I remember my first reaction to hearing ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’. It was something akin to: “OMFG” *drops cutlery on floor and scares cat in the process*.
In truth, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It wasn’t just that it was unlike any Kylie song I’d ever heard before, it was unlike any song I remember hearing before.
Recently named the most played track of the decade, with its daringly minimal bouncy keyboard riff, bliss-inducing bridge and nursery rhyme hook (“La, la, la”) it was a real-time pop moment, a trap door into What Was To Come. And those don’t come along too often.
Of course, we’d grown up with Kylie. But this was something different. In Neighbours and during the beginnings of her Stock, Aitken and Waterman phase she was The Enemy. A manufactured starlet who was merely a bejeweled cog in the Hit Factory’s money making, production line pop (a point neatly summarized by Spitting Image’s puppet of her as a remote controlled creation of Frankenstein proportions).
It was only when she started mussing with the S/A/W formula that we knew there was something resembling a fighting spirit inside of her. The spritely house rhythms of ‘Shocked’ and ‘What Do I Have To Do’ segued into the spunky grooves of ‘Did It Again’ and Nick Cave’s dreamy murder ballad ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’. Something special was going on.
By the time she’s officially made her major label pop comeback with 2000’s ‘Fever’ we were all routing for her. She was the Nation’s Sweetheart TM again, but this time she’d done it on her terms.
Still nothing had us prepared for ‘Can’t….’ Written by Cathy Dennis and Rob Davies, it felt significant. Not only because of its feather light bouce which kicked against the dreary bombast of Westlife, Atomic Kitten and Blue, but because near the start of the new millenium (it was released in 2001) it felt this was THE moment when pop music stepped boldly into the future.
It was something that Paul Morley memorably noted in his book Words And Music: A History Of Pop In The Shape Of A City. The former NME journalist found great resonance in the song’s sparse music video, as he imagined a robot Minogue driving down a motorway on her way to a City Of Pop. In his sci-fi utopia she was a conduit for all the pop that had come before her and ‘Can’t…’ was a lightning bolt piece of “mind-changing art”. Kylie was dead. Long live RoboKylie!
It laid its rightful place to the pop crown, taking the Number One position across the globe and recently taking Number 74 on our tracks of the decade. But perhaps the biggest indication of how important the song became was when she performed a mash-up with New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ at the Brits the following year. It was met with universal approval. That the song would fit seamlessly into the pantheon of futuristic electro greats was never in doubt.
Minogue may never have such a startling pop moment again, where there is a collective, international in-take of breath at the track’s wonder, but this adds to the retrospective wonder of ‘Can’t…’.
Listening back now, although its impact has been muddied by blanket radio play, you can still feel its power, as it presages a wave of Scandinavian pop (strange for a track written by two Brits and sung by an Aussie) that would result in the best music of the noughties and beyond. All together now : “ La, la, la….”
Did You Know?
* It was Kylie’s first hit in the USA since 1988’s ‘The Locomotion’
* The song was offered to Sophie Ellis Bextor but she turned it down (D’oh!)
* The track sold over a million copies, practically unheard of today for a physical release