Let’s start at the end of the compilation, which was released the week that a football World Cup kicked off in a desert where you risk arrest for holding hands with someone of the same sex.
It’s a famous story in NOW lore that Queen would tell Virgin, who put out their material and the NOW CDs, to always lead off with their tracks. In a natural inversion of things, an unreleased Queen song called Face It Alone closes NOW 113; it’s fine and its very existence is greater than how it sounds. It will appear on a collector’s edition of their album The Miracle, which came out in 1989 and included the smash hit I Want It All.
With Adam Lambert replacing Freddie Mercury, Queen can headline the O2 Arena. So can Robbie Williams, whose best-of collection titled XXV copies Kylie Minogue’s idea of recording a catalogue with an orchestra, repackaging it to make money from old copyrights. Lost, a new song, is co-credited to Chris Heath, collaborator on Robbie’s memoir! Elton John can pack them into Greenwich too; he helped Britney Spears step back into the charts on a really miserable reworking of Tiny Dancer called Hold Me Closer. That song kicks off Disc Two.
Front-loading Disc One of this compilation are five of the biggest acts in the UK not called Adele. Lewis Capaldi got to number one with Forget Me; Sam Smith followed with the dull Unholy, a duet with German trans (not trance) act Kim Petras; Stormzy previewed his third album with Hide & Seek; Ed Sheeran farted out another lighter-waver called Celestial; and George Ezra crooned his way through Dance All Over Me.
The interloper at the start of Disc One is Ryan Tedder, or his band OneRepublic; knowing the name of any other member of the band will get you a Pointless answer. I Ain’t Worried was featured in Top Gun: Maverick and clambered into the UK Top 3 in autumn 2022. Lil Nas X’s next trick was Star Walkin’, the ‘World Anthem’ for video game League of Legends. KSI, who shot to fame playing video games for an enthralled public, had a big hit with Not Over Yet, featuring Tom Grennan. It sounds like pop music in 2022.
KSI, who appears with the mournful Summer Is Over, and Tom both two-time on NOW 113. Tom has All These Nights, another song which sounds like pop music in 2022, with his great voice is surrounded by music made ‘in the box’ by studio wizardry. Whooshes and woahs make it perfect for any kind of playlist. NOW’s celebrated playlist has room for Olly Murs, a Maroon 5ish tune called Die of a Broken Heart; The 1975, a piece of candy floss called I’m In Love With You, produced by Jack Antonoff; and two tracks written and produced by the great Stuart Price, Boy by The Killers and Ghost of You by Mimi Webb.
There’s also Josh Bruce aka Bru-C, a British multi-hyphenate who signed to Def Jam and put out the melodic drum’n’bass track No Excuses, and the London trio FLO, who performed their song Cardboard Box on TV shows as diverse as Jimmy Kimmel Live and Later with Jools Holland. A clue to their success is the presence of MNEK, who wrote and produced a break-up song that sounds good next to Go by Cat Burns. Cat is also on NOW 113 with the quirky People Pleaser, which begins with the line ‘I hate confrontation’.
In autumn 2022 I had a go broadcasting in the weekday mid-morning slot on Vibe 107.6. The playlist (which I sometimes ignored) was full of Top 40 hits, many of which make it on to this compilation. I joked that we were never too far away from Joel Corry and Becky Hill, whose song History was bouncy and good to exercise to; ditto Hot In It by Tiesto and Charli XCX. I also rotated Ferrari by James Hype and Miggy Dela Rosa; I Like You (A Happier Song) from Post Malone’s woeful album which featured some purring from Doja Cat; and the latest poolside jam from Calvin Harris, whose Funk Wav Bounces Volume 2 project was led by a slinky song called Stay With Me featuring Halsey AND Pharrell Williams AND Justin Timberlake. ‘Four for the price of one’ was my regular line.
For some reason, we didn’t have the US number one hit Bad Habit by Steve Lacy on the system, which takes its place on NOW 113. We did have a pair of UK number one singles that were popular in the clubs and on radio. Eiffel 65’s Blue was brought back by David Guetta and Bebe Rexha and retitled I’m Good (Blue), while Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminal were the Baddest of Them All.
Aitch joined Anne-Marie on a Hallowe’en-friendly tune with a five-note riff called Psycho, which borrowed heavily from Mambo Number 5. The 20-Year Cycle strikes again, as the tunes by Lou Bega and Eiffel 65 were both huge hits in 1999, two years before Aitch was born. He Wasn’t Man Enough by Toni Braxton came out in 2000 and includes a lovely quivering riff that anchors Last Last, a song by Burna Boy that ruled summer 2022. Big City Life was a number 15 hit by Mattafix in 2005 written by Mabel’s half-brother Marlon Roudette (ie they share a father); Luude picked that song to give the same treatment he gave Down Under and people still like the shtick enough to push it into the top ten.
