Fortune Favors the Brave

Madonna and Kylie Minogue Pick Up Donna Summer's Torch and Run With It

by Quentin Harrison

11 February 2014

 

Kylie Minogue...

If Madonna went downtown with the Bedtime Stories sound, Minogue took her mirroring forays into R&B-pop and adult contemporary uptown with Kylie Minogue. Laboring closely with the Brothers in Rhythm, Minogue received supplementary input (writing /production) from a variety of sources for her eponymous album: the Pet Shop Boys, Jimmy Harry, Gerry DeVeaux, Saint Etienne, M People, The Rapino Brothers, Peter Heller and Terry Farley.

Minogue’s international perspective lent her canvas precision, not iciness as witnessed with “Confide in Me”. The cut played like a lost spy film accompaniment, its grandiose strings and rumbling groove enthralled. “Confide in Me” let Minogue become the vocalist cynics sneered she’d never be and she didn’t stop on the Quiet Storm spaciness of “Put Yourself in My Place” or the sensuous jazz entreaties of “Surrender” and “Automatic Love”. These ballads had Minogue eager in her burgeoning womanhood.

British funk troupe Incognito would have beamed at how Minogue reshaped the cult disco charter by Within a Dream, “Where Is the Feeling?”, into a jam session worthy of their talent. Reshaped when earmarked as a single, it transformed into the dimly lit “Brothers in Rhythm Soundtrack”.  Out of this the spoken word single edit (“BiR Dolphin Mix”) and promo-performance friendly rendition (“BiR Bish Bosh Mix”) were culled. It’s Minogue’s “lost single” with the bulk of the discussed mixes materializing (commercially) on the CD maxi exclusively; the “BiR Dolphin Mix” surfaced on the Deconstruction centered Hits + (2000) compilation.

“Where Has the Love Gone?” and “Falling”, tempestuous uptempos, veered from the traditional CD length; letting the arrangements breathe, the songs were deliciously fussy with lines like “I’m a woman and I’ve got my vanity”. Minogue’s trademark “joie de vivre” that encapsulated her “Smilie Kylie” days (think “Got To Be Certain”) got a sophisticated makeover on the salty swing of “If I Was Your Lover” and the grinning “Time Will Pass You By”.

Though Minogue’s songwriting had decreased here (she only co-wrote on “Automatic Love”), she was active in the process of selecting the songs she’d interpret. It was a gambit that relied on Minogue’s ability to make these works her own. Kylie Minogue was crisp and cunning, in fact growing up never sounded so sexy. 

“Stick or twist, the choice is yours”
—Kylie Minogue, “Confide in Me” 1994

Minogue fired first with “Confide in Me” in August 1994. The reception was unanimous; Minogue’s lead single, a triumph: U.K. #2, AU #1, US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play #39. Madonna took an identically restrained route with “Secret” on the following October; “Secret” utilized the (then) infant internet for its advocacy.  Madonna won the prize in many quarters: US #3, US Adult Contemporary #2, US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play #1, UK #5, AU# 5.

Madonna and Minogue owned the fall of 1994 as the parent albums for their silver, gold and platinum launching singles came into view just six weeks apart from the other. Kylie Minogue: September 1994: UK #4, AU #3; Bedtime Stories, October 1994; US #3, UK #2, AU #1. Minogue achieved platinum (Australia) and gold (United Kingdom) certifications; Madonna locked in triple platinum (America) and platinum (United Kingdom) awards.

Their follow-up singles met success and indifference.

Minogue’s included the gold seller “Put Yourself in My Place” (November 1994, UK #11, AU#11) and “Where Is the Feeling?” (July 1995, UK #16, AU #31). The seven months between Minogue’s second and third releases had different factors.

Minogue was clinging to the remnants of her steadily diminishing acting occupation in the wake of her music. She starred in the adaption of Capcom’s ‘Street Fighter’ in December 1994 and the Pauly Shore comedy ‘Bio-Dome’ in 1995. Whispers of an attempted U.S. breach with “If I Was Your Lover” did not come to fruition. Minogue began to consider “Time Will Pass You By” as her concluding single; instead, she opted for a duet with the King of Darkness himself, Nick Cave. Thus was born “Where the Wild Roses Grow” from Cave’s Murder Ballads (1995) LP; “Roses” became quite a smash in the fall of 1995: UK #11, AU#2.

Madonna led next with “Take a Bow”, her longest running US topper as of this writing: (December 1994, US #1, US Adult Contemporary #1, US Billboard R&B / Hip-Hop #40, UK #16, AU #15). Madonna’s traction Stateside went awry with her last two offerings: “Bedtime Story” (April 1995, US #42, US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play #1, UK #4, AU#5) and “Human Nature” (August 95, US #43, US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play #1, US Billboard R&B / Hip-Hop #57, UK #8, AU #15). “Bedtime Story” was notable for two reasons, it was the most expensive music video of its time (until dethroned by Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream”) and featured Nellee Hooper’s friend, alterna-chanteuse Björk’s writing credits.

