The success of this record was fueled by the enormous popularity of the BBC1 TV series Neighbours, here and in the UK, in which Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan played on-screen lovers (Charlene and Scott) who also dated for almost five years 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., top ten in eleven European countries and sold in excess of 1.5million copies globally. 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 Kylie/Jason duet was coming out before Christmas. 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 Pete Waterman 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. SAW had also seen a duet performance by Kylie and Jason of the Lionel Richie song Endless Love on Young Talent Time and had grave misgivings about Donovan’s ability to carry a tune and sing in key.
But with Kylie’s support he landed a contract with PWL in mid-1988 and released his first solo record Nothing Can Divide Us, a song Rick Astley had rejected, which was released in August of that year and despite Jason’s rather strained vocals, it charted #3 in Australia and #5 in the UK, off the back of his Neighbours celebrity and an ongoing romance with Minogue.
To be fair to Donovan his vocals did improve and he had several solid hits in the future, his album Ten Good Reasons, released in May 1989 became the biggest-selling album in the UK that year, and yielded three UK #1 singles, Especially For You, Too Many Broken Hearts, and Sealed With A Kiss.
With little time left to produce a banger of a seasonal hit for the duo, PWL promotions man Tim Rotherford set about creating a song that tied-in with the Xmas Spirit, it still had no name, but he noticed a greeting card with the inscription “especially for you” and that became the song title and inspired the writing process, which Stock and Aitken took care of.
The promo clip that aired on London’s Top of the Pops, with Kylie and Jason staring into each other’s eyes as they mimed the song, was a fabrication as they had never actually sung the song together at that time 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, Donovan has conceded that his voice was “hidden” by the producers in the final mix of this famous duet, and that the song was deliberately written in a key more appropriate for Kylie Minogue than him, but he was still flattered to be part of such an iconic song.
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 where the structure was more free-flowing and less defined in a cycle, Especially for You was just such a 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 arrangements. The formula worked but the finished product was strangely lacking in passion and intimacy, however the celebrity-status of Minogue and Donovan ultimately guaranteed that the song would dominate the seasonal sales at Christmas.
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, but it became a familiar route for others including Natalie Imbruglia, Holly Valance, Delta Goodrem, and Craig McLachlan. Left to right Imbruglia, McLachlan, and Goodrem.
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.(below)
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.