NOW 46: S Club 7 – Reach

Oh look, it’s Kylie! She’s on NOW 46 with Spinning Around, the one with the video of her spinning around in hotpants. The song, co-written by Paula Abdul(!), announced the Third Age of Kylie, which invited everyone to the disco.

In fact, a track on the album Light Years, from which Spinning Around came, is a lost pop gem called Your Disco Needs You, written by Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers. That song riffs on the old war posted with the slogan Your Country Needs You, about going to fight in a war against the Germans. If released today, it would be a massive number one but as an album track in 2000, it didn’t sell as well as On a Night Like This or Spinning Around. More on Kylie in a few essays’ time, for obvious reasons.

In 2018, pop is individualistic. Be the best you that you can be. ‘Do’ ‘you’. Read those Instagram quotes, get new rules and create your own! What about friends, hanging out and being in a gang? It may be a weak thesis, but the pop music of 2018 is less about togetherness than it was in 2000.

You are looking at the reason for this right now. Personal computers and pocket computers (which some call ‘smartphones’) have replaced the sound system or colour TV. While watching TV today, viewers are encouraged to tweet or use Facebook to share worthless opinions to drive the conversation. If mass media is about sending lots of information, then social media ups the personal and the personality of its users.

Combined with the fact that it is tough to fund a band of four if you can fund four solo singers for the same price, it is no surprise that the big stars of the 2010s have been solo stars like Ed Sheeran and Adele. The biggest bands have Simon Cowell behind them, though I have big hopes for 4 Of Diamonds, a new girl band on a major label, who will surely make NOW 101 or 102.

Songs that I loved at the time which are on NOW 46 include ones by bands, or vocal harmony groups who also danced: The One by Backstreet Boys and Bye Bye Bye by *NSYNC. This is the first NOW appearance for (should I be pleased that I didn’t have to look up their names?!) Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick, JC Chasez, Lance Bass and Justin Timberlake, who would one day become Justin Timberlake but now only takes the second verse of another massive Swedish pop song given to dancing identikit popstars who sold an incredible number of copies of their second album No Strings Attached in the first week. Only Britney Spears’s Oops I Did It Again sold more as the CD boom peaked in 2000 with Swedish pop the lucky recipient. The price of CDs was reasonable, and I could pick up 2 for £22, which seems beyond a joke in 2018 when £22 buys you two months’ access to the entire history of recorded music on a streaming service.

Steps join the two-timers club with two tracks from Steptacular, their second album. I bought it, but preferred their third album Buzz. Deeper Shade of Blue is a fine pop song that I loved, while the soppy ballad When I Said Goodbye is sung well and has pretty strings but is out of step with the might of Britney, Backstreet and *NSYNC.

Far better was Gotta Tell You, the debut song by 17-year-old Samantha Mumba, which sounds like the writers wanted to create a British version of what Britney was doing, with added hooks and instrumental effects. Unsurprisingly it’s Swedes – in this case BAG & Arnthor – who came up with Gotta Tell You, which got all the way to number four in the Hot 100 in the States and explains why American friends know the song. ‘Yer only SEVENTEEN!’ as Louis Walsh would say, though Samantha was 15 when Louis signed her after an appearance on Irish TV.

Pete Waterman had Steps; Mike Stock and Matt Aitken had Scooch, whose fourth single was For Sure, which is on NOW 46 and is aimed at children like me who watched Saturday morning TV. Not on NOW 46 was Girl Thing with their top ten hit Last One Standing, an aborted project by their Svengali, Simon Cowell, to recreate the magic of The Spice Girls. But the world had, for the moment, moved on from the girl group and craved something else.

‘Seven years I’ve waited’ sung Stephen Gately on his debut single New Beginning as he stepped out of the shadow of Boyzone. I think male vocal harmony groups will always exist to sell the idea of love to kids and give their hormones something to aim for; they are a big part of Korean pop music. In the West, Boyzone sang Love Me for a Reason, while Westlife’s first single was Swear It Again, about love. Yet there was a gang mentality in the likes of Five and Girls Aloud, the pop equivalent of being in a band slogging it out around the country. Busted and McFly didn’t exist in 2000, but S Club 7 did.

