S/A/W were the best writers and producers in the world, ever. Yes, music is subjective but all that means is that my opinion is as relevant as the head honcho of Billboard Magazine, and that is my opinion. There never has been, and probably never will be a team of writers and producers who are as good as S/A/W.
They began their partnership with credibility galore. Writing club tracks that took the U.K.’s (still underground) gay scene by storm. They were cutting edge. These hits crossed over into mainstream clubland, before eventually crossing over onto the mainstream pop charts.
They scored their first Top 10 in 1984 with Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go) by Hazell Dean, and their first #1 came in 1985 with You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) by Dead or Alive (Brackets in song titles were a big thing in the 80s). By 1989 they were the most successful songwriters and producers in the world.
Depending on your opinion of S/A/W, the music charts in 1989 was either full of perfect pop or a musical nightmare. The powers that be had decided S/A/W and their acts represented everything that was wrong with the music industry, yet still they ruled the charts.
By 1989 harsh criticism of S/A/W and their acts wasn’t confined to the pages of the credible music press. Teen Bibles like Smash Hits and Number One openly denounced them, radio refused to play them and award shows denied their existence.
But 20 years before Brexit, this was a prime example of those in authority being out of touch with what people want. Despite huge opposition from all corners, people voted with their wallets and S/A/W continued to dominate the charts.
A perfect example of this is Listen To Your Heart by Sonia.
Released in November 1989, by the time 1990 rolled round it still hadn’t cracked the Top 30. It was climbing the charts so slowly I’m sure even Sonia herself thought she was flogging a dead horse.
Nevertheless, despite minimal support from radio, and despite the continuing onslaught of S/A/W acts in the press Listen To Your Heart continued to climb the charts by a precious few positions week in week out. By the end of January 1990 the song had become Sonia’s second Top 10 hit.
I remember bumping into a school friend (who shall remain nameless just to be on the safe side of data protection laws) outside WHSmith on a Saturday afternoon. She was the coolest girl in the class, she worshipped The Cure, she thought Transvision Vamp were too mainstream, you know the girl I’m talking about. She had obviously bought a 12″ or an album in WHSmith and after 5 minutes of me admiring her purple hair, her black velvet elbow gloves and her full length leather raincoat I asked her what she had bought.
“Just a record” she said
“What record?” I asked
“Just a 12 inch” she said
“Which 12 inch” I asked
“Just for the remix – I’m really into remixes now” she said
“Which remix” I asked
As reluctantly as she would pull her own teeth, out from the plastic bag she pulled the 12″ of Listen To Your Heart.
I said nothing, she looked uncomfortable, her eyes begged me not to mention it at school.
I understood, and the barely visible nod of my head let her know I understood. We parted. I never mentioned the incident again, and for her part, she never made another comment when I would bring the latest Big Fun cassette single into school.
It’s important to remember that Sonia was no Kylie. She didn’t have the superstar status that meant a Top 10 hit was a shoo-in. If her songs were liked they charted high, if they didn’t connect with the record buying public then she couldn’t get them near the Top 10 no matter how many times she appeared on Going Live, therefore Listen to your Heart was worthy of its high position. It sold a lot of copies and hung around the charts for months because people liked it and people bought it.
One of my pet hates is the term disposable pop – a term that was often applied to S/A/W and the artists who sang their songs by the music press. In 1989 it mattered not a jot me. Today it makes me very angry. The charts in 1989 reflected what people actually spent their Money on. There was no streaming, there was no YouTube, if you wanted to listen to a song at a time of your choosing you had to buy the record. This made for many a Saturday afternoon spent in record shops agonising over which record to spend my pocket money on, this, in my opinion made the charts more authentic and this is why the term disposable pop is a world away from what S/A/W produced.
Buying a single, for me, meant being careful with my pocket money. I’d buy a single most weeks, and which single to buy was a big decision. Buying an album meant weeks of saving my pocket money. There was no room for error, my investment had to justify the sacrifice. This was the case for most of my peers, so to a whole generation of record buyers S/A/W were producing, not disposable pop but investments that had to thought through, planned, deliberated over and finally pondered in front of the record display for hours on a Saturday afternoon. To me these purchases were not disposable, I sacrificed expanding my collection of erasers to bring home GTO by Sinitta, I spent my bus fare on Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now by Samantha Fox and had to walk home in the rain, and I still can’t discuss the horrors I had to endure to raise the funds to purchase Bananarama’s WOW album.
Catchy? yes, pop? certainly, disposable never. These were cherished possessions, a physical embodiment of joy, 7inches and 3 and a half minutes of pure pop perfection.
So I would like to take a moment to celebrate the magic that S/A/W brought into my life, and the lives of millions. These 3 men provided the soundtrack to my youth, and what a soundtrack it was. For all the industry snobbery, 60 million record sales say the experts got it wrong. There will never be another S/A/W.
And now for a list. Here are my Top 11 S/A/W songs- 11 because it’s bigger than 10. This list will change weekly, as Top 11’s always do, so I will be posting another Top 11 in the future which will bear no resemblence to this Top 11 whatsoever.
Behold and enjoy.
11. This Time I Know It’s For Real Donna Summer. 🇬🇧 #3 🇺🇸 #7
Album: Another Place & Time (1989)
Genuine soaring vocals laced over a frantic backing track that captures that feeling of being in love, and delivers it back in a no-nonsense three and a half minute package.
10. Happenin’ All Over Again Lonnie Gordon 🇬🇧 #4.
Album: If I Have To Stand Alone (1990)
A stand-out S/A/W tune, I got my copy free with Kellog’s Frosties. It was a flexi disc so it didn’t last long but it saved me a few bob.
9. I Want You Back Bananarama 🇬🇧 #5 Album: WOW (1988)
It wasn’t until compiling this Top 11 that I realised how much I loved Bananarama, with or without Siobhan.
8. Love, Truth & Honesty. Bananarama 🇬🇧 #23 🇺🇸 #89.
Album: Greatest Hits Collection (1988)
A perfect example of S/A/W’s ability to marry melancholy and sadness with a beat and melody that just won’t quit. Perfection
7. Where in The World – Kylie Minogue (Album track only) Album: Greatest Hits (1992)
Why this was never released as a single I’ll never know. One of Kylie’s finest moments.
6. All I Wanna Do is Make You Mine – Jason Donovan & Kylie Minogue (B-side only) 1988
See comment above.
5. You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) Dead or Alive 🇬🇧#1 🇺🇸#11 Album: Youthquake (1985)
Pete Burns and S/A/W turned out to be an explosive combination. The single that pulled them from the clubs and turned them into real life hit makers. Fascinating from start to finish.
4. I Heard a Rumour. Bananarama 🇬🇧 #14 🇺🇸 #4. Album: WOW (1987
If Bananarama were having fun, then I was having fun, and this was the most fun they ever had…I think.
3.Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go) Hazell Dean 🇬🇧 #4. Album: Heart First
Such an exciting song, sublime vocals, haunting melody and lyrics that turned me into a pre-teen feminist.
2. Turn it into Love. Kylie Minogue (Album Track Only) Album: Kylie (1988)
Again, it’s a mystery as to why this never made it as a single (outside of Japan), especially as Hazell Dean released a version shortly after the Kylie album came out.
1. Never Too Late. Kylie Minogue 🇬🇧 # 4. Album: Enjoy Yourself (1989)
Not her biggest hit, but certainly one of her best (I know you all think Better The Devil You Know should be Number 1 but it’s my Top 11) Perfect from start to finish.