Stock Aitken Waterman’s 20 greatest songs – ranked!

20. The Reynolds Girls – I’d Rather Jack (1989)

Not a great record, but as a mad act of provocation designed to upset as many people as possible in three minutes, I’d Rather Jack – a song that dismisses not just Fleetwood Mac, but the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, heavy metal and indeed all “music from the past” – is unbeatable.

19. Sybil – When I’m Good and Ready (1993)

Not strictly a Stock Aitken and Waterman (SAW) production – Matt Aitken had already jumped ship – but let’s not split hairs in the face of such depthless fun. Pop house meets bubblegum soul, the old SAW sound given a sleek upgrade for a new era: less obviously tinny, a little more luxurious.

18. Stock Aitken and Waterman – Roadblock (1987)

Conceived as a rejoinder to critics who suggested that all SAW productions were beginning to sound the same, Roadblock was mid-tempo, funk-infused and rather good. The story that the initial anonymous 12in was an old 70s rare groove track stretches credulity a bit: it’s audibly made in the late 80s.

17. Brilliant – Love Is War (1986)

Brilliant’s album Kiss the Lips of Life was a well-reviewed commercial flop. Love Is War – a more sophisticated, US soul-inspired production style than that which made SAW famous – still sounds great, but it buttered no parsnips with the pragmatic Pete Waterman. “Fuck that for critical acclaim, you can’t pay the fucking rent with that,” he later reflected.

Related:‘I crawled on my knees to Kylie’ – the inside story of Stock, Aitken and Waterman

16. Morgan McVey – Looking Good Diving with the Wild Bunch (1987)

One of the weirder moments in SAW’s catalogue: on the B-side of Morgan McVey’s solitary flop single was a version featuring a rap by band member Cameron McVey’s future wife Neneh Cherry. A year later, Cherry polished it up and re-recorded it as Buffalo Stance, thus affording SAW a hand in one of the coolest singles of the 80s.

15. Mandy Smith – I Just Can’t Wait (The Cool and Breezy Jazz Version) (1987)

The SAW track that unexpectedly became incredibly hip. Lurking on the second release of Smith’s unsuccessful debut single was this remix that found favour as a Balearic anthem. It expunges almost all of Smith’s vocal in favour of an acoustic guitar solo, and sounds suitably sun-drenched and blissful.

14. Lonnie Gordon – Happenin’ All Over Again (1990)

You could occasionally tell that Waterman had cut his teeth as a DJ in the 70s when the sound of northern soul seeped into SAW’s productions. It’s there on Happenin’ All Over Again: you can imagine the glorious chorus transplanted from its chattering electronic setting and booming around a talcum powder-covered dancefloor.

13. Kylie Minogue – Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi (1987)

The pick of Kylie’s initial flush of SAW-produced singles, Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi was the first sign that the trio realised they had something special on their hands and stepped back from their blaring one-size-fits-all approach: a succession of earworm melodies that feels relatively subtle by their standards in the late 80s.

12. Hazell Dean – Who’s Leaving Who (1984)

Hazell Dean was SAW’s breakthrough star, the author of a string of hits that melded the hi-NRG sound of mid-80s gay clubs with a keen pop sensibility. Who’s Leaving Who is the best of the lot, boasting a melody that’s not just Abba-influenced, but Abba standard: the bridge and chorus are fantastic.

11. Bananarama – I Heard a Rumour (1987)

A Frankenstein’s monster of a song made of repurposed samples – including a synth part from an old Samantha Fox track and a substantial chunk of a 1986 Italian hit by Michael Fortunati (“I’m pretty sure Waterman had to do a deal,” noted mix engineer Phil Hammond) – but the end result works: it pays to recycle.

10. Divine – You Think You’re a Man (1984)

From its Waterman-voiced Two Tribes parody intro to Divine’s fabulously tone-deaf vocal snarl to its high camp lyric – “Then walk away! From the greatest lover you have ever known!” – You Think You’re a Man is completely preposterous and entirely irresistible: there’s something almost punk about how little it seems to care.

9. Princess – Say I’m Your Number One (1985)

Their bank managers would presumably disagree, but it was a shame SAW wound up sticking so doggedly to one musical blueprint. They could clearly do more than mass produce music to a template, as demonstrated by Say I’m Your Number One: mid-tempo electro pop-soul, heavily influenced by the Brooklyn Bronx & Queens Band.

8. Donna Summer – This Time I Know It’s for Real (1989)

SAW liked to paint themselves as iconoclasts, unimpressed by music history, but they clearly rolled out the red carpet when the queen of disco paid a visit to their Hit Factory studio: This Time I Know It’s for Real is gleaming dance-pop with a nailed-on euphoric chorus.

7. Kylie Minogue – What Do I Have to Do? (1990)

Most SAW artists who expressed a desire to do something different were shown the door, but fearful of losing key asset Kylie Minogue, the trio rose to the challenge, coming up with better songs and a hipper, less generic production style: house-fuelled, monster-chorused, What Do I Have to Do? sparkles.

Sisters Melanie Appleby and Kim Appleby of Mel & Kim in 1987.
Sisters Melanie and Kim Appleby AKA Mel & Kim in 1987. Photograph: Tim Roney/Getty Images

6. Mel & Kim – Respectable (1987)

Respectable is all about the hook, but what a hook it is: the sampled vocals, the lurching, seasick chords beneath. Incredibly, the record company thought it was too gimmicky and demanded its removal, grist to SAW’s us-against-the-world attitude enshrined in Respectable’s lyrics: “Like us, hate us, but you’ll never change us.”

5. Bananarama – Love in the First Degree (1987)

You get the feeling SAW weren’t used to artists voicing their opinions or contributing to songwriting, but no matter: however fraught its genesis, Love in the First Degree was magnificent, a song that earned the public approval of Motown boss Berry Gordy.

4. Kylie Minogue – Better the Devil You Know (1990)

The song that launched a reinvented Kylie – more mature and sophisticated, less bubble gum-flavoured – was a luxurious disco homage at odds with SAW’s reputation for a bargain basement, factory-line approach to production. The strings on the 12in version are particularly luscious, the lyrics slightly at odds with the utterly jubilant music.

3. Mel & Kim – Showing Out (Get Fresh at the Weekend) (1986)

Experimental is not an adjective that is often used when it comes to SAW’s work, but 37 years on, Showing Out sounds appealingly odd. A pop-facing response to early house music, minimal and slightly disjointed, it’s more a series of hooks strung together than a song, but it really works.

2. Rick Astley – Never Gonna Give You Up (1987)

They had zero quality control, but at their best, SAW were far better songwriters than their detractors gave them credit for. If part of Never Gonna Give You Up’s longevity is down to Rick Astley’s self-deprecating charm and likability, it’s also because it’s a brilliantly written song.

1. Dead or Alive – You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) (1984)

SAW began their career in the shadow of Trevor Horn’s epic Frankie Goes to Hollywood productions, offering a tinpot Relax pastiche on their first single, The Upstroke by Agents Aren’t Aeroplanes, and parodying Two Tribes on Divine’s You Think You’re a Man. But on You Spin Me Round, they matched Horn’s work. Less melodically sugary than their previous hi-NRG influenced tracks, it is a breathlessly exciting single. It kicks straight in; the rhythm track is relentless, Pete Burns’ imperious vocal growls and soars, and the chorus permanently lodges in your brain on first hearing. It’s commercial pop music that captures a small-hours dancefloor’s hedonism and hysteria.