Saturday, 3 December 2016

Metapost: I'm nearly famous

In a brief diversion, yesterday I made my commercial radio debut as an interview guest alongside Joe from Nowmusicfanblog.co.uk on talkRADIO, discussing our collections and the appeal of the series. We're in the 17:30-1800 segment here, though if you're reading this in the future I don't know how long the link will continue to work. It's fair to say that Hollywood offers have not flooded in over the last 24 hours, but it was something to do and whilst copying and pasting the link for this blog I noticed it had been almost exactly a year since I posted here (365 days in fact, since 2016 was a leap year) which was all the incentive I needed to finish up the post I've had in draft since late 2015. It's time I got this show back on the road so that will be published tomorrow and then I should be able to mop up the rest of Now 54 by the end of the year.

In the meantime, if you're here for the first time because of my plugging, welcome along. There are over 1000 posts here since I started in 2008 and whilst I don't necessarily stand by everything I've said about a song in the past, they were my honest opinions at the time. 

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Oasis 'Songbird'

Chart Peak: 3
YouTube
'Songbird' showcases Liam's songwriting as well as vocal abilities and has been described as a "simple, honest, catchy and effective" song... It became Oasis' 4th huge hit from their current album when it made the Top 3 in February 2003
I've read that the week 'Songbird' entered at 3 behind 'Cry Me A River' and 'All The Things She Said' was the first time in UK chart history that all the Top 3 songs shared their titles with previous hits. I can't imagine ever checking that, but I'm willing to believe it.

Give or take the odd plagiarism lawsuit 'Songbird' was the first Oasis single not written by Noel Gallagher, who had of course dominated the composition of their early albums. Only on their scrappy fourth set Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants had Liam been allowed one of his songs on an album, although it's not clear whether he'd particularly wanted to before. Fifth disc Heathen Chemistry was the product of a fresh lineup, with new members Andy Bell and Gem Archer having been the songwriters for previous bands Hurricane #1 and Heavy Stereo respectively so unsurprisingly they got some of their own material on board; whether due to intra-band politics or a burst of creativity, the lead singer got three of his own numbers on too. I was by now far too "over" Oasis to listen to the album so I can't voice an opinion on 'Born On A Different Cloud' or 'Better Man' but I recall 'Songbird' getting some attention even as an album track before it finally got a single release.

I was going to quite Tom Ewing's review of the Troggs chart-topper 'With A Girl Like You' as "Hulk writes love ballad" but as I noticed while looking up the link, that wasn't exactly what he said. Still, it's kind of how I always perceived 'Songbird', a tribute to then-fiancée and fellow Now 54 act Nicole Appleton which succeeds largely on the strength of its lack of sophistication. It's a brief 4/4 number without a distinct chorus or middle-eight and as recorded features Liam (presumably) strumming away on an acoustic guitar, backed by a harmonium-like drone, shaken percussion and a sprinkling of piano. Although he probably didn't, you could imagine him overdubbing all these parts solo, and the effect is slightly reminiscent of George Harrison's early Beatles demo 'You Know What To Do'. It manages to strike home in a way that more overthought Oasis tracks often failed to. I recall one review of the album praising this track but saying it was "telling" that nobody thought to work it into anything more substantial. As it transpired when the demo version saw release on the DVD single format though, they did. The demo is in fact more fleshed-out than the final album/single version, with full drums and a very Beatlesque bassline. Whether they simplified the song as an artistic choice or to avoid being sued for ripping off 'And Your Bird Can Sing', they probably came to the right decision and in my opinion this was the best thing the group recorded in the 21st century.

By the way, whilst 'Songbird' represents Liam Gallagher's first writing credit on an Oasis single, it wasn't his first chart appearance as a songwriter: he also has a credit on 'Love Me Or Leave Me', a minor hit for the Seahorses in 1997. Give yourself a pat on the back if you knew that.

Also appearing on: Now 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 38, 52, 53, 61, 62
Available on: Heathen Chemistry

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Robbie Williams 'Feel'

Chart Peak: 4
YouTube
Robbie followed the hugely successful Swing When You're Winning project with this Top 5 smash 'Feel'... It was his first release under his new multi-million pound deal with EMI - the 2nd single 'Come Undone' is due out in mid-April 2003.
That deal was reported at the time to be worth as much as £80 million, although even if true that would be a total investment, rather than an amount in his back pocket. Still, it's a massive amount to sink into a pop star, even at 2002 levels of album sales and is testament to how unstoppable the Robbie phenomenon seemed at the time. Also, he'd been in a position to record an entire album at his own expense and shop it around to different labels so they knew they could get it into the shops for Christmas; in the even it probably suited both parties for him to return to his existing home at EMI, since they could use rights to his catalogue as a bargaining chip.

With hindsight though, it was pretty much the high point of his career. His productive songwriting partnership with Guy Chambers had run into trouble and as a result Escapology had to be padded with some songs composed in previous years. 'Feel' was apparently a warmed-over demo from 1999, with Williams retaining large parts of the demo vocal. This might be why his performance comes over as more natural and less sneery than he often seems even on his other self-pitying songs. In fact I have to admit this is actually a decent song as well, with an understated quality pretty much unique in his catalogue. It took me a couple of years to realise though. I didn't even start to until we went on holiday to Berlin and during a ride on the S-Bahn a young man got on with a guitar, performed this song in its entirety and got off at the next stop. Somehow because this was so unexpected the memory has stuck with me and opened my ears to this a little.

