Monday 16 October 2017

"Kick" by INXS, at 30

Kick, released on the 19th October 1987, was the sixth studio album from INXS and remains their most successful, with almost 14m units sold.  It spent 85 weeks on the ARIA album chart (peaking at number 2), 81 weeks on the US Billboard chart (peaking at number 3) and 103 weeks on the UK album chart (peaking at number 9).

To help celebrate its 30th birthday, here’s a retrospective of the album…
Following the release of Listen Like Thieves (which I wrote about here) in October 1985, the band toured it through until July 1986.  After the tour ended, the band had a short break (during which Michael Hutchence appeared in Dogs In Space) before appearing in a series of outdoor concerts across Australia, organised by their manager Chris Murphy, featuring Jimmy Barnes, Divinyls, Mental As Anything, The Triffids, Models and I’m Talking.  The band then reconvened with Chris Thomas (who’d they’d worked so successfully with on Listen Like Thieves) to start work on the next album.  “We started from where that [album] finished,” Tim Farriss said in interview.  “Chris really understood the band by then. He'd flown around the world to see us play. He said, ‘My goal is to make you come across on record the way you do live. And’ - these were his very words - ‘you haven't done that yet.’”

Andrew Farriss agreed.  “What Chris brought to us was sort of an extension of what we were already feeling.  His attitude was very daring and free. He trusted our vision, and I have to say that his belief in our confidence was so important.”

INXS and Thomas based themselves at Rhinoceros Studios (which the band part owned) in Sydney, where the 180 degree layout meant they could all play simultaneously and see each other.  “[They] asked me to use their engineer, David Nicholas, for the recording.  I went along with the idea and it was fantastic – there was a direct communication with him.”  It was such a successful partnership, the two men worked together for the next eight years.
gatefold CD cover
from left - Tim Farriss (guitar), Garry Gary Beers (bass), Andrew Farriss (keyboards/guitar), Kirk Pengilly (guitar/saxaphone/clarinet/backing vocals), Jon Farriss (drums), Michael Hutchence (vocals)
Track Listing
1:  Guns In The Sky (M. Hutchence)
2:  New Sensation
3:  Devil Inside
4:  Need You Tonight
5:  Mediate (A. Farriss)
6:  The Loved One (Clyne/Humphreys/Lovett)
7:  Wild Life
8:  Never Tear Us Apart
9:  Mystify
10:  Kick
11:  Calling All Nations
12:  Tiny Daggers
unless noted otherwise, all songs by A. Farriss/M. Hutchence

One of the biggest lessons learned from Listen Like Thieves was that successful singles drove big sales and, as Kirk Pengilly said later in interview, “we wanted an album where all the songs were possible singles”.  The huge success of What You Need gave Andrew and Michael the confidence to try something different and whilst on tour in Germany, Andrew suggested an idea.  “I felt incredibly confident,” he said later in interview.  “Even before I'd started writing for Kick, I knew the audience was there for it. I said to them, ‘If you trust Michael and I to write the whole of the next record, it will be massive. We know what we're doing.’”

Using What You Need as their template, Andrew and Michael sequestered themselves away to start writing.  “The melding of funk and rock was always in our heads,” said Andrew, “and we were very excited about the idea of overlaying two types of songs and genres together.”  On the subject of focus, he said, “I think what makes the Kick album so dynamic is that we weren’t so much interested in what everybody else was doing as we were on what we wanted to do.”

Michael & Andrew work on Mystify (frame from the video)
A lot of the songs were written on tour.  Mystify was demoed in Chicago (“on an old 16-track tape recorder”) and New Sensation was another early song, though the demo gave it more of a blues feel.

Devil Inside was written in a hotel on Edgware Road, London.  “I wrote the riff and recorded the demo in my room,” said Andrew, “played everything for Michael and he said, ‘Let’s run with it’”.

INXS had already recorded The Loved One (originally written by an Aussie band in the 1960’s called The Loved Ones) in March 1981 as an Australia-only stand-alone single (which I blogged about here).  It was Tim who suggested they record it again, this time as a “balls-to-the-wall blues-rock track”.

Never Tear Us Apart was written in New Zealand and demoed with keyboards and guitars but Chris Thomas felt it needed a more formal sound and suggested strings which, as it turned out, fit perfectly with Michael's lyrics.

Chris Murphy had scheduled a European tour to follow the recording but, as with Listen Like Thieves, Chris Thomas felt something was missing.  Since this same feeling had yielded What You Need, Andrew and Michael went to Michael’s apartment in Hong Kong with orders “to create a hit single in two weeks”.
The Hong Kong sessions started well - and quickly - with Andrew coming up with the riff to Need You Tonight before he left, though he was convinced he’d heard it before (as I wrote about here).  He demoed it at home in Sydney as a taxi waited to take him to the airport, telling the driver to hang on while he recorded it.  “The driver was oblivious to my creative urges and reminded me that unless I got in the cab I was going to miss my flight,” Andrew said in interview.  “I made the plane with just minutes to spare and flew to Hong Kong.  Michael loved what I played him, said, ‘Give me a pad and a pen’ and wrote the lyrics in something like an hour.”

