How we wrote Kim Wilde’s ‘Kids In America’ by Marty Wilde

Kim Wilde & Marty Wilde
Kim Wilde & Marty Wilde

Kim Wilde with her father. Marty on writing Kids In America: “I’d probably not written for about five or six years when I started to write this song”

Learn about the 50s rock ‘n’ roll icon’s collaboration with his son Ricky that launched his daughter’s own pop career

Legendary pop icon, Marty Wilde MBE, is renowned as one of the pioneers of UK rock ‘n’ roll – the original British teen heart-throb of the 1950s. With a string of Top 5 chart hits by the time he’d reached 20 years old, Marty boasts a monumental global music career that’s spanned over seven decades.

However, many music fans born in the 70s will be more familiar with his daughter, the pop singer Kim Wilde, without realising that Marty co-wrote many of her hit singles, including Kids In America which he penned with his son Ricky. It was released in the UK as her debut single in January 1981, and in the US the year after, and went on to sell over three million copies worldwide.

In 2020, Marty released the studio album Running Together which featured his two daughters, Roxanne and Kim, and Ricky as a co-writer. We jumped at the chance of an interview and asked Marty how the classic early 80s track came together as a family…

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Kim Wilde - Kid In America

Released: 26 January 1981
Artist: Kim Wilde
Label: RAK
Songwriter: Marty Wilde, Ricky Wilde
Producer: Ricky Wilde
UK chart position: 2
US chart position: 25

“First of all, Ricky wrote a song on his own, which I liked very much, and he went to [legendary record producer] Mickie Most. He asked who was on the record, he saw Kim as well and said, ‘Does she sing?’ And of course she had, she’d sung backing vocals for me and I’d written little children’s songs for her [to sing] when she was only 10 or 11 years old. So when Mickie asked that, Rick said, ‘She sure does!’

“Ricky had this little computer called The Wasp [an analog synth designed by Electronic Dream Plant] it was a tiny little instrument, and he was writing songs on it. So anyway, he had come up with the melody [sings ‘We’re the kids in America’] that fitted perfectly with the lyric that I came up with.

“I’d seen a TV programme which was about a certain batch of young teenagers in America and they frightened the hell out of me, because their attitude was…quite interesting! They came across very single-minded and their attitude was was very hard, which of course, a lot of youngsters can have, at a certain age. But I thought, if the American youth are going to be like that, we’re going to have a third World War in a few months time! So with this song, I said to Rick, ‘That’s the title: Kids In America.’ Then, of course, I had a clear cut picture. I wanted this tough girl who was looking out of a window, looking at the nightlife and people, traffic rushing by and thinking, ‘What the damn hell am I doing sitting here? Let’s get down there, let’s follow the music! Once you are there, you’re in control, in that song. She is in control. It’s not the guy, it’s not the person she’s dancing with, she is in total control. And that’s what I got from watching those American teenagers, I thought that’s what they would be like.

“It came together fairly quickly, really. I mean, Rick is very productive, he’s a very talented writer and he’s full of ideas – we both were – and, of course, Kim’s input was important. We worked in a studio in Hartford with a group called The Enid – I think they’re still in operation. They were a wonderful group of musicians. So whenever we were in their studio, [they would create] whatever sound that we wanted. So if we wanted a French horn, or a bit more synth on this, or a more powerful sound there… They knew they could twiddle the knobs and get it up, so suddenly we had a French horn at the end of Kids In America and we had sirens and a great pulse… They were a very experienced band so we were helped, we were fortunate to have them, so there’s no question that The Enid must take some credit. All the tracks that we did there, which were on Kim’s first album, came very quickly.

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“It was one of those those times when I hadn’t really written anything of value and hadn’t been writing at all for some time – I’d probably not written for about five or six years when I started to write this song – so that layoff did me good. Because with lyrics, if you’re talking about love and after you’ve written [so many] songs on love, you start desperately looking around for a fresh angle. So I had the angles, I had fresh ideas and I felt like I was about 20 years old again! And with Rick being a young guy, the whole thing really went through like a dream. As we were finishing one song, he would get a melody line or I would get an idea and we’d be moving on to the next one.

Marty Wilde & Kim Wilde

Marty Wilde & Kim Wilde. Marty: “Sometimes you write a song you think: why in God’s name wasn’t that a hit?”

“[With the iconic ‘woa-a-oh’ backing vocal] there was always a gap there but we all thought it should be a vocal ‘answer’ and also something you which you can get a crowd to join in with. It was just a natural chant that came in and it was needed. It comes down to the arrangement, you couldn’t leave [it out] so that tiny little line really fills it up. And when Kim does a concert you can here them all going, ‘Woa-a-ohh!’

“It was like every song that I’ve ever been a part of, when I’m actually writing it, I’m 100 percent up for it. Sometimes you can be very wrong. I’ve been there many times, you can be part of a song that you think, ‘Oh, this is a smash!’ But whatever happens, you go in with that kind of enthusiasm when you’re writing because you need to keep your energy flowing. If you start to doubt yourself, your song will end up on a piece of paper in the corner of a room instead of being out on a record. So yeah, I still get a buzz. Sometimes you write a song you think: why in God’s name wasn’t that a hit? It’s one of those things, there needs to be a gap for a song to be a hit. There has to be a market for it and a bit of luck. [We had] phenomenal luck!”

Marty released the album Running Together in 2020 and he’s still touring with The Wildcats in 2023. You can find out more at martywilde.com

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