THE FORMATION, SUCCESS AND BREAK UP OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL PRODUCTION TEAM IN POP MUSIC HISTORY.
A Brief History of Stock Aitken Waterman Writer: Stephen O'Brien
In January 1984, Pete Waterman set up his record production company Pete Waterman Limited at the Stiff Records building in Camden Town. At the same time, Mike Stock and Matt Aitken had decided to give up their cabaret band and concentrate on breaking into the music industry as songwriters and producers. It is doubtful that either party anticipated joining forces, let alone have any inkling of the success that was to come their way.
Coventry-born Pete Waterman had spent most of the late 1960s as a club DJ, specialising in soul music, before joining Magnet Records as an A&R assistant in the early 1970s, where he broke records like Alvin Stardust's "My Coo Ca Choo" as well as signing Chris Rea and starting the disco craze with Silver Convention, a band that featured Donna Summer as their lead singer. He later set up Loose Ends Productions with producer Peter Collins, creating hits in the early 1980s for acts like Nik Kershaw, Tracey Ullman, the Belle Stars and Musical Youth. The seeds were sown for the future in 1981 when Pete was sent a song called "One Nine For A Lady Breaker" written and performed by a young man called Mike Stock. Mike had been working as a professional musician after finishing his drama and theology degree in the early 1970s, and had played on sessions for Radio 2, as well as singing on the famous Top Of The Pops cover version albums. One of his bands, Dodge, featured on TV talent show "Search For A Star", performing one of Mike's compositions - they came last, with the winner being "comedian" Jimmy Cricket. Unpeturbed by this knockback, Mike carried on writing songs while playing in his cabaret band, one of which being "One Nine For A Lady Breaker". Pete Waterman loved the song and bought the song from Mike, and produced it for a singer called Chris Britton in 1982. A couple of months later, Pete and Peter Collins moved themselves and Loose Ends to California.
Around this time, Matt Aitken met up with Mike Stock and joined his band as a guitarist. Matt had worked in local government after leaving school, before moving into music full time by playing in a covers band at American army bases in Germany. He moved on to cabaret bands, playing in hotels and cruise liners, before being introduced to Mike Stock. The pair hit it off and Matt also joined Mike's other band, who played songs written by Mike. Mike then built a small recording studio underneath his house in Abbey Wood, where he and Matt spent most of 1983 writing songs and producing local bands. Meanwhile, Pete Waterman spent much of 1983 disillusioned with life in California. It wasn't until he heard "Just Be Good To Me" by The SOS Band that Pete realised he was wasting his time in America and that he really wanted to make dance records, so he left Loose Ends and returned to England at the end of 1983. He initially teamed up with Barry Evangeli, a Greek who ran Proto Records, and was involved in the Hazell Dean hit "Searchin'", written and produced by Ian Anthony Stephens. It was at Proto he met Nick East, who went on to form Supreme Records. Around this time, Mike Stock disbanded his covers group so that he and Matt could concentrate properly on starting a career in the music industry.
It is in 1984 that the Stock Aitken Waterman story really begins. Firmly established in his Camden Town office, Pete Waterman received a call from Mike Stock, asking for a meeting. Pete agreed, and Mike and Matt turned up with a song they had written and produced with a keyboard player called Pete Ware called "The Upstroke", a hi-NRG female version of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax". Pete Waterman liked the song and decided to form a partnership with Mike and Matt. "The Upstroke" was released on Proto, performed by two-girl band Agents Aren't Aeroplanes (below right) - it wasn't a hit, but it was a club hit and was championed by Radio One's John Peel. Proto called upon Mike, Matt and Pete to produce "Anni-Marie Elena", the Greece entry for the 1984 Eurovision Song Contest, written and performed by Andy Paul. The single didn't do anything, and the song came last in the Song Contest. At this time, Mike, Matt and Pete weren't known as Stock Aitken Waterman - Mike and Matt were credited as directors, while Pete and Barry Evangeli were credited as producers. The first hit for the fledgling team came when they produced the hi-NRG stomper "You Think You're A Man" for Divine (below left), which reached #16. Pleased by this success, Proto asked SAW to work with Hazell Dean, which resulted in a Top Ten hit as "Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go)" reached #4. These two records took the hi-NRG sound and fused it with a pop sensibility that made it radio friendly. However, this success was cut short when Divine's "I'm So Beautiful" stalled at #52, while Hazell Dean's "Back In My Arms (Once Again)" just missed the Top 40, peaking at #41. Girl Talk's "Can The Rhythm" was another release that failed to chart. As the year drew to a close, Goth hi-NRG band Dead Or Alive asked SAW to produce their next single, which they wanted to sound like Divine. The single in question, "You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)", was released in December and entered the lower end of the Top 75, ending the year on a dull note for Stock Aitken Waterman.
1985 started off slowly for Stock Aitken Waterman, as their first release that year, Hazell Dean's "No Fool (For Love)" stalled frustratingly at #41, just like her previous single did. However, this was overshadowed by Mike, Matt and Pete getting their first number one single, as Dead Or Alive's "You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)" finally reached the top spot nearly four months after its release. Dead Or Alive (left) won further hits with "Lover Come Back To Me", "In Too Deep" and "My Heart Goes Bang (Get Me To The Doctor)", all taken from the SAW-produced "Youthquake" album. Fellow Goth-rock band The Danse Society also hoped to benefit from the magic SAW had weaved with Dead Or Alive, but "Say It Again" failed to chart, as did Canton's "Stay With Me" and Rin Tin Tin's "Shake It Shake It". Stock Aitken Waterman demonstrated a talent for soul-tinged pop this year, as Supreme Records artist Princess hit the charts with "Say I'm Your Number One" and "After The Love Has Gone". This new diversion was consolidated with American singer O'Chi Brown and her SAW written and produced debut single "Whenever You Need Somebody" (later covered by Rick Astley), while The Three Degrees scored a minor hit with "The Heaven I Need". Meanwhile, the hi-NRG sound that SAW had developed over the past year or so was giving way to a less frenetic, more pop-based sound, as typified by releases like Hazell Dean's "They Say It's Gonna Rain", Haywoode's "Getting Closer" and the two releases from pop svengali Tom Watkin's pop hopefuls, Spelt Like This. A very different SAW sound was apparent in the debut single from Brilliant, a band that featured Jimi Cauty of The KLF and top producer Youth. Their version of James Brown's "It's A Mans Mans World" won great acclaim, despite peaking at #58.
Chart domination was still a long way off for Stock Aitken Waterman in 1986, but the response to the records they released in this year was generally very positive. Brilliant released their SAW produced album "Kiss The Lips Of Life" to good reviews, but this, and the singles "Love Is War", "Somebody" and "The End Of The World" failed to make any great impression chartwise. Princess continued her success with "I'll Keep On Loving You" and "Tell Me Tomorrow" both reaching the Top 40, although her last SAW single "In The Heat Of A Passionate Moment" peaked at #74, after which Princess parted company with SAW and her record label, Supreme. Established girl group Bananarama (left), impressed by the Dead Or Alive records, teamed up with Mike, Matt and Pete for the start of a long association. The first single, a hi-NRG cover of Shocking Blue's "Venus", reached #8 in the UK, and hit the top spot in the USA, while the follow-up "More Than Physical" had to make do with the #41 spot. Dead Or Alive returned with "Brand New Lover", the first single from their forthcoming SAW-produced album, while Stock Aitken Waterman produced further singles for Haywoode and The Three Degrees. Hazell Dean returned to work with Stock Aitken Waterman after an unsuccessful spell with other producers, but "Stand Up" also failed to do anything chartwise. Mike, Matt and Pete moved into television as they wrote and produced "Living Legend", the theme music for BBC1's Roland Rat - The Series. Georgie Fame teamed up with SAW for two projects: a solo single, "Samba" and as a guest vocalist on the Mondo Kane single, "New York Afternoon", both proving the versatility of the three producers. The Georgie Fame-less Mondo Kane follow up "An Everlasting Love In An Everchanging World" failed to chart, as did O'Chi Brown's "100% Pure Pain", Splash's "Qu'est-ce Que C'est" and Morgan McVey's "Looking Good Diving", which featured Neneh Cherry on the B-side singing the original SAW-produced version of her debut solo hit, "Buffalo Stance". Mike, Matt and Pete produced two singles for Phil Fearon, cover versions of "Ain't Nothin' Like a House Party" and "I Can Prove It", although the latter single only credited SAW as having mixed the record. A hint of the success to come came with the debut hit for new SAW artists, Mel & Kim, whose "Showing Out (Get Fresh At The Weekend)" shot to #3 on the chart.
1987 was the year that Stock Aitken Waterman began the transition from trendy underground producers to untrendy mainstream hitmakers. Dead Or Alive scored a Top 20 hit with "Something In My House", although two other SAW produced singles "Hooked On Love" and "I'll Save You All My Kisses" fared less well. Mike, Matt and Pete gave former Wham! backing singers Pepsi & Shirlie a #2 hit with "Heartache", despite different producers being credited on the sleeve, and Mel & Kim (right) followed up the success of "Showing Out" with a number one for "Respectable". However, as third single "FLM" was released, it emerged that Mel Appleby had been diagnosed as having cancer, effectively forcing Mel & Kim to put their music career on hold while Mel fought the disease. The Sun newspaper recruited SAW to organise and produce the Ferry Aid single "Let It Be" to raise money for the families affected by the Zeebrugge ferry disaster - the single reached #1 and featured artists like Paul McCartney, Kate Bush and Mark Knopfler. Although releases like Debbie Harry's "In Love With Love" and Carol Hitchcock's cover of the Temptations' "Get Ready" just missed the Top 40, they fared better than Laura Branigan's "Shattered Glass", Hazell Dean's "Always Doesn't Mean Forever" and Precious Wilson's "Only The Strong Survive" which all failed to chart. Stock Aitken Waterman also had a big success as artists, with their rare groove track "Roadblock" hit the charts, after its release on a white label fooled DJs and SAW critics alike that it was an original 70s track. The Christmas follow up "Packjammed (With The Party Posse)" did less well, stalling at #41. Other artists like Samantha Fox and Sinitta benefited from the Stock Aitken Waterman magic touch, while the collaboration with Bananarama continued to pay dividends with a string of great tracks like "I Heard A Rumour" and "Love In The First Degree". Mike, Matt and Pete also teamed up with the girls to provide the theme music to ITV's music show The Roxy ("Amnesia"). Pete Waterman set up the PWL label to release the debut single by new signing, Mandy Smith (left), more famous as the teen lover of Rolling Stone Bill Wyman. The SAW written and produced single "I Just Can't Wait" didn't trouble the chart compilers, although the now famous "Cool and Breezy Jazz Mix" was an influential record in the acid house and Balearic music scene. However, the big SAW success of 1987 was undoubtedly the arrival of Rick Astley (right). Rick had worked as a teaboy at PWL before he got the opportunity to get in the recording studio, and his debut single "Never Gonna Give You Up" raced to the top of the charts. The follow ups, covers of O'Chi Brown's "Whenever You Need Somebody" and Nat King Cole's "When I Fall In Love" reached #3 and #2 respectively, while his debut album "Whenever You Need Somebody" topped the album charts. Despite this success, Stock Aitken Waterman found that other worthy releases like Edwin Starr's "Whatever Makes Our Love Grow", Michael Davidson's "Turn It Up" and Jeb Million's "Speed Up My Heartbeat" couldn't break into the charts.
The first SAW record of 1988 was possibly the most pivotal of their career. Not simply because it became their most famous (or even infamous?!) record, or because it launched the career of a 1990s icon, but because Kylie Minogue's "I Should Be So Lucky" gave SAW the final nudge into the public consciousness. This is the year that Mike, Matt and Pete became just as (If not more so) famous as the artists performing their songs, and truly launching the era of the super-producer. "I Should Be So Lucky" started the year off in fine style, staying at #1 for five weeks, and this success was followed by three further hits from Kylie (left), all peaking at #2. Kylie was joined at PWL by Neighbours co-star Jason Donovan, whose debut single "Nothing Can Divide Us" reached a very respectable #5. Mel & Kim returned to the Top Ten with "That's The Way It Is", but this success was overshadowed by Mel Appleby's tragic death shortly afterwards, as she finally lost her fight against cancer. Hazell Dean teamed up with Stock Aitken Waterman again, scoring a #4 hit with a revival of Anne Murray's "Who's Leaving Who", which she followed up with two further hits. After the release of "I Can't Help It", Siobhan Fahey left Bananarama and was replaced by Jacquie O'Sullivan,. who appeared on "I Want You Back", "Love Truth And Honesty" and "Nathan Jones" that same year. SAW also gained big hits this year with the two singles they wrote and produced for Brother Beyond, who gained the success they had been striving for during the previous two years, while Rick Astley returned with a largely self-penned second album, which formed a prelude to his split with Stock Aitken Waterman and PWL. Mike, Matt and Pete also wrote and produced a football song for the England Football Squad, but it couldn't get any higher than #64, while Stock Aitken Waterman's own single, the credible acid house track "SS Paparazzi", performed worse by peaking at #68. Pete Waterman teamed up with Liverpool-based independent radio station City FM to present a weekly show, called "The Hitman", where he played mainly SAW and PWL records, often months prior to release. As well as creating hits for Sinitta and Sabrina, SAW released "Let's All Chant", the first of six annual collaborations with Capital Radio DJ's Pat Sharp and Mick Brown, aimed to raise money for the radio station's Help A London Child charity. Finally, Stock Aitken Waterman bowed to popular demand and created a slushy duet for Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, which was tipped to be Christmas number one, but had to make do with the #2 slot, for now at least...
1989 was the year that the charts went Stock Aitken Waterman-crazy, as Mike, Matt and Pete had their most successful year. Kicking off with Kylie and Jason reaching #1 with "Especially For You", SAW were responsible for 23 singles in this year, and only one of these ("When Love Takes Over You" by Donna Summer) failed to reach the Top 40. These hits included charity singles by Bananarama & Lananeeneenoonoo's remake of the Beatles' "Help" (for Comic Relief), Pat & Mick's cover of Gloria Jones' "I Haven't Stopped Yet" (for Help A London Child) and a revival of "Ferry Cross The Mersey", to raise money for the families affected by the Hillsborough football tragedy, where 96 Liverpool football club were killed. SAW scored seven number one hits this year, four of these consecutively: Kylie's "Hand On Your Heart", Hillsborough's "Ferry Cross The Mersey", Jason Donovan's "Sealed With A Kiss" and new signing Sonia's "You'll Never Stop Me Loving You" (right). As Kylie-mania swept the UK, Pete Waterman teamed up with Coca-Cola for the first in a series of Hitman Roadshows, where Kylie, Jason and other PWL acts played at venues across the country - tickets were only available through a lucky dip procedure run by the local newspapers and radio stations, though Pete Waterman did organise additional Roadshows in Liverpool to tie in with his Hitman radio show on City FM. Donna Summer found her career revived by her collaboration with Mike, Matt and Pete, while newcomers Big Fun scored hits with "Blame It On The Boogie" and "Can't Shake The Feeling". Even Cliff Richard benefited from the SAW touch, with "I Just Don't Have The Heart" smashing into the Top Three. Kylie's second album "Enjoy Yourself" echoed the success of her first, while Jason Donovan's debut album "Ten Good Reasons" was also hugely successful. The year ended with SAW being tipped for the Christmas number one with Jason Donovan's seasonal-tinged "When You Come Back To Me", but this record was pushed back to #2 as SAW actually reached #1 with their Band Aid II revival of "Do They Know It's Christmas?". After such a phenomenal year, Mike, Matt and Pete must have been gearing themselves up for even more success in the next decade.
However, things started to look a little grim for Stock Aitken Waterman in 1990 as their tight grip upon the charts started to weaken. If anything, the songs were getting stronger and more interesting, but faced with a wave of new music genres like rave, techno, indie and baggy, the new SAW material didn't have the same impact it had had for the previous three years. Kylie was more popular than ever, as releases like "Better The Devil You Know" and "Step Back In Time" gained her more credibility, although her third album "Rhythm Of Love" didn't sell anywhere as well as the first two. This album also contained four tracks that Kylie had recorded with other producers, demonstrating that she wanted to move on from the sound that had established her. Jason Donovan (left) made the Top Ten with "Hang On To Your Love", but further releases from his second album "Between The Lines" like "Another Night" and "I'm Doin' Fine" did less well, moving critics to claim that the SAW bubble was about to burst. After two years of having a 100% hit rate with all their releases, Stock Aitken Waterman saw records like Kakko's "We Should Be Dancing", Romi & Jazz's "One Love One World" and Errol Brown's "Send A Prayer (To Heaven)" missing out on Top 75 places. American soul diva Sybil's first track with SAW, "Make It Easy On Me", won rave reviews, but just scraped into the Top 100, while new SAW girl band Delage peaked at #63 with their debut single, "Rock The Boat". Things looked good for Supreme Records' artist Lonnie Gordon (right), as she teamed up with SAW for her smash hit "Happenin' All Over Again", but her second single "Beyond Your Wildest Dreams" stalled at #48, and her PWL-produced album "If I Have To Stand Alone" was pulled when the single of the same name could only reach #68. New band Yell! followed up their first Top Ten with the SAW-produced "One Thing Leads To Another", but Fanfare Records went into receivership on the day of the records release, resulting in few copies reaching shops. Big Fun scored hits with "Handful Of Promises" and the charity single "You've Got A Friend" (with Sonia), but they lost their record contract with Jive when "Hey There Lonely Girl" flopped. Sonia continued to have hits, but left PWL allegedly over a problem with management, only to lose her record contract with Chrysalis. This meant that SAW, after three years of massive hits, were now dependent on Kylie and Jason for their chart presence.
