Better the Devil You Know (Stock/Aitken/Waterman) and Step Back in Time (Stock/Aitken/Waterman) – Kylie Minogue 1990
Kylie Minogue issued her third album under the banner of the SAW hit factory, it was the Rhythm of Love, and although it contained more formulaic bouncy pop at least half of the songs had been written and produced by composers /producers other than SAW. Kylie was taking some tentative steps towards alighting from the hit factory conveyor belt, and Waterman was not impressed, and said she was being ungrateful! Kylie had also defied the SAW rule banning live performances and concerts as SAW preferred tightly controlled mime-only events for their stars.
Despite the apparent drift away from the control of the hit factory, this record delivered Stock, Aitken, and Waterman their 100th UK hit record. Not a bad result for a record label who had started business issuing recordings by left to right above, American transvestite Divine, the androgynous Pete Burns of Dead or Alive and page three topless model Samantha Fox. After the decline of left to right below, Bananarama, and Mel and Kim (sadly Melanie Appleby passed away), and the defection of Rick Astley, Kylie Minogue had become the gold standard for SAW’s future success.
This song’s lyrics are enigmatic and could be interpreted as being quite dark and emotionally fraught, as they indicate that the singer is forgiving a serial philanderer, and staying in an unhealthy relationship, because she at least knows what to expect. Musically it demonstrated the extent to which Minogue was evolving, bubblegum pop had been replaced by a soaring melody, a more polished, jubilant dance/club sound, with edgy electro keyboard, catchy vocal hooks, and an infectious chorus, as a more raunchy dance diva persona was emerging,
The concept for the song arose in discussion when Pete Waterman remarked to Mike Stock that Kylie was ditching clean-cut Jason Donovan for the more unpredictable Michael Hutchence, to which Stock replied that she should re-consider as it’s “better the devil you know”.
SAW no doubt did not want to explode the fairytale relationship between the former Neighbours co-stars as it had been Top 40 gold for all concerned, but Kylie was moving on, and preparing for her transition to life after SAW, and a more sexually adventurous relationship with Michael Hutchence. This song re-invented Minogue in a more sophisticated, edgy, sexy image, a change from the girl-next-door persona she had previously inhabited, it was reputedly Nick Cave’s favorite Kylie song. (Kylie with Nick Cave below)
The promo video, shot in Melbourne, confirmed the new look and her new sensibility including racy scenes in the arms of a black man, with Kylie sporting a Michael Hutchence ring, the record charted at #5 in Aust, #2 in UK and was a top forty hit throughout Europe.
Step Back in Time reinforced the new disco diva image, it was an homage to 1970’s funk and disco and even namechecked the O’Jays and referenced hits by the Jacksons, Wild Cherry, Van McCoy, the Floaters and the Temptations, drums and bass delivered a funky bedrock over which Barry White-style keyboards and strings effortlessly glided, it had hooks and riffs to burn and charted #4 in the UK and #5 locally.
Miniogue had departed the cast of Neighbours in July 1988, a year after the famous Episode 523 in which Charlene married Scott, so by 1989 the UK version of Neighbours had caught up with the episodes that had already screened in Australia and Kylie was no longer part of the cast. This would further enable her to re-position herself away from the pre-pubescent tweenies towards a more discriminating adult market, a direction in which she was heading under the “corrupting influence” of Michael Hutchence. Kylie had joked about this process of being “corrupted”, but in every aspect of her music, photo shoots, wardrobe and video clips, she was now more assertive and independent. The couple also became famous for allegedly joining the “mile high” club under a blanket on a Qantas flight between London and Sydney, which was apparently observed by a nearby fellow traveler in First Class – Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke.
As one of Australia’s most successful pop exports, singer/actor Minogue continued to blaze a trail via the soap opera/pop chart route with great dexterity and a chameleon-like capacity to reinvent herself along the way. This was the eleventh Stock/Aitken/Waterman composition to enter the top five for Kylie in the UK between 1988-1990, while she had taken eight into the top 5 in Australia in the same period plus Especially for You, a #2 duet with Jason Donovan.