Saturday, 30 November 2013

Coldplay 'Viva La Vida'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)

'Viva La Vida' is the title track from Coldplay's hugely successful fourth studio album... It shot to the top spot in the UK charts on download sales alone, scoring the band their first ever UK Number One single in June 2008
Though download-only releases had been eligible for the singles chart since the start of 2007, and the first track to top the chart through digital sales alone was as long ago as 2006, 'Viva La Vida' is the first UK Number One single never to have been released on a physical single in this country - whether it's the first ever totally digital chart-topper depends on how you treat the track that it deposed: Mint Royale's version of 'Singin' In The Rain', which had been released physically a few years earlier but was no longer widely available on disc (it reportedly sold in single-figure quantities while at the top due to old stock).

What makes this song's success all the more impressive is that it was initially ineligible as it was one of the first tracks to be released as an "instant-grat", supplied immediately to anyone who pre-ordered the album on iTunes - under chart rules in force at the time even individual sales of the track not linked to this incentive weren't counted, reputedly due to either EMI's or Apple's refusal to supply a breakdown of sales between the two methods. The rules were finally changed earlier in 2013, with Justin Timberlake's 'Mirrors' the first beneficiary, though almost immediately record companies started mucking about and breaching the new rules by putting out multiple instant grats from the same album. Back in 2008, though, 'Viva La Vida' finally became entitled to a singles chart position in the first full week that the album was released and rather unpredictably entered at the very top. Admittedly it did so on a relatively low weekly sale, though in fairness it's been a steady seller ever since and has a decent total. It remained an impressive achievement before full promotion of the single had begun, before there was a video and well before the intended release date, though perhaps this was a harbinger of how much less important nominal release dates would become in the digital era. A mooted 7" release was ultimately abandoned as too late to be relevant, though CD singles were released in mainland Europe.

I suppose what all this implies is that the song had big crossover appeal, selling to people who wouldn't have bothered with the album - no small seller itself of course - and possibly weren't even that keen on Coldplay generally. They are a band who seem to rub a lot of people up the wrong way, indeed, but this track is also a bit of a departure for them in sonic terms. Reportedly the song went through many different incarnations in the studio, and doubtless one day we'll get them all released on a boxed set, but the finished version has an unusual construction featuring mostly orchestral instruments behind Chris Martin's vocal, which compared to typical rock music makes it seem both sparse and opulent. Even the percussion is mostly bells and timpani and as far as I'm concerned it's pretty hard to go wrong with timpani. Martin's lyric carries some air of mystery about it, seemingly sung from the perspective of a deposed despot who seems to see some positive sides to his demotion "Och, who would ever want to be king?" Perhaps this is some sort of metaphor for his own clearly ambivalent attitude to fame, and his status as the leader of a band who quickly became much bigger than I can imagine they ever expected or intended. Whatever he might really mean, the sweeping drama of the music is a powerful setting for it (or a good opportunity to ignore the words entirely, of course) and this totally deserves its placing as one of the band's biggest hits. In fact after writing this I start to feel a bit bad about not buying it at the time, though there's no point try to do anything about it now as I obviously have the track on Now 71 itself.

I would incidentally have laughed at the Wikipedia claim that this song is "often confused with 'Livin' La Vida Loca'" had I not in fact seen somebody do that in a Facebook discussion just a few weeks ago. However, I don't know whether it was entirely necessary to spell out that Ricky Martin and Chris Martin are not related.

Also appearing on: Now 46, 47, 48, 53, 54, 55, 61, 62, 63, 70, 79, 81, 82 (with Rihanna)
Available on: Violent Veg - 40 Favourite Songs For Dad!

Friday, 29 November 2013

Steve Mac 'Paddy's Revenge'

Chart Peak: 17
Steven McCutcheon - AKA Steve Mac - scored a Top 20 hit in September 2008 with his club anthem 'Paddy's Revenge'... The track samples Penguin Cafe Orchestra's chillout classic 'Music For A Found Harmonium'.
Far be it from me to quibble with the sleeve note, but Steven McCutcheon is the producer of many Syco-related singles and album, whereas this record is by Stephen McGuinness, remixer and ex-member of Rhythm Masters. It's the second instrumental in a row, although due to the brevity of radio edits that's only about five minutes without vocals.

It is indeed based on the Penguin Cafe Orchestra track, to put it mildly. In fact it's basically part of that song sped up a bit with some extra beats, taking advantage of the resemblance between a harmonium and an accordion for some ironic national stereotyping. It sounds more like a novelty record than something people would actually want to play in a club, but I don't suppose he ever intended it to be more than a bit of fun, so mission accomplished. I wouldn't care if I never heard it again though.

Available on: Paddy's Revenge

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Eric Prydz 'Pjanoo'

Chart Peak: 2
'Pjanoo' (pronounced 'Piano') is, not surprisingly, a piano-led house track by highly acclaimed DJ and producer Eric Prydz... It took the club scene by storm over the summer and climbed to No. 2 in the UK chart in September 2008 giving him a 3rd massive UK hit following 'Call On Me' (2004) and 'Proper Education' (2007).
It's quite remarkable to have three consecutive Top 3 singles, but spread over the space of four years. I suppose you can't accuse him of flooding the market. No less remarkably, 'Pjanoo' is the only one of those three hits that appeared on his debut album Eric Prydz Presents Pryda, and even that was four years later. It also puts him alongside Madness, Fleetwood Mac and the Shadows in the small group of acts who've made the Top 10 with both instrumental and vocal singles.

As if to prove my point about the retro tendencies of late-2000s dance, Prydz claimed that this track was an old outtake from 1996 that just went down well at a DJ gig so he freshened it up for single release. Whether or not that's true, the fact that it was at all believable speaks volumes about the sound of the song, and the trends it fitted into. It's a very simple track and unusually a totally instrumental one with no sampled or spoken vocals of any kind. It certainly has a piano on it, although not quite the sort of big reverby one I tend to associate with piano house from the early 1990s. The radio edit is a tactfully brief 2 minutes and 37 seconds, which is quite pleasant although it doesn't go anywhere really. I'm not sure I could ever be bothered with the full club mix.

