Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Best Of Stock Aitken Waterman: part 1

Seems like everyone's celebrating 25 years since something or other at the moment. This week in London, a special event is being held to celebrate two-and-a-half decades since the launch of PWL Records - and a host of acts who recorded with Pete Waterman (the majority of whom also worked with his partners, musical masterminds Mike Stock and Matt Aitken) are reuniting for a one-off gig I'd love to attend.

Since I'm over the other side of the world, I'll have to make do with counting down my favourite Stock Aitken Waterman singles. (OK, there are a couple that Aitken didn't contribute to, but I'm still including them). And just to keep things interesting, I'll start at the top and work my way down from number 1 to number 100 - the top 40 in this post and the next 60 in Part 2.

It's the best song she's ever released and my favourite song by any artist of all time, so it's at the top of quite a number of my lists. The third single from Rhythm Of Love doesn't rank as one of her biggest hits (number 11 in Australia, number 6 in the UK), but it's a song Kylie still performs live and has listed as one of her favourites. Rhythm Of Love marked a real shift in Kylie's career - as an album it signalled her branching out from the SAW sound, and image-wise, she went from girl-next-door to sex siren seemingly overnight. The single version (heard in the music video) isn't actually my favourite - I much prefer the album version, and recall making a friend play it to me down the phone when I'd yet to buy the CD.

2          I WANT YOU BACK Bananarama
By now well and truly ensconsed in the Hit Factory, Bananarama's WOW! album offered up no shortage of hits, and this track - the first re-recorded with new member Jacquie O'Sullivan after Siobhan Fahey quit the group - was actually the fourth single released. There are a couple of versions of the clip as well, which always confused me. Speaking of videos, the girls are also at number 3 - and I actually knew every dance move from the "Venus" video at one point. There was no hope for me, really, was there?

3          VENUS Bananarama
The song that gave SAW their first British chart-topper has been remade and remodelled - much like singer Pete Burns' face - over the years, but you really can't go past the 1985 original.

It's pretty uncontroversial to say that some of the artists SAW worked with weren't the most gifted of vocalists. but for every Kakko or Mandy Smith, there was a collaboration with someone like the Queen of Disco. Donna's Another Place And Time album featured some of SAW's best songs - and none more so than the second single released. Again, the single remix (below) actually made the song worse, with the album version (which you can hear by following the link above) is far superior.

6          TAKE ME TO YOUR HEART Rick Astley
By his second album, 1988's Hold Me In Your Arms, Rick had started to spread his wings, but the best track was still the only SAW-produced single lifted from it.

The big drawcard at the Hit Factory concert is the "decades in the making" duet between the former Neighbours co-stars and one-time real-life couple. Back in 1988, the song would have sold by the truckload regardless, but it was impressive that SAW, who weren't known for their ballads, could still come up with pop classic - probably in 15 minutes.

9          RESPECTABLE Mel & Kim
I talked about this recently when it appeared in my own 25-year stroll down memory lane, so I'll comment instead on "F.L.M." in Part 2.

10        THIS TIME I KNOW IT'S FOR REAL Donna Summer
11        HAPPENIN' ALL OVER AGAIN Lonnie Gordon
After a year which some describe as the beginning of the end for SAW - it might have something to do with The Reynolds Girls - the trio proved they still had what it took to produce a quality pop classic. Lonnie never had another big hit, which is a shame because her If I Have To Stand Alone album had plenty of great tracks.

14        LISTEN TO YOUR HEART Sonia
She surprised some by hitting number 1 with her debut, "You'll Never Stop Me Loving You" and this, her third single, was another top 10 hit for her in the UK. Sonia's perkiness annoyed many, but if ever an artist suited the happy-go-lucky sound of turn-of-the-decade SAW, it was the Liverpudlian redhead.

15        SHOCKED Kylie Minogue featuring DNA
18        THAT'S WHAT LOVE CAN DO Boy Krazy
A flop on its release in 1991, it took until 1993 for "That's What Love Can Do" to become a hit... in the US. Even a later cover by Toutes Les Filles in 1999 couldn't turn this song into a British chart success - but it remains one of SAW's best.

Sure, their voices were pretty weak, their dance moves were naff and their dress sense woeful... in fact, the fact that Big Fun had any success at all says more about the quality of the songs than it does about the group noticeably absent from the Hit Factory Live line-up.

22        WHATEVER I DO (WHEREVER I GO) Hazell Dean
Poor Hazell. She provided SAW with this, their first top 10 success in the UK, and should really have been the production team's Dionne Warwick. But by 1988 she was being handed Kylie's cast-offs and was still around in 1991 being given Lonnie Gordon's cast-offs. There are a number of Hazell's tracks on this list - and, although not many of them were big hits, they all should have been.
26        THE HARDER I TRY Brother Beyond
This boy band with instruments couldn't score a hit to save themselves until famously winning a SAW song at a charity auction. This and the SAW-produced follow-up at number 36 were their only significant UK chart entries, although they gained a post-SAW lease of life in the States in 1990 with "The Girl I Used To Know".
29        MAKE IT EASY ON ME Sybil
Actually, maybe Sybil was Pete Waterman's attempt at a Dionne Warwick. After all, her first two big British hits were both (non-SAW-produced) covers of Dionne classics. This track, a flop in 1990 and later covered by Steps for their second album, is a forgotten gem - as is the video, which features some producers working with Sybil in the studio who are definitely not SAW.

30        SO PROUD OF YOU Paul Varney
Paul was a member of the short-lived group at number 32, and this track, which probably would have been a top 10 hit in 1988 or 1989, failed to make its mark in 1991.