1991 saw a great reduction in the number of SAW releases as they ostensibly tried to plan a new direction. Records like Boy Krazy's "That's What Love Can Do" (below), Paul Varney's "If Only I Knew " and "So Proud Of You", plus the Cool Notes "Make This A Special Night" demonstrated evidence of a new sound for the 90s, but such records didn't chart or weren't even released at all. Even singles by former chart acts, like Hazell Dean's "Better Off Without You" and Pat & Mick's "Gimme Some", did very little chartwise. Demoralised by the situation, Matt Aitken decided to leave PWL, a decision that shocked fans and colleagues alike. This event coincided with Pete Waterman signing a distribution deal for PWL Records with Warner Music UK. Jason Donovan scored a #17 hit with RSVP", while his final PWL single "Happy Together" fared better at #10. A successful "Greatest Hits" album marked Jason's passage from PWL to Polydor Records. Kylie Minogue recorded her final PWL album, "Let's Get To It", with Mike Stock and Pete Waterman, which won acclaim from the serious music press, but not from the record buying public.
Mike Stock and Pete Waterman carried on regardless and in 1992, started to see some return for their hard work. Although they only released 13 singles, tracks likeBananarama's Abba-ish "Movin' On", Kylie Minogue's "What Kind Of Fool (Heard All That Before)" and the WWF Superstars "Slam Jam" gave them sizeable hits. More worthy tracks like Nancy Davis' "If You Belonged To Me" (left) and Fresh's "Did I Say Ti Amo?" missed the chart completely, as (thankfully) did the cover of "Summer Holiday" by adult comic Viz characters the Fat Slags. Further singles from Boy Krazy and Pat & Mick also failed to chart. After releasing her #1 "Greatest Hits" album, Kylie left PWL, choosing to move on to trendy dance label, deconstruction. Bananarama's second single of the year, "Last Thing On My Mind", couldn't make it past #71, although Steps' revival of the song would give them a Top Ten hit six years later. Within PWL at this time, Pete Waterman was beginning to devote much of his time promoting bought-in dance records, like 2 Unlimited and Positive Gang, to keep PWL ticking over while he and Mike worked on regaining the success they had in the late 80s.
The start of 1993 seemed to suggest that the renaissance of Stock and Waterman was imminent, as they scored big hits with Sybil's "The Love I Lost" and "When I'm Good And Ready", as well as WWF's "Wrestlemania" and soap star Bill Tarmey's "One Voice". But this success lessened as further releases, such as Pat & Mick's "Hot Hot Hot" and Key West featuring Erik's "Looks Like I'm In Love Again", frustratingly stalled just outside of the Top 40. Poor Sybil (right) saw her next two releases "Beyond Your Wildest Dreams" and "Stronger Together" both stop at #41. Other bright hopes like Slamm and Suzette Charles saw their strong releases scrape into the Top 75, while a re-release of Boy Krazy's "That's What Love Can Do" again failed to chart. Bananarama's Top 30 hit "More More More" proved to be their last as they lost their record deal with London Records, due to poor album sales for the SW-produced "Please Yourself". However, the big event of 1993 was one that would have huge implications for PWL. Mike Stock dropped a bombshell in August as he announced he was leaving PWL, disgruntled by the sale by Pete Waterman of the SAW back catalogue to BMG Music, allegedly without Mike Stock's knowledge. The original partnership that had begun ten years earlier had now come to an end.