Coincidentally, I heard this song in Poundland today, and the ability to mention that fact in this post is alas the highlight of that visit. Also, today is the 30th anniversary of the release of the very first Now album, so I think it might also be the fifth anniversary of this blog. You might expect me to know that sort of thing, wouldn't you?

Also appearing on: Now 59, 66
Available on: Superstar DJs - Ministry of Sound

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Basshunter 'Angel In the Night'

Chart Peak: 14

Arguably the biggest dance star of 2008, Basshunter returned to the scene with another floorfiller 'Angel In The Night'... It followed his earlier smash hits 'All I Ever Wanted' and 'Now You're Gone' into the UK chart in September 2008.
It's fair to say I think that Basshunter's star burned brightly but briefly. An impressive five Top 40 singles in 2008 were accompanied by a Number One album, but success has been more limited in subsequent years. 'Angel In The Night', apparently a reworking of an earlier track, was the third of the five hits and puts the emphasis on his singing ability. That's a pity because, even heavily autotuned, he doesn't seem to have any. It seems like he was more interested in having an excuse to make a video sequel than in the song itself, which is pure filler.

Also appearing on: Now 69, 70
Available on: Now You're Gone [Deluxe Edition]

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Sash! featuring Stunt 'Raindrops (Encore Une Fois)'

Chart Peak: 9


'Encore Une Fois' gained massive chart success for Sascha "Sash!" Lappeson in early 1997 and 'Raindrops' was a big club hit for DJ Stunt a couple of years ago... The two combined forces along with vocalist Molly Smithen Downes to score a Top Ten hit in October 2008.
There seems to have been a big retro movement in the clubs in 2008, with many a 90s hit re-worked and back in the high end of the chart. The history of this track is confusing, but the original Stunt track (which already seems to have the vocal) bears at least a passing resemblance to 'Encore Une Fois' already, so a couple of years later a French DJ took the obvious next step and fitted the two together, with the actual 'Encore Une Fois' vocal appearing at times. I was never a great fan of the original Sash! song and hearing the Stunt one for the first time tonight it didn't do a lot for me either. The combined version seems somehow even less than the sum of its parts although I guess I can imagine it going off well in a club, at least the first couple of times people heard it.

Sash! also appears on: Now 36, 37 [with Rodrigues], 38 [with LaTrec], 39, 41 [with Shannon], 42, 45,
Available on: 20 All Time Dance Anthems

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Katy Perry 'Hot N Cold'

Chart Peak:

The feisty Ms Perry's second big hit single 'Hot N Cold' stormed into the UK chart in October 2008... Katy joins that rare breed of artist that have had two tracks on the same Now album!
I'm open to correction on this point, but I think this is the only time a sleevenote actually refers to a double appearance explicitly. So here Ms Perry follows in the footsteps of UB40, All Saints, Oasis, Culture Club and, er, Kajagoogoo.

It's amazing the stuff you read can find out on Wikipedia. Apparently one of the bridesmaids in the video is played by a friend of hers who was a contestant on the US equivalent of Fame Academy: the show proved such a monumental flop that it was cancelled after two weeks with no winner ever made public. That's more interesting than the song itself which is notable only for proving me wrong; I'd been pretty sure that the novelty of 'I Kissed A Girl' would have made her a one-hit-wonder. I suppose I was better off being totally wrong that just slightly. 'Hot N Cold' is essentially what her first hit would have been without the shock value, ie a second-rate P!nk song. It hints at controversy with the lyric "You PMS like a bitch", which is obviously dropped from most radio edits, and there is reportedly a special edit for theme parks (thanks again, Wikipedia!). Otherwise it's just poorly-sung doggerell that doesn't sound as bad as I thought it might after five years, but it doesn't really sound any good either.

Also appearing on: Now 72, 73, 75 [with Timbaland], 76 [with Snoop Dogg], 77, 78 [with Kanye West], 79, 81, 82, 83, 86
Available on: One Of The Boys

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Boyzone 'Love You Anyway'

Chart Peak: 5
Boyzone originally formed back in 1994 and had a hugely successful career - they had an incredible 16 consecutive Top 5 hits including 6 No. 1s... Ronan, Stephen, Shane, Mikey and Keith returned to the UK chart in October 2008 with the up-tempo, catchy 'Love You Anyway', chalking up yet another Top 5 hit.
Top 5 hit it was indeed, although a peak of 5 meant it was actually their lowest-charting single at the time; however, subsequent singles have all done even worse and at time of writing, they look like missing the Top 40 entirely with their new single this week. Of course their chart positions were greatly bolstered by the fact that their original career took place almost entirely in the second half of the 1990s, a time of frontloaded multi-format sales when release dates could be cleverly stage-managed to ensure the best chance of a high debut, something Louis Walsh took even further with his next charges Westlife. Of course, an act still needs a certain degree of underlying popularity to manage that but it's a factor you need to account for when you're impressed by that run of success.

