Thursday, 3 December 2015

Oasis 'Songbird'

Chart Peak: 3
'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
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]

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