Released in September 2001, Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head went on to become the Australian Popstress’ biggest hit and one of this century’s most popular and influential hits.
Amazingly, the song was written by Cathy Dennis and Rob Davis during their first-ever songwriting session together. Can’t Get You Out of My Head became the first song in UK radio history to have 3,000 radio plays in a single week, it went to number one in every European country bar Finland, it gave Minogue her first US top-ten single in more than a decade and has sold more than four million copies. The track won three Ivor Novello Awards for 2001.
M spoke to the award winning songwriters Cathy Dennis and Rob Davis about how they wrote this enduring pop hit.
‘We wrote the song at home, in my old house in the autumn of 2000. I think it was Simon Fuller who put us together via Universal Publishing,’ says Rob. ‘It was the second song I wrote with Cathy. We had two days together and on the second day we wrote Can’t Get You Out of My Head.’
‘It was a very natural and fluid process,’ remembers Cathy. ‘The whole thing – and it does annoy me, as it will annoy others – was written in about three and a half hours.
‘We know how hard we work sometimes to write songs and then spend months picking them to pieces, but this was the easiest process, the chemicals were all happy and working together.’
Rob explains that they started off using Cubase software on a Mac computer, running a 125 bpm drum loop and playing along with an acoustic guitar. ‘Then Cathy started singing, “I just can’t get you out of my head” to a D-minor and we just built the track up as we went along. The demo was done in about three hours, the vocals all laid between about 12pm and 7pm.’
The seeds were watered and they very quickly sprouted into something bigger than any of us
‘Rob and his late wife were very hospitable during the session, with a near-constant stream of snacks served up’, says Cathy. However, mental images of a sleek state-of-the-art studio environment are dispelled as Cathy reveals that they used ‘the most primitive set-up you could imagine! Different producers work in different ways. But it’s good to be reminded you don’t have to be reliant on equipment. A song is about melody and lyrics and being able to take something away in your memory that is going to haunt you.
‘We had the “can’t get you out of my head” bit and we had the bridge, but it needed another hook and that was the “la-la’s”. We knew it didn’t need another lyric, so I just went “la, la, la…”’
Can’t Get You Out of My Head revived the electro-pop style song, which had fallen out of vogue for about a decade. ‘Rob had an off-beat guitar idea and I had a drum production idea of something like Jason Nevins’ mix of Run DMC’s It’s Like That. Then Rob came up with more chords and I had an idea which was kind of Kraftwerk-y and we just carried on like that,’ she adds.
Rob explains that Cathy sang the whole song on the demo, including harmony vocals, and some of her vocals were kept in for the Kylie version too. ‘The Kylie version is basically the demo, same key and everything. It wasn’t mixed and mastered but the parts were all there. I think I added a little bit of guitar and strings when we mixed it,’ he says.
‘None of the sections in the song conform to the typical verse-chorus structure,’ Cathy explains. ‘They’re misplaced sections that somehow work together, and that’s because we didn’t try to force any structure after the event. The seeds were watered and they very quickly sprouted into something bigger than any of us.’
‘It breaks a few rules,’ Rob agrees, ‘as it starts with a chorus and in comes the “la’s” – that is what confused my publisher when he first heard it.’
Simon Fuller heard it and decided it wasn’t right for his group S Club 7. Then Sophie Ellis-Bextor turned it down, confides Rob. Shortly after he met Kylie’s A&R man Jamie Nelson and sent him a demo cassette. He loved it and wanted it for Kylie, and just a month later he had booked her in to record the vocals later that year. Rob was convinced the appointment wouldn’t be kept, but it was.
‘Even though Kylie wasn’t the first artist to be offered the song,’ admits Cathy, ‘I don’t believe it was meant to go to anyone other than Kylie, and I don’t believe anyone else would have done the incredible job she did with it, with the video, looking super-hot!’
After the pair had finished the song, Rob recalls: ‘We thought it was good, but obviously we didn’t think it would be as massive as it turned out to be.’
Watch Kylie’s live performance of Can’t Get You Out of My Head from Aphrodite Les Folies, Live in London.
Can’t Get You Out of My Head – Written by Rob Davis/Cathy Dennis
Published by Universal/MCA Music Ltd. & EMI Music Publishing Ltd.