Just to make things clear, before you launch into this expecting a detailed analysis of ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’, this article is not about that Mel and Kim. If you were hoping to read about Mel Smith and Kim Wilde then you better hop back up to the search box at the top of the page and try again.
No, this article is about Mel and Kim Appleby: the sparky pop sisters from Hackney who got nations both side of the Atlantic singing the word ‘Respectable’ in a funny robot voice.
Mel, born in July 1966, was the first of the pair to enter the showbiz world (via the not so poppy world of glamour modelling and shoots for Mayfair magazine) in 1985; she went into the recording studio with Alan Whitehead (who was also responsible for her earlier – ahem – ‘work’) and produced two demo tracks. Not long after that the solo artist became a duo, working alongside her older sister Kim and the pair soon received a record contract from Supreme Records.
While they were with Supreme the president of the label – Nick East – introduced them to the then very new, but soon to be the 1980’s all-conquering pop producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman (SAW) who got busy preparing what was to be both the girls’ first single and their first hit. ‘Showing Out (Get Fresh at the Weekend)’ was originally meant for Bananarama but the trio decided it wasn’t for them. This worked out well for the Appleby sisters in 1986; there was a hugely positive reaction to the track on its release and it went to number three in the UK and number one in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and on the U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart.
The might of the SAW machine ensured their follow up release was even more successful: ‘Respectable’ got to number one in the UK in March 1987 and proceeded to do the same in seven other countries, as well as taking the top spot on the Hot Dance Club Play chart in the U.S. again. Everybody knows this one….’Tay, tay, tay, tay, t-t, t-t, t, tay, tay, take or leave us, only please believe us, we ain’t never going to be respectable!’ See, you’re singing that now, aren’t you?
It was so popular that self-styled Grebo band Pop Will Eat Itself used a sample of ‘Respectable’ in their song ‘Hit the Hi-Tech Groove’ the same year. Less meaningful was a cover of the track in 2001 by girl band Girls@Play (it’s fine if you’re looking quizzical now: neither I, nor anybody else in the country noticed them at the time or indeed, remembers them now) who were also produced by Mike Stock and Matt Aitken (the ‘S’ and ‘A’ of SAW). It got to number 28 in October 2001 and the band split up in November.
By now Mel and Kim were big names on the UK pop scene and were particularly noted for their glamorous street fashion style (big shoulders, tiny waists and natty hats), not to mention ENORMOUS hair (remember how big backcombing and excessive amounts of hairspray were in the eighties? These girls embodied this trend).
Third single ‘F.L.M.’ (‘Fun. Love. Money.’) got to number seven in Britain - the album of the same name reached number three on the UK album chart in April. It stayed on the chart for 25 weeks and went platinum.
As well as the fame, Mel had a lot more going on in her life. Back in 1985 she had been undergoing treatment for a type of cancer on her liver. In January 1987 she began to have back problems, which, by June of that year had been diagnosed as cancer in her spine. Mel and Kim took a break from their showbiz life to let Mel get the medical help she needed and although they didn’t confirm it then the British press jumped ahead with a terminal diagnosis.
In 1988 the pair released their next single, ‘That’s the Way it Is’ with a video noticeable for the girls’ absence, save from a picture of the two right at the end. Mel actually left hospital in order for her to record her vocal part in the studio. The song went to number ten, meaning that all four of their released singles went top ten in the UK.
Their second album remained unfinished as Mel became too sick to continue recording; she died in January 1990 aged only 23.
Kim continued as a solo artist, helped out by her then songwriter and manager boyfriend Craig Logan, the former Bros bassist. Her most famous track ‘Don’t Worry’ contained lyrics which referred to her recent loss, offering a message of hope for recovery from grief. It went to number two in the UK, and further singles from her debut album ‘Kim Appleby’, which was released in November 1990, also hit the charts: ‘G.L.A.D.’ reached number ten in February 1991, ‘Mama’ got to number 19 and ‘If You Cared’ made the top 50. These tracks had been co-written by Mel and had been intended for their second album.
A second album, ‘Breakaway’ was less of a success and was only released in a limited capacity in 1993. Later singles also failed to break the Top 40: ‘Light of the World’ and ’Breakaway’ got to numbers 41 and 56 respectively, in 1993 and ‘Free Spirit’ reached 51 in the UK charts in 1994. In 2007 she made ‘High’, a single released only as a download and three years later Kim featured on a track called ‘Took a Minute’ by Levthand, which was released in Europe.
As another string to her bow, Kim has also had small acting roles in various television shows and, as yet another, has been chair of the selection panel which chooses the Best Contemporary Song for the Ivor Novello Awards for several years.
Information on what Mel has been up to since circa 2010 is scarce: a quick look at her website reveals a banner spread over the home page stating ‘Closed for maintenance! Website will relaunch by end of August 2012’…