I’m pissed off at those Big Bad Record Companies! No, it’s not for any of the standard reasons — you know, because they’re suing preschoolers or inflating CD prices or failing to promote Michael Jackson’s music. The main reason I find them very, very devilish is the way they shafted Kylie Minogue throughout the 1990’s and denied the U.S. public some of her finest years as a recording artist. Maybe I am alone when I utter Kylie’s name in the same breath as Nelson Mandela’s or Leonard Peltier’s, but I find the wrongful imprisonment of Kylie’s music a breach of my human rights, so take that, Tommy Mottola!
See, Kylie’s first album, which in case you missed it was called “Kylie – The Album”, was chock full of Stock-Aitken-Waterman goodness and did pretty well here in “the States” (as she and her “mates” back in Australia would call our country). After that, she continued her reign as a hitmaking powerhouse almost everywhere in the world. But she lost her record deal in the U.S., and most of her chart-topping music was never even released here.
Well, now that she’s back on the charts, BMG Records has dredged up her back catalogue, which was denied to us for so long, and put out a compilation of the music they cruelly kept from us for all those years. They’ve even had the gall to call it “Greatest Hits 87-97”. Hmmm… wouldn’t a more appropriate title be “Songs That Would’ve Been Hits if We Hadn’t Locked Them Up In Our Vaults When They Were Current Enough to Have Really Mattered and Made Kylie the Stateside Star She So Rightfully Deserved to Be”? I think that’s a bit more honest, don’t you? (I wonder why I never got that job in A&R…)
Now that I’ve purchased “Greatest Hits 87-97” and finally heard Kylie’s closeted gems, I love them, but they do seem a bit dated. And that’s not fair. They weren’t dated when she recorded them. Because of those boneheaded record companies, Kylie’s music never had a chance to feel fresh and new to U.S. listeners. These songs should be reminders of days past, but instead, they’re lost in some historical void, like eternal anachronisms stuck in some pop music purgatory. Well, no more. The only way to give these songs their due is to assign them to the memories they would’ve attached themselves to if only I’d heard them at the time.
All those nights I spent hoping that Kylie would marry Rick Astley, I could’ve completed my fantasy by pretending it was Rick dueting with her on the smash ballad “Especially For You” instead of half-hit wonder Jason Donovan. “Especially” would surely have been one of the candidates for my high school’s Senior Prom song, along with “This is the Time” by Billy Joel and “Honestly” by Stryper, which caused a mild stir because no one was sure whether it was really about Jesus and therefore an inappropriate school anthem. The day Kari told me she was going to vote for me for Prom King and tell all her friends to do so as well, a.k.a one of the scariest days of my life, I would’ve gone home and listened to “Especially” and dreamed that I could be king and Kylie could be my queen and that that would’ve made me happy and that all the Jesus freaks and messiah hatas in my high school would come together in a moment of unity as Kylie and I shared the floor and I whispered into her ear and told her that this dance was especially for her.
“Enjoy Yourself”, Kylie’s second album, would have been the soundtrack for my freshman year at college. I would’ve bought it as a cassette, since I didn’t own a CD player yet, and I would’ve put it on whenever I wanted to annoy my roommate or get back at him for blasting that “YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER!!!!” thing by the Doors that he played almost every day to get attention from the neighbors. He would’ve mocked me relentlessly, but within a few months, he would’ve known all the words to “Never Too Late”, and I would’ve overheard him singing it in the shower on one of those rare occasions when he actually bathed.
Early freshman year, I discovered that my Logic & Rhetoric instructor, a serious but spacey grad student, knew nothing about pop culture, but for some reason, she loved the references I would make to “Fat Albert” and “The Facts of Life” in my essays (including details I would make up just for fun, like the nonexistent episode where Tootie befriended a mime). I’ll bet I would’ve fashioned an entire homework assignment around “Wouldn’t Change a Thing”, which I would’ve lied and said was a political statement about Perestroika that was banned in eight countries, and which surely would’ve scored me her standard grade of A-/B+.
