June 01, 2020
Led with peacock glamour and untamed sexuality from Pete Burns, the Stock Aitken Waterman production is synth-pop at its very finest
The 100 greatest UK No 1s, No 5: Dead or Alive – You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)
The UK production trio Stock Aitken Waterman (SAW) dubbed their studio the Hit Factory, and with good reason. Not only did it generate hits – Never Gonna Give You Up, Venus, Respectable and dozens of others – but the very sound of their records was industrialised. Instruments like the Linn 9000 drum machine and the Roland Juno-106 synthesiser were manufactured in one factory before being installed in SAW’s, the ersatz brass and strings becoming a new set of raw materials.
Pete Waterman had something of the cigar-chewing industrialist about him, too. “We make records to entertain people for between three to seven minutes, and if they don’t like them they don’t buy them,” he said in 1987. “If they do buy them, they are doing so not because of art but because they like the records.” He would go on fact-finding business trips, visiting France, Germany or Italy to spend hours sitting in his hotel room with pop radio on for inspiration (leading to some notable similarities). And like the car manufacturers of Detroit who influenced Motown, who in turn influenced SAW, each year brought an update of essentially the same thing. Kylie Minogue’s I Should Be So Lucky and Donna Summer’s This Time I Know It’s for Real are as fractionally different as two generations of iPhone, and numerous stars from the SAW stable each recorded the same songs: when music is this pristinely crafted, why mess with the formula? Not only was SAW’s music using the cutting-edge technology of the era, it was also embracing its free-market ethos.
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