Before Stock Aitken Waterman…
Pete Waterman had spent most of the late 1960s as a club DJ, specialising in soul music, before joining Magnet Records as an A&R assistant in the early 1970s, where he broke records like Alvin Stardust's "My Coo Ca Choo" as well as signing Chris Rea and starting the disco craze with Silver Convention, a band that featured Donna Summer as their lead singer. He later set up Loose Ends Productions with producer Peter Collins, creating hits in the early 1980s for acts like Nik Kershaw, Tracey Ullman, the Belle Stars and Musical Youth. The seeds were sown for the future in 1981 when Pete was sent a song called "One Nine For A Lady Breaker" written and performed by a young man called Mike Stock.
Mike had been working as a professional musician after finishing his drama and theology degree in the early 1970s, and had played on sessions for Radio 2, as well as singing on the famous Top Of The Pops cover version albums. Pete Waterman loved One Nine For A Lady Breaker, arranging for Peter Collins to produce the track, which was performed by Mike under the pseudonym Chris Britton.
Around this time, Matt Aitken met up with Mike Stock and joined his covers band Mirage as a guitarist. Matt had worked in local government after leaving school, before moving into music full time by playing in a covers band at American army bases in Germany. He moved on to cabaret bands, playing in hotels and cruise liners, before being introduced to Mike Stock. The pair hit it off and Matt also joined Mike's other band Nightworks, who played original material written by Mike. Mike then built a small recording studio underneath his house in Abbey Wood, where he and Matt spent most of 1983 writing songs and producing local bands. Meanwhile, Pete parted ways with Peter Collins at the end of 1983, just as Mike Stock disbanded both of his bands so that he and Matt could concentrate fully on writing and production.
1984 to 1991: The Stock Aitken Waterman years
Having set up Pete Waterman Limited (PWL), Pete Waterman received a call from Mike Stock in early 1984, asking for a meeting. Mike and Matt turned up with a song they had written and produced called "The Upstroke", a hi-NRG female version of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax". Pete Waterman was impressed and offered to form a partnership with Mike and Matt. "The Upstroke" performed by female duo Agents Aren't Aeroplanes wasn't a chart hit, but it was a club hit and was championed by Radio One's John Peel.
By now based out of the famous Marquee studios in West London, the fledging Stock Aitken Waterman team achieved early success with hit singles for Divine and Hazell Dean, whilst also writing and producing the 1984 Greek entry for the Eurovision Song Contest.
Much has been said about who did what in the Stock Aitken Waterman team, but it is important to clarify the key roles. In black and white terms, Mike was the main songwriter, Matt was the main musician whilst Pete was the ideas and business brain. However, there was a real overlap across these roles; Matt played a key role in the songwriting, Mike played and performed on all of the tracks, whilst Pete would suggest ideas for songs and contribute to the production and mixing process.
Occasionally in-house and guest musicians would be called upon to play on Stock Aitken Waterman recordings, but the majority of instrumentation was played by Mike and Matt themselves.
Their years of experience of playing in bands, and especially their playing together in Mike’s bands Mirage & Nightwork, resulted in Mike and Matt having a real affinity for each other's musical styles and influence, allowing them to develop arrangements and produce records quickly and to the specified brief.
With Mike and Matt working in the studio writing and producing, Pete would act as a critical friend - listening to new productions in their various stages and suggesting changes to maximise the artistic and commercial potential of Mike and Matt's creative output. Pete was also the business brains behind the partnership, seeking out new artists and making deals with record companies, as well as promoting Stock Aitken Waterman and their records.
Stock Aitken Waterman achieved their first number one single in 1985 with Dead or Alive's hi-NRG classic You Spin Me Round (Like A Record), whilst the trio diversified into soul-tinged pop with hits for Princess and The Three Degrees. Projects of note included production work for Brilliant, a three-piece band which included Jimi Cauty of The KLF and top producer Youth, and a totally reworked remix of Elton John's Wrap Her Up. The trio's growing success saw them move out of The Marquee and into their own studio complex at The Vineyard in South London.
1986 saw Stock Aitken Waterman experiment with different genres as they searched for a bold pop sound to define them. This resulted in fascinating collaborations with blues legend Georgie Fame, soul-pop singer Phil Fearon, and male duo Morgan McVey (which featured future Sugababes producer Cameron McVey), but it was the trio’s work with Bananarama that indicated the shape of things to come, with their pop/hi-NRG crossover version of Venus becoming a huge UK hit – and even reaching #1 in the US.
After a successful but frustrating period of largely producing songs written by others, Mike, Matt and Pete were keen to focus on their own compositions; as result, they switched their focus on finding and developing new acts for whom they could write and produce. The real fruits of their new direction emerged in late 1986 when sister duo Mel & Kim launched with great success, with “Showing Out (Get Fresh At The Weekend)” hitting #2 on the UK singles chart.
1987 saw Mel & Kim follow up the success of "Showing Out" with a number one for "Respectable", and a third hit with FLM. Stock Aitken Waterman also had a big success as artists, with their rare groove track "Roadblock" hit the charts, after its release on a white label fooled DJs and Stock Aitken Waterman critics alike that it was an original 70s track. The collaboration with Bananarama continued to pay dividends with a string of hits including "I Heard A Rumour" and "Love In The First Degree", whilst other artists like Samantha Fox and Sinitta benefited from the Stock Aitken Waterman magic touch. Mike, Matt and Pete also helmed the Ferry Aid charity version of "Let It Be" for the Zeebrugge ferry disaster fund, which reached #1.
However, the big Stock Aitken Waterman success of 1987 was undoubtedly the arrival of Rick Astley, whose debut single "Never Gonna Give You Up" hit #1, quickly followed by two further hit singles and a successful album.
