Part 1 of our Stock Aitken Waterman story covered the first year of the production team’s partnership, in which they released twelve singles by seven different artists, generating four Top 20 singles including one #1. In part 2 we look at the two years that followed that, when they worked with 28 different acts to release four times as many singles. Mike Stock had now resolved his issue about the ‘director’ credit he and Matt Aitken had received during their first year of working with Pete Waterman: it was agreed everything would be split three ways, regardless of the actual division of labour on each recording – there was to be no ‘senior’ team member. Business arrangements sorted, a huge increase in output from May 1985 to May 1987 followed, but the number of Top 20 singles did not increase proportionally. Only 11 of the 48 singles made that mark and just two of those were #1s, one of which was a charity single. Listed below are the artists they worked with in this two-year period, divided into those who produced hits and those who did not.
Stock Aitken Waterman (hereafter SAW) continued to work with the two names they made albums with in their first year (Hazell Dean and Dead Or Alive – see Part 1) and those relationships continued to yield hits. They also had hits with Smash Hits cover stars Bananarama, Debbie Harry, Mel & Kim and Pepsi and Shirlie, whose careers are discussed in other articles in this blog along with that of Samantha Fox: today’s featured single was her first collaboration with the producers. The other artists SAW recorded with in the period relevant to this article were:
One of the first acts to record at new studios in The Borough, Southwark that would later become known as ‘The Hit Factory’, Brilliant had a number of members but was fronted during its final year by Jimi Cauty (later to marry Alannah Currie of Thompson Twins), former The Dream Academy backing vocalist June Montana, and ex-Killing Joke member Youth. The latter’s most notable achievements were as a producer of various hits, but Brilliant’s only album (Kiss The Lips Of Life, WEA BRILL1, 8 September 1986) was by-and-large a SAW production. “That was deliberate,” Youth told Record Mirror. “It’s just the contemporary sound of dance music. Rather than sound like a Seventies funk thing, we wanted to go for an Eighties dance groove.” They went to the right team, then. Unfortunately, within weeks of the album’s release, Brilliant split.
Slightly scary Australian model and actress. With her bald head and men’s shirts, she would have been a dead-ringer for Ilia in ‘Star Trek The Motion Picture’ if it hadn’t been for her nose-ring. Her cover of Get Ready was a one-off collaboration with SAW. It was a minor hit here but did better business for her in her homeland.
A charity single in response to the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, recorded from 14-16 March and featuring dozens of Smash Hits cover stars and many of the other artists listed in this article.
Known as Sharon Haywoode when she was a model and dancer, she signed with CBS for a singing career in 1982. Her work with PWL was not hugely successful (Getting Closer just scraped inside the Top 75) despite the strength of the material: You’d Better Not Fool Around was among the best of the early SAW productions. She released several singles recorded with a number of different producers and as a result her much-delayed debut album Arrival resembled a ‘greatest hits’ when it eventually appeared in middle of 1986. By that time, she had finally scored a major hit with the SAW-unrelated Roses but success was to be short-lived. A couple more singles under her birth name of Sid Haywoode on a different label followed a few years later, and that was that.
Billed on sleeves as “Stock Aitken Waterman present Mondo Kané featuring Dee Lewis and Coral Gordon”, Mondo Kané was the combined talents of a number of PWL associates. DJ Chris Hill was responsible for the project coming about; the first single, New York Afternoon, included ‘Guest Star’ Georgie Fame (q.v. in ‘Misses’, below) whom Hill had long admired and recommended that SAW use as the solo singer.
Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who recorded for much the 1980s under the name Galaxy. Fearon collaborated with various other singers and musicians as Galaxy but there was no group as such; he was the only permanent member. Gradually the Galaxy credit was dropped and the first of his SAW-produced singles I Can Prove It was released under his own name. It made the Top 10 but was his last big hit.
Session singer Desiree Heslop provided backing vocals on the Brilliant album and when SAW wrote the song Say I’m Your Number One, they asked her to record a guide vocal for the demo. Her warm, rich and sensuous voice was so impressive it was decided the demo wasn’t required after all as there was no need to offer the song to another artist, the song would be hers. PWL’s bank manager apparently agreed: on the strength of the demo, he loaned Waterman £30k at a time when the studios desperately needed it. At the time, Nick East had just left promotions at Proto to start his own record company, Supreme, and it was agreed the single would be a great first release; the new label’s tagline, “A Statement In Soul”, indicated the change in direction East was taking from Proto’s Hi-NRG output. It was also a change for SAW, who were moving away from Hi-NRG towards pop and commercial R&B. (By this time they had broken all ties with Proto; the aforementioned Hazell Dean was now signed to EMI.) Heslop’s records were released under the name Princess, apparently the idea of her manager brother Don, who wanted ultimately to market her as a female, British Prince. Her producers didn’t see her like that at all; the superb album Princess (Supreme SU1, 6 May 1986) they wrote for her cast her in a much softer light, a kind of ‘big sister’ figure for her target audience. The heavier, more aggressive closing track, Just A Tease, the only one written by the Heslops themselves, indicated the direction they wanted to take Princess. Accordingly, she moved to Polydor, engaged new producers, released the risqué single Red Hot (“You’re too cool, baby/Do you like boys, or do you like girls?”) and promptly disappeared. It’s difficult to predict what a second SAW-produced Princess album might have sounded like; it’s a great shame that we’ll never know. Say I’m Your Number One “established our credibility quite sensationally all over the world,” according to Waterman, and made money all involved, ensuring PWL got over its cash-flow problems. “That one record was a statement that we were going to stand on our own and not worry about anyone else. It was the record that made Stock Aitken and Waterman and we didn’t care if we failed after that, because we’d proved to ourselves just what we were capable of.” Their subsequent output proved it to everyone else.
