Saturday, 22 March 2014

50 albums to take to my grave #1: Kite

My series of '20 songs to take to my grave' is falling flat on its arse if the viewing stats are to be believed - but sod it, I'm going to pursue it nevertheless, partly because what was a list of 20 is now evolving into a list of 50... However, this weekend it takes a rest as a new (similar) series begins. Sometimes, a single song isn't enough. Sometimes only the whole album will do.

'Kite' was Kirsty MacColl's second album[1] and is, quite simply, one of the most perfect and beautiful recordings ever made. Her career up to this point had been sporadic at best. Her debut single, the wonderful They Don't Know (1979), was released during a distributors strike that meant it failed to reach the shops. Her debut album 'Desperate Character' came out in 1981 to good acclaim, and she enjoyed a couple hits along the way - the best known being There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Thinks He's Elvis and the Billy Bragg-penned A New England.  A scrapped second album, the collapse of her record label, chronic stage fright and legal wranglings resulted in her only being able to get session work for a few years, though this period did yield her collaboration with the Pogues on Fairytale of New York. By 1989, she was frustrated and world-weary but blessed with a wealth of material.

The songs on 'Kite' took on numerous themes, but nearly all were doused in wit and cynicism in equal measure. In Innocence we get the scorned woman confronting her errant ex. Kirsty's often turbulent relationship with the male of the species was a recurring theme in her work.

  Degeneration suits you now, I'm going home to cry
  You won't be seeing me again, but you'll always wonder why

There's the biting summation of Thatcher's Britain in Free World, a culture she described as "grab whatever you can and sod the little guy":

  I thought of you when they closed down the school
  And the hospital too

Morrissey once sang "Fame, fame, fatal fame, it can play hideous tricks on the brain." Kirsty wrote 15 Minutes, my favourite song on the album:

  Then there's always the cash, selling yourself for some trash
  Smiling at people that you cannot stand, you're in demand
  Your 15 minutes starts now

Yet these gems were outshone by 'Kite''s big hit, the Kinks cover Days. Ray Davies' original reached number 12 in 1968 and marked a return to the upper reaches of the hit parade after a turbulent period for the band. Days was Kirsty's first solo hit for four years and, coincidentally, also peaked at #12. It was (along with the superb No Victims) perhaps one of the finest examples of her unique studio technique of vocal layering. Those swoonsome harmonies were created entirely by Kirsty who would sing a line, then move to a slightly different position and sing it again, then move a little more and sing it again, and so on until a choir of Kirsties was created. Oh that voice, it makes me want to simultaneously beam with delight and cry my little heart out at the sheer beauty it exudes.

'Kite' was Kirsty MacColl's masterpiece, yet typically it stalled at number 34 in the charts. It continued to sell steadily however and has been reissued several times. A recent version contained the Days b-side Still Life, arguably her finest three minutes[2]. It chokes me up whenever I hear it; how it never made the album first time around is surely one of life's great unsolved mysteries. Of course, all versions, save the original vinyl and cassette, included her cover of the Smiths' You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby which Johnny Marr himself admitted beats the original hands down.

There isn't a bad track on 'Kite'. Even what I consider to be the weaker tracks towards the end sparkle with enough wonderment and joy thanks to Kirsty's lyrics and golden voice. Accompanied by such luminaries as Marr, David Gilmour, Mel Gaynor and husband Steve Lillywhite, Kirsty MacColl made a record that was not only worth the 8-year wait since her previous effort, but even today stands out as a symbol of triumph over the adversity she had faced up to that point and would continue to fight right up to her tragic and premature end. 


[1] Although it was actually the third she recorded; there remains an unreleased record entitled 'Real'. Some tracks eventually saw the light of day on the brilliant box set 'From Croydon to Cuba: An Anthology'.
[2] Though Soho Square from 1993's 'Titanic Days' runs it pretty damn close.


  1. a fantastic lp. I only got it after hearing a lot of the songs on her series long residence on the French and Saunders show

  2. How strange I've been listening to very little else but Kirsty MacColl this weekend. Kite definitely her finest moment, a stunning album, she (likely the record company!) had a thing for the 10" single if I remember rightly, wish I still had them :(