Remember Kiki Dee? English Singer Rocketed to Stardom in the ’70s

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Kiki Dee and Elton John in the video for “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”

She began recording as a teenager when she was discovered playing with local dance bands, releasing her first single, “Early Night,” at age 16. She gained a reputation as a backing session singer, performing on two of Dusty Springfield’s early hits, “Little By Little” and “Some Of Your Lovin’.”

By then, the performer, born Pauline Matthews, on March 6, 1947, in Yorkshire, England, was known professionally as Kiki Dee. Within a few years, she became the first female singer from the U.K. to be signed to Motown’s Tamla Records.

Watch her perform a cover of a Blood, Sweat and Tears hit on The Benny Hill Show, in January 1971

Kiki Dee didn’t earn her first chart hit until 1973, when she was 26, when her cover of a French composition, “Amoureuse,” reached #13 in the U.K. By then, the performer had been signed to Elton John’s label, the Rocket Record Company, named for his 1972 hit, “Rocket Man.” That same year, she sang backup on “All the Young Girls Love Alice,” on John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album.

The singer joined the star on stage at Dodger Stadium on Nov. 20, 2022, for the final U.S. performance of his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour. More on that below.

Watch her perform her first hit on Dutch television in 1974

In 1974, Dee recorded a song written by the Kiki Dee Band’s keyboardist, Bias Boshell. The upbeat “I’ve Got the Music in Me” entered the U.K. chart that September, ultimately reaching #19 there. The song was essentially Dee’s introduction in the U.S., and by late November it had climbed to #12.

This ad for her album appeared in the Nov. 16, 1974 issue of Record World

There were no immediate follow-up hits. However, in 1976, Elton John was expecting to record a duet with Dusty Springfield. When the latter was unable to join him, Dee became the choice. The subsequent recording of the playful “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” was a significant hit, topping the charts for weeks in the U.K., U.S., and many other countries. The song was also the year’s second biggest hit on the Hot 100.

Related: The #1 singles of 1976

Amazingly, on July 24, the single became Elton John’s first #1 in the U.K. (He had already earned five in the U.S. at that point.) Nearly four decades after its release, the single surpassed the one million mark in sales in the U.K.

Kiki Dee is seen celebrating the Gold record award with Elton John with his management and label brass in a photo that appeared in the Sept. 4, 1976, issue of Record World

Dee never married but had a serious relationship with Elton John’s guitarist, Davey Johnstone, in the mid-’70s. Though Dee earned a few more chart successes in the U.K., there would be no more in America. In a 2019 interview with the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald, she said, “I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had, but I don’t live in the past. In every decade in my life something new and interesting happens, so I try to keep moving forward.”

In 1985, she joined John for his Live Aid set. Shortly thereafter, Dee was diagnosed with uterine cancer.

Her musical collaborator for many years has been Carmelo Luggeri, a guitarist, composer and producer who has worked with a variety of artists.

The pair had a busy 2022 U.K. tour. Dee, who turned 75 on March 6 just weeks before Elton John, originally booked a U.S. tour for this fall. It was canceled, however, perhaps due to her appearance with Sir Elton at Dodger Stadium on Nov. 20. (John’s celebratory 24-song set was streamed live globally on Disney+.) After singing “I’m Still Standing,” he brought Dee on stage to reprise their big hit. “I asked her to come over and she did,” he said. It was their first performance together since 2006.

Her recordings are available in the U.K. here and in the U.S. here. An extensive 2024 U.K. tour has been announced. Tickets are available here.

Best Classic Bands Staff

3 Comments so far

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  1. 122intheshade
    #1 122intheshade 23 November, 2022, 23:33

    Back in the early 70s, when a radio station might play a song in the lower reaches of the Hot 100, my local station played Kiki Dee’s version of “Love Makes the World Go Around”. Quite a contrast to “I’ve Got the Music in Me”.

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  2. Bob
    #2 Bob 24 November, 2022, 12:21

    I prefer the song I’ve Got the Music in me.

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  3. Trader
    #3 Trader 29 November, 2022, 20:29

    I was lucky to catch Kiki Dee in NYC in Central Park and Elton John came out and joined her on Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. This was in the mid 70s and it was a triple bill.

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