• Shwetant Kumar

“I’d rather WHAT?"

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

"[M]ost A&R guys have probably never heard a good pop song. I'd be interested to go round the country to look at A&R men's record collections. I bet they're all full of T Rex, Gary Glitter, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Atomic Rooster. If you've got a rock record collection, you haven't got any pop songs. […] Journalists from university killed pop music, now we're bringing it back. With 4,000,000 people unemployed, we need to be cheered up."

– Pete Waterman, “Production Line” (Music Technology, June 1987)


Ever heard of Stock, Aitken & Waterman? No, they aren’t a legal firm but a music production team. Does that ring a bell? No?

Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman, sometime in the 1980s.

SAW – songwriters Mike Stock and Matt Aitken and businessman/DJ Pete Waterman – practically created a British Motown for the 1980s. They named their London studio the Hit Factory, launched the likes of Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley, Bananarama and Dead or Alive, and created some of the most dazzlingly joyous dance/pop music in existence. (My first instrument, the humble Casio MA120, had Astley's “Together Forever” as its demo and I never knew what it was until I turned fifteen, so I suppose I’m biased.)


SAW made it a point to steer clear of topical lyrics, and their music is full of interesting harmonies and modulations, but the image got in the way of the songs. As a Guardian reader writes, “[they] must have sensed there was perversely exotic fun to be had by giving songs to soap stars (Kylie [Minogue] and Jason [Donovan]), the office tea boy (Rick Astley) and a girl who was only famous for sleeping with the bass player of the Rolling Stones (Mandy Smith).” And, speaking of the Stones…


Thanks to the assembly-line nature of their music and their success with everyone from schoolchildren to the thriving underground gay scene, SAW never had a great relationship with the music press. They would sometimes trick critics into liking them, and one of their biggest hits (Mel & Kim's “Respectable”) could very well be about themselves, but their most overt attack would take the form of a cheeky protest song: the Reynolds Girls’ “I’d Rather Jack”, which hit #8 on the UK Singles Chart in 1989 and still shows up on some ‘Worst Songs’ lists.

The Girls seem to have vanished into thin air – as little more than the producers’ mouthpieces, they probably bore the brunt of the backlash – but “Jack” survives as a still-relevant dig at the music industry, as told by an audience that wants house music but is fed classic rock instead. In their defence, at this time mainstream rock usually meant hair metal and power ballads. The surviving old guard had gone over to the dark side (no pun intended); Pink Floyd had released what is generally considered their worst album; as for the Stones, Andy Kellman put it best in AllMusic’s review of electronic pop pioneers Depeche Mode’s The Best of, Vol. 1:

"Just compare the difference between 1981's ‘Just Can't Get Enough’ and 2005's ‘Precious’ to the difference between the Rolling Stones’ ‘Time Is on My Side’ (1964) and ‘Mixed Emotions’ (1989); Depeche Mode remained on an even keel creatively, while the Stones were hailed for continuing to exist and for making music that didn't embarrass their legacy. (If that's not a slap in the face of real rock & rollers who laughed at the thought of synth pop as more than a silly trend, what is?)"

Thirty years on, almost everyone has heard of the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, and almost no one knows of Yazz. Is this because the former's music is 'better', or is it simply because they come up in public discourse so often that you can’t help but know who they are? Another argument is that Depeche Mode isn't a good point of comparison: they seldom made lightweight music, which supposedly disqualifies them from being 'pop'. One of the tacit assumptions of art criticism is that you have to be solemn (or, better yet, dead) to be taken seriously; no wonder Pink Floyd (and Nirvana and Radiohead) remain not just popular but fashionable, while unabashed pop music is doomed to be a guilty pleasure.


It is this elitism that SAW crusaded against, and their best work certainly proves their point. Unfortunately, “I’d Rather Jack” was the beginning of the end: the hits dried up once the ‘90s began, and the partnership would disintegrate over the next few years. Their music is still unfairly held up as manufactured pop at its worst, and people are still more likely to listen to Fleetwood Mac.


This state of affairs is unlikely to change any time soon... but, until then, I’d rather jack.

"I'd Rather Jack"


All we wanna do is have a good time

Then you went and took our house away

No-one ever asked for our opinion

No, no, we don't get a say


AM, FM, all that jazz

We'd rather sing along with Yazz

What happened to the radio?

They never play the songs we know

Golden oldies, Rolling Stones, we don't want them back

I'd rather jack than Fleetwood Mac

No heavy metal, rock'n'roll, music from the past

I'd rather jack than Fleetwood Mac

I'd rather jack

Can't they see that every generation

Has music for its own identity?

But why the DJ on the radio station

Is always more than twice the age of me?

Who needs Pink Floyd, Dire Straits?

That's not our music, it's out of date

Demographic stereo

They never play the songs we know

(Golden oldies, Rolling Stones...)

Music and words by Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman

Performed by the Reynolds Girls

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