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Reproduced from Billboard July 6, 1996

LOVE THIS

WRITER/PRODUCERS STOCK, AITKEN AT THE HELM OF HIT FACTORY

by Dominic Pride

The aroma of grinding coffee may have emanated from the offices of Mike Stock's South London production base, but the smell of success definitely lingers in the air. Stock founded Love This Records not long after he bought a derelict coffee mill on London's south bank in December 1993, and the site now houses one of the unsung hit factories of the '90s.

With a string of top 10 singles, a U.S. No. 2 hit, and the production credits for last year's biggest-selling singles act here (London), Stock and his writing/producing partner Matt Aitken are continuing in the vein that brought them success in the 80s as two-thirds of the trio Stock Aitken and Waterman. But in a different decade, Stock and Aitken are changing with the times, harnessing the power of TV to sell records.

The SAW sound, characterized by its unashamed use of synthesizers and uptempo pop tunes, was the hallmark of such acts as Dead or Alive, Mel & Kim and Divine. During the 80's, the production house famous for producing TV soap stars Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, as well as elevating it's onetime tea boy Rick Astley to the status of international pop star.

In the 90's, S&A are still producing blatantly commerical pop for their own label and for others but have adapted their strategies to today's vastly different marketplace. Most of the recent Love This releases bear the Stock & Aitken Production logo. While Stock owns the label and production facilities, the two share production duties. Stock records the vocals, while Aitken takes on the instrumental production around the voices. The same populist production techniques are still at play, but instead of bringing unkowns, like Astley, into the limelight, Stock is increasingly wroking with TV stars who have a ready-made audience.

The two are working on tracks for a new album by Robson & Jerome, two men who, until their recording debut last year, were better known as the lovable rogues from the ITV network series "Soldier Soldier."

Last year, two double A-sided singles produced by Stock and released by RCA were the first and third best selling singles of the year. "I Believe"/"Up on the Roof" spent four weeks at No. 1 in the UK in May going platinum (600,000 units) while "Unchained Melody"/"White Cliffs of Dover" spent seven weeks at the top and went double platinum (1.2 million units) in November. According to the BPI, the latter is the best selling single of the decade so far.

John Alford, an actor from the ITV series "London's Burning" has also been successful. His singles "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" and "Blue Moon" both reached the top 10.

Using TV stars is one of the few ways an independent label can sell pop music, says Stock. "I can make a record for the clubs, but it will never come out of the clubs. Radio playlists keep their own path, so the last mass medium to reach the pop market is the television." According to Stock, pop has been edged out at radio, making it more diffcult to appeal to teenagers.

"Ten years ago, no one would have turned down Robson & Jerome. Now there's few who'd accept it."

Among his peers, Stock has had to endure the brickbats of those who criticize his often low-brow approach. All this is water off a duck's back, says Stock. "Credibility is not something that bothers me. I am flying the flag for independent pop, and I don't care what other people think." True to form, Stock has produced songs for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and is about to create a single for another major toy marketing campaign.

Another criticism leveled at Stock is that his records are unadventurous.

Robson & Jerome and Alford both had hits with tried-and-tested songs, and while Stock says that the combination works, he notes that there is "no formula. You have to work as hard on Robson & Jerome as any other artist. People think it's easy - just put string there, brass there and you've got it. I lost as much sleep over them as anyone else."

Stock says he finds irony in the fact that pop has become an exception and considered unusual in Britain in the 90s. "It's almost easier to be credible and esoteric. Robson & Jerome is left field now."

The first Love This release was Nicki French's "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" in 1994. It hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1995. Among the label's other hits was Kym Mazelle and Jocelyn Brown's 1994 cover of the disco classic "No More Tears (Enough is Enough)". Recent signing Jan Monroe sings the Bacharach and David classic "Anyone Who Had a Heart."

Love This' roster also has new acts with new songs. Dance-pop outfit Deuce has a current single "No Surrender" and last year, the label signed Liverpool boy duo BND, purveyors of gentle guitar pop tunes. Dutch actress Tatjana has had a Euro-hit with "Santa Maria".

While Stock enjoys working with new acts, he knows he has to make a living.

"If an artist comes along with a strong image and presentation, then I will work on that, but I can't ignore the potential of an actor who already has a following."

The safe nature of some of the hit songs being peddled stems from the way he and Aitken have to work, says Stock. "With Motown, there was a stable of stars who they could change around and fit the songs to. I've got to work with the particular stars in the studio, so the sound and the song has to be right for them."

Stock has a clear idea about who he is aiming his records at in the 90's.

"There's a whole disenfranchised group of record buyers out there who will buy a song, but they won't go near a record shop for fear of being laughed at". Love This encourages direct communication with the fan base through reply-paid cards in CDs and telephone information lines, and the label hopes to create more direct links with buyers. "Record shops have become like libraries - they are repositories of knowledge. I believe if a record shop looked like McDonald's, red and yellow and fun looking, they would sell more records."

In a market where mainstream pop is totally dominated by major labels, Stock remains fiercely independent, distributing his records through Pinnacle and not joining the BPI. "Major labels can give away free product and we just can't compete with that."

Nevertheless, despite his problems and detractors, Stock remains committed to his crusade for "uplifitng pop records." As long as the public shows its willingness to buy such records, he says, he will continue to make them. In its first year, the company had sales of 15 million, according to Stock, who adds that second year figures look set to exceed that. With such growth, he can afford to be unrepentant about his pop crusade. "People used to go apoplectic about SAW, or they go mad about Robson & Jerome. I say, it's just pop music, for god's sake."

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