Kylie’s next album, “Rhythm of Love”, came out during the first Gulf War. I can’t think of a better song to chill down to after watching endless Colin Powell briefings on CNN than “Step Back in Time”. I remember going to my first anti-war protest on campus. Michael Moore, who had recently moved into the neighborhood, was the surprise guest speaker, and he taunted the tiny counter-protest of College Republicans by getting us all to chant, “Send Neil Bush!” There was a gigantic American flag, lots of news cameras and a creepy sense of uniformity to the whole thing. I remember thinking as everyone shouted, “1-2-3-4, We don’t want your fucking war!” in unison that this is what Nazis do, except the words were different. I still opposed the war, but I started doing it from the comfort of my dorm room, where, if only those record companies had been kinder, I would’ve lain back on my bed, gazed out my window at the street lights on 113th and Broadway and listened to Kylie sing “Better The Devil You Know”.
“Let’s Go To It”, Kylie’s next album, came out about midway through my college life. It was one of Kylie’s less successful albums, and I’ll bet it would’ve disappointed me as well. I’m not saying it sucked. It just wasn’t the kind of music I needed at that point in my life. I doubt that “Finer Feelings” would’ve been much comfort to me over that spring break when things got awkward in my family. “When your father gets home, I’m going to ask him to go for a walk,” my mother said. “If he asks you to join us, say no.” I believe I went upstairs and put on a Pixies album — or was it Nirvana? — while Mom and Dad went off to have what was surely a serious talk about something. And when they came back forty-five minutes later and told me they were getting a divorce, would “Word is Out” have given me an outlet to express my frustration? I think not. (I’ll thank a song called “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam for that.) I’ll bet I would’ve started to doubt Kylie’s staying power at that point, even if my waning interest in her had less to do with her music than with my personal issues and ever-evolving taste in music.
But it would only be a couple of years later, right around the time I was moving out to Los Angeles, that Kylie would’ve reminded me of what made her so Kylie-licious with the release of her first “Greatest Hits” compilation. I’m sure there’s no album I would’ve played more on that long cross-country drive to California than “Greatest Hits”, and each song would’ve been a hi-NRG trip down memory lane. Remember my freshman roommate singing “Never Too Late” in the shower? Good times, Jerry, good times…
Within days after arriving in LA, I applied at my first temp agency. I told Rewa, my fortysomething employment agent, how I had moved out here to be a screenwriter, and she told me that she had done the same thing twenty years ago before she gave up and started working for a temp agency. It led to a discussion of our favorite filmmakers, during which Rewa told me that John Waters had died a while back “… of AIDS“. She said this in a whisper, as if sharing a shameful secret. I knew she was wrong, but I played along because I wanted Rewa to like me, and because I really needed a job. On the way home from that interview, I would’ve cranked up Kylie’s cover of “Celebration”, one of the “Greatest Hits” album’s new tracks, and imagined what a fabulous funeral it would’ve been, if it had actually been true.
The eponymous “Kylie Minogue” album was released as I began film school. It was Kylie’s attempt to redefine herself, and it couldn’t have come at a more appropriate moment in my life. My new friends appreciated my sarcastic, sometimes subtle sense of humor, and I slowly started coming out of my shell. Being in such a creative world made me feel like a popular kid for the first time, and I felt like I was able to express who I was better than I ever had before. I’m sure I would’ve gone home after every directing class and cranked up “Confide in Me”, thinking of how Kylie was simultaneously winning over critics and new fans alike with her fresh, mature sound. And I’ll bet I would’ve put “Put Yourself in My Place” in my short film, instead of that Rage Against the Machine song, and everyone in my class would’ve said not just, “Good film, Jerry”, but “Hey, Kylie’s back!” And that would’ve given me two reasons to be happy.
Looking back now, Kylie has always been a big part of my life, if only retroactively. To be honest, I’m not that crazy about her new album, but something tells me that Kylie will be back someday, at just the right moment in time. So Kylie, let me take this moment to thank you for recording so many wonderful hits, and for always being there for me.