Stock Aitken Waterman’s success went into overdrive in 1988 thanks to their collaboration with Neighbours actress Kylie Minogue, kicked off an impressive run of hits with I Should Be So Lucky, which stayed at #1 for five weeks, quickly followed by three further #2 hits. Kylie was joined at PWL by Neighbours co-star Jason Donovan, whose debut single "Nothing Can Divide Us" marked the start of a 3 year working relationship with Stock Aitken Waterman. The collaboration with Bananarama continued in 1988 with four further big hits, whilst a successful reunion with Hazell Dean resulted in three hit singles. Rick Astley returned with a largely self-penned second album, which formed a prelude to his split with Stock Aitken Waterman and PWL. Mel & Kim returned with a fourth single "That's The Way It Is", but its success was overshadowed by Mel Appleby's tragic death shortly afterwards, due to cancer. This year also saw a surprise collaboration between Stock Aitken Waterman and the heavy metal band Judas Priest, although the three tracks they recorded remain officially unreleased.
Stock Aitken Waterman bowed to popular demand and created a romantic duet for Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, which reached number one at the start of 1989.
Mike, Matt and Pete's success reached its pinnacle in 1989,with 7 number one singles, a further 15 Top 40 hits, and 4 smash hit albums. The Kylie and Jason phenomenon continued this year; Minogue scored number ones with single Hand On Your Heart and second album Enjoy Yourself, Donovan scored 2 number one singles and his debut album Ten Good Reasons sold 4 million copies. New acts Sonia, The Reynolds Girls and Big Fun scored big hits, whilst established acts such as Donna Summer and Cliff Richard benefited from the trio’s midas touch. More importantly, Mike, Matt and Pete helmed a number of charity records this year, including Bananarama & Lananeeneenoonoo's Help! for Comic Relief, Band Aid II's Do They Know It's Christmas? and a version of Ferry Cross The Mersey in aid of the Hillsborough Disaster Appeal, which featured Holly Johnson, Gerry Mardsen, The Christians and Paul McCartney.
1989 would also see Stock Aitken Waterman achieve 27% of the UK singles market -- an impressive achievement for an independent songwriting and production team.
Stock Aitken Waterman's success continued into 1990with big hits for Kylie, Jason, Sonia, Big Fun, and new signing Lonnie Gordon but as the year progressed, the music scene started to move away from the pop music which dominated the 1980s. New music genres such as rave, techno, indie and baggy came to the fore, which resulted in less coverage of Stock Aitken Waterman output on TV, radio and in the music press compared to previous years. Kylie's third album Rhythm of Love was a commercial and critical success, with singles like Better The Devil You Know and Step Back In Time welcomed with great acclaim.
Mike, Matt and Pete worked on updating their sound to reflect the changing styles of pop music, but the mixed fortunes of new Stock Aitken Waterman material were a frustration to Matt Aitken who decided to leave the partnership in 1991.
1991 – 1993: The Stock & Waterman years
Mike and Pete chose to carry on as Stock & Waterman, and their first big project as a duo was the fourth and final Kylie Minogue album Let's Get To It which gained both artist and producers rave reviews for its mature and diverse sound.
A renewed collaboration with Bananarama yielded further hit singles, whilst their work with US soul diva Sybil saw Stock & Waterman successfully update their signature sound for the new decade.
Mike and Pete continued to diversify their sound, tackling mainstream pop, harder dance and everything in between. However, Mike Stock chose to part ways with Pete Waterman in 1993, marking the end of the partnership.
After Stock Aitken Waterman…
Post Stock Aitken Waterman, all three continued to enjoy successful careers in the music industry. Pete Waterman established a number of new partnerships with writing & production teams and achieved huge success with pop group STEPS, whilst Mike Stock teamed up again with Matt Aitken to score big hits with acts like Robson & Jerome, Scooch and Nicki French.
The new millennium saw further changes. Pete took a step away from record production to become a judge on TV talent show Pop Idol, whilst Matt semi-retired from the music industry. Mike continued to write and produce with different collaborators, with credits including Fast Food Rockers and Go!Go!Go!.
2005 saw the trio reunite to publicise the release of the Stock Aitken Waterman Gold compilation album. Whilst a full musical collaboration did not follow, Mike and Pete subsequently teamed up on two separate occasions; the first was to write and produce a single for girl band The Sheilas (in 2007), whilst the second was to write and produce the UK's 2010 entry for The Eurovision Song Contest.
To the surprise of many, there was a full Stock Aitken Waterman reunion in 2015 when the trio came together again at the request of Kylie Minogue; Mike, Matt and Pete arranged and produced a new version of Kylie's Every Day's Like Christmas in their classic 80s style.
2023 saw all three come together again for a major Channel 5 tv documentary. Including interviews with Mike, Matt and Pete as well as artists such as Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Rick Astley and more. The show was an incredible success.
March 2023 came the announcement of a brand new musical based around the Stock Aitken Waterman back catalogue to premiere in Manchester in November and touring the country through to May 2024.
Only time will tell if Mike, Matt and Pete will come together again to work on new material, but in the meantime, all three remain busy. Pete hosts a regular radio show on BBC West Midlands and remains heavily involved in the trains & railway industry, his other life’s passion away from music. Matt pursues a number of interests outside of the music industry. Mike remains fully active in the music industry as a songwriter and producer through his Modal Production Group, working with artists including Shayne Ward and The Fizz.
Whatever the future may hold, we must be grateful for the amazing catalogue of music Stock Aitken Waterman have given to us. However, this catalogue is much more than a collection of finely crafted songs – these are three-minute masterpieces that became the soundtrack of our lives. All born out of the talent, hard work and passion of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman.