Last month, Kylie Minogue shared on Instagram a viral video of a dog, eyes closed in blissful repose, nodding along to its favourite song. The tune in question was Minogue’s 2001 classic Can’t Get You Out of My Head, a minimalist, timeless smash that, as the dog’s reaction clearly shows, affects the head as adeptly as the feet. A global No 1 that even the anti-pop brigade can enjoy, it is both the sweaty highlight of any wedding reception dancefloor and the crux of an argument in Words and Music, a gloriously verbose book by critic Paul Morley in which he calls it an example of pop’s “occasional odd shine of mind-changing art”.
Written by then semi-retired pop star Cathy Dennis and the former Mud guitarist Rob Davis, it was initially offered to S Club 7. Quite rightly, their manager Simon Fuller rejected it, before it was rejected again, more surprisingly, by Sophie Ellis-Bextor. It took Kylie 20 seconds of listening to the demo for her to realise the track was special. And what an opening 20 seconds it is: straight out of the gate there is that pulsating, unnervingly timeless bass line, instantly recalling electronic pioneers such as Kraftwerk and New Order (Kylie performed the song’s bootleg mashup with Blue Monday at the Brits in 2002, arriving on a giant CD) before the chorus arrives earlier than expected on a hypnotic flurry of “la, la, las”. (Also of note: the oft-ignored meandering organ flurries that lurk behind the verses, subtly massaging the song’s forward momentum.)
Preferring constant shape-shifting and delayed gratification (the title line and the “la, la, la” chorus only coalesce, brilliantly, in the song’s final 30 seconds) over traditional verse-chorus-verse structure, Can’t Get You Out of My Head is the perfect fusion of dance music’s hypnotic pulse and the melodic majesty of pop. It’s also surprisingly mid-tempo, giving it the eerie sensation of always being slightly slower than you remember it, almost as if the memories she sings about are fading.
Despite the song’s near fatal brush with S Club 7, this was always a Kylie classic in the making. Blessed with the perfect pop voice, she delivers each line with just enough blank space for the listener’s own interpretations. Is it about a crush? A recent heartbreak? Does the person Minogue is singing about know about the obsession? What is the dark secret she is harbouring? Even those infamous “la, la, las” take on several functions, catalysing an irresistible earworm, a delirious, dancefloor-ready singalong moment and a distraction mechanism for the recently brokenhearted.
If 2000’s more straightforward Spinning Around rightfully brought Kylie back to pop’s top table after a few years lost in indie, then Can’t Get You Out of My Head – complete with its sleek, retro-futuristic video of robotic dance moves and fashion-forward hoodies – elevated her to a new level of pop-culture ubiquity.