100 Essential CDs – Number 49 – Kylie Minogue- Let’s Get To It

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Let’s Get To It- Kylie Minogue  (PWL 1991) 

      UK Chart Position – 15

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Kylie Minogue’s 4th studio album was the last for the PWL label which had transported her from Aussie soap actress to international singing star.  It was very much a parting of the ways.  Kylie would go on to leave the label to join Deconstruction for her next release.  The PWL label masterminds were already down to two thirds strength as  life at the” Hit Factory” which had spawned close to 100 UK Top 40 chart placings by this time was beginning to waver.  The UK chart of 13th October 1990 was the first for over two years that had no Stock, Aitken and Waterman produced songs in it.  A burnt out, stressed Matt Aitken left the team leaving Mike Stock and Pete Waterman to work with their number one artist.

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The men from The Hit Factory – Stock, Aitken and Waterman

“Let’s Get To It” ended up as Kylie’s least successful studio album .  The number 15 placing is lower than anything apart from compilations and mix albums.  All this is rather bizarre, as it is one of her best and is certainly superior to the three she had put out with the SAW team in the previous three years.

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One of the most watched TV weddings of all time

Kylie Minogue joined the Australian soap “Neighbours” as garage mechanic Charlene in 1986.  At this time the show, broadcast at teatime in the UK, was gaining huge audiences and the romance between her and character Scott, played by Jason Donovan, captured the British public’s attention in a very big way and ensured that both actors were well on their way to becoming household names over here.  A recording deal for both was inevitable.  Kylie signed to the Australian label, Mushroom records and her first recording, a cover of Little Eva’s “The Locomotion” became Australia’s biggest selling single of the 80’s and number 1 over there for seven weeks.  Sensing international success, the label sent her over to work with Stock, Aitken and Waterman.  The story goes that they forgot she was waiting to see them, had very little to offer her and quickly wrote a song “I Should Be So Lucky” which became a massive hit single in many countries and began the reign of the new pop princess.  The trio remixed the first Australian hit and released it as “The Loco-Motion” which gave her another worldwide smash.  The first two albums “Kylie” (1988) “Enjoy Yourself” (1989) were both huge number 1 albums in the UK, but were pretty light pop confections, centred around the hit singles, of which there were becoming many.  The third album “Rhythm Of Love” saw Kylie beefing up the image somewhat.  It contained probably her two best ever singles “Step Back In Time” and the phenonomenal “Better The Devil You Know” and it was probably around this time that  I joined the Kylie party.  As an album it is still a little patchy apart from these tracks.

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The first three albums

Album number 4 seems to carry on with what “Rhythm of Love” had attempted in making Kylie a credible artist who could achieve commercial pop success and also extend the fan base from those who would put up her poster on their bedroom wall.  This album, in its range of more mature styles, together with Kylie’s consummate stage performances help pave the way towards the longevity which has really been extraordinary in the pop arena.  That people didn’t buy into it in this occasion has always been puzzling.  It might just have been by 1991 people had tired of the whole domination of the Stock-Aitken-Waterman sound in the UK charts and that the backlash was beginning to set in.  The trio had scored their last number one production the year before in 1990 with Kylie’s rather pedestrian cover of “Tears On My Pillow”.  It might have been a wise move for Kylie to move on to the more street-cred label Deconstruction, but this was actually a stronger album than the two released on that label.

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The first of the ten tracks on display was lead single “The Word Is Out” which saw Stock and Waterman experimenting with New Jack Swing.  It was the  jury that was out with this one as well as the word, as with its number 16 UK Chart placing it became her first ever single to miss out on the UK Top 10.  It’s a chunky little opener and I have always liked it.  It almost has a group feel to it as it features an uncredited male vocalist taking a bit of the lead just before the end.  It’s a great opener, rather than classic Kylie.  I think it shows that the producers were not stuck in a groove, the criticism being levied towards them at this time was that their songs were beginning to sound the same.  This is a definite attempt to keep up with the sounds that were current in 1992- I just think that New Jack Swing was not always dated that well.  The single did make the Top 10 in Australia and Ireland.

