Apparently, the money from the commission from WEA to produce the debut album for Brilliant, Kiss The Lips of Life, would go a long way to establish the PWL operation financially and cover the costs of the PWL studio build, but this was still a period which saw Pete Waterman going to his bank manager at Allied Irish Bank for an overdraft extension to cover the release of Princess' Say I'm your Number One single.
So whilst firmly on the up as writers and producers, Stock Aitken Waterman diversified into remix work in 1985. One was their 12" remix of Thereza Bazar's debut single The Big Kiss, which was a fairly straight take on the original, albeit with additional production to beef up the dancefloor elements.
The other was the remix we are going to look at in this blogpost, which is SAW's treatment of Elton John's 1985 hit, Wrap Her Up. Which was ANYTHING but a straight take on the source material.
The SAW "Club Mix" of Wrap Her Up is INSANE. Totally bonkers. And, as a result, totally brilliant.
Featuring on Elton John's 1985 album Ice On Fire, Wrap Her Up was the follow-up to that album's lead single Nikita. The track - which reached #12 on the UK Singles chart - features George Michael on guest vocals, although the single release is solely credited to Elton. Written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, along with Charlie Morgan, Paul Westwood, Davey Johnstone and Fred Mandel, Wrap Her Up is an upbeat live-sounding pop track which positions itself as a love letter to women everywhere, although the middle-eight contains a long list of Hollywood actresses and other famous ladies.
The coupling of Elton's deep-vocal on each line of the verse, with George's falsetto echo after each line, is an effective trick which really makes the most of the terrific melody. Special note must be made of Elton's pronunciation of "attached" as "attach-ed", in order to make sure the line rhymes with the equally unusual pronunciation of "catched" as "catch-ed" two lines earlier!!! Strange pronunciation aside, Bernie Taupin's lyrics are typically interesting, particularly clever and playful here, with the whole track neatly assembled by legendary producer (and long-time Elton John collaborator) Gus Dudgeon.
So SAW (with the help of Phil Harding) set to work on the remix. But you know what, you can almost picture Mike, Matt & Pete in the studio, thinking "Additional production is for wimps!! What's the point of adding in a few more drum beats? And why waste your time chucking in a few synth overdubs??".
So the three producers just went for it. Big time. And thank god they did!
The original Gus Dudgeon production of Wrap Her Up is typically robust and well put together, as is the main 12" mix which adds in some synth bass. But in their remix, SAW completely transform the track into a pop dance stomper. If any of Dudgeon's original arrangement is in there, then someone will have to point it out - because SAW have kept the vocals but have provided a completely new arrangement.
So here it is -- big thanks to SAW fan and expert Paul Smith:
Kicking off with an orchestral flourish, the track opens with arpeggio synth bass and a fat synth line, carried along by rattling production. Elton and George appear shortly after, with sampled stuttering "Wrap Her Up" shouts flying into the track. After which we get a breakdown, the synths and bass giving way to the first iteration of the chorus.
Verses follow, with Elton's singing of the lines echoed by George's impressive falsetto, backed up by brass, occasional repeats of the opening orchestral flourish and the synth lead, which is used to create an interesting chord change within the verse.
The middle-eight - which sees Elton and George name-check their favourite female film stars - is truncated here, but is no less effective. Each name is interspersed with the backing vocal of "Dream lady!", whilst Elton's final cry of "Billie Jean!" is treated to an effective sampled reprise.
We get more brass, more orchestral flourishes and blasts of the "Wr-wr-wr-wr-wr-wrap her up!" vocal refrain, before the track breaks down (as per a standard 12" mix) to the drum track, then reintroduces the synth bass. What follows is undoubtedly the craziest vocal sampling I have ever heard or will ever hear in my life.
I have replayed this segment to work out how this amazing sampling showpiece plays out but it goes something broadly like this:
Every-one Every-one Every-one Every-one Every-one Nnec-Nnec-Nnec-connec-conne-connec-conne-connected to too-ooo-ooo too-ooo-ooo Blue Bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-blue blood Bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-blue blood Bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-blue blood blue blood
The playing around with samples in this way (as opposed to the stuttering effect) was still in its relative infancy at this point in time, and whilst impressive, it does lack the finesse of the later sampled vocal trickery which would become part of the trademark SAW sound towards the end of the decade. It is completely off-the-wall, and as a result, it's hysterically wonderful!
Interestingly, the track fades out to the chorus, rather than breaking the arrangement down to the percussion as was the norm.
Although the SAW remix of Wrap Her Up was issued as a promo (ostensibly to be played in clubs to promote the main release), it was not commercially released at the time - and indeed, remains unreleased at the time of writing. No reason has ever been given as to why the SAW remix was not issued as a second 12" release as was common at the time, but it is not difficult to imagine Sir Elton sitting in his office listening to the remix for the first time, getting to the sample madness at 6.24 and shouting "WHAT THE F*** HAVE THEY DONE WITH MY VOCAL???".
Seriously though, perhaps the reason is that it is a fairly radical reworking of the original track. Although the late 1970s and early 1980s had seen the amazing rise of the 12" mix, the vast majority of remixes during that period involved a restructuring of emphasis of the original arrangement, and/or some additional production in terms of percussion and other elements. Whilst there were of course some key remixers taking a more radical approach to remixes at the time, the SAW remix of Wrap Her Up is - as far as I am concerned - an early, pioneering example of the remix method which would become more prevalent in the 1ate 1980s and beyond. Namely, that SAW effectively re-produced the track to give it a very different sound and arrangement.
It's clearly a very radical and bold take on the original track, and as stated above, there appears to be very little of Gus Dudgeon's original production in there. Interestingly, SAW deployed an arrangement evenly split between pop and dance, and perhaps Rocket Records were expecting a full-on 100% Hi-NRG stomper. Certainly Phil Harding in his brilliant PWL From The Factory Floor book comments that "in retrospect, maybe we should have gone more Dead Or Alive Hi-NRG with it, because it kind of ends up being neither one thing nor another".
Ultimately, I think the remix is very ambitious, and perhaps just slightly falls short of its aspirations. And I say that as someone who really loves the remix. But you know, getting the opportunity to work on an Elton John track was and is a big deal, so of course SAW would have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at it; if the bombast is occasionally too full on, well you can't blame SAW too much for that.
I consider it a bold experiment which, for me, largely works and genuinely brings new life and energy to the original recording.
Anyhow, I love this track, and hopefully you will too. Whatever your take on SAW and/or Elton John, please listen to the original then the SAW mix, see what you think. No strings attach-ed!