Monday, June 9, 2014

Kiki Dee - 'I've Got The Music In Me'

If you’re going to team up with someone to record a duet, you might as well do so with one of the highest profile pop-stars in the business.  That’s precisely what female vocalist Kiki Dee did when she teamed up with Elton John to record the 1976 worldwide #1 ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’.

Kiki Dee arrived in this world (as opposed to an alien world) as Pauline Matthews during 1947 (the same year as Elton John).  At the age of 16, Dee began singing with local bands around her local township of Bradford.  Around the same time she also showed an interest in acting and in 1965 had a cameo in the film ‘Deadline For Diamonds’, a thriller produced by Pinewood Studios, London.

Songwriter Mitch Murray came up with the stage name Kiki Dee, and during 1965 she signed with the Fontana Records label, releasing the single ‘Why Don’t I Run Away From You’, and by 1968 her debut album ‘I’m Kiki Dee’.  During the mid to late 60s, Dee also worked as a session singer, backing the likes of Dusty Springfield, and regularly appeared on BBC Radio singing cover versions.

During August of ‘69, Kiki Dee came to the attention of the famed Motown label, and became the first female British performer to sign with the label.  It was arranged for her to record her first album for the label with producer Frank Wilson in Detroit.  The album ‘Great Expectations’ was realised and released in 1971, and yielded the minor U.S. Hot 100 hit, ‘Love Makes The World Go Round’ (#87).  The album featured 12 tracks in all, covering some Motown classics including ‘I Second That Emotion’ and ‘For Once in My Life’, alongside a cover of Dusty Springfield’s ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ (evoking the vocal style of Springfield in the process).

But great expectations weren’t realised, and Dee was dropped from the Detroit label.  But though label-less, Dee had an ally in former British Motown executive John Reid, who had gone on to manage Elton John.  Reid introduced the two singers, and Dee was signed to John’s Rocket Records label in 1972.  She sang backing vocals on a number of Elton John albums, but by late ‘73 was ready to record and release her first solo album for Rocket Records.

The album ‘Loving & Free’ (OZ#38) hit stores in late ‘73.  It was a mixture of covers and several Elton John/Bernie Taupin penned tracks.  John played keyboards on seven of the tracks and co-produced part of the album, recorded directly following John’s own ‘Tumbleweed Connection’ album.  The stand out track, and hit single, was the beautifully crafted atmospheric ballad ‘Amoureuse’.  Written and originally recorded by French artist Veronique Sanson, ‘Amoureuse’ rose majestically to #13 on the British charts in early ‘74 (OZ#12).

During 1974, Kiki Dee assembled her own backing group, and recorded the album ‘Patterns’ (released in the U.S. as ‘I’ve Got The Music In Me’ - #28), under the banner of the Kiki Dee Band.  The single, ‘(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am’ (UK#33), originally recorded by Nancy Wilson,  did solid business, but it was the upbeat, and appropriately titled, ‘I’ve Got The Music In Me’ (originally recorded by Sabrina Lory) that kept the Dee Band (and brand) in the upper reaches of the charts (US#12/ UK#19/ OZ#52).  Within eighteen months Kiki Dee would reach the uppermost of those charts with one of the biggest selling singles of the decade.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin had already written a number of songs for Kiki Dee under the pseudonyms of Ann Orson and Carte Blanche.  During the first half of ‘76, the prolific song writing team penned an effervescent love song titled ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’.  Regular Elton John producer Gus Dudgeon had the reigns in the control booth, for the recording of the planned duet.  But John and Dee recorded their vocals separately (due to scheduling issues), with John firstly recording his part at the Eastern Sound studios in Toronto, Canada.  The tape was then sent to London, where Kiki Dee added her vocals.  Credited to Elton John and Kiki Dee, it was John’s first appearance on his own Rocket Records label.  A promotional video was shot for the song in a recording studio, featuring John and Dee playing off one another - with the obvious chemistry of good friends apparent throughout.

‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ burst on to the British charts mid year, and had reached #1 by the end of July ‘76, replacing Demis Roussos at the top.  Astoundingly, it was Elton John’s first involvement in a British chart topper.  The song set up residency at #1 for six weeks, in turn being replaced by ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’.  A similar trajectory occurred for ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ in Australia, with the track replacing ‘S-S-S--Single Bed’ by Fox (see separate post) during August, and a week later being danced off the top spot by ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’.

The song made its initial incursion into the U.S. Hot 100 at #66 during July of ‘76.  Within just five weeks, the Rocket Records single rocketed to #1, in so doing replacing the Manhattans, who had to ‘Kiss And Say Goodbye’ to top spot.  The perky pop of ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ broke the hearts of its competition for four weeks at #1, before the increasingly omnipresent Bee Gees supplanted it with ‘You Should Be Dancing’.  Elton John would famously go on to perform the song with Miss Piggy on The Muppet Show.  Following the triumph of having the biggest selling single in the world for 1976, John entered a period of voluntary retirement for nearly two years.  For Kiki Dee the challenge arose to build on the momentum of her part in such a popular music behemoth.  The title track from her 1973 album, ‘Loving And Free’, was released and peaked at #13 in Britain, followed by a minor U.S. hit in ‘Once A Fool’ (#82), but it became apparent that ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ was going to be a nigh on impossible act to follow.

Kiki Dee released a self titled album in early ‘77 (UK#24/US#159).  The fourteen track album realised a couple of British top forty hits in the form of ‘First Thing In The Morning’ (#32), and ‘Chicago’ (#28), along with a U.S. re-release of the 1974 track ‘How Glad I Am’ (#74).  However, despite featuring an impressive array of guest players, Dee’s 1979 album, ‘Stay With Me’, her final release on Rocket Records, missed the charts altogether.

The 80s kicked off with a good start for Kiki Dee, with the 1981 single ‘Star’ hitting the celestial heights of #13 in the U.K. (OZ#64).  It was lifted from Dee’s first album for the Ariola label, ‘Perfect Timing’ (UK#47).  Produced by Pip Williams, the album boasted another impressive cast of guest players, including keyboardist Patrick Moraz (Moody Blues - see separate post), and drummer Steve Holly (ex-Wings).  Elton John also joined Kiki on a cover of the Four Tops’ ‘Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever’.

All remained quiet on the Kiki Dee front for the remainder of the 80s, save for the 1987 album ‘Angel Eyes’, and regular backing vocals duties for Elton John.  Dee and John returned to the charts as a duet during 1993, with a cover of Cole Porter’s ‘True Love’.  They fell one place short in Britain of equalling the #1 triumph of ‘Don’t Got Breaking My Heart’ (OZ#23).

Kiki Dee returned to the stage in 1993, with the London West End play ‘Blood Brothers’, which spawned a soundtrack album.  A ‘Best Of’ collection followed in ‘94 (UK#62), followed two years later by the live album ‘Almost Naked’.  Kiki Dee then started a fruitful creative partnership with Carmelo Luggeri, the duo releasing three albums to date; ‘Where Rivers Meet’ (1998), ‘The Walk Of Faith’ (2005), and ‘A Place Where I Can Go’ (2013).

Though she will long be associated with the mega-hit ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’, it would be remiss to overlook the forty plus year career of Kiki Dee in its entirety.

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