'Love You Anyway' was very much a comeback single for the group - though unlike Take That they'd never officially announced a split, Ronan Keating departed for a solo career in 1999 (launched by a solo track featured on a Boyzone best-of!) and with the second most popular member Stephen Gately also releasing solo material in 2000 the others eventually had to accept the inevitable and get on with their lives. There was reportedly some bitterness between Keating and the less famous members, and between him and former manager Louis Walsh, but the sight of sales figures for Take That's comeback seem to have healed all wounds and the band reunited for a performance at Children In Need in 2007, then a full-on tour the following year. Like Take That, they smartly tested the waters with the tour of old songs and the greatest hits album before they tried to sell new material, though they compromised slightly by releasing two new singles from the hits collection. This was the first one, and fortunately considering the circumstances it proved to be one of the best things they ever did. Far from the balladry we might have expected, it's an upbeat track with what's apparently supposed to be a Spector-style wall of sound, though to me it sounds more like a pastiche of a Seventies glam-era pastiche of that sound, something like Roy Wood's Wizzard maybe? It also reminds me slightly of the Lightning Seeds, I'm not totally sure why. It definitely has quite a "busy" production, with a lot of percussion and some sort of synthesised theremin wobbling over it at times. It's no masterpiece - this is Boyzone after all - and the chorus does let the side down a bit, endlessly rephrasing the conceit "it's hard to love you but I love you anyway" like a confused Just A Minute contestant. Still, it could have been much worse and with Boyzone, it usually was.

Unfortunately, the album title "Back Together... No Matter What" was prophetic in more ways than they expected, with the death of Stephen Gately in 2009 postponing plans for new material. The did finally release the comeback studio album in 2010, with another to follow in a couple of days' time. I shan't be at the front of the queue.

Also appearing on: Now 30, 31, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 45,
Available on: Back Again... No Matter What - The Greatest Hits (UK comm CD)

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Saturdays 'Up'

Chart Peak: 5
New girls on the block The Saturdays (Una, Rochelle, Vanessa, Mollie and Frankie) smashed their way into the Top 10 in August with their debut hit 'If This Is Love'... Their 2nd hit 'Up', and addictive pop anthem complete with explosive chorus, shot into the Top 5 in October 2008.
The Sats may have been a new act, but they weren't all newcomers to pop: Frankie Sandford - still a teenager at this point! - was already onto her third chart act, after success with S Club Juniors/S Club 8 and I Dream Featuring Frankie And Calvin. Rochelle Wiseman was also a former S Club Junior and appeared in the I Dream TV series but not on their one hit single. 

The Saturdays were a different and slightly more grown-up proposition, though, an entirely female act who seemed like they might have been intended to take over from the Sugababes and Girls Aloud. Perhaps unfortunately for them those acts weren't quite ready to leave at the time, and the Sats have spent most of the last five years in a slightly odd position, chalking up the big hits on a pretty regular basis and playing sizeable live venues but never quite seeming to be big stars. They don't sell a lot of albums either, even by this decade's standards. Somehow even when they were the biggest girl-group in the country by default, they still
didn't really feel like it. If that sounds negative, it's slightly unfortunate because I actually sort of like the Saturdays. At least they seem like nice people, though the quality of their music is wildly variable. 'Up' is one of the good ones, albeit that it's straight off the Scandinavian production line. According to Wikipedia "The lyrics have been interpreted by music critics to not make sense," but they're set against a sound track that's slightly weird but still melodic. The repetition of a couple of notes gives it wobbly, unsteady quality that might just about fit into the sense of the lyric, if they are indeed talking about wanting to take a relationship to the next level. Well, let's be realistic, they're probably talking about sex aren't they? That makes the lyric "I don't want protection" a bit iffy, to be honest, but at least the rest of the song is fairly incoherent around it so they just about get away with it. It's a shame that this was only their second single and they've never really bettered it since. 

Also appearing on: Now 72, 73, 74, 75, 77 (with Flo Rida), 79, 80, 82, 84 (with Sean Paul), 85, 86
Available on: Chasing Lights (UK Re-Release)

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Sugababes 'Girls'

Chart Peak: 3

'Girls' is the first single to be taken from the 'Babes sixth studio album Catfights And Spotlights... The track is based around Ernie K. Doe's classic soul-funk anthem 'Here Come The Girls' and stormed to No. 3 in the UK chart in October 2008
Although it was a decent-sized hit - and not their last of them either - 'Girls' has been seen in retrospect as the beginning of the end for the group. Of course, officially no split has ever been announced but the group have been inactive for a couple of years now and their last album  - which featured no original group memebers - was a relative flop.

As somebody who's enjoyed little of what's been released under the Sugababes name, I'm probably not best placed to judge this but for a long time the group and their advisors were praised for their instincts, which allowed them to come up with exactly the right single to impress the critics and fans, and somehow be perceived as cool as well as populist. What the sleevenotes don't mention is that 'Here Come The Girls' had been used in a TV commercial over Christmas 2007, which meant that they seemed to be cashing in on a year-old advert. That's not what most people consider cool. Admittedly, the air of cash-in might not have been quite so strong had the song been better - but they slip up a bit there as well, oddly not sampling the funky playing of the Meters on the original (and it's not like nobody ever sampled the Meters) but recreating the brassy stabs on cheap synthesisers. The lyrics don't have a lot to offer either and they don't sound like they're even convincing themselves. Also, whenever I hear Keisha Buchanan sing "stop speculating I'm a regular girl" I wonder exactly who's been speculating about that. Even the video looks cheap, in both senses of the term.

The best thing about this is that it adds Allen Toussaint to the list of unexpected writing credits on Now 71.

Also appearing on: Now 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 62, 63, 64, 66, 68, 69, 70, 74, 75
Available on: Girls

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Geraldine 'The Winners Song'

Chart Peak: 2

Funnyman Peter Kay's reality TV show parody Britain's Got The Pop Factor... And Possibly A New Celebrity Jesus Christ Superstar Strictly On Ice spawned the victorious Geraldine McQueen... Her single 'The Winner's Song' reached No. 2 in the UK chart in October 2008.
The notes are evidently too polite to mention this but the single was intentionally scheduled for the week when the 2007 X-Factor winner Leon Jackson released his first proper single (the follow-up to his own winner's song, featured on Now 69 of course). Presumably there was hope of provoking a media-friendly battle for the Number One single, but it didn't turn out that way: "Geraldine" entered at Number 2 behind P!nk with Jackson a not especially close third. Simon Cowell might have been disappointed by that outcome, though it seems unlikely that he cared that much about Jackson in the first place - as the wise businessman that he is, Cowell evidently invests in winners based on his faith in their future prospects. In any case, Kay's satire seems a bit of an inside job; the original TV broadcast featured people from real talent and reality shows as themselves, whilst this song was written by Kay and Gary Barlow (not yet the X-Factor judge he now is, but already an associate of the show). It was even produced by Syco collaborator Steve Mac, who did a lot of the real winners' songs. And the tabloids did do their best by trying to manufacture outrage over the fact that this wasn't a charity single - not that he'd ever said it was, but supposedly some people had assumed it was like Kay's previous (and subsequent) musical endeavours.

