Craig David is one of the youngest members of the NOW two-timers club. 2000 was the year of Craig, thanks to the dominance of the two-step garage sound that crept from the underground onto the radio. A teenager from Southampton with a marketable voice and face, Craig would end the decade in retreat from the TV impression of him – Craaaaig Daaavid! – that followed him around. His career had stalled since he revealed he thought Motown was a genre of music, not a record label (why can’t it be a genre?!). Happily, he is now back onstage and reasserting his musical abilities.
Born to Do It was his debut album and featured Fill Me In, which he wrote with Mark Hill aka half of The Artful Dodger. Mark’s first hit was Re-Rewind, which was written with Peter Devereux and Craig David, who in that song was ‘all over your [boing]’ and sent a toast ‘to all the D-D-Js’. The mix of soulful verses and rapped post-chorus was electrifying and the song was a massive radio hit, even if we never found out which part of your body Craig was all over.
Artful Dodger are also two-timers here, thanks to Movin’ Too Fast being placed just five tracks on from Re-Rewind When the Crowd Say Bo Selecta. Impressively the tracks are released by two different labels, the former on Relentless and the latter on XL Recordings, who were about to hit very big with The White Stripes.
Moloko had a hit called The Time is Now which was perfect for New Year discos and showcased the underrated vocals of Roisin Murphy, who has since had an impressive solo career. Basement Jaxx kept releasing songs from their first album, selecting Bingo Bango as the latest banger.
Writing songs is my current bag and I am inspired by the likes of Randy Newman, whose song Mama Told Me Not to Come was brought to popular ears by Tom Jones and the Stereophonics (‘maybe I should have listened…’ says Tom during the final chords), as well as Shania Twain and Mutt Lange. Shania had been on NOW 44 with That Don’t Impress Me Much but as far as her standing in popular culture goes, her video for Man! I Feel Like a Woman! (yeah!!) was her biggest UK hit. The Brothers Gibb have more royalty cheques thanks to Martine McCutcheon – on her third NOW in a row…can you tell she is signed to Virgin? – covering Love Me.
Other bits of catalogue come from Fierce, who update the Anita Baker track and call it Sweet Love 2K (as in 2000 because NOW 45 came out in Spring 2000), while ATB have a hit with a version of Killer by Adamski, calling it Killer 2000 (sounds like a cyborg). Watergate, meanwhile, borrowed the Ryuichi Sakamoto track Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and had someone warble ‘Heart of Asia’ over the top of it, while Nu Generation put a drum loop under Rescue Me by Fontella Bass and call it In Your Arms (Rescue Me), a track that was on repeat on Heart 106.2 FM for a year. Cuban Boys took the old Roger Miller theme used in the Disney movie Robin Hood and turned it into C vs I or Cognoscenti vs Intelligentsia. The inlay booklet helpfully reminds us in 2018 that in 1999 John Peel was a massive champion of the song known as ‘The Hamster Dance’.
Rise by Gabrielle was produced by Jonny Dollar, who produced 7 Seconds, and came ‘from an original idea’ based on the beginning of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan which came from Ferdy Unger-Hamilton, a record executive who also propelled Portishead to superstardom and whose brother Gus is in Alt-J. I wonder if being a record exec is more fun than performing is…
To mark the CD release of the album of the same name, the title track of John Lennon’s Imagine closed NOW 45 after the sampletastic Natural Blues by Moby. Thus does John, who would have been 60 years old in 2000, share a disc with Thong Song by Sisqo (coming down from Dru Hill singing about a lady with ‘dumps like a truck’), UK garage staple A Little Bit of Luck by DJ Luck & MC Neat and Caught Out There by Kelis, which is the first song produced by The Neptunes on any NOW compilation. ‘I hate you so much right now!’ is a splendid hook from Kelis, who was only 20 when she put it out (thanks, inlay booklet). The Age of the Neptunes was on its way, but in 2000 the likes of r’n’b star Montell Jordan still putting out music like Get It On Tonight, which I think is about sex. He asks ‘if it’s alright’, which marks Montell as a gentleman in a field of alpha males, one of whom is nowhere near NOW 45. Despite Eminem becoming the biggest popular musician on Earth, his music had too many swear words, so NOW buyers were denied any songs from his debut album The Slim Shady LP.
