Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Stock Aitken Waterman - the greatest songwriters of all time?

You can tell you are getting old when you find that the music you either paid scant attention to, or actively disliked at the time, sounds good to your ears compared to the vast majority of what’s out now. I’m not saying that all modern music is crap, because there are some still some excellent tunesmiths around, thank goodness. But, for example, the whole so called R&B genre is an insult to the real R&B groove, that from the American south and its foreign imitators. Now that’s the real deal. However, I digress…

I was listening to some 80s downloads on the old Archos, of which there are about 300 tracks, and the ones which really stood out in a good way were believe it or not, the Stock Aitken Waterman numbers. (The other totally standout track was ‘Busy Doing Nothing’ by Barbara Gaskin and Dave Stewart [the other one]. Now that track ought to be preordained as a masterclass in sound texture for novice producers – its bloody wonderful, with at least seven distinct textures, which all work together, strangely enough – go download then tell me I’m talking out of my arse if you dare).

Back to SAW. At the time, because there were so many of them around at once, and because quite frankly, the lyrics were and still are vacuous to say the least, I never paid as much attention to their songwriting as it deserved. But thinking about the song structures they used, the key changes, even the trademark Linnn Drum beat, considering their output was supposedly 7 songs per week, many of the tracks they produced were intricate affairs, and I feel now that any slating they got back then was via jealous musicians. You can fool people with crap for some of the time, but either we were really thick in the late 80s*, or the music wasn’t crap, mostly.

If you think I’m having a wind-up, take the chords to You’ll Never Stop Me From Loving You by Sonia. Mike Stock probably knocked this up in the few minutes between pulling his wire in the gents and glugging his fifth cup of tea that day. Play the chorus, slowly, using the grand piano setting of your keyboard. To me, its bloody genius. Well, come on, could YOU do it five minutes? Most musicians get off on the fact that that their songs are ‘crafted’, ‘masterpieces’, ‘a labour of love’ etc. To me, the real art of SAW is that they, oddly enough, didn’t sell out to crassness. Most the songs they wrote are eminently recyclable in the manner of a real classic, ‘Yesterday’ by Macca, the most covered tune ever.

Here’s the summing up the wonderful Wikipedia’s entry on Mike Stock (the chief composer):

“Although Mike Stock may not be revered as John Lennon or Bob Dylan are for thought provoking lyrics, his music does appeal to the heart and is sonically and creatively every bit equal to John Lennon or Bob Dylan, if not more so than the aforementioned artists. It is no more creative to write 'Imagine' than it is to write 'I'd Rather Jack'. It is also worth noting that Bob Dylan has never had a no.1 record. Mike Stock has had 17. “

Spot on. And I’ve even agree that ‘Imagine’, with its po-faced sentiment, and blatant politicking, is a truly awful record, possibly one of the most over-revered tunes ever written. I don’t have a problem with serious music, honest, but this song was written by one of the richest men in pop. How can you take it seriously? It makes me want to vom whenever I here it, I hate it that much, and I love the Beatles. Give me the Reynolds Girls any day. At least ‘I’d Rather Jack’ pretends nothing – its bubblegum and proud.


*Hmm, we did vote for Thatcher and her wretched government twice during that period. Possibly due to mass experimentation with the atmosphere, that’s my only sane conclusion.

1 comment:

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