub just ... sitting in the middle of the room like that?), interspersed with shots of Kylie in some sort of strapless prom dress standing in front of several images that appear to have been blown up far beyond the point of quality resolution, their pixels having made me question the YouTube video bit rate until I realized that Kylie's face is perfectly high-res. At 2:51, her poor nail file gets some particularly violent treatment.

Goffin/King's "The Loco-Motion" had already been a hit twice over: first in 1962 for Little Eva at the crest of both the girl group and dance crazes, and then again in 1974 for Grand Funk Railroad under the glam-inflected thumb of producer Todd Rundgren, but clearly Kylie Minogue's version had one thing those other versions didn't:

Stock Aitken Waterman.

Boy, people must have gone for anything in 1988. Its popularity assisted by its appearance in Arthur 2: On the Rocks, this version peaked at #3 in the U.S., which may have seemed to augur a promising stateside career for Minogue, but in retrospect, may have convinced Americans that this was a recording artist whose subsequent work would not be worth following in any way, shape, or form. And who would have blamed them? Kylie spends part of the video dancing in front of what appears to be genuine New York subway graffiti. Yeah, you know Kylie, tagging those Bronx underpasses with her gang signs at 3:00 a.m. These days, she performs the song in a slightly more "adult" fashion.

If the U.S. had seen enough of Kylie, the U.K., Australia, and Europe were settling in for the long haul. "Got to Be Certain" and "Je Ne Sais Pas Porquoi" both hit #2 in Britain, the latter boasting a cinematic, Parisian-flavored video that, in a rare '80s reversal, feels less dated to me than the song it was promoting. C'est la vie, as they say.

Q: Was it possible to be less successful in the U.S. than Kylie Minogue? A: If you were fellow Australian soap star Jason Donovan, it was. While Britain went bonkers over their squeaky-clean duet "Especially For You" (the song being the biggest UK hit of 1989), America was instead treated to one last single from Kylie, "It's No Secret," which petered out at #37, but at least featured a video of Kylie running around the majestic mountains and windswept beaches of her homeland wearing a strapless rainbow top (with some sort of "aborigine" design on it?) that I imagine needed to be peeled off delicately, lest her breasts be accidentally ripped off with it.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

"Take Me Home": Can't He Just ... Call An Uber? AKA Phil's Frantic Search For Drugs Turns Into One Expensive Video

Question raised by the opening seconds of "Take Me Home": What's better than one rapidly bleeping pre-programmed synth pattern? How about two rapidly bleeping pre-programmed synth patterns? Good thing I like the sound of those two synth patterns, because that's pretty much this whole song's raison d'etre. Well, gradually some sustained, droning guitar slips into the mix, as well as actual "human" drums from You Know Who, which both serve to ratchet up the claustrophobic tension, but "Take Me Home" is a textbook example of Phil's uncanny ability to do a lot with just a little. It's the kind of song that finds its hypnotic '80s groove right off the bat and could more or less go on forever. You can't help but nod along, like a bleary-eyed junkie. But why does he want to be "taken home" anyway? And what exactly is it that he "doesn't remember"? Maybe he lost Billie's number?

Frankly, I always assumed "Take Me Home" was just another song about Phil's crumbling marriage(s), but apparently it was inspired by One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and is sung from the point of view of a man in a mental institution (!). Let's take a look:
Take that look of worry
I'm an ordinary man
They don't tell me nothing
So I find out what I can
There's a fire that's been burning
Right outside my door
I can't see but I feel it
And it helps to keep me warm
So I, I don't mind
No I, I don't mind
Who lives in a building where a fire would be burning outside one's door? I mean, as long as the door itself doesn't catch fire, and as long as the fire keeps the guy warm, then I guess I don't have a problem with it. Or is Phil trying to make this fairly unreliable narrator sound like an insane man? Honestly, he doesn't sound any more insane than the narrator in "Sussudio" does, but that's just me.
Seems so long I've been waiting
Still don't know what for
There's no point escaping
I don't worry anymore
I can't come out to find you
I don't like to go outside
They can't turn off my feelings
Like they're turning off a light
But I, I don't mind
No I, I don't mind
Hmmmm. "There's no point escaping"? "I don't like to go outside"? This is at least a bit more insane asylum-ish. It's as if Harding, Cheswick, and Billy Babbitt broke into Nurse Ratched's office one night, stole a drum machine, and laid their souls bare in a riveting demo!
So take, take me home
Cause I don't remember
Take, take me home, oh lord
Cause I've been a prisoner all my life
And I can say to you
"Say to you..." what? What?? Finish the sentence Phil! "And I can say to you ... anyone seen my car keys?" What's the thing that he says? That line has always puzzled me.
Take that look of worry, mine's an ordinary life
Working when it's daylight
And sleeping when it's night
I've got no far horizons
I don't wish upon a star
They don't think that I listen
Oh but I know who they are
And I, I don't mind
Well, I'm inclined to think Cuckoo's Nest may have been more of a "starting off" point than a literal source of inspiration, but all I know is, in the words of Randall P. McMurphy, every time I listen to "Take Me Home," my ears light up like a pinball machine and I pay off in silver dollars.