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Cover version time up next and Kylie’s version of the great song by Chairmen Of The Board “Give Me Just A Little More Time” became the big success off the album when it was released as the third single becoming her sixth track to reach number 2 in the UK.  This an affectionate cover version with a nod towards the original artists as Kylie includes lead singer General Johnson’s trademark “Brrrr”. Like other Kylie covers, the chart-topping “Tears On My Pillow”, and “Celebration” they do not challenge the originals in terms of quality.  This, however, is the most successful of the three by far. (I think “The Loco-Motion,” which let’s face it, is going to be a fluffy novelty track whoever sings it does actually challenge Little Eva’s as a fun track for a generation who did not know the original)

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“Too Much Of A Good Thing” has a Madonna feel to it and a nod towards House Music.  It is the first on the CD where Kylie also takes writing credits alongside Mike Stock and Pete Waterman.  “Finer Feelings” was the fourth hit single taken from the album.  Four hit singles show that this album was certainly no slouch quality wise.  It shows a mature Kylie, some distance away from “The Locomotion” and “Hand On My Heart”.  Kylie references sex on here, for goodness sake!  The whole thing comes across as really quite sophisticated and was perhaps a precursor to the type of tracks which appeared on the first Deconstruction album.  Although the UK bought enough copies to take her to number 11, her native Australia were not so sure as it became her first single to miss out on the Top 50 over there.

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There’s a definite nod towards the American market with the slightly Disney sounding ballad duet “If You Were With Me Now”.  To this point in the US Kylie’s SAW debut had reached number 28, but “The Loco-Motion” had passed expectations and reached number 3.  From then on things had been a bit of a struggle (the non UK single “It’s No Secret” crept into the US Top 40 at number 37) but there was enough kudos to persuade an artist who looked like he was on the way to become a big US Soul star, Keith Washington, to record with her.  Her first duet, with Jason Donovan “Especially For You” had charmed and topped charts but it was one heck of a cheesy track.  This, still a little schmaltzy felt like a much more mature track and took the pairing to number 4 in the UK Singles chart.  It became the first hit single to credit Kylie for her songwriting.  The duo, in what was then common in pop music, did not record their vocals together and only met for the filming of the video (where oddly, they also do not appear together – somewhat like the Patti Labelle/Michael McDonald track “On My Own”).  Here once again the song’s lyrics have been interpreted literally.  Washington, incidentally, had topped the US R&B charts with his debut single “Kissing You” and won a Soul Train Award but lasting success eluded him.  He puts in a good vocal on this track and is well matched by Kylie’s.  If it was an experiment to garner American sales, however, it did not work.  Kylie would have to wait another ten years for her next US hit.

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Title track “Let’s Get To It”is a rare thing.  It was perhaps the first great Kylie track not put out as a single.  It’s a real earworm of a song and probably my favourite on the album.  It’s mid-tempo classic Kylie, builds well and stays in my head long after each listen.  Both “Right Here, Right Now” and “Live And Learn” are good quality album tracks and good examples of dance-floor Kylie.  “No World Without You” shows a different side of Ms. Minogue.  It is a nicely-performed, melancholy, sparsely accompanied ballad.

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At the time eyebrows were raised by closing track “I Guess I Like It Like That” which boasted a harder dance sound than Kylie fans were used to.  It sounds like a track that might have had a big gospel disco diva such as Martha Wash or Jocelyn Brown on it.  At six minutes in length, it’s almost twice the length of most of the other tracks on the album.  It’s club music rather than commercial dance and this was somewhat of a departure.  It contains samples of 2-Unlimited, Salt N’Pepa and the Freestyle Orchestra and yet the whole thing blends well as a cohesive, contemporary track and shows that , in case there were still any doubters out there that Kylie was no pop puppet and that there was considerable diversity there.  And that is one of the reason why this ex-Australian soap star has had a music career now pushing thirty years.

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Kylie with Pete Waterman

Despite the disappointing sales this is a Kylie album that has stood the test of time and was a glorious final hurrah for the team who made her famous.  It was a brave move to leave this nest, but the time was right and there would be even better for her to come.

Let’s Get To It  is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £10.88 and used from £1.44. It can be downloaded for £7.99. In the US it is currently $24.95 new and used from $21.06 and downloaded for $9.49.  In the UK it is also available to stream on Spotify.

 

The Royal Variety Performance (ITV 2015) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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Christmas is all about tradition and there are some traditions I find myself observing in the run up to the big day.  It’s early December- buy the Christmas cards, make the card list, pile up the unwritten cards on the table, leave them a few days, keep going back to the table but decide against writing them, feel a mixture of guilt and agony every time someone mentions the words “Christmas Cards” and oh yes, the Royal Variety Performance.

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This two and a half hour annual extravaganza appeared on ITV on Tuesday evening.  This old juggernaut had a distinctly youthful feel with the youngest ever host, Jack Whitehall playing up to the probably the youngest ever Royal to come unaccompanied to the event, Prince Harry.  Having the People’s Prince on his own in the box proved too much for a number of the acts –there was probably more material delivered to the Royal Box then ever before and this time a lot of it was actually very funny.

