4TR SPECIAL FEATURE – The SAW Point with Pete Waterman

 

Kylie Minogue had successfully segued from TV roles to recording success in Australia in the 1980’s, but she was yet to conquer international markets. Stock, Aitken, and Waterman engineer Mike Duffy was in Australia assisting at Mushroom records when he heard Minogue’s version of the Locomotion. He was impressed and forwarded a copy to Pete Waterman who didn’t like it and passed it on to one of PWL’s A&R managers, David Howells, who forgot to tell Stock and Aitken about it, and of the imminent arrival of Kylie Minogue in London to make a record.

Minogue turned up at the London offices of SAW but due to the miscommunication between Mike Stock and Howells, her arrival was a surprise, Kylie advised the tunesmiths that she was returning to Australia that afternoon to resume taping Neighbours episodes.

Mike Stock and Matt Aitken then remarkably wrote I Should Be So Lucky in about thirty minutes, after initially thinking they would make do with one they had already written for a Bananarama album, but decided to create something fresh, and as Matt Aitken commented “If we do something that we haven’t spent time on then, it might not be as good as it can be”, to which Mike Stock replied, “She should be so lucky to have one of our second-best songs”, and during the writing process he suggested that I Should Be So Lucky was the perfect name for her debut single with them.

He and Matt wrote the song and they cut the record that day, doubtless the chord structure of I Should Be So Lucky was very similar to Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up, a massive hit for SAW in the previous year.

The original version of the song however was not suitable for Minogue who had a higher pitch than Mike Stock had imagined, and the song had to be adapted, Minogue expressed concerns that her recorded voice sounded like tweety bird, but Aitken and Stock encouraged her to sing naturally as they had discerned an endearing fragility and vulnerability in her vocals that they liked.

Stock and Aitken dominated the recording session playing keyboards, guitar, even providing some backup vocals along with the regular SAW backing singers -Mae McKenna and Suzanne Rhatigan – as well as controlling production of the record.

It was formulaic, synthesized pop but as written by Stock it had four key changes, so it was more complex than immediately obvious, and given the speed with which the whole writing, recording, and production process was executed, Kylie’s vocals were bang on the money, chirpy, catchy, engaging and eminently likeable. The insistent bassline, stuttering vocals and repetitious lyrics were beguiling and would become a trademark of Kylie’s early recordings with SAW.

It’s intriguing to note that Pete Waterman, who was neither a musician nor a producer of note, but essentially a marketer and manager of producers, who was reputed to have a great ear for picking hits, should have been so instrumental in almost ending Minogue’s career before it began. He had dismissed Kylie’s Australian version of Locomotion as rubbish without any potential, despite the pleadings of SAW’s Mike Duffy who had spent time in Melbourne and was aware of the special appeal with which Kylie had imbued that song. He had failed to ensure that SAW staff were properly prepped and ready to welcome Minogue when she arrived in the London offices of SAW in October 1987, leaving his partners Stock and Aitken and Minogue less than two hours to write and record a song before Kylie caught a flight back to Melbourne. Waterman has insisted that he had never heard of Minogue, yet twenty million Brits were watching Neighbours every week and she was the star of the show, in what sort of a bubble did Waterman exist at the time?

He was also unenthusiastic about releasing I Should be So Lucky, having tried to license the song to three other record companies, but was ultimately forced to release it via his PWL label, he did seem to have a tin ear when it came to Kylie Minogue. Limited airplay resulted in a massive audience reaction, and it became a huge hit, Waterman then claimed, in his autobiography, curiously titled I Wish I Was Me, that he had come up with the title of the song.

Mike Stock’s response to this claim was emphatic, “Fuckin’ nonsense, Pete was in Manchester, nowhere near the bloody building … when we were flyin’, talkin’ about ‘88,’89,’90 – Pete was not there…for about three years he turned up on about Thursday afternoon I think for about an hour.” (The Guys Who Wrote ‘Em – Sean Egan 2004)

Given the unprofessional treatment of Kylie in London, it was left to Mike Stock to travel to Australia to apologise to her, and smooth the songbird’s ruffled feathers, she would go on to sell over 40 million records for SAW, but it could have all been so very different.

The song hit #1 in eighteen countries, sat on top of the UK charts for 5 weeks, and sold over 2 million copies; the promo video featured Kylie engulfed in a bubble bath, and she even performed a spoken word version of the song with much gravitas, at the Royal Albert Hall Poetry Day at the suggestion of Aussie mate Nick Cave.

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