Released today in 1989: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

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PWL FEED2

The STOCK AITKEN WATERMAN Story Part 4

Single #102 from Stock Aitken Waterman was another track for Brother Beyond, the last they would produce for the group. As the 1980s came to an end, SAW’s working relationships with other acts were also ending. There was one final single each for Bananarama before they went off on their ’89 world tour, Rick Astley before he went off to make a record with new producers, and Samantha Fox, who they had only had a casual arrangement with anyway. The void left by these artists (and those whose association with SAW had ended the year before – see Part 3 of this story) was filled with a number of one-off collaborations.

In most cases, these one-offs were for one single only, including hits for Sigue Sigue Sputnik, The Reynolds Girls and Cliff Richard. There was also a single for Sequal, the only flop SAW had in 1989. The most successful one-off singles though were a trio of charity releases, one for Comic Relief (Help!, which reached #3 and reunited them with Bananarama), one for the Hillsborough disaster fund (Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey, a #1) and the last SAW single of the decade, an update of Do They Know It’s Christmas?. This was another #1; released as Band Aid II, it featured Bananarama, one of the few acts returning from the original. (There was a fourth charity single: another SAW collaboration with Pat & Mick, the proceeds of which the artists donated to Capital Radio’s Help A London Child appeal, as they would with all their singles. This single, I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet, made #9.)

But for some acts there were albums. In 1987, Edwin J Bernard was reviewing the new Donna Summer album All Systems Go for Record Mirror and suggested “Now disco’s back in vogue, Donna would be better served teaming up with SAW – her powerhouse lungs were made for just that kind of OTT production, and not the wimp rock she now chooses to make.” Summer went on to do exactly that and her SAW produced album Another Place And Time (1989) was one of the highlights of the production team’s career. It was also a money spinner for all involved, with lead single This Time I Know It’s For Real Summer’s biggest UK hit since the 1970s and the album yielding several other singles. Newcomer Sonia also made an album with SAW, the lead single from which (her first) was a #1. Mike Stock commented in a memoir, “Despite all the work we put in for artists, it was very rare to get any positive feedback. On only a couple of occasions can I remember an artist ever saying, ‘thank you for giving me a hit record’. Sonia was one who did. On the Sunday when the chart positions were announced on the radio, Sonia rang me at home to thank me. She was so excited.” There was also an album for Big Fun (released in 1990), from which a couple of tasters were taken in ’89.

But it was with two Australian singers that SAW had their biggest hits at the end of the decade. Between them, Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan released eight singles from the end of November 1988 to the end of November 1989, all but one of which reached to Top 2 (and the one that didn’t make it peaked at #4, so was hardly a flop). No wonder, then, that these were the only two acts that SAW continued to produce for regularly into the 1990s, barring annual charity singles for Pat & Mick.

The result of all this activity – and Stock estimates he wrote seven albums’ worth of material for these various artists in 1989 – was the most commercially successful year of SAW’s partnership. Of their final 31 singles of the decade, just eight missed the Top 10, with seven topping the chart. Stock resented the cavalier attitude Waterman presented to the press regarding their achievements: “I don’t mind Pete saying anything that makes him look big, as long as he doesn’t make me look small. I felt that it took something away from me when he said things like, ‘I wrote that song on the toilet’.”

But the pressure was becoming too much and tempers were getting frayed. Pete Waterman is prone to hyperbole, generalization, and a lack of attention to detail, so his recollections should be regarded with caution, but in his memoir I Wish I Was Me he describes a PWL Christmas party some 2000 guests attended, most of whom he didn’t know. The Hit Factory had grown out of all proportion. Stock recalls resentment from the British music industry rather than celebration. “We were perceived as a major thorn in the side of EMI, BMG and the major companies who had American, Japanese and German paymasters. They were looking at market shares and asking awkward questions of their crestfallen employees. ‘How can three guys in their own studio take 27% of the market, when we are paying you £1m salaries and you employ 7000 people? What’s going on?’”

But instead of the majors transforming themselves to match the PWL model, in September 1989 David Howells was brought into PWL as Business Affairs Manager to reshape the organization to be run more like the majors.

☛ What happened next
The 1990s got off to the best start possible: the first SAW-produced single of the new decade, Tears On My Pillow by Kylie Minogue, went to #1. But it was their last #1 and very quickly, the hits started to dry up altogether. As Stock said, “The days of jolly pop hits seemed to be over and we were facing a gloomy future of grunge.” Minogue was really their only bankable artist; in 1990, she could be relied upon to make the Top 10, but the following year even her chart peaks started to fall short. Jason Donovan’s decline was quicker, with his singles starting to peak in the teens rather than the Top 10 in 1990. He left PWL in 1991; Minogue quit the following year. By that time, Stock Aitken Waterman was no more, as Matt Aitken withdrew from the team in May 1991.

Stock and Waterman continued for a couple of years, and had some success with American acts like Sybil. But the big hits were few and far between and their music sounded dated. They reunited with Bananarama (by then a duo themselves) for the album Please Yourself (1992) but despite some good songs, the energy was missing. In September 1993, an unhappy Stock ended his partnership with Waterman and years of animosity between them began, mostly over royalty payments and asset ownership. “I felt as if over the past ten years I’d lived in a fairy story. We’d made more hit records than The Beatles, and had dominated the industry beyond our wildest dreams, and we weren’t even civil enough to each other to go out for a meal. It was horrible,” Waterman said of that period of legal disputes. There have been brief reunions since, but no hits: although Stock and Waterman have both had successes on their own or with new partners. Aitken has remained for the most part retired. Waterman has stated that the three of them will work together again if a project they are all interested in comes up. Recently they were offered the chance to provide a Stock Aitken Waterman re-mix of a track from Kylie Minogue’s new Christmas-themed album, which was a job they were interested in taking. It was issued as a single last week.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 11
BAND AID II Do They Know It’s Christmas? (PWL FEED2)

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