Various Artists Pete Waterman Presents The Hit Factory: The Soundtrack to a Generation Review

Released 2012.  

BBC Review

If you ever bounced around your bedroom to Bananarama, you know this one’s for you.

Mike Diver 2012

Music and memory have an unbreakable bond. And memories will ultimately pass judgement on this compilation from the Stock Aitken Waterman stable, released to coincide with the now-cancelled Hit Factory Live event.

Fond recollections of SAW’s chart dominance will lead to smiling faces all round as Kylie’s I Should Be So Lucky, Rick Astley’s immortal Never Gonna Give You Up and Mel & Kim’s Respectable comprise the first three cuts. All were number one hits, between the summer of 1987 and early 88. All were taped from the radio (at least) hundreds of times.

Dancing in front of the mirror, hairbrush in hand; riding in the back of dad’s car on the drive to a caravan holiday in the West Country; crashing home after an afternoon spent building BMX tracks in the woods. Such flashbacks are likely to be accompanied by hits like these, assuming the listener was of an impressionable age – say, between seven and 17 – when the SAW machine was becoming a pop-market production line comparable, commercially, with Motown’s success.

Personal affections and shameless nostalgia aside, though, many tracks simply haven’t stood up to the test of time. The more affirmative efforts – Mel & Kim’s cuts, The Reynolds Girls’ playful I’d Rather Jack, Pepsi & Shirlie’s Heartache – display a soft-edged angst veiled by bubblegum accessibility. But slushy sing-alongs like Kylie and Jason’s Especially for You – the best-selling SAW single of all time – are too dependent on their at-the-time celebrity factor to appeal to today’s pop pickers.

There is a refreshing innocence to much here that’s at odds with the hyper-sexualised content of many contemporary chart-toppers. In that respect, The Hit Factory is an interesting time capsule – its songs are full of downplayed emotions rather than brazen, give-it-all-up aggressiveness. Steps, featured twice, are perhaps the last outfit to offer this sort of material – and CD1 closer Heartbeat is actually rather affecting for its subtlety and sweetness.

Ultimately it doesn’t much matter that several songs haven’t aged well. If you ever bounced around your bedroom to Brother Beyond or Bananarama, you already know this one’s for you.

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