No doubt fuelled by Pete Waterman’s claim that he could turn anyone into a popstar and the fact he, Mike Stock and Matt Aitken unashamedly called themselves the Hit Factory, critics hated SAW and indie labels were in uproar when the likes of Kylie and Jason started clogging up the indie charts – which they were perfectly entitled to do given that PWL was an independent label itself.
Lovers of pop music in all its three-minute glory have, however, always championed SAW and the lavish 31-disc boxset Stock Aitken Waterman: Say I’m Your Number One is the case for the defense. I submit that as songwriters Pete, Mike and Matt are right up there with The Beatles, Abba, The Bee Gees and, of course, the Motown machine that inspired the London-based pop Svengalis to set up their own production line.
And what a production line the Hit Factory was. They gave us Pop Kylie (before she became Indie Kylie, then Disco Kylie then came full circle as Pop Kylie Mark II) and Jason Donovan (an average voice bolstered by above-average looks and one catchy tune after another) both apart and, especially for Christmas with Especially For You, together.
True to his word, Waterman made popstars of Samantha Fox, who didn’t have much of a voice but likeability to spare, and Sonia, who had both. SAW launched Rick Astley’s career, revived Donna Summer’s, took Bananarama into the mainstream, and even had a hit of their own with Roadblock – sneakily released at first without their name on the label to hook DJs who normally wouldn’t have been caught dead spinning one of their tunes.
Roadblock is in the boxset alongside obvious choices (Rick’s Never Gonna Give You Up, Mel & Kim’s Respectable), Hi-NRG goodies from the vaults (Divine’s You Think You’re A Man, Hazell Dean’s Whatever I Do) and a few for-completists-only oddities (does anyone remember Michael Davidson’s Turn It Up from the Who’s That Girl soundtrack or have the faintest recollection of Agents Aren’t Aeroplanes, an act so obscure they don’t even merit a Wikipedia page?)
Like the Bananarama and Donna Summer boxsets it’s a collection of CD singles, complete with B-sides, remixes and extra singles, so we get In Too Deep as well as You Spin Me Round from Dead Or Alive and both The Heaven I Need and This Is The House from The Three Degrees. It’s both exhaustive and at times exhausting; who needs ten versions of Say I’m Your Number One by Princess or Mandy Smith’s I Just Can’t Wait (or anything by Mandy Smith for that matter)?
But you can’t accuse Demon Music Group, those bastions of back catalogue reissues, of skimping and the set comes with a booklet, postcards and stickers. Like the fabulous new SAW remix of Kylie’s Every Day’s Like Christmas it’s a gift of a festive release that is going to make some classic pop fans very happy indeed.
WORDS BY SIMON BUTTON