By 2008, Peter Kay hadn't done real new work for a while, attracting criticism for releasing DVDs of the same jokes repeatedly. So there was a lot of anticipation about the TV special, although I didn't watch it and can't comment much on how funny or satirical it was; I believe there was some controversy about the fact that the Geraldine McQueen character was supposed to be transsexual and that this was arguably the butt of some of the humour (particularly given the size and shape of Kay himself even in character). As to the song itself, it's a fairly effective shot at a very easy target, though it's a little dated now because X-Factor winners no longer seem to be given songs that refer directly to the talent-show struggle narrative: whatever 'When We Collide', 'Cannonball' and 'Impossible' have in common, they don't really talk about striving in the way that 'That's My Goal' and 'A Moment Like This' did. Actually, that's quite an interesting digression in itself, but a bit beyond the scope of this post, so I'll save the speculation for another time. Meanwhile Kay's lyric talks about striving and success in a way that's slightly ambiguous and also a bit clod-hopping, presumably patterned after 'A Moment Like This' in particular (which would also fit with when he'd most likely have written it). Barlow produces a very exact pastiche of the slow-build by-numbers ballad for show-off singers, complete with key-change. In fact it's so close to the real thing I have to wonder whether he might just have dusted off something he'd already written rather than coming up with this for the occasion. I'm not sure whether it's more or less funny in retrospect now that Barlow's written very similar songs in earnest for Westlife and Matt Cardle - though I for one find it hilarious that neither of those singles was as successful as this one.

Also appearing on: Now 78 (with Susan Boyle)
Available on: The Winners Song

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Jordin Sparks 'Tattoo'

Chart Peak: 24 [originally 50]

American Idol winner Jordin Sparks follows up her No. 3 smash 'No Air' with a re-release of 'Tattoo'... The talented teen co-wrote the track with acclaimed British songwriter Amanda Ghost ('You're Beautiful', 'Beautiful Liar' et al)

Really, with that pedigree this song should have been called 'Beautiful Tattoo', surely? Any writing credit for Sparks herself seems to have gone AWOL, in fact, though there are credits for another British songwriter - former EMF man Ian Dench - and for Stargate, the writing/production team who've worked on so much of this album already.

The result of that is a US Top 10 hit that radio lapped up but the record buying public in the UK were calmer about; admittedly, the ultimate chart peak is deflated by the fact that it was climbing there ever since the repromotion started, whereas even a couple of years earlier they could have held back sales to the time when a CD single was released and let it enter in at least the Top 20, but a truly massive song would have broken out anyway. Of course it's always a bit of a problem for foreign talent show winners to succeed in countries where the audience aren't already invested in them (American Idol is apparently shown in the UK but to a relatively tiny audience) but I'd like to think that the blandness of the song is a part of the problem too. Like a lot of this first disc, it's not just formulaic but seems actively resistant to doing anything that might attract your attention, as if they're scared of waking up the audience. It's not just that there's noting jarring or dramatic, but everything is totally predictable, every part of the melody goes exactly where you'd expect it too. It's what makes something like the Will Young song stand out more than it arguably should.

Rather like Jennifer Hudson (and indeed many other Idol acts), Sparks has been somewhat quiet on the recording front after the first couple of years; her last album release was in 2009. She does however appear as a guest vocalist with her boyfriend Jason Derulo on his new album, which is coincidentally called Tattoos.

Meanwhile, since I haven't posted it yet, here's a photo of the first disc from Now 71. It is a nice shade of purple, but if you decide to get it tattooed on yourself that's your own responsibility.

Also appearing on: Now 70 [with Chris Brown], 73
Available on: Jordin Sparks

Monday, 18 November 2013

Will Young 'Changes'

Chart Peak: 10


Will made a welcome return to the UK chart in September 2008 with the Top 10 hit 'Changes'... The track has been described as "a sweeping burst of contemporary pop that perfectly showcases Will's soulful vocals".

That quote may not have come from an entirely unbiased source, you know. I suppose Will Young was arguably meeting James Morrison from the other direction; he had of course started out as a talent-show winner who scored the fastest-selling single of the century but wasn't taken at all seriously. Six years later he had with some success carved out a career for himself as a singer of quality MOR, although his attempts to branch out from ballads were met with mixed response. Now he was working with most of the same writers and producers as Morrison (Eg White in this case) and creating a faintly similar sort of music.

The odd thing is, though, that I like this song a lot more than I liked 'You Make It Real'. I suppose I warmed more to Young than Morrison, even though Young has probably made more music that I actually dislike. Perhaps there's a humble quality that other singers seem to lack (on record, not necessarily in real life), or maybe he just retained more of his pop sensibility. Either way, this song has an undeniably brilliant chorus that makes me fond of it whoever's on vocals. Resistance would be futile.

Also appearing on: Now 57, 62, 63, 64, 80
Available on: Let It Go

Saturday, 16 November 2013

James Morrison 'You Make It Real'

Chart Peak: 7


James' soaring new single 'You Make It Real' was written about "a significant who keeps you in check when your life is going to hell around you"... It reached No. 7 in the UK chart on its release in October 2008.