The Three Degrees
Formed in the early 1960s in the US, and hugely successful in the 1970s in the UK (When Will I See You Again was a #1 in 1974; they embraced disco at the end of the decade and had a string of hits with Giorgio Moroder), there had in fact been nine Degrees by the time this vocal trio became Supreme’s second signing. Miquel Brown (mother of SAW associate Sinitta) became the tenth Degree when Helen Scott went on maternity leave in 1986 and a replacement was needed to help promote their second SAW-produced single (see 8 April and 10 April for details of the first), This Is The House. This release, by the way, was the first to include the soon-to-be ubiquitous credit ‘A Stock Aitken Waterman Production’ on the sleeve; until this point various arrangements of the names were given in the production information. The early Supreme singles were also the first to carry the legend “… vocals were recorded using the Calrec Sound Field Microphone”, an expensive piece of kit Waterman had secured for the The Hit Factory; PWL couldn’t afford to pay outright for this technology and so a discount was arranged in exchange for a mention on every sleeve where the mic had been used on the recording inside. Sadly, This Is The House (which sounded awfully like Aretha Franklin’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who? in parts) flopped and Sheila Ferguson ended her twenty years with the group soon after. Scott returned and she and Valerie Holiday continued with several more members but no further hits; Degree number 15, Freddie Pool, joined them in 2011.
These acts all failed to make the Top 75 with their SAW-produced singles; most of the collaborations were one-offs.
Former B-Biz-R vocalist; his I’m The One Who Really Loves You was one of two SAW contributions to the soundtrack of the 1986 film ‘Knights and Emeralds’, the other being Tell Me Tomorrow by Princess which had already been recorded for her debut album. The soundtrack also features an early Rick Astley recording, Modern Girl, but although he was signed to PWL at the time, it was not produced by SAW.
A disco-influenced Italian trio, together from 1983 to 1986; their SAW-produced song, Stay With Me, was their last stab at a hit outside their home country.
Gloomy Northern post-punkers who must have baffled their audience when they changed musical direction to pop with a single produced by SAW in 1985. The following year they went to America to continue the high-tech disco-rock approach with another producer on their next (and final) single. “That’s always been an aspect of what we’ve done…we just decided to push it more in that direction,” Steve Rawlings told Record Mirror. “It just reflects a desire to progress, and not to play to the same audience the whole time, to break away.”
Often overlooked by pop historians, pianist and singer Fame was something of a pioneer for British rhythm and blues and jazz who had three #1 singles in the UK in the 1960s; he is still performing today. Technically, he was one of the ‘hit’ acts for SAW, as the first Mondo Kané single brought his distinctive voice back to the charts for the first time in 15 years. His involvement in that project led to a single of his own produced by SAW, a version of Gilberto Gil’s Toda Menina Baiana, released under the title Samba. (Fame had had an interest in Brazilian music since the late Sixties when he had attended a song contest there.) It charted, but not quite high enough to qualify as a hit.
Canadian singer and songwriter who arrived in the UK in the mid-70s. He was briefly in a band called Fury with Topper Headon before Headon left to join The Clash; Million went on to front metal band Blazer Blazer. Fans of that group might have been surprised by his Eighties output, which included writing a single for Lulu; teaming up with SAW for his own records was also an unexpected development. However, by that time he was stating frankly that he wanted to make “pure pop” (as he described them to Melody Maker) records from then on. Neither of the two singles he recorded with SAW under his own (stage) name were hits, but he remained signed with WEA and his subsequent singles for the label were credited to Radio Earth. He died in 2013.
In 1987, PWL launched its own label, PWL Records, and the first single was by the famous-for-being-famous Mandy Smith (credited solely as ‘Mandy’ on all subsequent releases). SAW contributed several tracks to her only album, 1988’s Mandy, with other members of the PWL team producing the rest. There was nothing wrong with her records, but she struggled to sell any in the UK, probably due to negative tabloid press coverage; she was rarely out of the gossip columns. (The overused phrase the 80s media invented for Smith, Emma Ridley, Annabella Lwin et al was ‘wild child’, referring to an over-confident and over-privileged teenage girl.) She found more favour in continental Europe, but soon tired of life as a pop star. Her only (minor) hit in the UK was a cover of The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me Baby.