I joked on air that we’re running out of songs, but thank goodness for Ed Sheeran, who sings the hook on My G, a song about Aitch’s sister, and who takes a verse on a remix of Peru, the Afrobeats anthem by Fireboy DML, and who appears on a Burna Boy song called For My Hand. Four-timing is as rare as scoring an albatross on the golf course but such is Ed’s dominance that he doesn’t need to sing the whole track to get a hit song in 2022.
NOW 113 was released the same day as Nothing But Space, Man, the debut album by Sam Ryder. In an environment where new stars are hard to come by unless you sound like Ed Sheeran, Sam tweaks the Sheeran formula. A falsetto voice and love of hard rock makes Sam the breakout star of 2022: following Space Man’s success in spring, his unity anthem Somebody was a great song to play on air during the autumn. He also provides pitch-shifted vocals on Living Without You, a plodding tie-up between DJs Sigala and David Guetta.
His TikTok followers will know his talent but this year has been spent germinating songs as if Sam is a lab experiment for how to grow a popstar via Eurovision exposure and a decent social media following. He will be the star performer in Liverpool for the 2023 Contest and I suggest he sings an Ed Sheeran song as the UK entry. Who else is available: James Blunt?! Three-timing on NOW 113 will push people to Nothing But Space, Man, before Stormzy dominates the narrative the week afterwards. We will hear and see Sam Ryder an awful lot, perhaps more than ‘Big Mike’ (aka Stormzy) in 2023.
Rosa Linn finished 20th for Armenia at Eurovision 2022 with her song Snap, but she enjoyed a bounce after the competition and finds a way on to a cosmopolitan Disc Two. As well as Burna Boy, his Nigerian compatriot Oxlade makes it with his song Ku Lo Sa (A Colors Show). Benzz, a teenager from West London of Moroccan descent, is the latest star of the streets to get on to a NOW compilation with Je M’Appelle, which is driven by the Calabria horn riff, which was also used on 21 Reasons by Nathan Dawe.
Ella Henderson featured on that track and joins Cian Ducrot on the piano ballad All For You. Rita Ora (who, remember, broke lockdown rules twice and was sent to Australia to escape tabloid disdain) is the vocalist on Barricades, a dance-pop song written by Stargate and credited to her and Netsky. Pink returns with a politically charged song called Irrelevant, written with Ian Fitchuk and filled with rage for the Supreme Court justices who allowed the Roe v Wade ruling on abortion to be struck down in several states. It didn’t chart in the UK or the USA but songs don’t have to be hits to hit home in 2022. The song Never Gonna Not Dance Again was released in November 2022, written with Max Martin and Shellback, proving that she does still want hit songs after all.
From Texas there’s Lizzo, whose song 2 Be Loved (Am I Ready) was co-written by the great Swede himself (Maz) and features a hilariously euphoric key change, plus the lyric ‘he call me Melly, he squeeze my belly’. LF System represent Scotland with their follow up to Afraid To Feel, which is called Hungry (For Love). Dermot Kennedy from Ireland offers Kiss Me; like Tom Grennan, he has added a contemporary beat to his Sheeranesque voice.
From LA, Billie Eilish returns with TV, another song with her trademark quiver which was quietly released over summer, while Panic! At The Disco have – really has because Brendon Urie is the only member of the group with any profile – enlisted pop genius Mike Viola on their/his new album Viva Las Vengeance. The magnificent single Don’t Let The Light Go Out was playlisted on Radio 2; the title track is perhaps my song of the year. Naturally it missed the UK and US charts. Not that Brendon minds; he’s booked for the O2 Arena in March 2023 the week of Country2Country.
So, with all these new tunes, why have I picked a Tom Odell song that was a hit in 2013 to go forward into the playlist of songs that are the most important on any given NOW? TikTok, of course.
For some reason, the algorithm has decreed that Another Love is worth bringing back in a big way. Tom released a poor album in October 2022 while his biggest copyright returned into the popular sphere. His gig at the British Country Music Festival ended with Another Love, which a drunken young person jumped around to. Tom, once heralded as an Elton John in the making, may well end up as a cultural footnote.
It’s how pop culture works today: whether the melody was written in 1999 or 2013, it can still influence people in 2022. I handed in my notice at Vibe the week that NOW 113 was released. It’s for the best.