Dave Arch from Strictly Come Dancing arranged Reach, a track kept off the top throughout June by Sonique’s It Feels So Good. I hope Dave still uses the royalty cheques wisely (his son Tom is good friends with my friend Ben, and has gone into the family business), though I still go ‘Hello Dave Arch Orchestra!’ when the camera pans to him on Strictly.

Reach is an amazing piece of pop music, the match of any of Max Martin’s stuff, even though Tom Ewing awards Oops I Did It Again by Britney Spears a 10/10 score, his first since Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O’Connor ten years previously: ‘By Spring 2000 half the charts sounded a bit like Baby One More Time’ which is a matter of ‘an excess of emphasis’ in terms of chords, syllables and rhythm ‘all hitting in unison’. In this song, one of the finest number ones in pop, there is melodrama and ‘a multi-tracked swoon’ on the second line of the second verse (‘heroes that truly exist’).

Max Martin, writes Tom, brought dance music techniques of vocal manipulation into pop, and made the song visual with the middle eight giving way to the dialogue from the video then the ‘modified chorus’, or Hook B as I call it. It is Tom’s ‘single peak moment in this whole wave of pop’ when this second hook pauses for a beat in the title line: ‘Oops I (pause) DID IT AGAIN…’ Again, read the whole essay here.

Between It Feels So Good and Lady (Hear Me Tonight) by Modjo on September 16 (see NOW 47), there was a different chart-topper every week, including Spinning Around by Kylie and Breathless by The Corrs which could have been a Shania Twain song as it was written by Mutt Lange. Shania is on NOW 46 with Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You), another fine pop song of the era. (Unbelievably, and not on a NOW, a woman who would create pop songs of the next era, Sia Furler, was new at ten with a song called Taken For Granted.) Sonique, who is also the voice on songs by S-Express (remember them?!), overcame cancer in 2010 and celebrated her fiftieth birthday in June 2018. Kylie is a few weeks older and would also overcome cancer, which makes it brill that two great pop songs hit the top of the UK charts in 2000.

Gabrielle’s When a Woman and Girls Like Us by B15 Project are both on NOW 46. For about four years Heart FM played When a Woman, another Biff Stannard special but with an annoying triangle part, and Shackles (Praise You) by Mary Mary, with its slinky groove and gospel lyric appealing to its advertisers and listeners. Similarly slinky was Call Me, the latest hit for Jamelia.

Over on Virgin Radio, which I had not yet discovered in 2000, a band called Coldplay had a huge hit with Yellow. Fun fact for historians of culture: it landed at four the week Eminem had his first number one with The Real Slim Shady. Coldplay admired Richard Ashcroft, the Verve singer whose A Song for the Lovers entered at three. Over summer, Victoria Beckham famously missed the number one in a duet with Another Level’s Dane Bowers (the guy who wanted to get ‘FREAKY WITH YO-UU’) thanks to the enormous anthem Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) with vocals by the daughter of TV presenter Janet Ellis, Sophie Ellis-Bextor. As Tom Ewing writes again (I quote him so often I should give him royalties), she meshes ‘instant hooks with finishing school froideur’.

Out of Your Mind took the garage sound that is evident on Crazy Love by MJ Cole and Summer of Love by Lonyo, both of which I loved a lot. While Atomic Kitten were going BOOM BOOM I Want Your Love, assisted by the famous strings from the movie The Big Country, the Vengaboys wanted a ‘holi-holiday’ with Uncle John From Jamaica.

Again exhibiting the Fraser McAlpine ‘Swiss army knife’ theory, there were trance versions of that Korgis song that Baby D did (I Need Your Lovin’) and of The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. A bootleg remix of an old song by The Police called When the World is Running Down (You Can’t Go Wrong) was credited to Different Gear, while there was also a garage version of Adina Howard’s Freak Like Me by Tru Faith & Dub Conspiracy. This song will return in a mutated form very soon…

In no way like a nerd, I make recourse again to my A5 book which documented the charts that by this stage I was recording every week, both on paper and on tape. I still have the tapes but I notice I had not logged the charts from the first four months of 2000. I have no idea why but perhaps it was a propensity to play football management simulation games that kept crashing.