In making the video, Phil demonstrated the kind of artistic patience that only the likes of Richard Linklater, director of Boyhood, would have been able to muster. I guess he thought to himself, "Well, the song's called 'Take Me Home.' I'm about to go on a world tour. I've got it. Every time we stop in a new city, I'll film a little bit of the video, and then when the tour's over, we'll edit all the footage together!" It's like the Around the World in 80 Days of the MTV Generation (with a far less dashing David Niven stand-in - or maybe Phil is Cantinflas in this scenario?). I just have one question for Phil: ever heard of a green screen? In fact, so much time elapsed between the filming of each piece of footage, you can actually see his hair line shifting from shot to shot. The video strikes me as a bit gimmicky, and it certainly doesn't have much to do with the (alleged) insane asylum theme of the song, but I will grudgingly admit that I find it compelling. One thought: The "shark" that attacks Phil in the pool in L.A. - a commentary on the bloodthirsty rapaciousness of the Hollywood entertainment industry?

Of course, that's the official line on the "Take Me Home" clip. The real story, as you might have guessed, is much less flattering. From In the Air Tonight:
It was after a show in Manchester. Our bassist had really been on fire that night. They say the tapes are out there somewhere, but I haven't heard them in years. Anyway, the next morning I woke up, I was twitching like a motherfucker. I thought I could make it through the week without needing my fix of Phil's Best Phriend, AKA horse tranquilizer, but I guess I'd been a bit overconfident. I kicked out two underage Samoan girls from my bed - I like 'em plump and pretty - and stumbled to the payphone in the lobby.

"Julio, it's Phil, I need a new batch."

"Uh ... no can do, Senior Collins."

"No can do? Why the hell not?"

"Market getting tight on jugo del caballo. Running low everywhere."

"Running low? Look, I don't give a shit, just find me some!"

"Felipe, you gonna have to look for yourself."

"Look for myself? Where the fuck do you suggest?"

"Anywhere. Everywhere. Travel el mundo. Big cities your best bet."

"Travel the globe for horse tranquilizer? Aren't people going to wonder what the hell I'm doing? We've gotta think about the optics here."

Julio paused for several seconds. "Ah, I got it!"


"You just released that song, how does it ... 'Taaaake, take me home," si?"


"How you do this, with song after song, I have no idea. You never stop with the great songs, Felipe."

"Uh huh."

"I love the production, the drums ... muy bueno -"

"Can we cut to the fucking chase here?"

"So ... you have these words in the song, "Take me home.' You travel around to big cities, you look for the jugo, but you also make music video."


"You show yourself in front of famous things, singing part of words, then come back, cut all the film together, and ... BOOM! New music video for new Phil Collins hit. So you look for drugs, but you tell people you are making music video."

It was a no-brainer. Sure, I told everybody I was on tour, filming little snippets of the video between gigs, but as they say in Texas, "Never trust a balding English drummer." So I scavenged the globe: London, New York, Tokyo, LA, Chicago, Paris, San Francisco ... you name it. Unfortunately, everywhere I went, I was coming up with jack squat. Felipe wasn't kidding around! There are certain shots where you can see how bad I was doing - like Memphis, for example. People think I was just bopping my head to the music, but that was actually me suffering from withdrawal. Had a good lead in Sydney, but it turned out to be just a bag of sunflower oil. A bartender lost an eye as a result. Sorry, but if you give Phil Collins a false lead, you're gonna pay the fucking price.

Eventually I tracked some down in a derelict Stockholm gym. Two Irish bartenders led me to the storage room, gave me a ziplock bag of the stuff. I headed into the bathroom, plunged the syringe straight into my chest, Pulp Fiction-style, and felt that sweet, sweet rush once again. The next thing I knew, I was half-conscious, lying in a tub of anti-freeze.

"Is he up yet?"

"I think he's comin' 'round."

"Phil! Hey Phil! Where's the money you said you were gonna give us?"


"Phil! We hooked you up, now it's time you pay."

"Uh ... it's ... shit I know where-ih-is," I mumbled incoherently. "It's nnnn mah shoe."

"We looked in your shoe."

"Uh ... it's in uh ..drum kit."

"That's not an answer." The two beefy leprechauns looked at each other and sighed. "He's out of it."


"What do we do with him?"

"I don't know. You know what I say? Just take ... take him home. 'Cause he don't remember."