James Morrison (not to be confused with Jim Morrison from the Doors, or Jimbob from Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine whose real name is James Morrison) was one of a large number of throaty male singers who were heavily pushed by the industry in the mid-late 2000s after the success of James Blunt. Of course, the male singer-songwriter is a type of act that record companies will always have on their books, but there seemed to be a particular drive to turn them into MOR pop stars around this time - it's notable that many of them, Morrison included, weren't quite singer-songwriters in the traditional sense as they were reliant on co-writers.

Of course, the disadvantage of this is that as most of these singers were working with several collaborators it tended to rein in their individuality; and with in-demand songwriters working for so many clients things did start to sound very samey. Listened to now, this track doesn't sound at all bad: Morrison has a decent raspy voice, even if there's something slightly unconvincing about it. There are some nice touches in the arrangement too, I do like a low electric piano. The trouble is, at the time it seemed like he released this same song too many times, and a dozen other people were releasing it as well, and however heartfelt it might actually have been it just seemed routine and contrived. I hear he's a lovely bloke and all but he seems sometimes to be trying to come over as more serious than he actually is and the end result can be bland.

Also appearing on: Now 64, 65, 72 (with Nelly Furtado), 73, 80
Available on: Totally Chick Flicks

Friday, 15 November 2013

Jennifer Hudson 'Spotlight'

Chart Peak: 11

American Idol finalist and Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson is a woman of many talents.. Her October 2008 debut UK hit 'Spotlight' was written and co produced by the winning combination of Ne-Yo and Stargate.
Slightly unfortunate juxtaposition here, since at the time when Now 71 was released, Jennifer Hudson had withdrawn from the public eye due to the murder of several members of her family by her estranged brother-in-law, a sad reminder of how real a problem domestic violence is. It's an unfortunate coincidence as well that her first major hit (she'd snuck into the Top 75 with a track from the Sex & The City movie) is a song about an overly attentive boyfriend. Presumably it's not intended to have quite the same emotional weight as a true story would, and it flounders a little because, although her singing is very good the song is just a bit dull. The lyrics are well-written, the chorus is decent enough in isolation but the trouble is that the verse is too similar, the production too slick and the whole thing just too uneventful. Pretty much what you'd expect from Ne-Yo I suppose but there's a bit of a wasted opportunity here.

Although she did return to recording and release a second album, this remains her only Top 30 single as she seems to have concentrated on musical theatre and films where things actually happen. Earlier this week she received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.

Available on: Jennifer Hudson

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Chris Brown 'Forever'

Chart Peak:

'Forever' was originally written by Chris Brown as a jingle for a chewing gum commercial... The multi-award-winning 19 year old then spruced it up and turned it into a Top 5 single to give him a second massive UK success in Summer 2008.
Written for a jingle? You'd never guess. Actually that little three-note hook sounds more like the sting they play before an announcement through a public address system than anything else. I haven't exactly been looking forward to writing directly about my namesake, but the time has come. This track, of course, predates the domestic violence incident that made him notorious but he was already a very arrogant man. And whilst it would be tempting to refuse to write about this song entirely because of his reprehensible off-stage behaviour that does feel like a bit of a cop-out. It's also tempting, if in dubious taste, to try and over-interpret the song, or make some joke about the lyric "look what I can do with my feet".

The dilemma is lessened by the fact that the record is so poor anyway. Brown obviously fancies himself as Michael Jackson and has often consciously cast himself as an heir to him. The thing is though that, love him or hate him, Jackson built up a catalogue of memorable and distinctive hit songs that made him unmistakable. Brown has aimed straight for the till, making the most generic music possible to follow whatever trends seem popular with his target demographic. It's one thing to become rich out of doing this, but he's amassed a famously loyal (and worryingly, mostly female) fanbase who don't take kindly to criticism of their idol. One can only assume that his lyrical agenda, which consists pretty much entirely of "look at me I'm great", has convinced them. It doesn't sway me, though, particularly not in what's supposed to be a love song. Even if I didn't hate him I'd still think this was rubbish.

On the positive side, it's quite a relief that I don't have the @chrisbrown Twitter account, even though I did have the name first in real life.

Also appearing on: Now 70, 78, 79 (with Benny Benassi), 81 (with Pitbull), 82, 83
Available on: Pure... R&B Party

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Madcon 'Beggin'

Chart Peak: 5


Norwegian hip-hop/rap duo Madcon, short for Mad Conspiracy, are Tshawe Baqwa (AKA Kapricon) and Yosef Wolde-Mariam (AKA Critical)... their first single 'Beggin', originally recorded by the Four Seasons in 1967, gave them a No. 5 hit in the UK chart in September 2008.

A more obvious Sixties borrowing here, and in this case indeed Bob Gaudio and his original co-writer Peggy Farina get all the writing credits, with Madcon seemingly not getting a penny for the lyrics they added themselves. Whilst it's certainly a Four Seasons song, it was Timebox who had the original UK hit. The Four Seasons version slipped into the Top 40 thanks to a "Re-edit" in 2007 and its unusual video, and perhaps it was club success of this that prompted the Madcon version; at least I'm presuming the reworked version had been doing the rounds in clubs for some time before it got a commercial release.

Although it took me some time to realise this, due to an ingrained dislike of the Four Seasons caused by associations with their screechy early hits, the song is actually a pretty good one. It's perhaps a prototype for Northern Soul, notable for the complete absence of falsetto. Madcon's version is a solid reproduction in a slightly more modern production style, with some new rapped verses which don't add much but don't detract a lot either. I tend to suspect that the Europe-wide success of this version had more to do with the song itself being new to people than with anything about this particular rendition. Madcon haven't really had any other British success to speak of, making them the first of several (UK) one-hit wonders on Now 71, but in their homeland they're one of the biggest acts ever. Their latest album features guest appearances from Kelly Rowland, Snoop Lion and Estelle, and they appeared as the interval act at Eurovision in 2010. I can well imagine that if you'd never heard the song before this would sound brilliant, but I think I'd stick with the Timebox version myself.

