This meant there was room for some new stars. Two particularly memorable breakthroughs were those of Madonna and A-Ha – no longer could Smash Hits rely on home-grown artists from which to choose its cover stars. The biggest emerging British talent of the year arguably came in the shape not of a new band or solo singer, but a production team that would dominate the charts for the rest of the decade.
The STOCK AITKEN WATERMAN Story Part 1
On February 19th 1982, an obscure song by an unknown artist was released by Logo records in the UK. One Nine For A Lady Breaker, its title inspired by the recent craze for CB (Citizen’s Band) radio slang, was performed by “Chris Britton”, and it flopped. An inspection of the label reveals two salient pieces of information: that it was produced by Loose Ends Productions, and that one of its co-writers was one M. Stock. Loose Ends was a production company co-owned by Pete Waterman, and Chris Britton was writer Mike Stock under an assumed name: indirectly, this was the earliest collaboration between the primary writer and the main promoter of the Stock Aitken Waterman production team. Indirectly, because Waterman had little to do with the Chris Britton single: his Loose Ends partner Peter Collins took credit as producer for that. But when Stock needed a producer for another project in early 1984, he remembered the by-then defunct Loose Ends Productions involvement with his previous work and looked up Waterman to discuss it.
Stock had paid his musical dues in pub band Mirage since the 1970s. In the evenings, Mirage became Nightwork and worked the club circuit; they made a modest but satisfactory living. Various changes in personnel occurred over the year, but a key addition to the band was the 1981 arrival of Matt Aitken, a guitarist whom Mirage’s then singer had worked with on a cruise ship. In 1982, Stock had installed a recording desk and equipment in the basement of his home and started renting the facilities to clients. On New Year’s Eve 1983, he quit Mirage/Nightwork to concentrate on studio work and Aitken went with him. In addition to supporting other artists who used Stock’s studio services, they had an idea of their own for a female version of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, whose Relax was a huge hit at the time. They had a song (The Upstroke) and knew how the concept would work, but needed the backing of a record or production company to make it happen.
Turned down by their initial contacts, Stock and Aitken were in luck with Waterman: he met them in office space he was renting from Stiff records just days after his return to London following a period living and working in America. He had parted company with Collins, set up Pete Waterman Limited (PWL) and a publishing company, All Boys Music, and he was looking for a new project. He understood at once Stock and Aitken’s proposition: they were the band (called Agents Aren’t Aeroplanes, a quote from a John Le Carre spy novel – after all, the band name ‘Frankie Goes To Hollywood’ was originally a newspaper headline) and they would use two girls (sisters Diana and Julie Seabrook) to front it. The track was recorded on 14 February 1984 and a release was organized via RCA records “in association with The Proto Record Company”, the label owned by British-Greek Cypriot businessman Barry Evangeli. Billed as A Pete Waterman Production, Aitken and Stock received credits as co-writers and “directors”.
Their next projects also involved Evangeli. The previous year, singer Andy Paul had been a client using Stock’s recording studio. Paul had asked Stock to write him a song he could use at Eurovision in his bid to represent Cyprus. Stock obliged; Paul performed Anna Mari-Elena (the composer credit was to ‘Andy’, to imply Paul wrote it himself, due to rules at Eurovision) and came 15th of 19 on the night. Evangeli decided there was a market for the song with the UK’s Greek Cypriot community and put out a recording of the song, this time on Proto itself. He also engaged Waterman, Stock and Aitken to supervise recordings for two of his other clients: two singles for American drag queen Divine and an album for British singer Hazell Dean. Proto’s acts were popular in British gay clubs: “This was good news because by this time the gay clubs and discos were where new acts and records were being discovered. The gay community had become a powerful force,” Stock noted 1. The was particularly true for Dean: after a decade of trying, her breakthrough hit the previous year had crossed over from gay clubs and Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go), originally written by Stock for another artist, went to #4 and cemented her appeal.
