Kim Wilde embodied youth rebellion at the start of the 1980s New Wave era, with her tousled blonde hair, black leather jacket and punk persona making her the icon of a generation of young wannabes.
As the daughter of 1950s British rock ‘n’ roll star Marty Wilde, Kim burst on to the music scene in 1981 with her massive hit single, Kids in America – co-written by her father, in collaboration with her brother, Ricky Wilde.
The 21-year-old was an overnight success, with her debut single reaching number two in the UK singles chart, rocketing into the top five in France, Germany and Australia and peaking at number 25 in the notoriously tough United States Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
Today, 38 years after its release, it’s still regarded as Kim’s signature song, despite the star having forged out a new career as a landscape gardener, author and radio presenter in recent years. Kids in America achieved gold certification in the UK and sold more than three million copies worldwide.
Kim was born in Chiswick in November 1960. Her mum Joyce was a member of the all-female singing and dancing group, The Vernons Girls. The 16-strong group was originally formed by the football pools company Vernons in the 1950s and went on to record an album.
With her parents’ musical pedigree, it seemed inevitable that Kim would forge a musical career for herself. She attended St Albans College of Art and Design, completing her foundation course at the age of 20 in 1980, but she was already a talented singer and soon afterwards won a record deal with RAK Records.
Record company boss Mickie Most had heard Kim singing backing vocals on a song that her songwriter brother Ricky had recorded. He liked what he heard and also liked Kim’s image, so said he’d like to work with her. Ricky and Marty immediately set to work writing a song for her and Kids in America was the result.
As soon as the record was released, Kim was catapulted to superstardom overnight. She released her debut album, Kim Wilde, on 29th June 1981 and it echoed the success of her single. She had a massive impact on both sides of America throughout the 1980s and ’90s. In total, she has released 56 singles and 14 studio albums.
Kids in America was the start of her career in the music industry, which has spanned four decades. Her latest single, Kandy Krush, was released in June 2018 and charted at number 45 in the UK.
Kids in America
The hit song was written on Ricky’s own WASP synthesiser. Its synth basslines, which formed the intro, were reportedly inspired by the music of Gary Numan, the electronic artist who was big at the time. Ricky and Marty wrote everything except the chorus lyrics, so they were ready to go into the studio right away.
The lyrics celebrated the youth of America and the growing youth music scene. The song starts with the iconic line, “Looking out a dirty old window, down below the cars in the city go rushing by.”
The narrator is sitting in her apartment on a Friday night, looking down at the bustling street below, before heading off to “search for the beat in this dirty town.” She says that from “New York to east California, there’s a new wave coming”, and “everybody lives for the music-go-round.”
As fans have pointed out, a song celebrating the youth of America (written by two English songwriters from Chiswick) has meant the geography is a bit “off”. It’s been said that following a route from “New York to east California” would leave you in the inhospitable Mojave Desert – probably not the location the Wildes were imagining!
When Kim went in the studio to record Kids in America, Marty Wilde came up with last-minute lyrics to complete the chorus. He also suggested that a male backing singer should sing the famous “Whoah-oh!” after the line, “We’re the kids in America.”
It was originally meant to be played on a guitar or bass, but he made a wise decision that it would sound better as a vocal. Mickie Most loved the song the first time he heard it and said it would be a huge hit, which of course it was.
As well as being a recording artist today, Kim, 58, became a landscape gardener after attending Capel Manor College to study horticulture. In 2001, she joined forces with horticulturist David Fountain to create an exhibition garden called “All About Alice” at the Tatton Flower Show. They won the prize for best show garden.
She has also written gardening books, including Gardening with Children in 2005 and The First-Time Gardener in 2006. These have made her a respected author.
Kim follows an eco-friendly lifestyle and promotes caring for the planet. She was the face of health food shop Holland and Barrett for two years and has also advertised Magnet “green” kitchens. She has also enjoyed a career as a radio presenter, hosting the Sunday show, Secret Songs, on Magic 105.4 FM.
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