Available on: So Dark The Con Of Man [Explicit]

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Pussycat Dolls 'When I Grow Up'

Chart Peak: 3

The Dolls made a long-awaited return to the charts with the sassy single 'When I Grow Up' which hit No. 3 in September 2008, nearly two years after their last single 'I Don't Need A Man'... The track is a tongue-in-cheek look at our fame-obsessed culture

To be pedantic, their last single before this was the download-only release of 'Wait A Minute', but nonetheless it did follow a lengthy gap. Apparently this was one of almost a hundred songs recorded for a Nicole Sherzinger solo album that was never released; she then decided this one was more suited to the group, presumably because it needed the massive artistic input of the other members?

Either way, it ended up as the lead single for the second (and, it would seem, last) PCD album and a major hit, though it seems weirdly forgotten now, possibly one of those songs that becomes a bit hit because it's a new track by a big act more than because people are really enthusiastic about it. Whilst sampling was hardly a new phenomenon in 2008, it does seem to bring some unexpected names into the writing credits on Now 71 - as well as Warren Zevon a couple of tracks ago, the rhythm section from The Yardbirds get a mention and a royalty due to the beat of this track being based on their 1966 album track 'He's Always There'. So full marks for the imaginative source material, fewer for what they do with it. I don't believe for a moment that anybody who was that cynical about fame would join the pop spin-off from a burlesque dancing franchise and the song doesn't do a lot to convince either, seeming very by-numbers with the possible exception of the bit where it sounds like they're saying "I wanna have boobies". In other words, it's cynically pretending to be cynical, and I'm too much of a cynic not to notice. Maybe if the music was any less inane or the performance was any good I might think otherwise, but I wonder whether anyone was ever expected to listen to this track without also watching the video.

Also appearing on: Now 62 (with Busta Rhymes), 63 (with, 65, 73 (with A.R. Rahman)
Available on: Doll Domination (UK Version)

Monday, 11 November 2013

Ne-Yo 'Miss Independent'

Chart Peak: 6


Ne-Yo followed up his No. 1 smash hit 'Closer' with 'Miss Independent' - another Top 10 hit from the hot production outfit StarGate... At the end of October 2008, he sang 'The Star Spangled Banner' before a special America football game at Wembley Stadium.

If you want to play connections, the smallest of the four hits from the original version of the Rihanna's Good Girl Gone Bad was a duet with Shaffer Smith on 'Hate That I Love You', which was the only one of the four not to get onto a Now album. Still he has plenty of his own appearances, including this and his four solo chart-toppers in alternate years (three more than he managed back home, so I guess that's a tenuous link to Kid Rock) and he also wrote several Rihanna songs he didn't sing on. 'Miss Independent', no connection to the Kelly Clarkson hit of the same title, was unusual back then as the second pre-album single from a record by a US-based act, though the practice became increasingly common in the subsequent years partly due to the desire to appeal to different market segments. So after the electronic dance sound of the aforementioned 'Closer', this is in a more radio-friendly loverman style, and was indeed his first hit to be picked up by Radio 2 over here.

The album was called Year Of The Gentleman, and according to Ne-Yo himself this was supposed to be the sort of style he'd adopted. Unfortunately he seems to thing that being a gentleman consists entirely of wearing a trilby hit at a jaunty angle since this song is otherwise pretty bog-standard in style. Lyrically, it's one of those odd songs that seems to present itself as being a tribute to women but ends up just sounding patronising as he marvels at the fact that a women might have a job, drive a car, pay for things with her own money and so on. Geez, they'll be letting them vote soon! By the time he starts saying "there's something about a girl that don't need my help" I just think, isn't that all of them Ne-Yo? Maybe if they released this song in Saudi Arabia it might have seemed more radical but he just sounds like a smarmy pillock here. And if the song's bad, the video's even worse, depicting Ne-Yo going to work in an office where he seems to have nothing better to do than perve over his female colleagues (who all greet him by name in case you forget whose video this is), save for when he takes a break to gawp out of the window at a passer-by. Mind you, I'm not sure all the staff are happy about that.

In the emotional climax of the video he asks the boss for a date and she refuses and gives him some work to do (!) but then at the end she does ask him how she can make it up to him for no adequately explained reason. Maybe it's supposed to be because he's wearing a hat, but would a properly brought-up gentleman have worn it indoors all day? I know it's only a video but the more I think about it the more it annoys me, probably because the song itself is so uninteresting.

Also appearing on: Now 64, 65, 67, 70, 72, 73 (with Keri Hilson and Kanye West), 77, 79 (with Pitbull, Afrojack and Nayer), 83
Available on: Year Of The Gentleman (UK Version)

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Rihanna 'Disturbia'

Chart Peak: 3


The follow up to chart-topper 'Take A Bow', the edgy 'Disturbia', reached No. 3 in the UK charts in September 2008... The upbeat smash was written by Chris Brown and his songwriting team, The Grafitti Artizts.
Yeah, sometimes five years ago can seem quite recent but other times it feels very long ago indeed. In the light of what's happened since 2008, the thought of Chris Brown giving Rihanna a song of this title has certain resonances it didn't at the time. Indeed she even sings "it's too close for comfort" at one point, which is only too true now.

Trying to think back into a 2008 context, though, this was the sixth of eight Top 20 hits associated with her album Good Girl Gone Bad, albeit that the later ones were only on the deluxe version of the album released that year; it's a testament to her work-rate that 2008 is the only year since 2005 when she hasn't released a new album (though she's yet to come out with one in 2013). Though was indeed the official follow-up to 'Take A Bow', she'd managed to squeeze in a minor hit in between with the Maroon 5 collaboration 'If I Never See Your Face Again'. Mind you, she later kept two Maroon 5 tracks off the top of the UK chart so they might have rather liked the prospect of not seeing her again.