Andrew wrote the music for Kick the day before inspiration struck with Need You Tonight, though the demo was acoustic and Michael wanted to toughen it up and play it as a straight rock song with plenty of brass.  Calling all Nations rounded out the Hong Kong demos and when Chris Thomas heard them, he knew the album was done.  The session “produced some really important material,” he said, “and that gap gave them a chance to think and realise what was and wasn’t working.  It swung the album around.”

Following a couple of weeks recording at the Studio De La Grande Armée in Paris, the band went on the pre-arranged tour and then met up again with Chris Thomas in Paris to listen to the album.  Chris Murphy was also there and everyone present knew they’d captured something special.  Chris Murphy immediately flew to New York to play it to the top executives at Atlantic, the band’s label but unfortunately they didn’t hear the same thing.

“They hated it, absolutely hated it,” he said.  “They said there was no way they could get this music on rock radio. They said it was suited for black radio, but they didn't want to promote it that way. The president of the label told me that he'd give us $1 million to go back to Australia and make another album.”  Worse, the Australian and European labels didn’t get it either.

Kick, therefore, became INXS’s biggest challenge.  “I don’t know where I got the strength,” a shocked Murphy said, but decided the best way to deal with it was to do it themselves.  He took inventory of the band assets and made the executive decision to gamble them to break the record in America - on the understanding that if they won there, the rest of the world would follow.  He didn’t tell the band but hired a promo team and used guerilla tactics, gaining favour from inside Atlantic (though the rock people didn’t know how to market it, nor did the funk team) and in the end it was Andrea Guinness, the head of college radio promotions, who became his ally, saying she could make it a hit.  Murphy organised a string  of concerts at colleges and, as an excellent live act, the band won over the fans, the reception pushing Atlantic Records into adding Kick to their schedule.

When it was released, Kick was an instant hit and Murphy’s gamble (he didn’t tell the band about it until much later) had been a resounding success - after years of building their reputation, INXS were suddenly one of the biggest bands in the world.
To support the album, the band mounted the enormous Kick World Tour which started at East Lansing in Michigan on 16th September 1987 and took in America, Canada, the UK, Europe, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.  The tour ended on 13th November 1988 at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, having played to more than 3 million people.

Once the tour was over, the band members took a year off, pursuing individual projects and enjoying time with family and friends.  Michael collaborated with Ollie Olsen on the Max Q album and appeared in Frankenstein Unbound (as Percy Bysshe Shelley), Andrew produced Jenny Morris’ Shiver album and toured it, Tim produced a documentary called Fish In Space and contributed to the music along with Kirk and Jon whilst Garry toured with Absent Friends

The album yielded 5 singles:
Need You Tonight/Mediate, backed with I’m Coming (Home), was released on 23rd September 1987 (re-released in the UK in November 1988, it hit number 2, their highest ever chart position)
Devil Inside, backed with On The Rocks, was released on 13th February 1988
New Sensation, backed with Guns In The Sky, was released on 31st March 1988
Never Tear Us Apart, backed with Different World and Guns in the Sky (Kick Ass Remix), was released on 8th August 1988
Mystify, backed with What You Need (12” remix), was released on 15th March 1989

All five singles also had accompanying videos (as did a couple of the ‘b’ sides)

Need You Tonight was directed by Richard Lowenstein.  It featured a combination of live action and animation, the visual effects created by cutting up 35mm film frames and photocopying them, before re-layering the images over the original footage.  Given his pick of album tracks, Lowenstein chose this because “it spoke to me with all the funk and syncopation and clean sounds. I knew I could do something with all those rhythms. Michael’s sexy, I said that’s the one, if you want a No. 1 hit give me that one.”  The video took three months to produce and ended up winning five MTV Music Video Awards including Video Of The Year (1988).

Mediate was directed by Richard Lowenstein and is a deliberate homage to Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues (which worried the band).  It was filmed, without permission, outside a steel mill in Newcastle, Australia and captured in three takes.  Lowenstein said, “the only person who was supposed to have rhythm, Jon Farris the drummer, messed it up and couldn’t get his placards [turned over] in time! We had to speed it up, you can see it speed up and slow down if you watch closely.”

Devil Inside was directed by Joel Schumacher and filmed in Balboa, California.  Kirk Pengilly didn’t like it as he felt it was “too American”.  For me, I think it now stands as the archetypal 80s video.

New Sensation, Guns In The Sky and Never Tear Us Apart were all directed by Richard Lowenstein and filmed in Prague.  “I’d gone to Prague on a film festival,” he said in interview, “[and] it was like going back in time.”  The country was then behind the Iron Curtain so it had hardly been seen on film and Lowenstein knew they could “do long, slow, incredible shots.”  New Sensation and Never Tear Us Apart (it’s not often a song’s sound and vision match so perfectly, to my mind) were scheduled to be shot there and Lowenstein managed to film Guns In The Sky in various corridors while waiting for shots to be set up for New Sensation.

Mystify was directed by Hamish Cameron and created whilst filming the In Search Of Excellence documentary.

The videos were collectively released as KICK: The Video Flick which also included behind the scenes footage.  It was released in the UK by Channel 5 video and I still have my VHS copy.
“Sometimes we think, ‘How'd we get here without being a pack of assholes?’ It's pretty rare. That's what it's about: respect for your position and appreciating it. . . . And I know we're going to keep going. We may burst our own bubble, but I don't think we're going to let anybody else do it for us.”
- Michael Hutchence, Rolling Stone magazine interview, issue dated 16th June 1988

“Generally speaking, I suppose making Kick was the best fun I’ve ever had – it was the pinnacle.”
- Chris Thomas, interviewed in 2002.

Kick was certified 7x Platinum in Australia (the second biggest selling album on the Australia charts for 1988), Diamond in Canada, Gold in France, Germany and Hong Kong, Platinum in Switzerland, 3x Platinum in the UK and 6x Platinum in the US showing total sales of around 14m units.

INXS were nominated as Best Group at the 1988 Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Awards.  At the 1989 awards they won for Outstanding Achievement and Best Group while Never Tear Us Apart won Best Video and was nominated for Single Of The Year.  The band would be inducted into the ARIA Hall Of Fame in 2001 alongside The Saints.

Kick received a nomination in the 1988 Grammy Awards and INXS was nominated as Best International Group at the 1989 Brit Awards.

At the 1988 MTV Video Music Awards, INXS was the night's biggest winner and nominee, with five awards from nine nominations.  Need You Tonight received eight nominations and won five (Viewers Choice, Video Of The Year, Best Group Video, Breakthrough Video and Best Editing In A Video) whilst Devil Inside earned one nomination (for Best Editing).  New Sensation was nominated at the 1989 Awards.

Receiving their platinum album - manager Chris Murphy is standing
between Garry and Andrew in the pale brown suit
Critically, it was well received.  All Music gave it 4.5/5, Christgau’s Record Guide rated it a B, The Encyclopedia Of Popular Music gave it 4.5/5, the LA Times awarded it 2.5/4, Q Magazine gave it 4/5 and The Rolling Stone Album Guide gave it 3.5/5.  BBC Music reviewed the 2004 Deluxe Edition, calling it “a near flawless collection of songs”, Ian McFarlane in the Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop wrote it was “the band's most enduring release by mixing the hard rock sound of Thieves with a looser approach to dance grooves”, while Newsweek said it had “a hard-driving, irresistibly danceable sound and a sexy, live-for-the-moment attitude -- tempered with just a dash of social consciousness.”

Personally, I think Kick is INXS’s best album and sounds as fresh and exciting today as it did 30 years ago, full of energy and excitement, superb musicianship and a crisp, clear production.

Happy 30th birthday Kick and thanks for all the good times.

Story To Story: The Official Autobiography, by INXS and Anthony Bozza
Chris Thomas Interviews
The 100 Greatest Bands of All Time: A Guide to the Legends Who Rocked the World edited by David V. Moskowitz 25 Iconic Australian Videos
Tour information (oocities)
Music - Andrew talks KICK, track by track
Mix Online Classic Tracks
Rolling Stone article - INXS: New Sensation
X tour programme
Sales certification figures


  1. I love this record (and INXS' other ones too)! I recently posted a blog post about my INXS book and vinyl collection. All the songs on KICK are great, but I always thought Guns In The Sky sounded better live, what do you think? :)

    1. Thanks for your comments, I had a look at your book and vinyl collection, impressive! Apart from X (bought just before I succumbed to buying a CD player), all my INXS was CD but I've since gone back and bought a lot on vinyl, which sounds much better.

      And yes, Guns is a superb live track!

  2. I clicked over from the Summer Special post to look at the Devil Inside video breakdown then over to this - a great tribute, overview and breakdown. Thanks for this! I remember watching that MTV music Awards the night it aired. I had the cassette for "Kick" at the time (like everyone!) but I didn't love it the way I do more. It's a masterpiece of an album. It and "Hysteria" by Def Leppard still get a lot of airplay in my office and kitchen; 1987 casts a long shadow.

    1. Thanks for commenting B, glad you enjoyed the post (and hope you liked the Summer Special one too!). I know what you mean about 1987...

  3. It's interesting how there is no mention of the album cover and the important role it played in the success of the album, Richard Lowenstein took the album cover as the concept. It was recently voted by INXS fans as the best album cover the band has done, in a landslide. But management hated it and tried to stop the cover coming out as it did because it scared Chris Murphy that the focus would now be on Michael