2000 began as 1999 had ended: Melanie C used Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes from TLC (whose hit No Scrubs was never on a NOW) who helped to catapult her to the top of the charts with Never Be the Same Again; Geri Halliwell used brass to add colour to Bag It Up, which is never heard today; S Club 7 had another hit with You’re My Number One, which showcased the vocals of Jo O’Meara, ‘the blonde one’ who definitely had the flow; Vengaboys released an anaemic song called Shalala Lala and couldn’t hit the heights of their two number ones again. Boyzone released Every Day I Love You, which is never heard today and is pure syrup, while Honeyz enlisted Simon Climie to write Won’t Take It Lying Down. Pete Waterman is credited as a writer on Say You’ll Be Mine, one of the better Steps songs that Kylie Minogue could have had a hit with in 1990.
Precious followed up Say It Again with Rewind, which sounded like a Swedish pop song, while over in the category ‘Swedish writer, American singer’, Britney Spears was Born to Make You Happy and Max Martin used his flamenco guitar to flavour the ballad Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely for the Backstreet Boys (it has a key change). In Scandinavia proper, Aqua returned with Cartoon Heroes, which namechecked Spiderman and Superman, and Lene Marlin got an international push with her sweet acoustic pop song Sitting Down Here.
The first big number ones of the new decade were by Westlife, with cover versions of ABBA’s I Have a Dream and Terry Jacks’ Seasons in the Sun, which I heard the other day and realised how wet it is. Neither was on NOW 45, nor were The Masses Against the Classes, a number one for the Manic Street Preachers, or Go Let It Out by Oasis, from album number four Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, whose best track is the instrumental opener whose last three words are ‘in the bushes’ and nicks from Stairway to Heaven.
Also missing is Pure Shores, the best All Saints song, produced by William Orbit. Before Whole Again, Atomic Kitten brought the Spice spirit to See Ya, one of the few songs with the original line-up including future tabloid ‘star’ Kerry Katona. Also also missing, because she still didn’t want her songs anywhere near a NOW, was American Pie by Madonna, a very pointless cover that at least gave her another number one, her ninth. But what’s this?! A dance version of the Madonna song Papa Don’t Preach with the word ‘everybody’ spoken by The Boy Wonder over the top of the strings bit from the song …How did that get there? This is especially cool because Progress was a beloved Birmingham club so the song must have made a splash locally. ‘Play the Madonna one!’ drunken Brummies must have shouted.
NOW 45 includes Toca’s Miracle, a vocal version of one of my favourite instrumentals, Toca Me by Fragma. With the vocals of Coco wanting a miracle and a video of ladies playing football, it’s a great track which has had several versions chart. A few weeks later, Madison Avenue rose to the top with Don’t Call Me Baby, a song full of sass that included the lyric: ‘Behind my smile is my IQ’.
The eclecticism of Disc 2 should be noted here. As well as the many dance tracks jostling with John Lennon and Sisqo, there’s a duet between UK singer Jamelia and Jamaican dancehall star Beenie Man called Money, an unsubtle trance track from The Tamperer who bring back Maya for Hammer to the Heart (‘BOOM BOOM!’ she sings, having noticed the Vengaboys had a hit with double the booms) and the equally unsubtle Blow Your Mind by Dutch duo Lock ’N’ Load (really Nils and Francis). This is what clubbers heard to escape the mundanity of call centre work or sales repping in offices like Wernham Hogg, with managers like David Brent, Ricky Gervais’s greatest idiot who would soon leave a lasting impression on British comedy and culture.
Ricky’s fellow gurning bloke Robbie Williams sang the power-pop song It’s Only Us (‘ROCK ME AMADEUS!’), which sits on NOW 45 next to the snotty pop-punk of All the Small Things by Blink 182, a song I never liked. I preferred What’s My Age Again, which is mentioned in the inlay booklet since ‘it featured the boys running around the streets of LA – naked!’
The movie Kevin and Perry Go Large, based on the TV characters played by Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke, brought the song Big Girl to the charts. It was co-written by Judge Jules, the BBC dance music broadcaster, and meant Harry could add his name to the pantheon of comic hit songwriters in British pop. And I almost went the entire essay without mentioning Ooh Stick You by Daphne & Celeste. ‘Up your butt with coconut’ indeed. Thanks to its inclusion, NOW 45 is the beefiest NOW so far, with 45 tracks. I wonder if they did this on purpose.