Listening to the song again for the first time in probably several years, what struck me was how little edge it had. It's a serviceable enough RnB sort of song, and the "bum-bum-bum" hook is sort of catchy - though as the critic and star of Twitter Fraser McAlpine pointed out, it does sound a bit like 'Blue' by Eiffel 65, which possibly wasn't the effect Brown intended. But considering how out-there some 90s and 2000s urban music could be production-wise, it is rather staid (possibly because Brown originally wrote the song for himself). The scariest thing about it, at least without hindsight, is the typically detached, emotionless way that Rihanna herself sings the song. It's not a voice I've ever been fond of but perhaps it suits this material better than some. But the sheer number of hits she has can mean that even as big a one as this is mostly forgotten even a few years later.

Also appearing on: Now 62, 63, 64, 65, 67, 68, 69, 70, 72 (with T.I.), 74 (with Jay-Z and Kanye West), 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 84,
Available on: R&B Collection Summer 2009 [Explicit] [+digital booklet]

Friday, 8 November 2013

Kid Rock 'All Summer Long'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)
Robert James Ritchie, better known as Kid Rock, scored a UK No. 1 smash hit in July 2008 with 'All Summer Long'... the track samples two 70s classics - Warren Zevon's 'Werewolves Of London' and Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Sweet Home Alabama'.
Like I said in the previous post, Southern Rock isn't a genre that often shows up on the Now albums, but we get a double dose on Now 71 with two of the very few tracks in that style to top the UK chart (the only other one I can think of offhand is 'Bad Moon Rising'). Admittedly, Kid Rock was once considered a rapper, but like many an American pop star with a dwindling career in the home market he drifted towards country sounds and nostalgia, and of course this song not only samples but explicitly mentions the Skynyrd song. After years of being cited as a classic example of a US act with little appeal to British sensibilities (though he did manage minor Top 40 hits in 1999 and 2000, and a Number 41 in 2001) it's curious that it was at this very point that he crossed over the UK market with a song of nostalgia about growing up in Michigan.

To add to the irony, the single was a Number One hit in several European countries and a Top 10 in many more, but in the actual USA it fell short of the Top 20 - it was a huge airplay hit but sold precisely zero copies as there was no physical single release there and Kid Rock refused to make his albums available on iTunes (or any other download retailer that would allow customers to cherry-pick individual tracks). He claimed this was a point of principle although it was clearly a principle that stopped somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean as the track was given a full release over here. Not only was it one of the last CD singles ever to be available in Woolworths before they dropped the format, but it was available as a download here too, and indeed was released as a downloadable video from iTunes for several weeks before the cheaper, chart-eligible audio download became available. Meanwhile back in his homeland it was outcharted by a karaoke version. I guess he knew he could recoup it all in album sales there.

It is of course a thoroughly dreadful song, combining a genre I don't like, a sample of a song I hate, a ruination of a song I quite like and one of my pet hates, forced nostalgia. And it rhymes "things" with "things" which is just insultingly lazy. The "Kid" (who was 37 years old at this point) is a consistently unlikable presence too. In fact the most positive thing I can say is that at least this track is nice and early in the sequence so I've got it out of the way.

Available on: American Anthems II

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Kings Of Leon 'Sex On Fire'

Chart Peak: 1 (3 weeks)
The Followill brothers (and cousin Matthew) scored their first ever UK No.1 single with 'Sex On Fire' which shot to the top spot in September 2008... The boys spent the summer headling some of the UK's biggest festivals and they embark on a tour over here in December 2008
In 2008, physical singles were less important than they had been since the inception of the singles chart but still not totally irrelevant, and Kings Of Leon were an act at that fourth album stage where many a hyped rock act tends to slip into irrelevance and declining chart fortunes. It's fair to say that I wasn't really expecting them to enter the chart at Number One with a single that was initially available only on download (CD and 7" singles arrived a couple of weeks later), but that was exactly what happened. And it was only the start of it too, with the song going on to sell a million copies and, admittedly with the assistance of the odd iTunes discount, spending longer on the chart than any Number One single had ever done before. It launched the band to an even greater level of success, particularly back home in the USA, although they didn't seem to have enjoyed it all that much. In surely the crowning glory of the Followills' career, the song was later covered by Westlife.

Never having been keen on the band in the first place, I wasn't really sure why this song suddenly took off as it did; admittedly, the Kings weren't quite as obscure in Britain before this as some might think, their first three albums having all made the Top 3, but they'd never even had a Top 10 single before. Inevitably, some people have suggested that this and the rest of the massive Only By The Night album represented some sort of sell-out, but I can't honestly say I can tell the difference between supposedly commercial Kings Of Leon tracks and supposedly uncommercial ones. For that matter I can't really tell what's supposed to be good about any of them, Southern rock being a style with very little appeal to me and fortunately one that doesn't crop up much on the Now albums. Maybe the word "Sex" in the title just got people's attention. I much prefer their other million-selling single, 'Use Somebody'

Available on: Only By The Night

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

P!nk 'So What'

Chart Peak: 1 [3 weeks]


P!nk notched up her 2nd UK No.1 single (and her 17th UK hit overall) in October 2008 with 'So What'... There has been speculation that the track was written about her her ex-hubby Carey Hart, however she says that "it's just about divorce in general" and that "there are no bad feelings between her and Carey" - he even appears in the music video for the track!
Actually, her third Number One if you count her appearance on 'Lady Marmalade' (which would be consistent with including 'Walk This Way' for Girls Aloud) and also the single that holds the record for biggest climb to the top within the Top 40; it entered at 38 on one day's sales but this didn't split the vote enough to keep it from climbing the 37 places to the toppermost the following week, helping to deny Oasis what would have been their ninth (and presumably last) Number One.

You can see how people might have thought the song was about her own marital troubles, what with subtle hints like the first line being "I guess I just lost my husband" and the scene in the video where she chainsaws a tree with "Alecia+Carey" written on it. Still, he really is in the video which would seem to imply there was less bitterness in reality than in the song (or at least that things had calmed down between the writing and release) and I must admit that this did rather support my existing feeling that P!nk was a bit of a phony. Certainly she seems to tread a difficult line, simultaneously appearing to draw on real life and claiming to have a "brand new attitude" which turns out to be the same one she'd been peddling since the turn of the century. That said, I happened to hear this on the radio unawares and found myself, if not liking it, at least warming to it, because there is a certain cartoonish quality that has its own appeal. And whilst this is quite a horrible-sounding record, thanks to Max Martin's over-compressed production, there's enough exuberance to make it stand out, and it does go up in my estimation for having a properly memorable ending.

As for P!nk and Carey Hart, having never officially divorced they reconciled in 2009 and had a daughter in 2011. Not often you get a happy ending on these blog posts, but there's one for you.

Also appearing on: Now 64, 65, 72, 73, 78, 83, 84 [with Nate Ruess], 85 [with Lily Allen],
Available on: Race For Life

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Katy Perry 'I Kissed A Girl'

Chart Peak: 1 (5 weeks)


Katy Perry is the middle child of two American pastors - she grew up on a strict diet of religious music and often sang in church... She decided she wanted to be a pop star after hearding a Queen song at a sleepover abs now her sassy single 'I Kissed A Girl' has topped the charts in 20 countries worldwide - it hit the UK No. 1 spot in late August 2008.

Right, I'm going to come straight out now (no pun intended) and say I never liked this track. Still, at leat I knew it was just a gimmick and she was bound to be a one-hit wonder. Oops. Indeed, it says something about the growth of the singles market that this single lasted five weeks at Number One and isn't even her biggest seller. It's another sign of the times that the single climbed to the top of the chart not because it lacked advance publicity but because an anonymous cover version threatened to beat this to the chart so the label rush-released the original in the middle of the week and it entered at 4.

I had just about heard of Perry before this single, as I was aware she'd released a song called 'U R So Gay' in the US. I was not surprised that she followed it up with another tawdry effort, cleverly both an appeal to lad's mag fantasies and a controversial enough concept to provoke a backlash and look edgy. Notice how the references to "I hope my boyfriend don't mind" safely establish the protagonist as a heterosexual rather than someone actually gay which might be threatening. McFly, of all people, did subvert this by covering the song without changing any words and thus implying that their protagonist was a gay man flirting with going the other way.

As the debate raged about whether this song promoted homosexuality or homophobia I could appreciate what a good PR stunt it was but as a song it's less impressive, though I suppose using the Glitter beat was distinctive at the time, and a downward key change makes a change from the typical upward ones. I still struggle to get through the whole thing, and to this day I've never dared watch the video, but apparently Ke$ha's in it. I'd also forgotten until I came to write this post that this is another example of a hit co-written by Cathy Dennis, which is why she can afford not to do nostalgia tours.

Also appearing on: Now 72, 73, 75 [with Timbaland], 76 [with Snoop Dogg], 77, 78 [with Kanye West], 79, 81, 82, 83, 86
Available on: Me To You With Love

Monday, 4 November 2013

Girls Aloud 'The Promise'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)

The Girls teamed up once again with super hot production team Xenomania for the No. 1 smash hit 'The Promise' - it shot to the top spot in late October 2008... Incredibly it is the girls' 19th consecutive UK Top Ten hit and their fourth chart-topper.

Officially their fourth chart-topper at least, though the previous three were the single they released as part of the original Popstars: The Rivals and two charity records, so arguably this was their only single to top the chart under its own steam. You could also quibble about how super-hot a team Xenomania really are; for all the critical acclaim their actual success is mostly tied up with a couple of acts and particularly with the Aloud themselves. I've got to admit I'm a bit skeptical about their skills or at least reluctant to buy into all the hype over what are mostly well-crafted pop songs but only that.

One criticism I've levelled at a lot of Xenomania work is that they often seem to settle for a five weak hooklines over a couple of really good ones and to be honest that's what I thought of 'The Promise' at first too; but it later dawned on me that this was one time when it did work, because it's a rare example of them using the music expressively. The multiplicity of different melodies and rhythms and the unresolved sequences mirrors the confusion of the lyric and the protagonist trying to hold back temptation. Of course the chorus melody "Promise I made/starting to fade" still sounds like the theme from Blankety Blank but that might be intentional. Also, credit for the abrupt ending on the single edit, which preserves the tension and energy of the song much better than the album version that just fades out.

Fortunately it's the single cut that appears as the opener to Now 71, which I am of course doing at this point because it was the current album when I started the blog just under five years ago, and thus at the 25th anniversary of the series.

Also appearing on: Now 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 72, 73, 84
Available on: Ten

Friday, 1 November 2013

Wozani ' Working For Changes'

Chart Peak: none in the UK

Right at the very end of the album the one authentically local act, and the one track that doesn't seem to be available as a download. Recorded in Johannesburg but mixed in Leeds of all places, 'Working For Changes' is by all available accounts a fairly typical example of the band's combination of rock and African sounds - though the structure is purely rock and the production very much of its time, there's a consistent chanted motif that gives some clue where they were from.

The lyric, too, is the only one on this album to address current events directly, if vaguely. To give credit where it's due, telling people to ignore skin colour was a pretty radical statement there not long before and there's something pleasant about this. You can imagine it might have sounded better live without the overproduction though.

Here ends the South African Now 14, a blogging experiment that I don't think has entirely worked, but I'm keen to get back into the saddle with a UK album, probably next week.