A QUARTER of a century ago this month, a sequence of symbiotic events altered the fabric of Australian popular culture and set in motion the transformation of a squeaky 19-year-old soap actor from Surrey Hills into an international pop icon.
It was 25 years ago this week that the name Kylie Minogue appeared on the music charts for the first time. The teenager's dinky electro-dance remake of the '60s classic The Loco-Motion made its debut at No.10 on the Australian Music Report (pre-ARIA charts) and within two weeks nabbed the top spot, staying there for seven weeks, becoming the biggest-selling single by an Australian artist in the 1980s.
Who could have imagined this tiny, unsophisticated star of Neighbours, with the bad '80s perm and questionable vocal ability, would go on to become Australia's single most successful entertainer and a world-renowned style idol?
It was no great surprise to Amanda Pelman, the woman who guided the launch of Minogue's music career. ''I don't think she was ever professionally naive,'' says Pelman, who originally signed Minogue to the Melbourne-based Mushroom Records. ''She always knew where she wanted to end up. She had a total vision. I'm not sure she knew how she was going to get there but she figured it out.''
Pelman was tossed a demo cassette of Minogue singing The Loco-Motion by Mushroom boss Michael Gudinski after every other label in the country had passed on the chance to sign her.
Pelman knew nothing of Minogue's work on Neighbours or the sizeable fan base it brought her. The idea of a TV star releasing a successful record was virtually unheard of at the time, but not entirely unique - actor Mark Holden had a string of minor hits in the late 1970s while starring on The Young Doctors.
Pelman decided to do some research on Minogue. She called Jan Russ, the casting director from Neighbours. ''And she was falling over backwards with praise,'' Pelman says. ''She said, 'Oh look, she's much more talented than her sister [Dannii Minogue, star of Young Talent Time].'''
Pelman convinced Gudinski to sign Minogue. Gudinski had already received some encouraging support from his tween niece and nephew in Britain, where Neighbours was also quickly becoming a phenomenon. ''I played them the song and told them it was Kylie from Neighbours,'' Gudinski says. ''They said, 'There's no Kylie in Neighbours.' So I phoned Australia that night to find out the name of her character and the next morning I told them, 'It's Charlene,' and they went absolutely nuts: 'We love Charlene - she's our favourite!'''
Back home in Australia, Minogue's chart debut was the culmination of a month of unprecedented media saturation focusing on the soap starlet.
July 1, 1987, saw the on-screen marriage of her character Charlene to boyfriend Scott, played by her real-life beau Jason Donovan. It was the highest rating episode ever of an Australian soap and landed the couple on the cover of Time magazine. The following day, a shopping centre appearance in Sydney caused One Direction-esque mass hysteria. On July 12, the eve of her single release, Minogue was given the honour of hosting the final weekly episode of the ABC's long-running Countdown music show. A week later, she and Donovan were presenters at the last Countdown Music Awards. It was at the event's after-show party that Minogue met her future mentor and lover, INXS singer Michael Hutchence.
Initially, Minogue's foray into music was met with widespread derision from critics, the music establishment, her co-stars on Neighbours (many of whom would soon release singles of their own) and even employees within her record label. ''There were people at the time saying, 'This is the end of Mushroom - how can you be doing this?''' Gudinski says. ''It didn't faze me.''
The negativity soon turned into revolt. Radio stations proclaimed themselves Kylie-free zones; the media labelled her ''The Singing Budgie''; one backyard entrepreneur in Melbourne turned a tidy profit printing ''I Hate Kylie'' T-shirts.
''I got really pissed off at times where people were trying to put her down and call her a one-hit wonder - it was just ridiculous,'' says Ian ''Molly'' Meldrum, former Countdown guru and one of Minogue's most vocal supporters from the outset.
''It was hurtful for her, people knocking her all the time. But she had such a strong devoted fan base already in Australia that just got bigger and bigger, so it didn't matter what those people said.''
With a massive hit single on her hands but no manager, Minogue was in need of someone to look after her affairs. Gudinski considered taking on the job himself, but Pelman talked him out of it. ''Michael had said to me maybe we should do a management company and manage her and I reminded him that he had vowed to his wife Sue that he was never going to manage anyone ever again,'' Pelman says.
So Terry Blamey, who was running his Pace Entertainment talent booking agency out of the Mushroom offices in Dundas Lane, Albert Park, asked Gudinski if he might offer himself as a potential manager. Gudinski figured the clean-cut family man Blamey would appeal to Minogue's accountant father Ron, who remained dubious about anything to do with the music business.
''I made the introduction between Terry and the parents,'' Pelman says.
''And it was a beautiful marriage and still is. I have to say, as much as I will always maintain that she is 99 per cent driving the car, he's remarkable for what he's done.
''Every time I walk into that Dundas Lane building and look at the bottom of that staircase, I can see Terry and I standing there and me going, 'Yeah sure, I'll give you the phone number.'''
Does Pelman regret passing up the opportunity to manage one of the world's biggest stars?
''Absolutely not,'' she says. ''Not a day, not a moment. I don't think we would ever have made a great team as an artist/management. And as much as I loved our early days of working together and proud of what we did and what we created, it would never have worked.''
Pelman went on to executive produce Minogue's next two hit singles, I Should Be So Lucky and Got To Be Certain, along with her debut album, 1988's Kylie, and all its associated video clips, before going on to pursue a successful career as an event producer and theatrical casting agent. To this day, Gudinski still handles Minogue's music publishing and local tours.
''She's reinvented, she's outlasted, she's shown more nous than anyone,'' Gudinski says. ''I would never underestimate Kylie Minogue and whatever she attempts. I think there are a lot more interesting things than just music coming from Kylie in the near future. It's amazing how time flies but it's certainly one of the most lasting careers in the Australian music industry and you'd have to say she's one of the greatest ambassadors Australia has ever had.''
■Dino Scatena is the author of Kylie: An Unauthorised Biography.