It was this song that brought Waterman, Aitken and Stock to the attention of Pete Burns. He loved Whatever I Do and wanted a similar sound for the second album by his group Dead Or Alive. Unlike the other artists they’d worked with, Burns came to them with songs already written and Waterman knew at once which one would be the hit: You Spin Me Round (Like A Record): “It was fantastic. Easily their best song. I knew it was the one, but I was trying to act cool; I knew that the song was a smash, but I also knew that I didn’t have the budget to produce it.” 2
It was a good job that Waterman had come up via the ‘business’ side of music industry – A&R, budget control – as these were the skills needed with the Dead Or Alive project. The deal they had with CBS, Dead Or Alive’s record company, was to produce other, named tracks and the money CBS had provided only covered those recordings. Waterman had to create the appearance that those songs were being worked on while the priority track, You Spin Me Round (Like A Record), used up most of the budget. Furthermore, the other members of Dead Or Alive were unhappy with Aitken and Stock, almost coming to blows over their apparent exclusion of everyone except Burns (as vocalist) during the recording: “I was back at the office when Pete rang me up,” Waterman recalls. “He told me in no uncertain terms to get down to the studio before Steve [McCoy, Dead Or Alive’s drummer] chinned Matt and Mike. I went down and told the two of them to go off and have a break. Immediately. They did so… I sent Dead Or Alive home too. It was all too fraught. I told them that [PWL engineer] Phil Harding and I would finish off the record ourselves.” 2
This story indicates the type of relationship Waterman had at that time with Aitken and Stock: he seemed to believe he had assumed the role of manager to a pair of jobbing musicians with an interest in studio work. “The creative input from each of us would vary from song to song over the years, but if we were to have badges pinned to our lapels, then Mike’s would read ‘The Songwriter’, Matt’s would read ‘The Musician’, and mine would read ‘The Producer’,” Waterman wrote in 2000 2. Stock wrote in 2004 that a more accurate description of the division of labour was: “I wrote the songs, Matt and I produced them, and Pete promoted and sold them… there was no real role for Pete in the studio. He was out and about doing the business side of things… Pete’s role was to keep supplying us with work and putting us in touch with artists.” 1
This he did. As well as the Proto acts and Dead Or Alive, two other clients in 1984 were Lulu’s sister Edwina Lawrie and teenagers Girl Talk. The former (credited simply as ‘Edwina’ on the sleeve of her single and ‘Edwina Laurie’ on the label) recorded a cover of the Nik Kershaw track Dark Glasses; it flopped. (Kershaw had been a client of Waterman’s Loose Ends Productions.) Teenagers Girl Talk were signed to Inner Vision, the company who had just lost Wham! to their artist roster; Can The Rhythm just scraped inside the Top 100.
However, the team had had some success. As well as Hazell Dean’s Top 10 single, You Think You’re A Man by Divine had also made the Top 40 and they were about to score their first #1: their last single of 1984 You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) topped the singles chart early the following year, after a slow start. Despite various iterations of the order and nature of the credits on their recordings though, all declared Waterman as producer; Aitken and Stock were always named, but remained ‘arrangers’ rather than producers. “I didn’t like the idea. There was no tradition in the music industry for a director,” said Stock 1. Waterman had positioned himself as a kind of studio head, whereas Stock believed there should be greater equality in the partnership. The matter was becoming urgent given they now had a silver disc for sales of You Spin Me Round. So, shortly after the release of Lover Come Back To Me, the trio’s second single with Dead Or Alive, Stock proposed a more formal structuring of their business relationship.
1 Stock, Mike. The Hit Factory: The Stock Aitken Waterman Story, New Holland Publishers, 30 September 2004.
2 Waterman, Pete. I Wish I Was Me The Autobiography, Virgin Publishing Ltd, 5 October 2000.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Apr. 9
PET SHOP BOYS West End Girls (Epic A4292)
DEAD OR ALIVE (Pete Burns) Lover Come Back To Me (Epic A6086)
EURYTHMICS Would I Lie To You? (RCA PB40101)
SIMPLE MINDS (Jim Kerr) Don’t You (Forget About Me) (Virgin VS749)