Also appearing on: Now 34, 37, 38, 39, 41, 42, 44, 45, 47, 48, 49, 51 (with Nicole Kidman), 52 (with 1 Giant Leap & Maxi Jazz), 55, 56, 59, 60, 62, 63, 65, 66, 74, 75, 77 [with Gary Barlow], 83
Available on: Escapology [Explicit]

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

David Sneddon 'Stop Living The Lie'

Chart Peak: 1 [2 weeks]

YouTube
David is the self-taught pianist and sometime drummer who won Fame Academy... The former singer with The Martians who says his main musical influences are The Beatles and Van Morrison, shot straight to No. 1 in January 2003 with this song that he wrote in Glasgow when he was 17.
It's a much-noted irony that despite the title, neither of the winners of Fame Academy actually seemed to want to be famous. Presumably this the confusing format contributed to the BBC dropping te show after two years, although celebrity/charity spin-off Comic Relief Does Fame Academy actually made it to a third series. Whilst the initial series ran roughly concurrently with Popstars: The Rivals, nobody was brave enough to risk a chart battle so David Sneddon's coronation single was released in January, replacing Girls Aloud after they'd had four weeks at the top over Christmas.

It's not Sneddon's fault that he has one of the last pop-star-like names ever, but it kind of is his fault that he wrote such an insipid song. It's slightly ironic, given the show's supposed focus on training the contestants to write songs, that his career was to be launched by a song he'd written years earlier but in any case, he loses me in the first verse by rhyming "café" with "coffee". Despite this hit, by the end of 2003 he'd announced that he didn't want to be a pop star any more after all and publicly retired from recording, though he did briefly stage a comeback in 2007. Instead he's taken to writing songs for others, with some degree of success.

Also appearing on: Now 55
Available on: Now That's What I Call 2003

Monday, 30 November 2015

Daniel Bedingfield 'If You're Not The One'

Chart Peak: 1 [1 week]

YouTube
Daniel has proved himself to be a lot more than just the UK garage artist he seemed to be on his debut smash 'Gotta Get Thru This'... His hit album also fuses smooth R'n'B, soul and classic pop as aptly demonstrated on this 2nd No.1 monster hit 'If You're Not The One'.
So we don't exactly rock into Disc 2 with this track, which was by Bedingfield's own admission an attempt to write a song that sounded like Westlife in the hope of attracting record company interest. The most positive thing I can say is that it worked: not only did he get his record deal but he pastiches Westlife so efficiently on his own it makes you wonder why there had to be five of them. The single was a big success by 2002-3 standards too; though it only lasted one week at the top in early December, it stayed around long enough to climb the chart on Valentine's Day.

I've seen it suggested that part of the reason it sold so well as the third single from an album was the more club-friendly Metro mix, although I didn't hear it at the time. Mainly Bedingfield seemed to to be an example of "when you're hot, you're hot": he scored hit after hit from the first album, then struggled with the second and I didn't even realise until now that he'd released a third one in 2012.

Also appearing on: Now 51, 53, 55, 56, 59
Available on: The Power of Love

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Ainslie Henderson 'Keep Me Like A Secret'

Chart Peak: 5

YouTube
Ainslie Henderson was born and raised in Scotland an came to the nation's attention via Fame Academy - he made the final 4 and wrote 'Keep Me A Secret' with fellow pupils Sinead and Malachi... it gave Ainslie his 1st Top 5 hit in March 2003.
Looks like we're getting the full set of pre-X-Factor talent shows at the end of Disc One here, with Zoe Birkett (Pop Idol), One True Voice (Popstars: The Rivals), Kym Marsh (Popstars) and now Ainislie from Fame Academy. He continues the run of acts with short careers too, parting company with his record company without even a second single; it was rumoured that the songs he wrote for his debut album were too scathing in their lyrical content though few have heard any of this material. A freshly-recorded album did quietly emerge in 2006 but actual fame was not to be his. He did, however, win a BAFTA for Best Short Animation in 2013.

He doesn't seem that great a loss to pop, actually. I wasn't a huge fans of this song at the time but I remembered it as more anthemic than it actually sounds now, although the dated production is partly to blame and the chances are that'll sound less glaring in a decade or two. Still quite a dull end to the disc though.

Available on: Fame Academy (UK comm CD)

Friday, 27 November 2015

Kym Marsh 'Cry'

Chart Peak: 2

YouTube
In early 2001, Kym Marsh was just an unknown singer from Wigan - by early 2002, she had been voted into the original Popstars band Hear'Say, sold a few million records and then left... Early 2003 seems her preparing to release 'Cry', her debut solo single.
I suppose the preparations went well enough, in that the single was kept from the top only by the Room 5 track, but like a lot of the tracks on this part of the album it seems to have vanished into some sort of void beyond memory. In fact, she seems to have had a very similar career to Appleton - first two singles away from the group went Top 10, so did the album, then a third single barely scraped the Top 40 and it was all over. There seems not to have been enough clamour (yet) for a Hear'Say reunion, though, whereas All Saints have already got back together twice since 2003. And if 'Cry' seems even more forgotten than anything Appleton ever did, it's because it's so anonymous from the title downwards. Obviously not a problem in the heat of publicity at the time but there's real reason to listen to it now when you could be listening to a real Natalie Imbruglia record.

Despite the relative brevity of her chart career, Marsh remains well-known in the UK in 2015 as a long-serving actress in Coronation Street. So she can probably afford to stay off the reunion tour circuit for as long as she wants.

Also appearing on: Now 55
Available on: Standing Tall