Whitehall was a revelation and may have just pulled off the accolade “Star Of The Show”.  His hosting will be as memorable as Peter Kay’s, but was probably better at getting the whole feel of the thing right, rather than just play for laughs as Kay couldn’t resist doing on his stints which risked the whole enterprise coming across as a send up (not necessarily a bad thing).  I’ve not seen that much of Jack Whitehall in the past – I did give up with his “Bad Education” series after a couple of episodes, but he was likeable in it and there was his Sky 1 presentation of his “Christmas Cracker” a couple of years back which was a very, sweet enjoyable episode.  Other than that and the odd appearance on comedy/panel shows I haven’t seen that much of him.  This was the first time I had spent an evening in his company and he handled the whole thing extremely well, showing good presentation skills.  I think Jonathan Ross and Graham Norton need to be a little nervous of this young whippersnapper chomping at their heels.

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The Royal Variety Performance has only been made tolerable since the invention of the Fast Forward button (never watch it as it is broadcast unless you really have too much time to kill).  You can measure the success of the show by how often that Fast Forward button is employed.  In some years I’ve had my finger on the button almost constantly, on this occasion much less so.  As Jack Whitehall said “Tonights line-up is catering for everyone- young, old, black, white….It doesn’t matter what type of gay man you are.”

With that he introduced One Direction, about to go off on a much needed career hiatus.  The last year or so has been slightly disturbing as to how ravaged they are looking as if the Simon Cowell money-making machine has been working them like dogs.  I watched them perform feeling quite relieved that they should soon have some time off on their hands.  They were followed by the implausibly good-looking, totally unravaged Ricky Martin who performed a medley of hits.  He seems to be at the stage of his career when he is becoming a parody of his former self.  It was all performed with the fervour of a Ricky Martin look-alike.  You do always know what you are getting with Kylie Minogue.  She appeared amongst the muff-wielding dancers in a familiar-feeling feather headdress.  It was a black and white extravaganza.  Kylie, with a Christmas album out gave the whole thing a highly festive feel with her rendition of “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.”

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The stand-up comedy sections always feels the most riskiest at the Royal Variety Performance.  Get them laughing like drains and you’re made, anything less and that stage can feel like a lonely place, but remember this is not the usual type of audience you will be performing to, you may need to adapt your material but not too much as they will see through you.  We saw three stand-up turns: Romesh Ranganathan who seemed to charm the audience, the always likeable Chris Ramsey and political comedian/impressionist Matt Forde who all got everyone laughing.  Forde on  Boris Johnson – “Really speaking the language of the people, Boris, especially if you’re knocking around Pompeii in about 8BC”.  For me the comedy highspot was the extract from “The Play That Goes Wrong”- a country house murder mystery staged as an amateur production with mishaps, corpses in the wrong place, actors mesmerised by their own performances, the tendency to stick to the script whatever happens.  This went down a storm and was very funny.  I’m fascinated to find out whether this pace and level of hilarity could be maintained for the whole of the play’s running time.  It is attracting very good reviews, suggesting that it does.

Back to the music  and Little Mix were glammed up for the occasion and demonstrated how good a training ground X Factor is for this type of live performance, Jeff Lynne’s ELO nearly stole the show with their second number, a version of “Mr Blue Sky” which really turned back the clock to 1978 and was performed with due reverence  (Ricky Martin take note).  Top marks for nostalgia. The audience loved this.  The always value for money Beverley Knight proves she can sing anything with her rendition of “Memory” from Cats and Josh Groban went all Willie Wonka on us with “Pure Imagination”.  I’m afraid it was during the music acts where my finger went onto the fast-forward button, although unlike in previous years it was not because they were bad, it was because it wasn’t my thing.  So apologies to the newly-revived Corrs, rising country star Casey Musgrave and Sir Elton, making his 5th Royal Variety Performance.

That just leaves a curiously understated performance from Cirque Du Soleil (I didn’t fast forward because I was waiting for something else to happen rather than a one-woman balancing act on the rim of a large water goblet type thing). I thought this might make more sense in the context of their own show.  There’s something very festive about “Mary Poppins”.  The film was on in the background as Mary descended through the audience.  The surprising choice for the scene, the song deleted from the Disney movie “Practically Perfect” (after a burst of the crowd-pleasing Chim- Chim Cher-ee) did provide a good advert for the show (sometimes these scenes can put me off – “Miss Saigon” from a year or so back springs to mind).  Brandon Flowers sang, Jimmy Tarbuck did a touching tribute to Cilla and Britain’s Got Talent winner Jules and Matisse & Friends took their prize of a performance in the Royal Variety with a lovely routine.  This act has been dogged (get it) by unfair controversy which sullied the achievement of her talent show victory as people seemed to feel inexplicably cheated by her having a number of dogs who could perform rather than just the one.  I hope those people got over that and enjoyed what was a good bit of story-telling and a real guilty pleasure for me.

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All in all, this was a good, solid show.  I do think Shirley Bassey should be contractually obliged to appear at all Royal Variety Performances until she hangs up the diamante studded gowns as I did miss her presence this year, especially as she has a Christmas single out with operatic boy-band Blake.  I do miss the revolving stage of the old “Sunday Nights At The Palladium” which makes a finale a real finale. I liked Prince Harry responding to the thumbs up from the host and his kisses for Kylie and Beverley Knight in the end-of-show line-up.

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Great Lines from Jack Whitehall:

To Prince Harry ; “What you did in Afghanistan, Phrooar, the bravery……  A ginger guy in that heat!”

Introducing Kylie; “In terms of musical talent she really raises the bar unlike most Australians over here who work behind it.”

Introducing Cirque Du Soleil; “If you associate the circus with stale horse pooh, animal cruelty and creepy clowns running around a tent next to a Ring Road prepare to have your mind blown.  Cirque Du Soleil is very much the Waitrose of circuses.”

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At time of writing The Royal Variety Performance is still available on ITV catch-up services.

Becoming Nancy – Terry Ronald (2011)

nancyWhilst browsing the books at my local Poundland this leapt out at me.  It wasn’t because it was a rare novel sat amongst the biographies of people you’ve never heard of or dodgy diet and exercise books but because the above title recommendation came from that well known literary critic Kylie Minogue.  She states;

“I laughed out loud.  Terry’s humour translates perfectly to the page and his book is a joy.”

Well, anything that’s good enough for the pint-sized Antipodean goddess is good enough for me to spend a pound on.  It turns out that the author, an ex 1980’s pop star with hits in Europe, is a big pal of the Minogue sisters and was even a guest judge with Dannii in the judge’s houses section a few years back on X Factor (even though I must have watched this I do not remember this event).  But does his debut novel have the X Factor?

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The answer is, yes.  It certainly scores high on entertainment.  Kylie laughed out loud and so did I, quite a few times.  Ronald takes us to East Dulwich, in the late 1970’s.  Fifteen year old David Starr auditions for a part in the school production of Lionel Bart’s “Oliver!” and with only a smattering of girls in his school’s sixth form there’s no prizes for guessing the part that David is cast as.  David had only auditioned because he was required to take up an after-school activity and his previous membership of the Debating Society;

“ended up with just me and the girl in the Upper Sixth in thick glasses shouting at one another in the library about which one of Charlie’s Angels, we felt, had the most intellectual wherewithal and which one wore the nicest tops.  So that was the end of that.”

To further cement his confusion about his unexpected casting decision he realises that he has fallen for the new boy in school, sports-loving Maxie who has been cast as Bill Sikes.  Ronald has produced a book which is in turns sweet, romantic, coarse, gritty, tragic and funny.  What more could you ask for?

I did feel at times it had the feel of Jonathan Harvey’s marvellous play (later a film) “Beautiful Thing” but this may be only because of the dynamics between the two lead characters as the book does very much have a life all of its own.  There’s a good set of characters and as might be expected from a novel about teenagers in the 1970’s lots of appropriate cultural references which will make readers of a certain age go glassy-eyed with nostalgia.  There’s also a lot of Debbie Harry and Abba.  The late 70’s in the London area saw a confusing time where a Ska revival was being adopted by the National Front, who saw only the short haircuts and not the multi-cultural message of the music.  There was also dilemma in secondary schools with the combination of the formal traditional teacher, not interested in the well being of the pupil and the more left-wing rebellious teachers who had qualified in a more liberal environment and wanted to befriend and socialise with the children.  There’s potential disaster on both sides for the unsuspecting adolescent.

Terry Ronald does a very good job at portraying a teenager coming to terms with sexuality in a world that feels scary and unjust.  Older readers should read this for the blasts from the past and younger readers to appreciate just how much the world has moved on.

In 2014 it was announced that a stage musical version of this novel was in production.  Read the book first!

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“Becoming Nancy” was published in 2011 by Corgi