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Last Updated: Monday, 13 September, 2004, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
Taking Stock of modern pop
By Keily Oakes
BBC News Online entertainment staff

In the late 1980s and early 90s, you could hardly switch on the radio without hearing a song from the Hit Factory - usually with an instantly recognisable Stock, Aitken and Waterman sound.

Mike Stock
Mike Stock continues writing songs
The writing and producing trio were responsible for unleashing the likes of Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley and Samantha Fox onto the charts.

The hugely successful team could do no wrong in the eyes of the pop buying public - while nauseating those who accused them of "killing off real music".

But the dream soon turned sour, with infighting and ego-clashes spelling the end of the SAW era.

Now Mike Stock, the chief songwriter of team, has written his autobiography about his contribution to the pop scene of the time.

With the big personality of Pete Waterman, who has gone on to be a judge on Pop Idol and Popstars, the contribution made by Stock and Aitken is in danger of being forgotten.

And it was certainly no amicable end to the business partnership, with lengthy legal battles continuing long after the music stopped.

Kylie Minogue
When Kylie first came into the studio, she was very unprepossessing, sitting in a corner crocheting
Mike Stock
"On the subject of SAW, I sincerely regret and find it hard to forgive (Pete's) role in ending our long-standing and highly successful working relationship," Stock writes in his memoirs.

"I feel he acted selfishly. It was a hard lesson for me in the ways of the music industry."

This year marks the 20th anniversary of SAW's first number one - the extravagant You Spin Me Round by Dead or Alive - which topped the charts in December 1984.

It marked the start of the SAW songwriting/production team's assault on the charts.

Stock says he holds the record of most successful living songwriter, as verified by the Guinness Book of Records, including 17 number ones.

Among the SAW "finds" was Kylie Minogue, then a young Australian actress who wanted to break out of soap operas.

But Stock admits she was kept waiting for hours before she got into the studio, nearly flying back to Australia without recording a note.

It was difficult to spot the star potential in the singer, Stock tells BBC News Online.

The British music industry is in crisis
Mike Stock
"When Kylie first came into the studio, she was very unprepossessing, sitting in a corner crocheting, whereas someone like Pete Burns walks in with full make-up looking like a star."

But after Minogue's first single, I Should Be So Lucky, became a smash, SAW had to go begging to make sure she returned to their label, quickly followed by her Neighbours co-star Jason Donovan.

Other artists emerging from the SAW stable enjoyed mixed success. The Reynolds Girls, Big Fun and Mandy Smith did not stand the test of time, while the likes of Bananarama and Rick Astley are more fondly remembered.

One reason Stock wrote the book was to set the record straight about things Pete Waterman wrote in his own autobiography.

Stock says they were "wide of the mark" but admits he did not actually read the whole thing. He remains friends with Matt Aitken.

'Ruthless'

"I wanted to give the real account from the sharp end, how we worked as a team, how it actually happened and how I created the songs," says Stock.

Stock calls Waterman a "ruthless self-promoter", which was actually a benefit when they were all starting out together.

Waterman had the ability to sell the music and bring in the artists that put the Hit Factory, as they became collectively known, on the music radar.

But there were tense times in what Stock describes as a magical period.

"I missed my kids growing up because I dedicated myself to the music because I thought what I was doing was important," he says.

The Reynolds Girls
One hit wonder: The Reynolds Girls
Stock also worked closely with that other pop guru Simon Cowell, who at the time was hugely successful but less of a celebrity, collaborating on Robson and Jerome and Power Rangers.

"I can't tell the difference between Pete Waterman and Simon Cowell because they are both so exaggerated on TV," said Stock.

"But the Cowell I see on TV is nothing like the one I have known."

Stock himself hates the Pop Idol-style shows - which he says he was invited to work on - resenting the way they slap down people's dreams.

"I'm a believer that anyone can make it in the world of pop."

"If someone has a little bit of talent then with a lot of hard work, it can made to work - everybody has got a talent."

On the subject of today's pop music, Stock pulls no punches.

"The British music industry is in crisis. There was a time when the US charts were 50-50 with British music but now we cannot sell music to the Americans, and we need the export and import money.

"They love British pop, but we are giving them the same as what they already have.

"Why are we trying to sell them someone who is trying to sound like they come from the streets of New York when they already have brilliant R&B singers?"


SEE ALSO:
Waterman blasts 'greedy' pop stars
07 May 02  |  Entertainment
Pete Waterman: Lucky, lucky, lucky
28 Dec 01  |  Newsmakers


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