31        GET READY Carol Hitchcock
The bald-headed, nose ring-sporting Australian singer's high-energy cover of The Temptations' classic is what SAW should have done more of: great songs teamed with gifted singers.

33        DID I SAY 'TI AMO' Fresh
I don't know much about this group at all, except that by 1992, SAW's run of hits had all but dried up and they began working with ever more obscure artists. It's a good song, though!

34        SAY I'M YOUR NUMBER ONE Princess
A hit here in Australia (as well as back home in the UK) in 1985, the debut single from the artist born Desiree Heslop suggested a big future, but Princess didn't go on to become music royalty, with this her only significant chart entry.

35        THEY SAY IT'S GONNA RAIN Hazell Dean
36        HE AIN'T NO COMPETITION Brother Beyond          
37        HEARTACHE Pepsi & Shirlie
Wham!'s back-up singers came to the foreground for this big British hit, but their success didn't last with subsequent singles each performing worse than the one before. It's a shame because the ladies had great voices and some mighty fine skirts.

40        JE NE SAIS PAS POURQUOI Kylie Minogue

Part 2 will feature numbers 41 to 100, with the likes of SInitta, Mandy Smith, Samantha Fox, Brilliant and Divine still to come!


  1. Some all time classics in there Gavin. They sure were the "hit factory" but I didn't know that you liked over 100 songs that they produced. Wow! I thought my list of 30 was pretty decent. Here's it is anyway. I'm guessing that most (if not all) of the songs in it that didn't appear in your top 40 can be found in your top 100. hehe

    My Top 30 Stock, Waterman & (Mostly) Aitken Produced Songs

    1. VENUS - Bananarama (1986)
    2. RESPECTABLE - Mel & Kim (1987)
    3. NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP - Rick Astley (1987)
    4. SHOCKED - Kylie Minogue (1991)
    5. I WANT YOU BACK - Bananarama (1988)
    6. ESPECIALLY FOR YOU - Kylie Minogue & Jason Donovan (1988)
    7. LOVE IN THE FIRST DEGREE - Bananarama (1988)
    8. BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW - Kylie Minogue (1990)
    9. YOU SPIN ME ROUND (LIKE A RECORD) - Dead or Alive (1985)
    10. THIS TIME I KNOW IT'S FOR REAL - Donna Summer (1989)
    11. NOTHING CAN DIVIDE US - Jason Donovan (1988)
    12. WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO - Kylie Minogue (1991)
    13. STEP BACK IN TIME - Kylie Minogue (1990)
    14. THE LOCO-MOTION - Kylie Minogue (1987)
    15. MY ARMS KEEP MISSING YOU - Rick Astley (1988)
    16. HAPPENIN' ALL OVER AGAIN - Lonnie Gordon (1990)
    17. HELP - Bananarama & Lananeeneenoonoo (1989)
    18. GOT TO BE CERTAIN - Kylie Minogue (1988)
    19. BLAME IT ON THE BOOGIE - Big Fun (1989)
    20. WHENEVER YOU NEED SOMEBODY - Rick Astley (1988)
    21. YOU THINK YOU'RE A MAN - Divine (1984)
    22. I SHOULD BE SO LUCKY - Kylie Minogue (1988)
    23. WHAT KIND OF FOOL (HEARD ALL THAT BEFORE) - Kylie Minogue (1992)
    24. I STILL LOVE YOU (JE NE SAIS PAS POURQUOI) - Kylie Minogue (1988)
    25. HAND ON YOUR HEART - Kylie Minogue (1989)
    26. TOGETHER FOREVER - Rick Astley (1988)
    27. I ONLY WANNA BE WITH YOU - Samantha Fox (1989)
    28. SHOWING OUT (GET FRESH AT THE WEEKEND) - Mel & Kim (1987)
    29. CAN'T SHAKE THE FEELING - Big Fun (1990)
    30. SOMETHING IN MY HOUSE - Dead or Alive (1987)

  2. ohnoitisnathan15 July 2012 at 17:20

    I first became aware of Stock/Aitken/Waterman after reading the liner notes of my '87 Hots Up cassette and seeing that 'Respectable', 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Me Now', and 'I Heard a Rumour' all had a S/A/W credit. Over the next 6 months or so, I noticed that quite a few songs I liked on these compilations had a S/A/W credit.

    I've always found it surprising that S/A/W in a sense 'produced' the likes of Kate Bush on Ferry Aid's "Let It Be". Who would have thought she'd 'work' with them... even for charity. And did she use the Calrec Soundfield mic? ;-)

    1. Aaah, the Calrec Soundfield. Well if it was good enough for Donna Summer, it should have been good enough for Kate... I think Let It Be was probably early enough that the SAW backlash hadn't really set in so they probably got more artists than they did two years later for Band Aid II.

  3. Hi Gavin

    Great list of songs. So many memories. Your Top 5 is nearly on par with mine. Great choice for #1... But "Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi" should be higher... Love Kylie's French transformation even if it was for 3 months between Nov 88 and Jan 89.

    1. Yeah, and that bit of acting at the start of the clip was fun, too.

  4. I remember liking a lot of these songs at the time. I never liked what they did to Kylie Minogues 'The Loco-motion'. I've always preferred the one that hit the Australian charts, and not the one that was on her first album. Finn

    1. I really dislike The Loco-motion and much prefer Locomotion - but it's so hard to find the original Australian clip on YouTube and Max even played the British remix the other day. Biggest Australian single of the 80s deserves more respect!