I Survived A Stock Aitken Waterman Marathon… Just

Had it not been for the pissy weather, which caused the event to be cancelled, today (July 11) would have seen the combined, err, talents of Steps, Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Banarama, Rick Astley and Dead Or Alive take to the stage in Hyde Park in a giant orgy of rancid nostalgia, otherwise known as Hit Factory Live.

Depressing as it is to admit, the team behind all those artists – Stock Aitken Waterman – is one of the most prolific songwriting and producing partnerships of all time, scoring more than 100 UK top 40 hits and selling 40 million records. But, as successful as these records were back in the 80s and 90s, does anyone still listen to them in 2012? Have they stood the test of time? In a bid to find out, and because I’m about as smart as I’m pretty, I volunteered to listen to all 100 of SAW’s UK top 40 entries in a row. Like the teen girl from the 80s that I’ve apparently now become, it seemed appropriate to keep a diary.

8pm – Song #1

Divine – ‘You Think You’re A Man’ (July 1984)

Things have started well, at least relatively speaking. Divine was named People magazine’s Drag Queen Of The Century and I respect that kind of achievement. It’s still awful music, but at least it’s delivered with balls… Sorry.


8.30pm – Song #7

Princess – ‘Say I’m Your Number One’ (August 1985)

Good hook, but there’s an electronic drum part that sounds like Optimus Prime getting repeatedly kicked in his nut unit. This stops being funny in a surprisingly short amount of time.

8.45pm – Song #10

Phil Fearon – ‘I Can Prove It’ (August 1986)

The full weight of my undertaking has now dawned on me. If you enjoy mid-tempo 80s R&B, but the outlaw cool of New Kids On The Block is a little too much for you, Phil Fearon and Galaxy may have your jam.

9.10pm – Song #16

Ferry Aid – ‘Let It Be’ (April 1987)

OH SWEET RELIEF. A charity cover! Mark Knopfler and Gary Moore play ridiculous solos. I’m not a big fan of either, but it’s nice to hear an instrument that’s not a bass synth set to “annoying donk”.

9.50pm – Song #27

Bananarama – ‘I Can’t Help It’ (January 1988)

I’ve made a note: “it’s getting a bit Guantanamo”. Apparently now I’m the kind of person that compares listening to pop music to the act of rendition.


10.05pm – Song #31

Kylie Minogue – ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ (January 1988)

From Pete Waterman’s autobiography, entitled ‘I Wish I Was Me’:

“Kylie Minogue’s in reception and she’s on her way back to the airport in a couple of hours!”
I told him I was sorry I’d messed up but we’d just have to drop the whole project.
“We can’t,” he said. “She’s expecting to do something with us, now!”
“She should be so lucky,” I said.
“What did you say?”
“She should be so lucky.”
“Great, ” he said. “That’ll do. ‘I Should be So Lucky’. Can we write some lyrics?”


11.05pm – Song #50

Samantha Fox – ‘I Only Wanna Be With You’ (January 1989)

“Yeah, Dusty Springfield was OK, but I never really understood the song until I heard the Samantha Fox version.” #ThingsPeteWatermanMightSay

11.25pm – Song #56

Jason Donovan – ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’ (March 1989)

“Should we get a brass section in?” “No it’s alright, I’ve got this wicked trumpet setting on my Casio…” #ThingsMattAitkenAndMikeStockMightSay

11.50pm – Song #6

Sonia – ‘You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You’ (June 1989)

SONIA’S HERE EVERYONE. Strap in, because this sassy redhead’s gonna rattle some cages!

12.05pm – Song #70

Cliff Richard – ‘I Just Don’t Have The Heart’ (August 1989)

A pop music clusterfuck, the 80s equivalent of Cliff going dubstep. It’s getting increasingly harder to justify not throwing my laptop through my speakers.

12.15pm – Song #72

Kylie Minogue – ‘Tears on My Pillow’ (January 1990)

This was SAW’s last number one. It means the end is in sight, but also that whatever lies ahead is considered the Hit Factory’s worst output. And I’ve already had the Bros-heavy Band Aid II.

1.00am – Song #84

Pat & Mick – ‘Use It Up And Wear It Out’ (April 1990)

The third single I’ve heard from Pat Sharp and Mick Brown. I’ll say that again, tonight I’ve listened to three singles from the guy who presented ‘Funhouse’.

1.40am – Song #94

Bananarama – ‘Movin’ On’ (August 1992)

You know in Shawshank Redemption when Tim Robbins’ has to crawl through a mile of stinking raw sewage to win his freedom? Right now it’s like that, but I also have to listen to Bananarama.

2.00am – Song #99

Bill Tarmey – ‘One Voice’ (1993)

I can’t find it! Jack Duckworth off of Corrie covering Barry Manilow has been erased from the internets. I’ve come so far, I’m one song away and I’ve been let down by an ageing former soapstar.

2.10am – Song #100

WWF Superstars – ‘Wrestlemania’ (April 1993)

This should be a moment of celebration, both of my survival and wrestling-related motivational dance pop hits, but I’m still feeling let down by Bill Tarmey. Six hours, 99 songs and a lifetime’s supply of earworms later and I feel exhausted.

What I have learned…

  • SAW are economical, if slightly unscrupulous, songwriters
  • Hooks, beats, basslines and sometimes whole songs get recycled across their catalogue. They gave ‘Turn It Into Love’ to Kylie for her debut album, released it as a UK single with Hazell Dean and then put out Kylie’s version as a single in Japan – all within six months.

  • Kylie really was the best of the bunch
  • The queen of Aussie pop seems to be the only SAW artist that developed at all during her time with the team, changing her image from ‘girl next door’ to ‘sexy sex-person’. She also displayed considerable nous by leaving before SAW fell out of favour with the public.

  • They were completely ‘of their time’
  • SAW songs are tied-in with nostalgia for an era when people were flush with cash and club culture became mainstream. As a result, the tunes have not aged well, but people who liked going out and “’aving a laaarf” in the late 80s cling to them like tiny drops of youth.

  • We live in a good time for pop music
  • Chart-bothering types Katy Perry, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Robyn, Emeli Sande, Hurts, Cheryl Cole and Nicki Minaj have got personality, good writing teams and are constantly evolving. I will take pre-apocalypse 2012 over that monied-up, giant carphone-wielding wanker 1988 any day of the week.

  • Don’t casually enter into an agreement to listen to 100 SAW songs

The grinding repetition of musical ideas, the near total lack of character in SAW’s puppet acts and the endless stream of vacuous catchphrase lyrics, all condensed into a six hour barrage, has conditioned me to the point where I now feel like a sleeper agent awaiting activation. I suspect my trigger phrase is ‘Bananarama’.