When Kiki Dee was signed in 1973 to Elton John’s Rocket Records label, the 26-year old was already a veteran of the music business as an in-demand background singer and a solo artist for Fontana and Motown. The former Pauline Matthews of Bradford, West Yorkshire, England had proven herself a versatile vocalist at both of those labels, but at Rocket would finally take flight as a top-tier blue-eyed soul singer with so much more to offer than just the duet part in “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” The Edsel label has long championed Kiki’s work on various reissues; now, they’re bringing all of her Rocket repertoire together on one new, book-style box set. The 5-CD The Rocket Years is due on March 29 and includes ten bonus tracks, including the CD premiere outside of Australia of the rare B-side “Snow Queen” penned by Kiki with Elton John, Bernie Taupin, Davey Johnstone, and David Nutter.
Kiki was Elton’s first signing to Rocket, and he produced her debut for the label with engineer Clive Franks. Loving and Free, named for the first composition she ever wrote, featured Elton on piano for seven of its ten tracks. The song selection encompassed Dee’s own compositions as well as the hit single “Amoreuse” (co-written with future “Little Jeannie” lyricist Gary Osborne), plus choice material from writers including Jackson Browne. With the aid of bandmates Dee Murray and Davey Johnstone, as well as Paul Keogh, Gerry Conway and steel guitar great B.J. Cole, Elton helmed a rootsy album that spotlights Dee’s powerful voice that today can sit comfortably alongside his 1970 masterwork Tumbleweed Connection.
Clive Franks returned to helm I’ve Got the Music in Me in 1974 alongside Elton’s frequent producer Gus Dudgeon. Recorded in London with vocals added in New York, the album was credited to The Kiki Dee Band line-up of keyboardist Bias Boshell, bassist Phil Curtis, drummer Roger Pope and guitarist Jo Partridge. Boshell penned the infectious title track on which the Band was joined by Pete Clarke on drums and the backing trio of Cissy Houston, Joshie Armstead and Maretha Stewart; Richard Hewson provided the orchestral arrangement. An exultant anthem to positivity, “I’ve Got the Music in Me” scored Dee a No. 12 U.S. hit and fared almost as well at home; it set the upbeat tone for an album of songs entirely written by band members Dee, Boshell and Partridge. I’ve Got the Music in Me subtly took Dee in a more commercial soft-rock direction, losing most of the trappings of Tumbleweed-era Elton while still showcasing her exquisite pipes in an increasingly confident, ever-soulful setting.
Dee’s next LP, the Los Angeles-recorded Cage the Songbird, was recorded in 1975 but shelved until 2008. Named for a John/Taupin/Johnstone composition featured on Elton’s Blue Moves, it takes its place among her other Rocket records in this chronologically-assembled set. Primarily produced by Robert Appere, Cage the Songbird also boasts one John production, of Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter’s catchy “Once a Fool.”
Before another solo album could be released, Elton and Kiki teamed for a little duet called “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” which just happened to top the charts on both sides of the Atlantic in 1976. Perhaps as a result of that newfound fame, her next LP for Rocket was titled, simply, Kiki Dee. Capitalizing on the success of the single, it unsurprisingly reunited her with Elton and Clive Franks as producers, as well as with Dee Murray. Davey Johnstone, with whom Kiki was then in a relationship, also appeared, as did Ray Cooper and another Elton associate, future Hollywood scoring superstar James Newton Howard. (He had provided the string chart for “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”) Bias Boshell, too, maintained a presence on Kiki Dee which was recorded in both London and New York. The varied LP became her most successful and first to enter the U.K. pop chart.
Kiki didn’t complete her Rocket contract until 1979 with the release of Stay with Me, the fifth and final album in this collection. The two-year gap between albums, though, didn’t dull her sense of adventure. Producer Bill Schnee oversaw the California sessions which featured Steve Lukather, Jeff Porcaro, Steve Porcaro, David Hungate and David Paich of Toto, plus other session veterans such as Jim Keltner and Greg Phillinganes, and the returning Bias Boshell, James Newton Howard, and Davey Johnstone. Stay with Me has a crisp West Coast sheen, making for the smoothest of Dee’s Rocket outings. If it’s no less enjoyable, it feels decidedly less personal.
The Rocket Years features ten bonus tracks including “Snow Queen” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” distributed among the albums, and the media book package is lavishly illustrated with photos and ephemera from Kiki’s own collection, as well as detailed annotation by Alan Robinson based on a new interview with the singer. This comprehensive set from the one and only Kiki Dee is due from Edsel on March 29, with copies arriving in North America one week later. You can pre-order at the links below! Additionally, Amazon U.K. has an exclusive signed edition available while supplies last!
Exclusive Signed Edition: Amazon U.K.
- Loving and Free (Rocket PIGL5, 1973)
- I’ve Got the Music in Me – The Kiki Dee Band (Rocket PIGL10, 1974)
- Cage the Songbird (EMI 00946 3 63125 2 1, 2008)
- Kiki Dee (Rocket ROLA 3, 1977)
- Stay with Me (Rocket TRAIN 3, 1979)
Plus bonus tracks:
Loving and Free:
- The Last Good Man in My Life (Rocket single PIG 2-B, 1973)
- Six Days on the Road (first issued on EMI CD 00946 3 63113 2 6, 2002)
I’ve Got the Music in Me:
- Hard Luck Story (Rocket single PIG 10-A, 1974)
- Everyone Should Have Their Way (Rocket single PIG 10-B, 1974)
- Simple Melody – The Kiki Dee Band (Rocket single PIG 12-B, 1974)
- How Glad I Am (Rocket single PIG 16-A, 1975)
- Peter (Rocket single PIG 16-B, 1975)
Cage the Songbird:
- Don’t Go Breaking My Heart – Elton John and Kiki Dee (Rocket single ROKN 512-A, 1976)
- Snow Queen (Rocket single ROKN 512-B, 1976)
- The Man Who Loved to Dance (Rocket single ROKN 520-B, 1977)