Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Kelly Marie - A Scottish Disco Diva

 So many artists came and went during the disco era, like a flash in the pan (not to be confused with Flash And The Pan - see future post).  Many didn’t, and haven’t, received sufficient plaudits for their efforts, in stead being lumped in with the whole critically lambasted disco phenomenon.  Of all the voluminous publications on popular music, scarce regard is paid to those artists (save the few pioneering ones such as Chic - see separate post), so seeing as this blog is under my editorial control, and with many of disco’s most famous or notorious artists already featured here, I thought it time to revisit another name from that era, in the guise of female vocalist Kelly Marie.

Kelly Marie was born Jacqueline McKinnon in Paisley, Scotland during 1957.  Music was a big part of her life from early on, with singing lessons beginning at age ten, singing competitions at age twelve, and a television debut at age fifteen.  Under the name Keli Brown, she appeared on the British television talent show ‘Opportunity Knocks’, winning a number of heats with her rendition of ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’.  The TV appearance brought her to the attention of Pye Records (as opposed to Pye televisions), who signed the young singer to a recording contract.

Now under the moniker of Kelly Marie, she made a credited appearance on the 1976 Irish #2 ‘Sister Mary’ by Joe Dolan (well known for the hits ‘Make Me An Island’ and ‘Teresa’).  Marie then released her debut solo single with ‘Who’s That Lady With My Man’.  The single failed to chart in Britain, but shot up the French charts to #5 in mid ‘76 (it went on to sell over 300,000 copies achieving Gold Record accreditation).  A further French top twenty hit followed a few months later in the form of ‘Help Me’ (Fr#17).  The next couple of singles tanked, before the release of 1977’s ‘Run To Me’, which ran to #22 on the Dutch national charts.

1978 saw a boost to Kelly Marie’s worldwide profile with the release of the disco-styled love song ‘Make Love To Me’.  The track rocketed to #2 in South Africa, whilst here in Australia it dodged a lot of other disco traffic to park itself at #5 late in ‘78, going on to spend a mammoth 41 weeks inside the Australian Top 100.  In fact, such was the longevity of ‘Make Love To Me’ that it ended up being the 12th highest selling single in Australia for 1979 (album of the same name peaked at #87).  The track failed to chart in the U.S., possibly because singer Helen Reddy had already released a version.  Kelly Marie’s follow up singles, ‘Loving Just For Fun’ and ‘Take Me To Paradise’, fell well short of building on any kind of commercial momentum.

After releasing a cover of Yvonne Elliman’s chart topper ‘If I Can’t Have You’ (see future post), Kelly Marie released a track in August of ‘79 titled ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’.      The track had been penned in the summer of ‘77 by Roy Dorset, lead singer and chief songwriter for British band Mungo Jerry.  Dorset had originally intended the song as an offering for Elvis Presley to record.  Dorset had been a long time fan of Presley, and had recorded his favourite Elvis song ‘Baby Let’s Play House’ with Mungo Jerry.  Sadly, ‘The King’ died in 1977 before the track was recorded.  Dorset then recorded the track with his band Mungo Jerry’, and it eventually saw the light of day as a B-side to the band’s French single release ‘Sur Le Pont D’Avignon’.  Dorset had also sent the song ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’ around the major British publishing houses, and several interested parties made offers to record the track, all of which Dorset refused.  It was Elliott Cowen from Red Bus Music who approached Dorset with the idea that Scottish songstress Kelly Marie would be a good candidate to take the song to the top of the charts.

With long time producer Peter Yellowstone calling the shots, Marie recorded ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’ in classic disco-dance style in mid ‘79.  Her profile was still sufficiently solid in South Africa , that the song reached #7 there in late ‘79, but British success still eluded her.  ‘Feels Like Making Love’ did become a popular hit in dance clubs across Britain, and the track’s enduring appeal prompted Pye Records to re-release it in mid 1980 on the subsidiary Calibre label.  The track debuted on the mainstream British charts at the beginning of August 1980, and by mid September had ascended to #1, replacing ‘Start’ by The Jam in the process - with two such disparate song styles going back to back atop the charts, it goes to show just how diverse a market Britain was at the time.  ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’ held sway at #1 for two weeks, before succumbing to the appeal of ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’ by The Police.  By reaching #1 in Britain, ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’ also gave songwriter Ray Dorset the rare distinction of having topped the British charts at one time with a composition recorded by their own group (earlier #1s from Mungo Jerry) and to also have one of their songs taken to #1 by another artist.  The song frequented the top tens of charts across Europe, and peaked at #7 here in Australia (where it spent 27 weeks on the charts).

Keen to capitalise on the profile ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’ had afforded Kelly Marie, the record label re-released the 1978 single ‘Loving Just For Fun’ (UK#21), followed by the early ‘81 release of ‘Hot Love’ (UK#22).  But by the release of the single ‘Love Trial’ (UK#51) in mid ‘81, it had become apparent that the surge of stardom attained by ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’ was not sustainable for Kelly Marie.  A final single ‘Don’t Stop Your Love’, and accompanying album ‘Do You Like It Like That?’ (OZ#93) failed to chart at all in Britain.  In part, it might have been that Marie was compartmentalised as a disco/dance singer, and by 1981 disco was on the nose.  Meanwhile, fellow Scotswoman Sheena Easton was dominating charts across the world (see separate post).

Unperturbed, Kelly Marie continued to release singles regularly over the period from 1982 to 1984, but her only incursion into charts came in mid ‘84 with the single ‘Break Out’ (UK#90).  A 1986 re-release of ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’ was the only recording activity from Marie for some time, with the singer devoting her time to starting a family.  In 1988, she returned to European charts with the dance song ‘Stealing My Time’, which stole #2 on the Danish charts.  A decade passed, during which time Kelly Marie focussed on parental duties.  But she returned to the recording studio in 1997, releasing an album of dance versions of hit songs - from ‘Runaway’, through ‘Rescue Me’, to a new version of her 1981 hit ‘Hot Love’.  The voice of Kelly Marie was once more in evidence at dance clubs across Britain and Europe.

In 2002, Marie teamed up with fellow 70s songstress Tina Charles (see future post) on a dance version of ‘To Sir With Love’.  In 2005, Kelly Marie took the decision to subject herself to reality TV, with her appearance on the ITV show ‘Hit Me, Baby, One More Time’.  Though she lost out eventually to singer Chesney Hawkes, Kelly Marie proved she could still deliver dance songs with the best of them, the highlight being her performance of ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’.  Kelly Marie has been more than just another ‘disco diva’, having forged a career spanning over thirty years.

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