You don’t have to be a huge Stock Aitken Waterman fan to have an awareness of how the Hit Factory structured many of their 12” mixes. The instrumentation would slowly build up layer by layer, then the full song would kick in, then we’d have a breakdown before the track builds up again to a reprise of the chorus, closing with the instrumentation breaking down to leave just the percussion.
Of course, there were many mixes which deviated from this form, but the above description covers the core template of the Stock Aitken Waterman (and indeed PWL) 12” mix.
For me – and it can get very personal when it comes to the art of the 12” – the extended mix which best represents this core template has to be the Dancehall Version of Bananarama’s Love Truth & Honesty.
Issued in September 1988, Love Truth & Honesty was perhaps a change in style for Bananarama, but then the band itself had recently undergone change. Siobhan Fahey had departed, with Jacqui O’Sullivan coming in as her replacement, starting with previous single I Want You Back, which was partially recorded and remixed from the original Wow! album version (which had featured Fahey). As such, Love Truth & Honesty was the first brand new material from the new Bananarama line-up.
A more thoughtful track for Bananarama, Love Truth & Honesty takes its rueful lyric of a woman betrayed by her lover and marries it with an upbeat arrangement; a clever juxtaposition often deployed by Mike, Matt & Pete. In terms of tune, it’s certainly a departure from preceding single I Want You Back and subsequent singles Nathan Jones and Help!, but in that sense, it’s an interesting diversion for Bananarama during this period.
Reaching #23 in the UK Singles Chart, the record didn’t set the world alight back in 1988 but over the years, it has become a firm favourite with both SAW and Bananarama fans.
Whilst there were radical remixes of the track, with PWL’s Phil Harding & Ian Curnow giving it a Baelearic overhaul, there was only one “standard” extended mix issued for the track as part of the original release, and that was Dave Ford’s Dancehall Version.
Ford had joined PWL in 1988, so at this time, he was one of the newer mix engineers compared to Phil Harding and Pete Hammond, but he was a very experienced music industry professional at this time. And this shows in his Dancehall Version mix.
Whereas other PWL mix engineers and producers have stated they added layers of production to Stock Aitken Waterman tracks, Ford has tended to underplay his contribution in this area and stressed he was always focused on making the most of the materials provided to him.
What you do get from a Ford mix is real clarity; he has a real straightforward approach, with a real sense of which elements of instrumentation work together.
His Dancehall Version mix is perhaps not the most radical mix to come out of the Hit Factory, but for a real SAW fan like me, the first couple of minutes of his mix gave a real insight into the various layers that make up a Stock Aitken Waterman track.
Let’s take a closer look at Dave’s mix:
0.00: The track opens with percussion, followed quickly by a drum fill
0.04: A Bananarama vocal loc – “L-L-Love” – signals the introduction of rhythm guitar
0.13: A metallic DX7 synth-bass sound is introduced
0.22: The “L-L-Love” vocal loc returns, signalling the introduction of the bass guitar
0.25: A synth-riff kicks in at this point
0.37: The “L-L-Love” vocal loc returns, signalling the introduction of synth pads
0.46: A rising synth line comes in, building up to –
0.50: A swirling, reedy synth pad is added
1.12: The horns make their first appearance
1.31: The appearance of chimes, and drum fills herald –
1.36: The main opening riff with all instruments in place, building up to –
2.01: Bananarama’s vocals kick in with “ooh-ooooh-oooh”, followed by the opening verse
Looking at the above list (and I’ve tried to capture the timings as best I can), we can see how Ford gives each new element their own “moment in the sun” but for different lengths of time. The rhythm guitar gets 9 seconds before it’s joined by the metallic DX7 synth-bass sound, whilst the synth riff gets 12 seconds of glory. Interestingly, the swirling synth pad gets 22 seconds, but I take that as Ford building atmosphere and pausing before the horns come in.
It's also worth noting that Ford makes use of the “L-L-Love” vocal loc to mark the addition of a new element, yet does not use this every time a new element is added. The fact he uses it sparingly makes it more effective.
Ford also uses a double start approach to tease the listener; the introductions of the horns at 1.12 suggest the start of the actual song, but we have to wait a further 24 seconds for the full intro, and even then, a further 25 seconds for the opening verse.
The simplicity of Ford’s approach in this intro makes it all the more effective, as he shows off Stock and Aitken’s playing and programming off in all its glory. Sure, these sounds may be sequenced in the mix, but they had to be played and/or programmed in the first place and this mix allows us to hear some of these in some form of isolation.
As for the rest of the mix, we get the bulk of what we’d call the single version between 2.01 and 5.13, at which point, we head towards the breakdown (which is designed to allow DJs to mix to another track).
Let’s get back to the minute by minute analysis:
5.13: The vocals end, leaving an extended instrumental period leading towards –
5.29: The breakdown, which removes all elements except for percussion, rhythm guitar and horns
5.46: The horns are removed
5.49: The synth riff returns
5.54: The swirling, reedy synth pad returns
6.00: A drum fill marks the return of the metallic DX7 synth-bass sound
6.17: The horns return, as do Bananarama’s vocals for a reprise of the chorus
6.52: Many of the musical elements drop out, leaving the percussion and synth-bass-style sound, and the track eventually fades out with various drum fills
As we can see, we get a breakdown, then a build up to a reprise of the chorus, then a final comedown towards the fade. As with the intro, we get a sense of the key layers of the track, albeit in reverse.
The mix has a real sense of symmetry in how it builds up from the start, and breaks down as it heads towards its end.
For me, there is so much to love about this mix. The metallic DX7 synth-bass sound is one of my favourite SAW / PWL sounds, and was a key element of their records in 1987 and 1988. It never fails to excite me, and it’s well used here. Likewise, the exposure of Matt Aitken’s rhythm guitar is very welcome, as much of his guitar work is often lost in the mix. The synth riff is effective, and is used sparingly and effectively, whilst the synth pads – often handled by Mike Stock – add real atmosphere to the whole affair.
The horns are great, but I think they dominate proceedings a little. The original 12” mix of Love Truth & Honesty was eventually released in 2015 as part of the Edsel In A Bunch Bananarama CD singles boxset, and interestingly uses the horns differently.
Whatever one may think of the record, I think it’s a must listen for anyone interested in how records are made, as it clearly shows what the key elements are and how they are put together to make the final record. That aside, it’s simply a terrific mix of a fab (if overlooked) Stock Aitken Waterman track.
And if you’ve read this far, here’s the Dancehall Version itself: