A Spotify playlist showcasing some of their greatest hits, their hidden gems, and “I’d Rather Jack” by The Reynolds Girls.
Between the mid eighties and early nineties, you could barely turn on the radio without having the likes of Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley, Bananarama, Jason Donovan and, umm, Bill Tarmey thrust upon you courtesy of production and songwriting team Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman. Between them they wrote, co-wrote or produced over 100 UK chart singles and since a little-known piece of legislation passed under Margaret Thatcher, it’s actually illegal to release an 80s compilation CD in the UK without at least three of their productions on it.
It’s because their productions are so ubiquitous that, for this Spotify playlist, I’ve tried to steer away from the tired and trusted and pick a few of the lesser known gems. SAW were often derided for producing essentially the same record time after time with a different artist and chorus, so in this vaguely chronological playlist I’ve also tried to demonstrate that they could change their sound and adapt with the times (up to the point that they stopped being able to do that with a horrible, shuddering crash).
1. “Say I’m Your Number One” – Princess (1985)
The UK’s answer to Joyce Sims had a string of mostly SAW-produced singles from 1985-1989, of which “Say I’m Your Number One” was the biggest and best. This slow and sultry pop ballad slunk to seven in the charts in the summer of 1985.
2. “FLM (Two Grooves Under One Nation remix)” – Mel & Kim (1987)
I was this close *makes ‘small distance’ gesture with thumb and index finger* to using the Extra Beats version of “Respectable”, which was a bit more ‘underground’ and found it’s way onto many dance compilations back in the day. But in the end I plumped for this, which I bought on cassette single back in the aforementioned day. If you think it’s sounds very Chic, then make sure you listen through to the end because it basically becomes a remix of “Le Freak”. Quite amazing.
3. “Love In The First Degree” – Bananarama (1987)
Probably the most perfect single from the girlband that began the whole “endearingly shambolic choreography” (© Popjustice) movement that would end twenty years later with Girls Aloud. There are lots to pick from their back catalogue – in fact there are two on this list alone – but this encompasses everything about Bananarama that we remember and love.
4. “Mr. Sleaze” – Bananarama (1987)
Pop’s premier girlband in the eighties and still holder of the record for most chart singles by a girlband in the UK. This track, the b-side to “Love In The First Degree”, has practically nothing to do with them except for some quite exciting shouty parts. What it does do is showcase the very short-lived “rare groove” fad of which SAW’s own “Roadblock” was probably the most famous example, and is an example of SAW being able to mix up their style. If you can find the Eurobeat 12” mix of “Love In The First Degree”, the rare groove remix of “Mr. Sleaze” on the b-side is even more fantastic.
5. “Who’s Leaving Who” – Hazell Dean (1988)
A surprisingly poignant HI-NRG thumper, for those who are wont to describe pop records in such a manner. I almost chose “Turn It Into Love”, which first appeared as a Kylie album track, but in the end I went with this song, because this is my blog, and not yours.
6. “Especially For You” – Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan (1988)
Not generally known for their great ballads, SAW really pulled out the stops for this one. I’m only including the version with Jason Donovan because in a colossal oversight matched only by the referee missing Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal two years earlier, Spotify do not have this definitive version available:
7. “The Harder I Try” – Brother Beyond (1988)
Another example of SAW being able to vary their style. Here, they attempt to emulate the Motown sound with a bunch of Nick Kamen jeans-advert wannabes. They’re so close to pulling it off; but ultimately they sound like three middle-aged Thatcherites trying to cynically emulate the Motown sound in order to cash in on the surprising craze created by seeing Nick Kamen wear jeans in a launderette with a boyband that look just like him. Unless that was your aim all along guys, in which case *double thumbs up*.
8. “I’d Rather Jack” – The Reynolds Girls (1989)
The very definition of an 80s one-hit wonder. This was Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s attempt to “cock” a “snook” at their critics by presenting two Scouse girls as the voice of the nation’s youth and having them declare that they’d rather listen to pop music than some of the rock dinosaurs mentioned in the song that were currently in vogue on the wireless – The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, and Dire Straits. The irony there of course is that SAW were older than the combined members of these four acts.
Despite reaching a respectable #7 in the Flanders region of Belgium (stupid Flanders), “I’d Rather Jack” was voted #91 in the 100 worst pop singles of all time in a 2003 poll conducted by Channel 4.
9. “Shocked (DNA 12” Mix)” – Kylie Minogue (1991)
Pop’s perfect pint-sized plaintively-performing princess was in many ways the quintessential SAW act and arguably Bogarts the vast majority of their best compositions. This DNA 12” mix of her 1991 top ten hit features Jazzi P guesting with a couple of rap segments. As with Bananarama, I could have picked any of her singles over a five year period and they would all have been amongst the best here. This one wins because it doesn’t take long to memorise the words to the chorus.
10. “I Guess I Like It Like That” – Kylie Minogue (1991)
The b-side to syrupy schmaltzfest “If You Were With Me Now”, an infinitely benign ballad duet with Keith Washington best remembered for being so soporific it could actually stop volcanoes from erupting when played at a suitable proximity and amenable volume.
In case you think the song sounds vaguely familiar, this b-side, which as with “Mr. Sleaze” contains only a token contribution from the named artiste, was SAW’s response to 2Unlimited’s rise to political power in mainland Europe.
11. “When I’m Good and Ready” – Sybil (1993)
The sound of pop music had moved on by the early nineties. Nomad’s “Devotion” had redefined the sound of pop-dance, favouring stripped back productions rather than the dense, multi-layered electronic wall of sound approach that SAW had trademarked. This song, by US vocalist Sybil, showcases SAW’s ability to listen to what was happening in the charts and emulate it. It sounds simultaneously completely different and absolutely the same as songs they were creating five years earlier and ultimately, that proved to be SAW’s downfall. The one-time innovators were now just fading imitators.
Honourable mention – “Together Forever”, Rick Astley (1988)
Had it been available in this version on Spotify, I would have chosen Rick Astley’s “Together Forever (in the House of Love)”. For a while, every 12” version of a SAW song featured the vocal stylings of a chap known only as “Ambassador”, if memory serves. He was the chap who put the wap bam boogie into “Wap Bam Boogie” by Matt Bianco. Adding his vocals, a slightly higher high hat and stripping back some of the synthesized strings frequently made for a “house” remix in SAW’s eyes and ears. Mostly it was just a bit embarrassing when compared to the real thing, but here it all comes together in a deeply joyous and slightly messy cacophony. Far and away Rick’s top pop moment.