Prior to “Take a Bow” and “Human Nature”, her final showings on the US R&B singles chart, Madonna had 13 placements there; her highest position had been with “Like a Virgin” (#9) and her lowest rank fell to “Who’s That Girl?” (#78).  The commercial victories had been muted overall, but the stock earned for Madonna and Minogue was inextinguishable. Kylie Minogue and Bedtime Stories proclaimed that the “wilderness years” had begun for the ladies and there was no turning back.

“It took me by surprise that you understood”
—Madonna, “Secret” 1994

Kylie Minogue and Bedtime Stories rippled through Madonna and Minogue’s legacies, career- wise and artistically.

Madonna took Jamie King on board, the video director behind “Human Nature”, to help her conceptualize her tours from ‘Drowned World’ to ‘Sticky & Sweet’. Interestingly, Bedtime Stories is the least performed record in Madonna’s discography and its ensuing era has been kept under wraps. The atmospheric flip to “Secret”, “Let Down Your Guard”, is solely available on the CD pressing. Madonna did share the Bedtime Stories leftover “Your Honesty” on the remix companion to 2003’s American Life,Remixed & Revisited (2003).

Minogue was liberal in comparison with the Kylie Minogue rarities. Kylie Minogue was reissued in 2003 along with its complex follower Impossible Princess (1998); the second disc contained alternate mixes, b-sides and curiosities that hadn’t been widely available. “Love Is Waiting” (confined to the Japanese version) and the b-sides “Nothing Can Stop Us”, and “If You Don’t Love Me” delighted fans.

The “Confide in Me” b-sides were covers; “Nothing Can Stop Us” a Dusty Springfield sampled Saint Etienne number, and “If You Don’t Love Me” courtesy of Prefab Sprout.  A wealth of residual recordings from the Kylie Minogue album are vaulted to this day.

“Confide in Me” is representative of her Deconstruction method in concerts, though “Put Yourself Place In My Place” comes in second; the forgotten “Where Is the Feeling” made a cameo in her ‘Fever’ tour in 2002. In terms of personnel, Steve Anderson (one-half of Brothers in Rhythm) stuck with Minogue as a songwriter and musical director for all her live shows since 1998.

In the way that Donna Summer’s The Wanderer made use of popular music at the dawn of the ‘80s, Madonna and Minogue did the same. They took advantage of the “global village” music mentality of the ‘90s to prove their mettle outside of dance, but without forsaking it.

Pop is about music and change, elements lacking in the newest generation of women in the movement. Consider two of its number, Britney Spears and Lady Gaga unveiled records (Britney Jean, ArtPop 2013) that were tut-tutted as “statement / departure” projects. Spears’ “personal” effort kickstarted with the “business as usual” club trash of “Work Bitch”; the proof of Spears’ smugness in her sameness since In the Zone (2003) had been confirmed.
Gaga was even more troublesome with “Do What You Want”. Its shameless “paper dolls” technique with late ‘80s pop productions (Exposé comes to mind) titillated, but it didn’t innovate.

There’s hope with British vocalist Sophie Ellis-Bextor and her fifth LP, Wanderlust. Stepping onto the trail carved by the likes of Kylie Minogue, Madonna, and Donna Summer, Bextor’s temporary leave of dance music for chamber /acoustic pop thrills.

Sadly, Bextor’s recording won’t garner the attention Spears and Gaga’s music has. In an age where controversy is proven method to get ears to an album, the shut out of players like Bextor cemented the notion that pop has to be tied to dance music. The loss of the broader “dance pop departure” revitalization past Madonna and Minogue’s (re) pioneering in 1994 is palpable.

Fourteen years after Summer’s declaration of independence from disco, Madonna and Minogue took up the torch of redefinition with Bedtime Stories and Kylie Minogue. Now, 20 years removed these albums stand as benchmarks for the pop genre and the women who delivered them.

It isn’t enough to get an audience to look at you, you have to keep their attention by getting them to listen to you. Despite the peaks and valleys that Madonna and Minogue have endured in the 20 years since Bedtime Stories and Kylie Minogue, they knew that without the risk there is no reward.

Fortune favors the brave. In pop music, that’s true immortality and redefinition.

Quentin Harrison is a Dayton reared and (for now) Atlanta based writer. Writing for eight years, his works have appeared in the Dayton City Paper and reissued CDs for Big Break Records, Gold Legion, and Soul Music Records. Quentin runs The QH Blend where his thoughts on music can be found. Quentin considers himself to be the Charles Barkley of pop music commentary.

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