If Dance Your Love Away sounds like it’s about to break into Hazell Dean’s Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go) from 1984, it’s because this 1986 single actually came first: the song was the demo that Dean insisted on improved lyrics for. SAW re-worked it for the Michael Prince release, but it wasn’t a success. Not a strong singer, he more or less just read the lyrics out.
1987’s Looking Good Diving was the only single from designer duo Jamie Morgan and Cameron McVey. It is remembered less for being produced by SAW and more for the mix of the song on the B-side, which featured McVey’s future wife Neneh Cherry; this she would re-work the following year as Buffalo Stance. Her version’s title is a reference Ray Petri’s Buffalo Posse, the fashion team she and McVey were models for when they met. The A-side was later covered by Nick Kamen.
Why O’Chi Brown never had a hit is a mystery. She sounded good (a similar vocal style on some of her songs to Princess), she looked good (although some of her more extreme hairstyles wouldn’t have shamed Princess Leia) and she had plenty of good material, musicians and producers to work with, but for whatever reason it just didn’t happen for her – despite coming close numerous times in a five-year period in the middle of the 80s. SAW produced three singles taken from her album O’Chi.
Rin Tin Tin
Five-piece signed to a subsidiary of Stiff records, whose only single was the dire Shake It, a repetitive piece of nonsense with almost no merit whatsoever. Quite how SAW came to be involved is unknown.
Never let it be said the artists who worked with SAW were puppets, unless they actually were of course. Saviour of TV-AM Roland Rat had already had some success in the charts with singles earlier in the Eighties, but Living Legend flopped.
Spelt Like This
The production on Contract Of The Heart, the debut single from this three-piece band, was credited to W.A.S.P. (Waterman, Aitken and Stock Productions), the only time this variation in SAW’s name would be used. EMI threw a huge marketing campaign behind its release, and no expense was spared. Unusual promo items like dictionaries, a good tie-in with the band’s name, were distributed, along with soap, chocolate, rucksacks and Valentine cards (the song was released in the week of Valentine’s Day). The single itself was elaborately packaged in a triple sleeve, the outer sleeve die-cut to reveal lettering on the first inner sleeve: the packaging cost was therefore 33p per unit, as opposed to the usual 4p, a huge investment. The luxury extras just kept coming though: prominent DJs even received sweatshirts embroidered with anagrams of the recipient’s name. (It’s not true that the one they sent Jimmy Savile said “JS: My, I Am Vile”: stop this rumour!) Waterman wasn’t happy though. ”The project was the biggest travesty I’ve been involved with in my life,” he said in his 2001 autobiography. (He must have momentarily forgotten Rin Tin Tin.) “The talent was Tom Watkins [manager who went on to have major success with Pet Shop Boys and Bros among others] more than anyone in the band and I never understood what EMI saw in the them in the first place. I think that Tom thought that it was our fault, but it wasn’t. We were doing everything we could to make something out of nothing, but it just wasn’t happening.” Frontman Al “sang with a lisp, for starters; it was like having Chris Eubank fronting a band. And he kept going on about how he could sing like anyone from Prince to Bruce Springsteen, so he’d do his Prince or his Springsteen – and they all sounded exactly the same to me.” After a few months, Waterman got SAW released from the obligation of recording with Spelt Like This. When Al, Lee and Russell had joined EMI the company said they had come to them with 13 songs any one of which could be a single. This was enough material for an album, but none appeared; their second SAW-produced single was their last release.
Splash was the latest vehicle for singer, model and dancer Steve Grant who is still most famous for his time fronting Tight Fit. That group was founded using session musicians, but when the single The Lion Sleeps Tonight became a hit, it was decided some camera-ready faces were needed to continue to promote it. Grant was joined by Denise Gyngell and Julie Harris and they mimed to the song on various television performances, singing themselves on their later recordings. Unfortunately, the girls were not happy with the low wage they were on (they received next to no royalties, despite the success of a follow-up single Fantasy Island and an album) and so they quit. Two new female singers were brought in but there were no further hits. Grant dispensed with side-kicks altogether for an unsuccessful solo single before forming Splash: a new trio, this time with two men, Stephen Whitfield and Chris Brannan. SAW’s involvement was on Qu’est-ce Que C’est?, which flopped. In 2008, a very well-preserved Grant joined Gyngell and Harris in a reunited Tight Fit.
NEW SINGLES on sale from May. 18
The VAPORS Jimmie Jones (United Artists BP401)
BON JOVI (Jon Bon Jovi) She Doesn’t Know Me (Vertigo VER11)
BRONSKI BEAT Smalltown Boy (Forbidden Fruit BITE1)
IMAGINATION (Leee John) State Of Love (R&B Records RBS218)
Howard JONES Pearl In The Shell (WEA HOW4)
The STYLE COUNCIL Groovin’ (You’re The Best Thing) (Polydor TSC6)
BEASTIE BOYS No Sleep Till Brooklyn (Def Jam BEAST1)
Samantha FOX Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now (Jive FOXY5)
THOMPSON TWINS The Long Goodbye (Arista TWINS13)