Especially for You (Stock/Aitken/Waterman) Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan 1988 and Better the Devil You Know (Stock/Aitken/Waterman)) – Kylie Minogue 1990
The success of Especially for You was fueled by the enormous popularity of the TV series Neighbours, here and in the UK, in which Minogue and Donovan played on-screen lovers (Charlene and Scott) who were also dating in real life. The “wedding of the year” sequence featuring Charlene and Scott in the show propelled this romantic duet to #1 in the UK and #2 Aust. It became the biggest selling Scott/Aitken/Waterman single ever and was the 15th biggest-selling single of the Eighties in the UK.
But Stock and Aitken only wrote the song when they were told that Woolworths had placed an advance order of 400,000 because they had been told that a duet was coming out for Xmas. Not prepared to look a gift horse in the mouth, they immediately set about writing and recording the song in time for the Xmas sales, they only had two weeks!
There were some significant obstacles, both Kylie and Jason were back in Australia and SAW had doubts about Donovan’s vocal quality, due to a sinus problem that affected his pitch, and would only be corrected with surgery in the future, and the song did not have a name.
PWL promotions man Tim Rotherford knew that the song was to be tied-in to the Xmas spirit, he noticed a greeting card with the inscription “especially for you” and that became the song title and inspired the writing process.
The promo clip that aired on London’s Top of the Pops, with Kylie and Jason staring into each eyes as they mimed the song, was a fabrication as they never actually sang the song together and for the video the voices of session singer May McKeno and composer Mike Stock were substituted for Kylie and Jason, meanwhile, Matt Aitken and Peter Waterman were in Australia recording the actual vocal duet.
The singers recorded their parts separately at the Rhinoceros Studios in Sydney and the final mix was completed at the PWL Studios in London.
Stock and Aitken have revealed that they generally wrote two types of songs, one which was structured with an intro, verse, the bridge, the chorus and then the verse, so that it is cyclical with a revolving pattern, while others were more organic and linear, the structure is more free-flowing and less defined in a cycle, Especially for You was just such a linear song. Like several SAW songs it is melodically more complex than first impressions may indicate, the choir backing vocals are effective and acoustic guitar riffs provide light and shade to the standard SAW arrangement.
The formula worked but the finished product was strangely lacking in passion and intimacy, given the loved-up couple’s public image, however the celebrity-status of Minogue and Donovan ultimately generated a disproportionate level of success enjoyed by a song that has not aged particularly well.
Minogue and Donovan were the first beneficiaries of the Brits fascination with Aussie TV soaps and the transition from such shows as Neighbours to pop stardom in the UK, became a familiar route for others including Natalie Imbruglia, Holly Valance, Delta Goodrem, Stefan Dennis, and Craig McLachlan.
On Sunday September 9th 2018 Kylie Minogue was the headline act at a Radio 2 “Live in Hyde Park Concert” in London, her old partner Jason Donovan, a London resident, cycled to the venue to see the show and catch up with his Aussie mate. Kylie heard that Jason was backstage and prevailed upon him to make an impromptu appearance with her to duet their 1988 hit Especially for You.
The pop princess introduced her surprise guest by saying “Now I need a dance partner”, and 70,000 fans applauded as the two Aussies turned back the clock to re-create some of their old magic.
Kylie Minogue’s third album issued under the banner of the Stock, Aitken, Waterman (SAW) hit factory, was the Rhythm of Love, and although it comprised more formulaic bouncy pop at least half of the songs had been written and produced by composers /producers other than SAW.
Kylie had also defied the SAW rule banning live performances and concerts as SAW preferred tightly controlled mime-only events for their stars.
Despite the apparent drift away from the control of the hit factory, this record delivered Stock, Aitken, and Waterman their 100th UK hit record. Not a bad result for a record label that had started business issuing recordings by American transvestite Divine, the androgynous Pete Burns of Dead or Alive and page three topless model Samantha Fox. After the decline of Bananarama, and the departure of Rick Astley, Kylie Minogue become the gold standard for SAW’s future success.
This song’s lyrics are enigmatic and could be interpreted as being quite dark and emotionally fraught, as they indicate that the singer is forgiving a serial philanderer, and staying in an unhealthy relationship, because at least she knows what to expect. Musically it demonstrated the extent to which Minogue was evolving, bubblegum pop had been replaced by a more polished dance/club sound, with edgy electro keyboards, catchy vocal hooks, and an infectious chorus; a raunchier dance diva persona was emerging,
The concept for the song arose in discussion when Pete Waterman remarked to Mike Stock that Kylie was ditching clean-cut Jason Donovan for the more unpredictable Michael Hutchence, to which Stock replied that she should re-consider as it’s “better the devil you know”.
SAW no doubt did not want to explode the fairytale relationship between the former Neighbours co-stars as it had been Top 40 gold for all concerned, but Kylie was moving on, and preparing for her transition to life after SAW.
This song re-invented Minogue in a more sophisticated, edgy, sexy image, a change from the girl-next-door persona she had previously inhabited, it is reputedly Nick Cave’s favorite Kylie song.
The promo video, shot in Melbourne, confirmed the new look and her new sensibility including racy scenes in the arms of a black man, with Kylie sporting a Michael Hutchence ring, the record charted at #5 in Aust, #2 in UK and was a top forty hit throughout Europe.
At this time the UK version of Neighbours had caught up with the episodes that had already screened in Australia and Kylie was no longer part of the cast, this enabled her to re-position herself away from the pre-pubescent tweenies towards a more discriminating adult market, under the “corrupting influence” of Michael Hutchence. Kylie had joked about this process of being “corrupted”, but in every aspect of her music, photo shoots, wardrobe and video clips, she was now more assertive and independent.
As one of Australia’s most successful pop exports, singer/actor Minogue continued to blaze a trail via the soap opera/pop chart route with great dexterity and a chameleon-like capacity to reinvent herself along the way. This was the eleventh Stock/Aitken/Waterman composition to enter the top five for Kylie in the UK between 1988-1990, while she had taken nine into the top 5 in Australia in the same period including Especially for You, her duet with Jason Donovan. Kylie was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame along with the Wiggles in 2011.