I resume in May where there are new entries for two rock groups of the time: Pearl Jam (at 21) and Toploader (at eight). Britney lands at one but Madison Avenue knock her off. Sex Bomb by Tom Jones & Mousse T – he must have liked Horny, and Mousse T wrote this for him – is in at three and finds its way onto NOW 46. Iron Maiden, who had a top ten hit with Wickerman (‘YOUR TIME WILL COOOME!’), do not, nor does the UK Eurovision entry for 2000, Don’t Play That Song Again by Nikki French.

Masterblaster 2000, a garage version of Stevie Wonder’s hit, entered the chart the same week as Day and Night by Billie Piper; both are present, with Billie next to Louise with her lost pop classic 2 Faced, and Aaliyah, which introduced the world at large to Tim ‘Timbaland’ Mosley.

‘She was so young and she changed the face of r’n’b,’ Tim writes of Aaliyah in his memoir The Emperor of Sound. What separated Aaliyah from her peers was the ‘instinct’ for reinventing herself and not playing it safe. ‘The music industry had never seen anything like her…She had the superstar shine of Beyonce, the rock-and-roll edge of Rihanna and a style that was entirely her own. Everything she did’ – from starring in movies to singing at the Academy Awards – ‘had never been done by a teenage girl, of any color, in the industry before.’

On August 25 2001, Aaliyah died in a plane crash while shooting a movie and Tim, and Missy Elliot who helped write the best Aaliyah songs (but not Try Again), would push themselves to sculpt new sounds after Aaliyah’s passing, which became the dominant era of Tim and the Neptunes (see previous essay). Justin Timberlake would work with them both, meaning he was the main vehicle through which Tim, Chad and Pharrell brought their sounds into the world, sort of the Britney to their Max Martin. Meanwhile Damage enlisted Tim & Bob for their single Ghetto Romance, who sprinkled some of the magic they had given to Sisqo’s Thong Song.

Also on NOW 46, another song celebrating its eighteenth birthday in 2018 and a song that ought to be given an 18 rating: The Bad Touch by the Bloodhound Gang, a song entirely made up of euphemisms for sex, which is the second song of the year after The Real Slim Shady by Eminem (which was number one in July 2000, making Gotta Tell Ya a ‘terrific two’) to namecheck the Discovery Channel. Moby’s string-saturated Porcelain is one of the best tracks on Play, his 1999 release that yielded eight singles, Porcelain being the sixth. I preferred Find My Baby, South Side, Bodyrock and Run On but I used to listen to this album while I played the aforementioned football management simulation games on mum’s computer.

When I went to watch Watford play actual football in the 2010s, the team used to run out for the second half to Sandstorm by Darude, which was a hit in 2000 in the week that Black Legend took a dance cover of Barry White’s You See the Trouble With Me to number one. York, meanwhile, produced a chillout version of Chris Rea’s On the Beach called O.T.B. which entered at four just behind Stephen Gately and ahead of Mary Mary. (Uh oh, I’ve just noticed I misspelt beginning as ‘begginning’ in the book but have corrected it for the next chart…) Other dance anthems from summer 2000 included It’s My Turn (Angelic), Luvstruck (Southside Spinners) and Will I Ever, another hit for Alice Deejay.

In one week in 2000, entries from Muse and Kelis land in the chart behind six top ten new entries from the non-NOW likes of Fat Les (a version of Jerusalem to mark England’s appearance in the Euro 2000 football tournament), George Michael and Whitney Houston duetting on If I Told You That and the lovely standalone single Coming Around by Travis (not on a NOW, ditto any tracks from their massive The Man Who album).

Richard Blackwood’s version of Mama Used To Say by Junior also makes the compilation. Richard would play Donkey in the London West End version of Shrek: The Musical. In 2000, the film was in post-production, and would soon delight kids like me with its tale of an ogre who has layers, like an onion. I still hope to write a song called Ogres Have Layers, but I need to get on with writing these essays…

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