Richard Stannard wrote most of the greatest pop songs that shaped much of my teenage years, gave Smash Hits a lifeline, provided numerous popstars uber-catchy records and has sold absolutely millions. There are only so many superlatives one can write about Richard Stannard otherwise known as Biff. He is the worlds finest pop writers! Wannabe has not only become a song that entrenched a decade but also won Ivor Novellos and since he's wrote for Will Young, U2, Verbalicious, Kylie and Keith Urban. Great collective of acts and artists! The list and appraisals are endless. The latter being extremely well-deserved. This guy knows his way around a pop song! So where to start? The album that, for me, is one of the finest pop albums ever! A certain mezzo-soprano singer from Australia, called Kylie Minogue and her 2000 EMI release Light Years...
Light Years! The song. Its an amazing recording. Where did it come from?
As usual with a lot of songs with Kylie there was more than 1 idea going into the song, there were 3 elements to its creation, the first being my life long love of Giorgio moroder. The second I was living in Ireland and listening to a lot of enya, so we stacked up a load of vocals. Thirdly, there’s always a lot of laughter when Kylies in the studio and we had been doing impressions all day of air hostesses, and invented KM Air, which was Kylies imaginary airline. There was originally at least another minute of her talking on the track but we edited it out.
Light Years should have been a single in my opinion. It would have fused so well with the impending project that that was Fever and Can’t Get You out Of My Head. Moreover, Robyn and Kleerup recently went to no.1 with a song with a similar baseline. Okay, totally different subject matter but still, Light Years seems like the older sister to With Every Heartbeat. If you could have swapped Please Stay with Light Years as the fourth single would you do it?
I would have swapped it. So many people tell me that light years is their favorite kylie song. I think the record company found it a little too “pink” for their tastes.
When Kylie does the song on tours, Steve Anderson rejigs the track to bring out Donna Summer’s polemic dance song. What were your thoughts on that version?
I thought it was very clever, and he obviously heard the same influences as me when I wrote it.
Its very interesting that in 2000 you had Kylie recalling I Feel Love and actually mashing up the tracks on her Fever Tour. Years later Madonna would drop a Moroder baseline like Light Years in her song Future Lovers and would also do a similar mash-up with I Feel Love on the Confessions tour.
I think every major dance artist has been influenced by that song. To me that song is still the greatest dance track ever recorded.
And Steve Anderson recently mashed-up Light Years with Turn It Into Love. It was an amazing moment on Showgirl. How did it make you feel..your song with a Stock/Aitken/Watermen classic!
I really enjoyed it. I thought what Pete Hammond did to Alphabeat recently was amazing too, and just goes to show how contemporary that sound is years later.
What is it like to hear Steve interpret and restructure your tracks on Kylies tours? Please Stay emerged as a wild eruption of passion in Showgirl and then theres the amazing version of Its In Your Eyes performed on the Feel The Fever tour. It went all flamenco, had snippets of Please Stay and included Gloria Estefans Rhythm of the Night!
I’ve always had complete confidence with what Steve does with my tracks, he is an amazing musician, but I have to say his version of In Your Eyes on X2008 is the best. I rang and demanded a copy the day after I saw the show, for me personally what Steve did on X2008 was some of the best work he’s ever done.
Okay, lets move away from that song (You can tell I am a huge fan of it!). You’ve sold absolutely millions. The Spice Girls, Kylie, 5ive, east17, Will Young…the list is pretty endless. Where did that knack for realising that irresistible and catching melody come from?
I have absolutely no idea, I just jump about a lot and try not to take myself too seriously.
Hmm. Your like the a king of pop songs! Must have come from somewhere.
I’m just not blinkered with my taste in music, I’m a massive music fan, a huge fan of many genres, but other than that I have no idea. I can listen to say, Bright Eyes and then Sally Shapiro and not reference them to how cool they are supposed to be etc....
Lets step back in time...To the Spice Girls. Can you recall those first moments at Nomis Studios when the girls did their showcase?
I was only in Nomis because I had just had a meeting with Jason Donovan, as I left the room Mel B came running down the corridor, told me I had a nice arse and jumped on my back, then asked me who I was, when I told I had written and produced for east17 she told me to stay where I was and ran off, then came back and got me and dragged me into a rehearsal room and the girls instantly performed 2 songs for me. I spent the rest of the day in a daze telling Matt Rowe about this insane but brilliant band I had just met.
As Touch, could you sense that they were going to be huge?
Yes, but not as huge as they turned out to be!
With the girls, how did that first album come together?
I think with all my really successful stuff its always about relationships, we all became really good friends really quickly so no one was inhibited when we came to sit in a room together and write songs. We wrote a lot of the songs for that album before the record company machine got involved so it was just 7 mates having a laugh.
And overall, how were the vocals divided up between the girls. How were the vocals divided and who decided it all.
Over time the girls developed the skill of delegating who sang what but in the early days me and Matt helped them develop that skill by showing them who’s voice was right for what part. With a 5 piece band there has to be some method to the madness and that’s what a producer gets paid for as much as recording the song.
So Wannabe! When I first heard it I was like 12 and was just in a Grease musical at school (I was just in the ensemble; boo!) and I felt Wannabe was like a British 90’s version of We Go Together. The “ramamalalada” swapped with a “zig-a-zig-ah” and Rydell High swapped with St.Pancras Station. A perfect slice of irresistible pop dedicated to great and energetic friendships. I zoomed out of those Grease rehearsals and bought the single on the week of its release! Is the comparison wide off the mark?
