Recently London Lee over at the Chip Shop set me off on my own personal Kiki Dee retrospective on Youtube. In fact it’s not the first time I’ve done this, but I thank Lee for reminding me what a great singer Kiki is.
Lulu is loved and it seems Dusty has been deified. But what of Kiki? I’m betting that most people, if they know of her at all, will maybe only recall her later 70s and 80s output where she finally hit the higher reaches of the charts. Between 1973 and 1981 she broke the UK top 30 on six occasions, and of course hit paydirt (I imagine) with her 1976 duet with Elton John – “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” – a number 1 in the UK and US. As is often the case with big hits though, that duet was by no means her best record.
In fact Kiki Dee was very much a contemporary of Lulu and Dusty, and in her early career actually sang backing vocals for Dusty Springfield. Born Pauline Matthews in Bradford she was given her performing name Kiki Dee in 1963 when her first record was released. Looking back at the whole of her career I feel it’s not too much to say she should be held up there as one of Britain’s greatest female singers. But with much of her early output almost under the radar, and with her fans seemingly holding her close to their chest, at best, perhaps, we can say Kiki is cuddled.
Kiki released a total of eleven singles, two EPs, and one LP on Fontana between ’63 & ’68. A big hit proved elusive though. Was it a lack of prolonged effective marketing that meant she didn’t enjoy much more success at that time, or the lack of a clear identity (many of her singles were covers)? It seems to me the music industry never quite knew what to do with her. Kiki was still young of course, and perhaps she didn’t know either.
Her 60s output had a definite soul slant with some ‘hip’ singles, and so it was she was picked up by Motown in 1969. Her Motown moment was brief though, resulting in a sole album “Great Expectations” (The US cover of the album was plastered in Union Jacks making a big play on the fact that Kiki was Motown’s first British signing. The UK release of that album had an altogether better cover in my opinion, sporting a gorgeous “head shot” of Kiki). This album did spawn a couple of singles, including the gorgeous “Love Makes The World Go Round”, which grazed the US Top 100 in 1971.
The Motown connection didn’t work out and 1971-72 must have been something of a low ebb for Kiki with no recording contract and only the cabaret circuit keeping her busy. But in 1973 she was back in the recording studio, signing for Rocket Records, and taken under the wing of Elton John and his cohorts. At that point Kiki took another change in direction, both image wise – girl next door, and musically as Rocket Records took her more into rock and singer/songwriter territory. The rest, as they say, is history.
You can explore Kiki’s life in a great deal more detail here. An excellent fan site, typically obsessive in places, and with a year by year timeline of Kiki’s life to date, yep starting with the year she was born!
During My YouTube trawl I was particularly taken with “I’ll Try Something New”. It came from her Motown sessions but wasn’t included on “Great Expectations”. After some research I came to the conclusion the only vinyl outing that track had was on a 1974 UK budget MFP/Sounds Superb album “Kiki Dee”. This was obviously released to cash in on her new found Top 20 fame (“Amoureuse”, “I’ve Got The Music In Me”). I was fortunate enough to pick up a copy almost immediately for a good price. In a way the album was a bit of a dog’s breakfast – the cover sported a contemporary “rock chic” picture of her whereas the record itself is full of her Motown recordings. It was almost a complete reissue of “Great Expectations” but a couple of tracks from that album were dropped in favour of “I’ll Try Something New” and “Oh Be My Love”, both written by Smokey Robinson – what a songwriter! “Oh Be My Love” was a track on a 1966 Smokey & The Miracles album and also made it to 45 in the UK. The Supremes and Barbara McNair, among others no doubt, have also recorded it but Kiki’s version really made me prick up my ears. The tenderness in Kiki’s voice really caresses and it has a great arrangement, complete with flanged(?) guitar.
To complement “Oh Be my Love” also featured here is Kiki’s version of Jackson Browne’s “Song For Adam”. Another beautiful song, it comes from the 1973 album “Loving And Free” and demonstrates Kiki’s change in musical direction when she joined Rocket Records. This album was on my very long wants list back in the Seventies but limited funds meant the list stayed long. I was lucky enough to find it at a car boot sale earlier this year and was happy to pay the princely sum of 30p for it. What goes ‘round, comes ‘round!
Kiki today. (As I said – one of Britain’s greatest ever singers).