Better the Devil You Know
"Better the Devil You Know" is a song by Australian singer-songwriter Kylie Minogue, taken from her third studio album Rhythm of Love (1990). The song was written and produced by Stock Aitken Waterman. The song was released as the album's lead single on 30 April 1990 by PWL and Mushroom Records. "Better the Devil You Know" is known as the song that re-invented Minogue to a more sexual appeal, as her previous albums were presented with her "girl next door" persona, while her music onwards present an independent approach.
Musically, it is a dance-pop song that features elements of synthpop and disco influences. The song's title is referenced as an idiom. Lyrically, the song was said to be about Minogue's leaving of her TV series Neighbours and her relationship with her then-boyfriend, INXS frontman and singer Michael Hutchence. The song was lauded by music critics, who noted the imagery change in her music. They also complimented the song itself and felt it was one of Minogue's best, along as a highlight to, not just her studio album but her compilations as well. Commercially, it was successful. The song peaked at number two in the United Kingdom and four in her native Australia. In other regions, it managed to peak inside the top forty in all the countries it charted in, including France, Austria, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland.
The accompanying music video for "Better the Devil You Know" was directed by Paul Goldman and was filmed in Melbourne, Australia. Though its imagery was criticized for her mature-look, the video has also been iconic to Minogue's artistry style and imagery beyond the song. The song has been featured in most of Minogue's concert tours. The song has appeared in commercials, including Coca-Cola and the film If Looks Could Kill, and was later re-recorded in 2011 at the Abbey Road Studios for inclusion on Minogue's orchestral album The Abbey Road Sessions.
Background and composition
"Better the Devil You Know" was written by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, who also were the only producers and songwriters of Minogue's two albums after her debut. However, this album featured additional production by some minor producers. When the song wasn't first in the making, Minogue had announced she would be leaving the cast of the TV series Neighbours, to focus on her music career. After this, many fans of her role were upset and sadden by the leaving. Then, Stock, Aitken & Waterman lead member Peter Waterman said he was telling Mike Stock that Kylie had stopped going out with her Neighbours co-star Jason Donovan and said she was dating INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence. Waterman then commenting saying "how it was [better the devil you know] as they feared their lives were going to be hell as a consequence."
Musically, the song is a dance-pop song, which features influenced elements of electronica, pop music, Europop and synthpop. According to tabs.ultimate-guitar.com, the first verse features notes spanning from A-C#m-D-D2-Dm-E-Bm-D. When it reaches the chorus, the song spans from A-F#m-A-D, and repeats everyline. When it reaches the bridge, the songs chords span from A-F#m-A-F in each line. According to William Baker, a writer and one of Kylie Minogue's best friends, who wrote the book Kylie: La La La said "The song also featured a more mature sound, a more polished production and a vocal that was less layered than before." He then carried on saying about Minogue's persona as the Queen of Disco and Princess of Pop saying "The track transferred well onto the dance-floor and heralded a long reign for Kylie as the new queen of disco... a pop princess".
"Better the Devil You Know" is one of Minogue's most famous singles, and ever since its release it has received positive reviews from most music critics. Chris True from Allmusic highlighted the song as an album standout. Chris True reviewed her debut compilation Greatest Hits and said the song was "absolutely perfect for the unknowing." Johnny Loftus from Allmusic had highlighted it as an album standout on her compilation Greatest Hits. True then highlighted it from her compilation album Greatest Hits 87–97 as an album standout, as well as a highlight from Ultimate Kylie. Tim Sendra, however did not highlight it from her 2012 compilation The Best of Kylie Minogue but said "it's nice to hear 1990's "Better the Devil You Know" next to 2010's "All the Lovers" and realize that Kylie has never been less than a perfect pop star."
Jason Shawahn from About.com said along with "What Do I Have To Do" and "Wouldn’t Change A Thing"; "are nothing if not pop masterpieces." Hunter Felt from PopMatters said along with "Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi" and "Shocked" are pure pop moments. He then described it "as almost soulful rave-ups".
"Better the Devil You Know" became Minogue's fifth non-consecutive top two single, being blocked by Adamski's "Killer". The song stayed at number two for two consecutive weeks. The single spent a total of 10 weeks in the chart, and was certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and sold 329,000 copies there. In Minogue's native Australia, the song debuted at five on the week end of 10 June 1990. The song eventually peaked at number four on the charts and spent a total of thirteen weeks on the chart. The song was then certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) with sales exceeding 35,000 copies.
In France, the song debuted at number thirty-eight, and after weeks on the chart it peaked at number thirteen for a sole week. The song stayed in the charts for a total of sixteen weeks. In the Netherlands, the song debuted at number ninety-six. The song was very successful in that country, and peaked at number sixteen on that chart. It spent a total of thirteen weeks on the chart. It was very successful on the Belgium Singles Chart (Flanders), where it debuted at number twenty-eight. The song then rose and peaked at number five, becoming one of Minogue's most successful singles in that country. It stayed in the charts for a total of sixteen weeks. Peaked inside the top thirty in countries including Austria, Denmark and Switzerland. The song topped the charts in Israel, number four in Malaysia and eleven in Spain.
The music video for "Better the Devil You Know" was directed by Paul Goldman and was filmed in Melbourne. The video caused some controversy as it presented Minogue in a much more mature image than videos from earlier years.
In the video, Minogue can be seen dancing more suggestively than in her previous efforts. At the time she was dating INXS singer Michael Hutchence, she is wearing one of his rings in the clip, a large silver 'M'. His mother, Patricia Glassop a make up artist did the make up. The video remains a major milestone in Minogue's career, for it was the birth of a more experimental and sexual Kylie.
The song has become an all-time favourite amongst many people and is often considered a 1990s classic. In 1998, Australian record company Mushroom Records re-issued the song as part of their 25th Anniversary Celebrations. The re-issue reached #59 on the Australian ARIA Charts in 1998.
Formats and track listings
These are the formats and track listings of major single releases of "Better the Devil You Know".
(Not available at time of original release. Released for the first time as part of iTunes PWL archive release in 2009.)
Other official versions
British group Steps had recorded a cover version of the single for their second studio album Steptacular. Steps cover of "Better the Devil You Know" was later included as the opening track on their third studio album Buzz, however the song didn't serve as a lead single, but was released as a joint single.
A limited edition of the single was released as a digipack that was included with a doubled sided poster in the sleeve, one side was the group pictured in their dance outfits and the other side shows the groups in their costumes and the different scenarios that are shown throughout the music video.
Though it didn't managed to match the success of the original version, it did chart in some record charts including Australia, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium. It was the only song to chart in Switzerland.
Since its debut in the Enjoy Yourself Tour. "Better the Devil You Know" has been performed at all of Minogue's tours. In the Enjoy Yourself, Rhythm of Love and Let's Get to It tours, the song was performed as the original as the encore to each show. The song was then performed as the encore on the Intimate and Live tour where Minogue wore a red corset with red devil horns. For the performance, an array of men dressed in red briefs entered the stage for the dance section of the song. On the On a Night Like This tour, a big band version was performed where Minogue was in full white with a tailcoat and a top hat. In 2002, Minogue performed the song as the second-to-last song on her Fever tour. This too featured a dance section, similar to the one performed on the Intimate and Live Tour. Minogue then opened her Showgirl Tour with the song. She wore a blue corset, a showgirl crown and a blue bussel. In 2006 and 2007, Minogue again opened her Homecoming Tour with the song this time dressed in pink. In 2008/09, the song was used in a pre-encore act of her KylieX2008 tour. She performed it wearing a green feather dress. This song was then dropped and placed in the regular encore. In 2009, the same version was then performed on her North American tour as the opening to the encore. The song's most recent performance was on Minogue's Aphrodite: Les Folies Tour in 2011. The song opened her seventh act where Minogue wore a white tank top, blue hot pants and an orange feathery throw over. This version included a dance interlude at the beginning which had a very Latin-pop feel. There was also a dance interlude in the middle with the same sort of feel. Kylie performed an a cappella version of the song in the Kiss Me Once Tour, after a fan request.
The song was also performed on:
Steps performed the song on the following tours:
The song was covered by the Australian singer-songwriter Penny Flanagan in 1997, pop group Steps in 1999, peaking at #4 in the UK charts as a double A-side with "Say You'll Be Mine", and by Atomic Kitten in early 2000.
In 2009, European pop group Village Boys made a version of the song.