Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman, the songwriting and record-producing trio who scored more than 100 top 40 hits in the 1980s and 90s, including a string of number ones, with acts including Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Rick Astley.
Mike Stock talks about the ‘Hit Factory’ years:
When I look back on the peak days of Stock, Aitken and Waterman, it’s all a bit of a blur. I wish we’d been able to stop and pace ourselves, but when people are knocking on your door, saying: “We need a record by tomorrow,” you don’t have time for a break.
And you don’t want to let anyone down. That was the pressure we were under and, looking back, I don’t know how I did it.
We didn’t just write the songs – Matt Aitken and I were the band.
We played drums, guitars, pianos, did string arrangements, everything.
A lot of people don’t realise that we were actually the band, and therefore the most successful band there’s ever been.
Just don’t tell Paul McCartney that.
There was obviously a spark between the three of us when we started working together.
Pete was very sparky on the business side and Matt and I had all sorts of ideas buzzing around.
Our first success was The Upstroke by Agents Aren’t Aeroplanes, which we conceived as a female version of Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
We’d been introduced to what was known then as boystown – an early incarnation of Hi-NRG that was played on the underground gay music scene in London.
Most of the records people were getting excited about were cheaply made American imports where the song was less important, and we thought that was an area where Matt and I could really add to the equation.
Barry Evangeli, who ran a small label out of Camden called Proto Records, which specialised in the gay music scene, came to our studio on one occasion and told us the most important thing: to make sure the bass drum nails the beat to the floor and punches a hole in the wall.
I didn’t go to the clubs.
I once went to Bang and felt out of place. They were all on stuff, the uppers and the poppers and whatever they were taking, and I was just observing.
It was all going off, but I wasn’t going off with it.
Even after we had a No 1 with Dead Or Alive’s You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) in March 1985, there was no money coming in for a good 18 months.
I don’t want to plead poverty, but we were struggling back then, living on nothing.
If I had £2 in my pocket to go and buy a sandwich that was about it. Any money we did make was fed straight back into forming our own studio, equipping it and getting a team around us.
It was hand to mouth but we were so fixed on where we were going we got carried along by the excitement of it all.
There’s more to being a pop star than being able to sing.
Donna summers was a good singer, but she wasn’t a pretty little girl who flounced around dancing. There are people who can be dancers, movers and be attractive personalities singing little pop songs, which is just as valid as a great diva belting out some monster track.
We didn’t pick up Jason Donovan because of his vocal ability – that was unknown to me at the time. He wasn’t Pavarotti, but we didn’t want that from him.
Kylie Minogue was the complete package, though.
A great little singer, a great-looking girl, a great little dancer. Unfortunately, we’d insulted her when we recorded I Should Be So Lucky: she’d been hanging around all week and Pete forgot to tell us.
We had to get the song together in about 40 minutes and she left not having had a happy experience.
We didn’t know we had a hit on our hands and so when it went to No 1 for five weeks, someone said: “What’s the follow-up?” We didn’t have one. So I went out to Australia at the start of 1988 and met her in a bar with Jason and her manager.
I basically crawled 100 yards on my knees and apologised profusely.
She took it well and we did some more recording. She would be working on Neighbours from 5am, then come to record with me at 6pm.
Tiring for her. But at least this time I had the songs ready, the lyrics typed up and everything in order.
I said to Matt when we started working with her that it would be our purple patch because all the signs were right – they were just moving Neighbours from before the lunchtime news on a Wednesday to every day before the evening news.
So we had an advert for her on the BBC every single day. I put all my effort into her.
Despite what happened with I Should Be So Lucky, it’s a myth that we wrote things so quickly.
Pete said Never Gonna Give You Up took three minutes? Well he’s lying. And what would he know, anyway? Pete loves a good headline.
He once said he’d written Too Many Broken Hearts with Jason while he was sitting on the toilet. Now, that’s not a good image.
I think the peak of the madness was when Woolworths said they had orders for the Kylie and Jason duet for Christmas and asked when we could deliver.
We hadn’t even thought about it.
I didn’t want to do it because of the Walt Disney thing – you never saw Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck on the same poster because you don’t confuse your brands.
But I felt if so many people were asking about it, then that was a vote of confidence from the public, so I had to really live up to it with a song that justified their belief. That’s where Especially for You came from.
And the rest is history ....