At first glance (or listen), Kim Wilde’s first single “Kids in America” would seem a world away from Punk’s original gritty ethos. Released in January 1981, the record is polished and produced, with the sort of family friendly chorus that you might immediately file under “not proper punk” and never think of again. No it wasn’t Punk…but the song’s energy, along with Kim’s utterly deadpan vocal delivery, was exactly the kind of thing that Punk opened the way for.
The Wilde family were no strangers to the world of rock and roll. Father Marty had been one of the first wave of Brits to try his hand at becoming a home-grown rock and roller, charting in the late 1950s with his version of Dion and the Belmonts “Teenager in Love”, and Bobby Vee’s “Rubber Ball”.
Signed to music impresario Larry Parnes, he was encouraged to change his name from the non-rock star sounding Reg Smith, to something more exciting along the lines of stable-mates Billy Fury (previously Ron Wycherly), and Georgie Fame (real name Clive Powell), and so was born the decidedly racy sounding Marty Wilde.
By the mid 1970s, and in a world that was now firmly besotted by Glam Rock’s pulsating and glittery offerings, Marty and his ilk, were no longer so much in demand, and by 1974 hopes for the next generation of Wilde fam rock stardom were focused on Kim’s younger brother, 11 year old Ricky Wilde.
*Lots of things to say about magazines like Look-In and their style of presentation in regards to eleven year olds…but will have to wait until another day*.
Despite the family’s connections and contacts, Ricky’s turn at snatching the heavyweight teenypop crown from atop Donny’s glossy head, somehow didn’t happen, and by the late 1970s, after leaving school, Ricky and his band were still at the recording demos stage, this time for Mickie Most at RAK studios, home of Suzi Quatro, Smokey, Cozy Powell, and Mud.
Mid-demo, enter big sis Kim, who arrived at RAK to add on some backing vocals for Ricky, and was immediately noticed and earmarked as a potential project in her own right by Mr Most, who mooted hooking her up with a producer. Unhappy that he might not get to work on this new Kim project, and no doubt feeling a little bit left out, Ricky made the decision that his weekend would be spent songwriting at the highest possible level. Talking to Top 2000 she recalls hearing Ricky beavering away on his new WASP synthesiser in the neighbouring bedroom, “Our bedrooms were next door to each other….and I remember hearing this pulse going on in his room, and it was driving me crazy, and I thought if he doesn’t shut up soon I’m going to go in and whatever it is that he’s making that noise on I’m gonna shove it down his throat…..little did I know he was writing a song that was going to totally change my life“.
The resulting song was “Kids in America”, written on a wet weekend in the Hertforshire countryside with lyrical input from Dad Marty, a song about going out and enjoying new music somewhere across the other side of the Atlantic. Genius.
Peaking at number 2 in the UK charts, Kids in America somehow hit the perfect sweet spot between “family friendly” and “new wave”. The WASP synthesiser sounded urban and futuristic and gave it a genuine “new wave” intro, it had the catchy chorus with the “Whooaa’s” and it even included a surprising namecheck for “east California”. Both Ricky and Marty’s experience of having weathered 20+ years of being compared to, and modelled on various kids from America must have had a bearing on the lyrics, but post-punk had also spawned a new confidence in all things homegrown. After all, ultimately nothing says Kids in America, like semi-rural Hertforshire.
At the end of January 2020 Cherry Red will be re-releasing all of Kim’s RAK output as “expanded gatefold wallet editions”. Details HERE
Follow Kim on Twitter @kimwilde