27 October 2006

Stock, Aitken and Waterman (Kylie the showgirl princess? - Part two)

This is part 2.

Part 1 is here.

"In the beginning there was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God."

Makes perfect sense if you think about it, and yet this particular phrase has confounded scholars for millenia. Personally, I wonder myself why people don't just call it a punctuation error and move on once and for all.

Kylie Minogue moved on from Stock, Aitken and Waterman many years ago. But it is important to note the disgraceful role that these miscreants played in shaping, not only Minogue's career, but also modern popular music.

SAW got their name by producing a Hi-NRG disco style that they rapidly got a reputation for, initially by producing acts like Divine and Hazel Dean. They soon hit the big time with serious hits from the likes of Banananarama and Dead or Alive.

At this point, SAW had complete control over the music that they made - writing, playing and producing. The singer soon became an afterthought.

They developed a sausage-machine method where they could pretty much write whatever they liked and then get in anyone off the street to sing over it. One of their toys was a microphone that allowed them to do all sorts of playing around with singers' voices to ensure that dud notes never came out. (Minogue had this used on her a bit)

Hits followed from a bunch of insipid and vacuous popstars who were pretty much never heard from again - Rick Astley, Mel and Kim, Sinitta the list went on and on and on.

At one stage, SAW had every position in the UK top 5 singles chart nailed down. Oh my poor ears!!

It was at this point that - and there seems to be no consensus as to who approached whom - but Minogue signed a deal with PWL (SAW's record label) and proceeded to get them to give her the once over.

The most likely version is this: Minogue wanted in to the music industry. Minogue's management would supposedly have sold her first born in order to get her there. If she wasn't successful first go, her career was cactus (she'd already given notice to Neighbours). It necessarily follows that SAW were more important to her than she to them.

At any rate, if SAW weren't big before, this pushed them over the edge. Minogue was a chain of smash hits and, theoretically at least, SAW should never have needed to work ever again.

This was the period that she perpetrated "the Loco-motion", "I (we all) should be so lucky", "Got to be certain" and more on us.

By this stage, a certain sameyness had crept in. SAW were lampooned for this mercilessly for this by comedian Tony Hawks with his band Morris Minor and the Majors who released the satirical "This is the chorus" which, I felt, did a reasonable job of imitating SAW's style.

There were several reasons for this sameyness - most notably, SAW's refusal to deviate from their tried and tested formula of a Fairlight CMI sampler-synthesiser, Linn LM1 drum machine (cutely credited on all their releases as "Drums - A. Linn") and Hi-NRG disco.

Actually, I have this theory that SAW owe the Fairlight Corporation lots of money. Most of their "tunes" were allegedly written by feeding a couple of chords into their CMI and using the auto-arpeggiator button to churn out a random tune. At the very least, Fairlight should have had a co-write credit on every tune that these cloth-eared nincompoops churned out. But I digress.

Putting two and two together, their luck would have to run out eventually, so SAW tried other possible avenues, just so that they'd be ready if and when this eventuated.

Firstly - they recorded a few ballads. What they recorded with Rick Astley and Jason Donovan were successful enough initially. They even did something approaching pop-rock with Donovan.

Then they did a big charity single - "Ferry cross the mersey" with a number of musicians including Paul McCartney, Holly Johnson and others.

Lastly, they had a go at moving well outside their comfort zone and produced a Judas Priest album. Fortunately for all concerned, this never got a release. I understand that bootlegs exist and are spectacularly funny.

However, none of these moves worked consistently well for them, and they were back to the disco that worked for them. Their overall preferred style moved gradually away from Hi-NRG disco towards plinky-plonk piano house. And this was reflected best in their work with Minogue, by this stage, pretty much the only one left on their roster.

And then she left too.

The three producers stopped working together. They did other stuff. Matt Aitken got into motor racing. Pete Waterman ran a rail vehicle maintenance business. No idea what Mike Stock did. Any efforts they've made to get back into music have been largely unsuccessful.

Do you know how good that makes me feel?

Meanwhile, Minogue's career just sauntered on...

Stay tuned for part 3.


Anonymous said...

Pete's just an enthusiast and collector now, if the show I saw on Discovery the other day was right. He's got some wicked loco's too, if you're into that sort of thing...

And don't worry about whitepage. They registered a new one and moved us all over...

Dikkii said...

Ted - Waterman's a collector of loco's now, you say? My respect for him has gone up. And I can't believe I just said that.

Adam - "Know you enemy" was a motto of mine. SAW were a tragically wrong series of atrocities that were perpetrated upon us law-abiding cits. Plus when I was growing up in the eighties, it was impossible to avoid. Every kid at school who wasn't really into music (read about 96% of them) loved all the SAW acts.

Still, the masochist in me would really like to hear what happened when SAW met Priest. It's like a car crash - horrific, but you're unable to turn away.

I'm just about to update your links. Thanks heaps for the heads-up.

Anonymous said...

SAW and Priest - I thought I was aware of every travesty ever committed by these guys, but this one just takes the cake. This would have truly shaken my faith in... well, I'm not sure what exactly - screechy heavy metal leather men? But I'm just glad it never came about. Of all ways for Priest to sell out, this would have been the absolute worst.

Anonymous said...

BTW... yeah I said sell out. bite me.

incidentally - I don't know if you ever saw Greg Hill's motley collection of blogs. As a self-professed yob (and not a wanker), the AFL Player Spectator should be of particular interest to you. Go raise hell - http://ghill.customer.netspace.net.au/speccy/

Anonymous said...

er.. better link

Anonymous said...

Yeah...:) Apparently he does more restoration work than anything else these days. He made a point of showing us the boiler he'd bought to use in restoring a Great Western he had sitting there. He was quite excited about it which was hardly surprising. Other than the boiler, it was a lovely looking loco...:)