Mike Stock: Hitting all the wrong notes

As part of Stock, Aitken and Waterman, he defined Eighties pop. Twenty years on, Mike Stock compares his legacy to Shakespeare's. He should be so lucky, says Nick Duerden
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Mike Stock is in an ebullient mood. He is sitting in his kitchen, waving expansively around him. "Nice, isn't it?" he says, of his vast mansion in Sussex. I have to agree.

Mike Stock is in an ebullient mood. He is sitting in his kitchen, waving expansively around him. "Nice, isn't it?" he says, of his vast mansion in Sussex. I have to agree.

Stock met me from the station in a gleaming, silver Maserati that smelt intoxicatingly of recently-skinned leather and boasted a dashboard to rival that of a James Bond car. As we crunched down his gravel drive through the 100-acre estate, he was keen to draw my attention to the grazing cows in his pasture, the somnolent deer in the fields, and the ripe vineyard that he will soon use to make his own wine. In his "car park", we parked alongside a Porsche and a Honda 4x4. His house is a labyrinthine mansion with exquisite cream furnishings that scream: "this cost a packet". Even the most casual observer would have to concede that whoever owns this house must be quite obscenely wealthy. As Stock is quick to acknowledge, he is.

"Living or dead," he boasts from his chair, "I am the most successful songwriter of all time. Look it up, it's right there in the Guinness Book of Records. It means that I'm even better - well, okay, not better as such, but more prolific - than either Matt or Pete [his erstwhile music partners, Aitken and Waterman]. Does it make me happy? You bet it does. My success as a songwriter, as a creative, brings me a great deal of satisfaction." Later, the man who once wrote "I would rather jack than Fleetwood Mac" will compare himself to Shakespeare.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the union of Stock, Aitken and Waterman, the songwriting and producing colossus that created not only some of the biggest hit singles of all time, but also some of the very worst. For every example of pure pop gold - Kylie Minogue's "I Should Be So Lucky", Mel & Kim's "Respectable", Dead Or Alive's "You Spin Me Round" - there has been an awful lot of dreck. SAW were never fussy about the songs they wrote, or to whom they then dispensed them, they were quite happy to drag all manner of unwitting tea girls and post-room boys into them limelight, among them Boy Krazy and Mobius Loop featuring Julie Zee. They also wrote songs for such luminaries as Bill Wyman's former paramour Mandy Smith, the Capital Radio DJs Pat and Mick, and the Page Three girl Samantha Fox. For these very reasons, a poll recently decreed that SAW were the second worst aspect of the entire 1980s; they were just pipped to the post by Margaret Thatcher.

"Well, we've never been trendy, maybe, but who cares, because we've been massively successful," he says, insistent that success really does equal good. "The industry hated us because we did it our way, and the media were forever turning your noses up at us, simply because, if you don't mind me saying, you're all so precious. Anything that's successful in this country is criticised, mostly out of fear, I think. With us, it was because we were the best. Come on, we've had over 150 hit singles." He leans towards me, puggishly. "Have you?"

To commemorate the anniversary, Stock has published an autobiography called The Hit Factory. It's undoubtedly a fascinating tale, but the book is hampered by some truly appalling ghost-writing that does the man very few favours, with passages that veer between the nonsensical - "I worked with a lot of black artists over the years and I'm pleased to say we had hits with all of them" - to the bizarre - "Whatever people said, SAW was never 'Thatcherite'. I don't remember voting for anybody in those years."

"See, Pete came out with his own version a few years ago. I've not read it, because I'm not interested, but I know people that have, and apparently it's full of factual inaccuracies. That doesn't surprise me, because that's Pete all over, isn't it? Forever prone to embellishment and self-promotion, regardless of the truth. I thought it was important to record the events accurately, if only for the history books because what we achieved in music will never be achieved again."

Despite the team's enormous success, they were haemorrhaging money at such a rate that, by 1990, Waterman - the self-appointed businessman of the three - was forced to sell the company to Warners. Stock still has no idea where all the money went, and was incensed that Waterman failed to inform his partners of the sale, and at his refusal to split any of the profits. Because they had never signed a legal agreement with one another, neither he nor Aitken had much legal recourse.

"I still consider Pete a friend, and I would go out for a drink with him," he says, glowering. "Although, there's no guarantee I won't grasp his throat."

Despite the ungainly fall from grace, Stock continued to flourish throughout the 1990s, producing Robson & Jerome's uber-selling karaoke version of The Righteous Brothers' hit "Unchained Melody", and as songwriter/Svengali behind acts like Scooch, Girls@Play and, most recently, Fast Food Rockers - perhaps the most wretched of his pop creations so far.

"That wasn't wretched, it was genius!" he thunders. "Listen, there is far more profundity within me than many of my songs would suggest at first. I feel fantastically challenged by the restrictive nature of a three-minute pop song in much the same way that Shakespeare liked to restrict himself to writing 14 very precise lines for a sonnet. It's like art, painting. A painter doesn't just splash colours all over the wall, does he? He uses a frame, same as me. And believe me, writing three verses and a catchy chorus is far more creative than something like "Bohemian Rhapsody" will ever be." He pauses, watches my reaction, and frowns. "I don't know why you're smiling. I'm being quite serious here."

Stock was asked to be a judge on ITV's Pop Idol. He turned it down because he hates the "circus nonsense" of reality television, and finds it painful to watch Waterman because, "Pete knows nothing about the creative art of songwriting whatsoever." Instead, the 52-year-old (who fails to see the commercial appeal of either Madonna or Robbie Williams) is planning his own, non-televised talent search, and will continue to work on the perimeters of an industry that, he says adamantly, has failed to shower him with the respect he deserves.

"Think about it," he says. "I'm this amazingly successful songwriter, and yet not a single record company has ever attempted to employ my talents. Why? It's a conspiracy, pure and simple. But they won't stop me, because I'll just resurface with another project, I'll do it by myself and, like always, I'll show everyone else how it's done."

A charming, if slightly reptilian, smile spreads across his face, but his words have the distinct ring of a threat.

'The Hit Factory: The Stock Aitken Waterman Story' is published by New Holland, £14.99

Comments