Chris Evans is going to become a father for a fourth and fifth time later in 2018. In 1996, he was a father-of-one and he didn’t pay that child much attention. In fact, he had millions of people paying him attention as host of the BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show. He then bought Virgin Radio and installed himself there before coming back to the BBC in the mid-2000s. He now wakes people up on BBC Radio 2 and his biggest contribution has been to get thousands of kids to send in their 500-word stories.
On top of his radio commitments in 1996, Chris hosted a live TV show, TFI Friday, which showcased the laddish attitude of the nineties bloke who loved football and music and being up for a laugh, like Chris Evans. Ocean Colour Scene’s The Riverboat Song accompanied acts as their entrance music on TFI Friday, which was scripted by Danny Baker, who brought his zaniness to the production of a show that I was just too young too appreciate.
The song Chris Imlach and I settled on as the playlist entry for NOW 35 was not my choice (Ocean Colour Scene) but was a song I was all too happy to include, though we both could have gone for the Heaton/Rotheray composition Rotterdam by The Beautiful South. You’re Gorgeous by Babybird was a song of devotion which sounded like a pub singalong and included a wordless ‘ba-ba-ba’ in the bit before the third verse. A simple, effective song, it was one of their eight top 40 hits but the only one to break the top ten, landing at three. One cannot see the title without screaming ‘Because yooooou’re gorgeous!’ That is the mark of a successful song, which even spells out the words Y-O-U-R-E G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S in the intro.
We are still deep in Noelrock, as evidenced by the presence of The Bluetones (Marblehead Johnson), Pulp (Something Changed), Suede (Beautiful Ones, with the guitar of teenage guitarist Richard Oakes who replaced Bernard Butler), Cast (Flying), Shed Seven (Chasing Rainbows) and Dodgy, with the strings-laden If You’re Thinking Of Me. History has judged certain acts to be top tier and others second tier, but those acts like Dodgy and Shed Seven had huge fanbases thanks to being spun on Radio One and providing exciting live shows full of euphoric, Noelrockin’ tunes.
Some very famous songwriters are found in the credits on NOW 35. Wayne Hector is one of the best in the business and wrote Love II Love for Damage, a smart pop song sung very well. Biff Stannard is back helping Ant & Dec with When I Fell In Love, a clapalong song that took the vibe of the superclub and sold it to little kiddies (indeed, it sounds a little like D:Ream). The most successful writer on the collection is George Michael, who provides a remix of his hit Fastlove, which samples Forget-me-Nots by Patrice Rushen.
Sheryl Crow sold millions of records and had another hit with If It Makes You Happy (‘then why the hell are you so sad?’) and Boyzone took the Bee Gees song Words to number one, their first. Eternal were picked to sing the Alan Menken (Aladdin) and Stephen Schwartz (Hairspray) collaboration Someday, which featured in the Disney film The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Marius de Vries would work with Mumford & Sons and Arcade Fire, but on Possibly Maybe helped Bjork and Nellee Hooper create Possibly Maybe, from her album Post. It is a very forward-thinking track which opens with computerised bleeps as if an internet connection is starting up. Neil Finn reliably provides Don’t Dream It’s Over to promote Recurring Dream, a near-perfect Best Of for his band Crowded House.
We are creeping closer to the dominance of teenyboppers, and Backstreet Boys offer I’ll Never Break Your Heart to all the pre-teens who have fallen for Nick, AJ, Brian, Howie D and Kevin (in order of perceived hotness). UK-based 911 give kids the none-more-1996 Don’t Make Me Wait, which they would have surely performed on Saturday morning kids TV, which the aforementioned Ant & Dec moved to when they started to present SM:TV (Saturday Morning TV) on ITV. I watched the show, with Wonkey Donkey, Chums and kids cartoons, as religiously as I went to synagogue to learn how to be Jewish.
I remember several of the tracks on NOW 35 from Capital and Heart, the two commercial stations mum flipped between on the school run: If You Ever was catalogue from East 17 and Gabrielle, a hit for Shai in the States; the pure one-hit wonder Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Deep Blue Something surely meant Todd Pipes could buy a house thanks to a song with only three chords (and the truth – the movie is great and I ‘kinda liked it’); Lighthouse Family had another hit with Goodbye Heartbreak, which moves elegantly between verse, bridge and chorus. Smoooooooth.
Doing it for the girls in 1996 were Neneh Cherry (Woman), Belinda Carlisle (the fab Swedish pop song Always Breaking My Heart, written by Per Gessle from Roxette), Louise (the anodyne Undivided Love, co-written by Simon Climie of Climie Fisher) and Dina Carroll, who returned with a song called Escaping. Her vocals are surrounded by a choir, as those of Eternal are on Someday.
The superclubs were still creating hits, many of them played on Pete Tong’s Essential Selection on Radio 1, which was the dance show that broke hits well into the 2000s. Here on NOW 35 we have My Love is for Real by Strike, Seven Days and One Week by BBE, Stamp! by Healy and Amos, Follow the Rules by Livin’ Joy (another danceable winner that became the act’s third top ten hit) and Jump to My Beat by Wildchild, which brought back the club sounds from the early part of the decade for an audience who were new to clubbing. I’m Alive by Stretch ‘n’ Vern took its chord progression from Boogie Wonderland and put some pitch-shifted vocals over the top; the song was produced by two blokes names Stuart and Julian, and was followed up by Get Up! Go Insane!
The two biggest dance anthems of the year were by Faithless and Underworld. The former couldn’t ‘get no sleep’ on Insomnia, grounded in a huge synth riff that sounded like a wall being knocked over, while the latter produced the nine-minute Pearl’s Girl, here cut down to 4 minutes 24. Born Slippy was culturally bigger but Pearl’s Girl sounds like what clubs were doing in 1996, the year which had people dancing to Firestarter by The Prodigy and Setting Sun by The Chemical Brothers, with a song that was co-written and sung by Noel Gallagher. Both of those songs were never on a NOW.
Meanwhile, for the oldies, Robson & Jerome were still making Simon Cowell rich, scoring their third number one package with a triple-A-side of songs written before 1970, the most recent being What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted. It was not on a NOW.