Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

STOCK, AITKEN and WATERMAN

Songwriting and production team who ruled UK singles charts mid/late '80s: ex- club DJ Pete Waterman (b '47) appointed himself the major player, with Mike Stock (b '51) and Matt Aitken (b '56) contributing to well over a hundred hits. They emerged from the hi-energy disco scene '84 with pop hits for Hazell Dean, Divine and Dead or Alive, then perfected their production techniques until their bank managers were very happy. They told Time magazine that they have 'pretty much a hard and fast rule that no one we work with is over 25'; this helped to avoid anyone who could not be extruded by the production machine. The ménage included Bananarama, three pretty girls; Mel and Kim, two pretty girls; and Kylie Minogue, one pretty girl; someone called Sonia was probably not unattractive; Samantha Fox was famous for the size of her mammaries, having shown them to millions of tabloid readers; Jason Donovan and Rick Astley were pretty boys. Minogue and Donovan were the teenaged stars of an Australian soap opera, an Australian commentator defining Minogue's appeal as her 'blinding ordinariness', a British critic whose job required him to attend her live act describing her as a 'prancing dancing antiseptic swab'. The funniest artefact was Astley's version of 'When I Fall In Love' '87; not only was he covering a classic Nat Cole hit, but SAW programmed their computers with an imitation of the original Gordon Jenkins arrangement, and the result was so bad that it helped the reissued original into the UK charts after 30 years. Yet they must have had a higher hits-to-releases ratio than any other producers in history, with a knack for creating sounds that the tabloid readers wanted to hear. Waterman's knowledge of pop music was astonishing: 'Yes, we listen to everybody's records, and we make records like them. That's what we do, and that's what everyone else does, too, and anybody who says different is a liar.' The records sounded exactly as they were supposed to sound on the car radio, and if the artists quickly disappeared from the charts when SAW were through with them, millions meanwhile patted their feet at the jolly noise. The cheap and cheerful production style of their South London studio (the Hit Factory) saw SAW reviled by contemporary critics for Thatcherite economics, but they made up for their lack of aesthetic principles with insidious pop landmarks, the epic 81-track compilation A Ton Of Hits '89 on PWL proving them to be the nearest their mindless decade had to offer to a Holland/Dozier/Holland formation. Waterman's late-night TV dance show The Hit-Man And Her was another landmark of the era's kitsch; he also played with his trains (not toy ones: he had real trains, having purchased British Rail's Special Trains division during the privatization carnival), and became internationally known as a breeder of Koi carp. Stock and Aitken went on to make stars of actors Robson and Jerome (who began singing on TV's Soldier, Soldier as a plot device): 'Unchained Melody' was the biggest-selling single of the '90s so far, 'I Believe' the fastest seller of '95, with a no. 1 album and no. 1 video, old songs and electronically-generated backing sounds combining to make the ultimate in wallpaper music. Stock and Aitken also went on to sue Waterman for a fairer share of royalties on their earlier work.