Released: 11th September 2000
Writers: Steve Torch / Graham Stack / Mark Taylor / Brian Rawling
Peak position: #2
Chart run: 2-11-18-25-40-49-59-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-75
It seems unfathomable now because, well, this is Kylie Minogue, and we all know what happened next. But back in 2000, On A Night Like This was a huge moment with a lot to prove. Spinning Around had been a massive hit – reaching #1 in the UK and Australia – but now the momentum needed to be turned into something that could go the distance. The gold hotpants were unquestionably iconic, but they alone were not going to sell an album and, let’s face it, Light Years was far too good to have been defined by a gimmick.
Although it’s hard to imagine anyone but Kylie Minogue performing On A Night Like This, it is – technically – a cover version. Albeit one where the original was so obscure (and recent) that it was treated as an original composition for all intents and purposes. The song was first recorded by Swedish singer Pandora for her album No Regrets, released in 1999. However, the team behind On A Night Like This were reportedly unhappy with the end result and felt it needed a better shot at success. So, they shopped it around, and Parlophone picked the track up for Kylie Minogue since it fitted the direction of the material she was working on. Incidentally, the song also ended up with another singer – Anna Vissi – and was included on her album Everything I Am, released a few weeks after Light Years.
Of the three versions, Kylie Minogue’s was most similar to Pandora’s recording. Which is to say, the two tracks are pretty much identical right down to the: “On a, on a, on, on a, on a…” backing vocals that open the song. There was no need to change anything – and not just because few people would have heard the original – because it fits perfectly into the ethos that Light Years was envisaged to capture. The album’s sound was intended to be boiled down to three themes: poolside, disco, cocktails. And with On A Night Like This, that is precisely what we got.
This isn’t an exceptionally long song; it’s right on the three-and-a-half-minute mark, in fact. Yet it’s over 30 seconds until the first verse kicks in, giving a real opportunity to showcase and bask in the glorious production. Rightly so, because the juddering, squelchy bassline and 9 PM (Till I Come)-esque bending, portamento synths form a fundamental part of On A Night Like This’s identity as Kylie gently whispers: “You kiss me…you touch me” in the background. The song knows precisely where it wants to take its audience, and the intro allows sufficient time for the mind to fleetingly escape to the bars and beaches of the Balearic Islands.
Yet, a sunny pop trip this is not. There’s a deep – almost unsettling – melancholy underpinning the verses as the beat bubbles and wails away. If ever there was an example to contradict the perception that Light Years was little more than a U-turn into mindless pop fluff, then this is it. The way Kylie Minogue breathily delivers her vocals: “Don’t…say… it’s like a fantasy, when…you-ooh-ooh…know this is how it should be” is unexpectedly transcendent, as if she’s a spectral presence within the track. And it’s here that it becomes apparent this is not an attempt to deny the existence of Kylie Minogue or Impossible Princess. Their influence is all across the way Kylie engages with On A Night Like This. Compared to the more direct delivery of Pandora’s version, the difference – an innate understanding of how to accentuate the subtle qualities of the instrumental – is palpable.
With that being said, Light Years was a deliberate attempt to create a different type of album. So it is not long before On A Night Like This crashes into a euphoric, arms-aloft chorus: “On a night like this, I wanna STAY forever (STAY forever), on a night like this, just wanna BE together, on a night like this”. The track is so well constructed; it never feels rushed but still manages to incorporate the critical elements of an extended dance mix, like the epic: “On a night like THI-I-I-I-I-I-I-IS” vocal runs. There’s even time for a delirious breakdown: “On a night like this, just wanna BE together-er…” leading into the climactic finale. Not a second of the song is wasted, and perhaps the biggest plaudit is that despite its origins, On A Night Like This never feels like someone else’s song; it totally meets – and exceeds – the brief that Light Years was aiming for.
Visually, it would have been so easy to reuse the same iconography as Spinning Around, since those hotpants were still very much à la mode as far as Kylie Minogue was concerned. And many acts would have done just that. Instead, she uses the opportunity to present something with a little more substance. Thematically, this is a dark video, particularly in comparison to the other singles from the album and most else that followed afterwards. She portrays the trophy wife of a stereotypically shady gangster – played by Rutger Hauer of Blade Runner fame – who has an unsettlingly intimidating screen presence. This isn’t a particularly plot-heavy piece, but the pair convey so much through their body language and behaviour. In the opening sequence, Kylie is standing on a diving board (in high heels), watching into the house as her husband issues a vaguely ominous warning to three men sitting in the room with him. The pair lock eyes, and she jumps into the pool before floating lifelessly to the surface. After pulling herself out of the water, Kylie Minogue walks to the window, peels off her dress and tosses it at the glass before walking away, as Rutger Hauer turns to the camera and smirks. The partial nudity doesn’t feel gratuitous. And while there’s nothing explicitly graphic shown, it’s very evident that if On A Night Like This were a movie – as it clearly draws inspiration from – it would not be aimed at the same audience as this music video. There’s a noir-ish tone to the whole thing that is brilliantly executed and very effectively portrayed.
That aesthetic is maintained throughout. When Kylie Minogue enters a casino and wins big at the craps table, it is not the bright, neon-drenched location one might associate with the Light Years campaign. Instead, it’s a much more serious affair with some really effective use of shadows to maintain Kylie’s character as one who exists within a murky world of misdeeds. After leaving the casino, she returns home, nonchalantly smashing an expensive-looking decorative vase on her way in. As she saunters past Rutger Hauer and slips off her dress, he stares intensely at her, completely fixated. Without a single word being spoken, the complexity of the power struggle in their relationship is all too apparent. But as the video draws to a close, there’s a suggestion that Kylie Minogue holds all the cards, despite what was earlier implied. Overall, this is a solid attempt to create something with a little more gravitas that could counterbalance the frothiness of Spinning Around. In hindsight – knowing what On A Night Like This would become – is this the video that would have been created? Maybe not. However, it sent a clear message that the Light Years campaign was more than just a throwaway frivolity.
On A Night Like This sold 51,000 copies to debut at #2 behind Modjo’s Lady (Hear Me Tonight) in the UK. It was a hit, no doubt, but perhaps not as much as the song’s enduring legacy would have you believe. The track spent one week in the top ten, and just five weeks in the top 40. It’s easy to forget, but as much as Kylie Minogue was riding the wave of a triumphant comeback, underneath it all, the performance of On A Night Like This was entirely ordinary by the standards of 2000. Nevertheless, when Light Years debuted and peaked at #2 a few weeks later, which was more than enough to firmly cement the narrative. Although again, the initial chart run – eight weeks in the top 75 – feels remarkably brief given the status it holds among fans (although the album did rebound after the release of Kids). It’s not to take anything away from what Kylie Minogue achieved; pop comebacks are never easy to pull off, particularly when framed within that bloody discourse of how great she was doing ‘for her age’ (32 years old). But none of this came as easily as is often perceived in hindsight.
Not for the first – or last – time in Kylie Minogue’s career, On A Night Like This has been shaped far less by what the single represented at the time and instead what it has become. So, whether it’s the deeply emotional undertone of Showgirl: The Homecoming Tour or the exultation of that long-overdue Glastonbury set, the lyrics can now be read with more profound meaning – as a sincere, celebratory statement of togetherness – than they might initially have possessed.
On A Night Like This – perhaps more so than any other Kylie Minogue single – was built to be performed to an audience. As a result, it’s consistently a tour highlight and while the studio version is a terrific song in its own right, on stage is where it comes alive and turns into something extraordinary indeed.