Funnily enough grease was in my head when we wrote it but not because of that song, its was more the chord progression of Summer Nights, amongst a hundred other things. Controlled mayhem! I went home late the day we wrote and recorded that song. Matt decided to stay late and do some more programming. We had a sleeping bag in our tiny studio for late night sessions. In the morning i arrived at the studio and Matt was asleep on the floor and had put a post it on a button saying play! As the intro started I knew then we had something special. It used to have a funky riff at the end of each chorus....
Talking of which, there are few songs you did from those Spice sessions that didn’t make the final cut. See You Need Tuesday sounds bloody marvelous! Will it ever come out in some format?
I think I’m the only person with a copy of it, so no. Its really good but absolutely filthy. Emma often sings it to me! Hehe.
With the Spice Girls how did you all write the songs? Like the girls are all over the records you did them. The songs you did with them were quite clearly Spice Girls songs. Like Abba. No one can quite cover Dancing Queen in the same way. I think the same applies to the songs you did with the Spice Girls. In fact, all of your songs you do with acts have this presence. There is an illusion that there is some kind of “production+process=Pop act”. You know the old “manufactured pop” tag. To me, this takes away the key skill of writing a very good pop song. Never Give Up On the Good Times (on Spiceworld) and Spice Up Your Life are irresistible pop songs that have the Spice Girls stamped all over it and of course are gloriously catchy. This is a difficult thing to achieve. Anyone can write an acoustic ballad. But make a song that reflects the personalities of the band/act, their history, their brand and tie that in with a catchy song that does rather well in charts…now that’s incredibly hard to do. How do create that high level of pop?
As I said earlier it’s about having a great relationship with the artists and knowing them quite intimately the good and the bad stuff. i suppose when you are good friends its easier to say no, thats rubbish. You can do better etc....
For me, a good example of this is the song Move Over on the second Spice Girls album. It was already a song/rift used in soft drink advert yet that Biffco magic worked to produce something incredibly Spicetastic. How did this come about?
We only had a day to do it so we pulled the track apart and blitz it with our ideas. I like to record everyone’s ideas at the same time creating abuzz in the room, then me and matt would listen back to all the madness and filter out the stuff we liked.
Spice Up Your Life is an amazing pop song. Again, its got all the girls in one blissful pop song. But personally, out of all the Spice Girls tracks out there it soars above the rest for some reason. Theres a real international feeling to the track. Released today, it would still be an instant hit. It’s a song that you so rarely hear these days and slaps you on the face and on the bottom. It has those lalala’s we’d hear in the Dennis/Davies Kylie hit single some years later. Did you want to get that international feeling to the song and how did you manage it?
We wrote this on the first day of writing the second album and because the girls had been so successful all over the world I wanted to create something with a tribal feel, its started with the drums and went from there. The process of recording of this track was really original cause not only was the track written and recorded on the same day it was also the only track where I recorded all 5 girls singing at the same time with 5 mics. It somehow added to the hugeness of the sound and I think you can hear the girls playing off each other as they sang it.
Now, lets talk the amazing song that is Outer Space Girls. Such a good song to be used as a b-side!!! Its like the Spice Girls version of Light Years. Spiceworld should have included this track. How did that come about?
Just me trying to squeeze in my love of Moroder again.
Can you shed any light on the song Sugar and Spice? Pretty unreleased but its title suggests its rather symbolic. What was it like?
I think it does exist but it’s a really old track, if I remember rightly its really funky. You can really hear that it’s a real sense of fun working with Spice Girls. What was it like? I imagine its exactly what you think its like, just imagine that energy and enthusiasm but in a small studio with really massive speakers! They are some of the most enjoyable recording sessions I've ever had.
What was it like when recording Headlines and Voodoo? Was that energy still there?
Yes the energy was still there but only this time it was harder to get all the girls in at the same time at the same place
Controversial moment now! Forever didn’t flop but didn’t do as well as expected. Suddenly the girls went all American & personally I felt all the fun seemed zapped out of the sound. They didn’t gel sonically and the material could have been sung by anyone. Brandy could have done Holler. What made the Spice Girls so musically distinct was the Rowe/Biff and Eliot/Kennedy collaborations. Big fat pop songs. I know it seemed the right move to have a more adult sound to their 3rd album but the saying “if it aint broke don’t fix it” exists for a reason. I felt the solo records should have been kept for the experimental explorations and genre-hopping. Not the 3rd album. That album should have been part-experimental and part-pop. But whatever the shift in sound, fun at the core of the songs. Forever sounds anything but fun. Theres actually a track on the album called If You Wanna Have Some Fun which is not only a pretty ironic title but sadly sounds like a Janet Jackson caste-off. It was such a let down after the pop highs of the last two albums. Do you think they should have least added a few more pop songs over the rnb tracks?
A lot of fans would adore a fourth album that follows in the spirit of the first two albums. Would you be willing to take that torch and do another album if the women were up for it? They are such a formidable force and I truly believe that the comeback tour proved people were want that energetic+fun Spice Girls back at the top of the charts.
I'd do a forth album but we would sit in a room and listen to the girls and find out what they wanted it to sound like. A producers job is to make a record what the artist wants not the other way round.
In part two, Biff goes through some unreleased Kylie gems, working with Will Young, how a certain Spice Girl track influenced U2 and talk more about pop!