Kylie Minogue has been a grinning, gyrating, ever-classy princess of pop since she began her career as a recording artist in 1987. She’s always been more of a Madonna-level superstar overseas, but those of us in the U.S. who’ve collected her singles, albums, remixes, and movies (I’m still processing Holy Motors, by the way) know her dance floor majesty is as admirable as her effortless maturity. She is — and this is a word I use sparingly to maintain its prestige — fabulous.
Today is Ms. Minogue’s 45th birthday, and since last year we toasted her birth with a decadent countdown, here comes another: We’re ranking Kylie’s 50 best songs. Ready to step back in time?
We’ve limited our selections to album releases because there are literally dozens of available Kylie B-sides. I’ll suggest that my favorite Kylie non-release is the X cut “I Don’t Know What It Is,” but that’s a debate for another day. Today, let’s plumb her 11 albums (and occasional collaborations with other artists on their albums) for her 50 finest tunes.
One of the darker tracks on Aphrodite features a whispering Kylie and the twinkliest, yet spookiest synths of her later career.
49. “Give Me Just a Little More Time”
This Chairmen Of The Board cover is buoyant and corny, with Kylie’s vocal popping off that dorky keyboard like a toaster pastry. It’s Kylie’s lack of self-consciousness that makes this track a zesty, cheesy triumph. (Don’t forget its bonkers b-side “Do You Dare”!)
48. “Under the Influence of Love”
Ohhhhh I’m — I’M! — under the spell of this swooning, nighttime blast of leisure-suited sensuality.
47. “Red Blooded Woman”
Is it controversial that I consider Body Language the best Kylie album? Its R&B/pop swagger (as well as Kylie’s sudden penchant for rapping) conceals sensitivity and intimacy, and “Red Blooded Woman” is a blippy, sweaty dip in self-possession and sex appeal.
46. “Where is the Feeling”
Commercially it’s considered Kylie’s least successful single to date, but “Where is the Feeling” is a yearning, indigo-tinged car jam. It also helps that the video is basically a carnal remake of Madonna’s “Cherish.”
45. “So Now Goodbye”
It’s Light Years’ hyperkinetic kiss-off that explodes into a million disco ball smithereens. It’s-OH-SO-tired-of-excuses, y’all!
44. “Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi”
This lilting, yet danceable ballad is full of tween angst and exactly five words of French. That percussion leading into the chorus? Sweet, heartfelt, and lovely!
They’re often compared, but Kylie Minogue comes closest to entering Robyn’s world of dizzy dancefloor wonderment on “Illusion,” the Aphrodite non-single that loses itself in a hypnotic, beeping motif in every chorus. An underrated Kylie moment.
42. “Wouldn’t Change a Thing”
“Wouldn’t Change a Thing” is all about the sincerity of those confessional verses (“Maybe I’m not right every time / But I know I’m right about this heart of mine”), and the addictively hiccupy chirps (“I-I-I-I-wouldn’t change!”)
41. “Never Too Late”
And speaking of sweet sincerity: Why can’t you try to be a maaaan about this? It’s never too late to change your mind, boys.
Admittedly I find the shadowy, melodramatic ballet in the video for “Chocolate” hilarious, but Kylie really achieves a one-of-a-kind mix of soulfulness, sultriness, and computerized vocal creepiness here. Plus, you have to love that transcendent break (“And I’m ad-dic-ted to you”) as well as that entrancing hip-hop breakdown (“Your candy kisses are sweet, I know“).
39. “2 Hearts”
X is my least favorite Kylie album of the post-Impossible Princess era thanks to its disconnected kitschiness, but the nervy, sinister vocal of “2 Hearts” and Kylie’s attitudinal announcement (“I’m in love, I’m in love“) are damn cool.
Fast-talking, electrified-in-love Kylie goes crazy and zaps us with fun during this keyboard blitz off Rhythm of Love. And who can forget that bridge, rapped by pre-Fefe Dobson wonder Jazzi P?
37. “All I See”
Gotta love a midtempo dance ballad performed entirely in one of Kylie’s sugary, yet vulnerable coos. The DJ’s got us feeling like we did when we first met Kylie — energized and fabulous.
36. “All the Lovers”
Do you need anything more in your life than a music video in which near-naked dudes pile up on the street, make out with each other, and get lost in Kylie’s goddess glare? “All the Lovers” is blissfully chilled-out, but its message is refreshingly libidinous.
Robbie Williams and Kylie rock out and shout on this jam, which I’d say is her fiercest collaboration to date.
This is a damn earworm. Kylie plays erotic Operation with us, connecting our collarbone to our neckbone to our jawbone and commanding us to “set [our] mind on Freaky Mode.” It’s an anatomy lesson and an innuendo-laden tribute to cellular technology.
Wow-wow-wow-wow is right! This song is lost in a Spirograph of color and lust, and we find ourselves convulsing with the beat.
