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The most misunderstood people in pop #7: Pete Waterman

Updated: Jan 19, 2020

Pete Waterman? What’s the big deal? Sure there were all those Stock, Aitken and Waterman 80s hits, Kylie, Jason and all that, had something to do with Steps, but those were ages ago. Ok he pops up from time to time, and has that thing for trains which is a bit odd, but whatever makes you happy I suppose. So what’s to misunderstand?

Quite simply, that Pete Waterman doesn’t get anything like enough respect for his pop skills (yes pop genius skills for sure). Plus his whole love of trains actually shows why he is so good at pop.

The 1980s were unquestionably the imperial phase for Pete Waterman. Together with his creative and business partners Mike Stock and Matt Aitken, from their first hit, the towering You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) by Dead or Alive, which is one of those remarkable records that never sounds dated and simply cannot be improved, they owned the charts from about 1985 until the early 1990s. They reckon they’ve been behind 500 million record sales and who are we do disagree. Certainly sounds about right.

That wasn’t the start of our Pete’s music business career. He’d begun DJing in the late 50s and by the early 60s was building a name for himself the clubs around the Midlands in the UK. A music obsessive he scoured record shops and American airbases to get the hottest releases and became a huge authority on soul, r&b and later disco music.

This is the point about Pete Waterman that isn’t fully understood. He is, above all else, a massive massive fan. You can read his official biog here and it’s littered throughout with a very impressive roll call of artists and musicians that he’s worked with over the years. Some he’s sought out, some have come to him. What shines through with them all is how much he just really loves the music. Specifically pop in its truest sense - popular music.

As well as being a fan, he’s also an entertainer with a natural talent for promotion. His love of DJing was the sharing of new music with people, watching them have an amazing time but critically knowing how to get them there in first place and keep them coming back.

Bring together an encyclopaedic knowledge of music with a drive to entertain and a gift for promotion and you have the perfect combination to create pop hits. He knows music and wants to share that with as many people as possible by creating hits as that are as big as possible.

This is where the whole trains thing fits in. It shows why his music career has been so successful. I’ve always firmly believed that fandom is highly transferable. Being a huge fan isn’t about obsession, although it can clearly fall into that. Rather it is about caring.

Caring deeply about what you love, what brings you great enjoyment and pleasure. And we all care about lots of things. You can’t, indeed shouldn’t, chose what you love and care about. They choose you. It’s how you respond to that that matters.

And so like he cares deeply about pop music, Pete Waterman also cares deeply about trains. I don’t personally share that love, but I respect him greatly for it because I know how real and genuine that feeling is. You can’t fake that kind of fandom - what would be the point? It’s genuine and real, which shows how his fandom for music and breaking hit records is similarly genuine and real. It’s because it’s so real that he’s been so good at it.

Which is why the opprobrium heaped upon Stock Aitken and Waterman during their 80s heights must have hurt so much. Despite all this success, all this clear evidence that millions and millions of people loved what they were doing by handing over money for the records, the tastemakers and hipsters of the day never game them any respect. Here were three people who loved music with everything they had, created songs that people couldn’t get enough of, and not for the first or last time, were hated for it.

To prove their point that they were skilled musical craftsmen of the highest order, Stock, Aitken and Waterman put out a dance track, Roadblock, without any reference to SAW on it. The hipsters who couldn’t stand them absolutely loved it when they didn’t know who it was by. But when the record’s true pedigree was revealed there was no reappraisal, no apology, no reversal. The hipsters just hated them even more for fooling them.

People may not feel quite so passionately negative any more, but there’s been nothing like enough appreciation for both SAW and Pete’s decades long championing of music and artists.

Well enough. Superfans are the engines of culture. They provide the raw energy and the sheer effort necessary for anything creative to become successful among the wider population. Pete Waterman has spent a career doing that, never stopping in helping make the things he loves the most, pop music and trains, as successful and enjoyable as possible. Following his passions wherever they've led him has brought joy to millions in the process.

And Roadblock is still a killer track.

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