32. “After Dark”
Love me some bass-heavy Body Language boot-knocking. This is a seriously sensual, dusk-till-dawn lovefest, and it’s impossible not to submit to its naughty come-ons: Feel sexy! Your body! Let’s take it to the floor!
31. “In Your Eyes”
I can tell what you’re thinking. My heart is racing, pulsing, and pouncing on this jam too.
30. “Burning Up”
Fever’s climactic jam is cold as ice cream and unhinged in its burning desire. Love the beguiling acoustic opener and the ho-hum lyrics that precede the no-holds-barred sensations of the chorus.
I often marvel at the fact that Kylie so easily filled the role of a modern-day Aphrodite on her 2010 album of that name, yet she struggled at playing the less-than-superhuman Cammy of Street Fighter. Nonetheless: The industrial beat and Kylie’s cheeky query (“Can you feel me on your stereo?”) make her a golden girl and, yes, an Aphrodite of the club world.
28. “Your Love”
This come-down jam is unassuming and gorgeous, a perfect counterbalance to the Euro glitz of the rest of Fever.
27. “Better Than Today”
Empowerment pop is always a favorite in my book, and “Better Than Today” bops along like the most righteous pride parade ever. “What’s the point of living if you don’t take a chance?… What’s the point of living if you don’t want to dance?” Beats me.
26. “I Believe In You”
This Grammy-nominated blast of celestial poppiness feels like its beaming down between the clouds, here to cascade us in rays of icy hope. It was the perfect addition to Ultimate Kylie, which should be any newbie’s first Kylie purchase.
25. “Love at First Sight”
This Dance Dance Revolution-ready radio hit makes everything go from wrong to right. As a pop veteran in 2002, Kylie was still capable of purring, “We were meant to be as o-o-o-o-o-oneee!” like she (and we) needed to the music to survive.
24. “Sweet Music”
Kylie’s strutting down the block and touting the hot new sensations, bragging about laying down a new track and making magic with her producer-lover. Among Kylie choruses, none thump harder than this. Love the line, “Let’s make this demo right!”
The crown jewel of X is this pretty thing, which culminates in one of the trippiest, sweetest breaks ever — with some ballsy innuendo, to boot. “I’m sensitized tonight / And you can watch me come alive.”
22. “On A Night Like This”
Seizing the moment is such a valiant disco ambition; here, Kylie is mesmerized by a dancefloor lover’s kiss and terrified of leaving the night behind. We’re there with her, hoping the heavy beats and breaths never end.
21. “Especially For You”
Look. You have to have a deep affection for Kylie’s schmaltzy days, and you’ve got to have a huge, tearful reaction to “Especially For You,” her duet with Jason Donovan that is emotional enough for prom, homecoming, an eighth grade dinner-dance, or a kindergarten graduation. Forget the loneliness and the sorrow!
20. “What Do I Have to Do”
Kylie took a moment to claim dancefloor urgency as one of her vital characteristics, and “What Do I Have to Do” contemplates her own meaningfulness as a disco diva. “What do I have to do to get the message through? / How can I prove that I really love you?” By being your immaculate damn self, KM!
19. “Step Back in Time”
Kylie nonchalantly namedrops the O’Jays (and the old days) in this kickass, strut-to-the-beat ode to bygone eras of groove. Did she mention that she also wants to funk? She wants to F, F-U, F-U-N-K, she wants to funk! Call up The Temptations, because this innuendo is a ball of confusion.
18. “Come Into My World”
Michel Gondry gifted us with the magnificent “Come Into My World” video featuring several Kylies in the freshest H&M gear I’ve ever seen, but the song itself is also a comely request for companionship. It won Kylie her only Grammy, the 2004 trophy for Best Dance Recording. Bonus? It was co-written by redheaded ’90s diva Cathy Dennis, who also co-wrote the 2003 Grammy winner in the same category, Britney Spears’ “Toxic.”
17. “Your Disco Needs You”
Heralded as Kylie’s finest moment by many, “Your Disco Needs You” is as stern as Uncle Sam in its quest to get you hustling and grapevining on the dancefloor. It culminates in a wonderful explosion of end-of-the-world zeal, with Kylie rising above the fray as our glitterball-wielding deity.
You knew it was coming. Carole King’s swingin’ ditty for Little Eva sprang back to life as Kylie’s breakout U.S. hit, and though it’s not the least dated jam in Kylie’s oeuvre, it’s still plenty charming. Jump up, jump back, and love it again.
This. This could be the wickedest rarity in Kylie’s catalog. The “secret” track of Light Years plays open-sesame with your inhibitions, torturing you to break free and unlock the code to the dance underworld. It is a hard-rocking, booty-shaking blast, and when Kylie coos, “I take you for a gambling man,” you’re ready to put all your chips on her dance card.
“Breathe” would be a meditative masterpiece if it weren’t so confrontational, deadpan, and sexually domineering. Impossible Princess’ unassuming heartstopper trips into unexpected carnality in its choruses, assuring you “It won’t be long now” as you try to time your hyperventilation.
13. “Got to Be Certain”
For my money, this is the single most beguiling tune in Kylie’s catalog. On the surface it’s a smiling prude anthem about making up your mind before unlatching the chastity belt, but the song itself contains an ABBA-level pop riff that is effing intoxicating. Stock, Aitken, and Waterman trick you with teenage sentiments, then trounce you with a locomotive of addictive synth sizzle. It’s the most played song on my iTunes. No joke.
12. “Where the Wild Roses Grow”
Forget “Flower.” The floral Kylie masterpiece will always be this Nick Cave duet, her by-and-far most unexpected song. As Nick croons in his terrifying, funereal style about where the roses grow “sweet and scarlet and free,” Kylie haunts us with a static vocal and her most cryptic lyrics to date. It’s a moving story song and — in vocal and in the video — Kylie gives a strong, strange acting performance.
11. “Cowboy Style”
This stylistic mishmash (featuring a deep Celtic sound that, maybe, Alison Krauss could fiddle along with) is a hard-driving, adrenalized, sexualized quest for freedom. How do you deal with the fact that Kylie sings, “I am frightened / I’m aroused / I’m enlightened to the now” and totally sells it?
Body Language’s saucy opener is a sweltering Grace Jones tribute whether in its original or Chemical Brothers-remixed format, but the important thing is it makes you want to bask in its erotic throes either way. Kylie herself said it was her favorite single on Watch What Happens Live, and it’s easy to hear why: This is a teasing, tantalizingly naughty gem.
9. “I Should Be So Lucky”
The fluffiest and funnest of Kylie’s early hits, “I Should Be So Lucky” is fancy-f*cking-free.
8. “Get Outta My Way” Get ready to pound the catwalk: Aphrodite’s best track is a determinedly fierce, hard-stomping winner that wants you to embrace your defiant side and shout, “This is what’ll happen if you ain’t givin’ your girl what she needs.” Apparently, celestial dancefloor magic is what happens when I don’t give my girl what she needs. Who knew?
7. “Spinning Around”
Cowritten for (and by!) Paula Abdul and her onetime American Idol colleague Kara DioGuardi, “Spinning Around” is Light Years’ coolest, most liberated dance opus. The hook in the chorus is unforgettable upon first listen, and Kylie’s gold-lame shorts in the video are just as soothing a balm to the senses.
6. “Timebomb” I am still getting over “Timebomb.” It is a note-perfect, three-minute pop bullet, a dance anthem that wriggles into your nervous system and throbs even harder upon every new listen. For me, it was the best dance song of 2012, and every time I hear it again, time stops, even as Kylie whispers “Time is ticking oh-so-fast.” Do you wanna dance like it was the last dance? The answer is yes, until the end of time.
5. “Hand on Your Heart” It’s a ballad! It’s a dance song! It’s the the dorkiest and single greatest Stock-Aitken-Waterman production in Kylie’s history. Talk about dancefloor command. Even this early on, Kylie was hollering at suitors, “Put your hand on your heart and tell me it’s all over!” I love its updated version on The Abbey Road Sessions, but I’ll always love it most as a hopeful, heartbroken phone call from 1988.
Some lucky U.S. customers got “Butterfly” on their copy of Fever, but luckier homosexuals elsewhere got to collect it in its original incarnation on Light Years. Guys. It is fire. It is a blitzing, wing-flapping, runway-dominating flame vortex. If butterflies are what Kylie wants, let her be the Monarch, because this jam turns any club into a happening, hard-thrusting gay bar.
3. “Confide In Me”
Demanding intimacy is a Kylie strong suit, and her performance on this gently prodding, yet desperately longing track is so lovely and vulnerable. This could be a Sinead O’Connor song, but Kylie’s comfort in provocatively challenging a lover to be more honest is one of her greatest audio moments.
2. “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”
The undisputed Kylie triumph, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” is a pulsing, somnambulatory march through the most hypnotic beat of the past 20 years. Amateurs may contend its a typically “Euro”-sounding pop moment, but “CGYOOMH” is just too cool, streamlined, and ice-hot for debate. La-la-la forever, kids.
1. “Better the Devil You Know” This 1990 powerhouse ranks at #1 for a single reason: It’s Kylie nailing, for the first and most substantial time, her greatest asset: dancefloor urgency. She’s sweet, but not spineless. Tough, but not rabid. In “Better the Devil You Know,” Kylie forgives, forgets, and proclaims, and our spirits crescendo along with the song as she navigates the pangs of love. “BTHYK” is the blueprint for all of Kylie’s future plans, substantiating her as a dependable, rational, and rightfully regal source of pop majesty. Your turn. What are Kylie’s greatest songs? Wish the Aussie legend a happy 45th!