NOW 48: Hear’Say – Pure & Simple

Here’s a fun fact. The week Muse entered at 11 with Plug In Baby, a five-piece put together on auditions which were screened on ITV hit number one. Kym, Suzanne, Myleene, Danny and Noel (and I didn’t have to look their names up!) sang Pure & Simple with very little character, but because they had been on t’tele people rushed out in their thousands to make it the year’s biggest seller. Incredibly, I note in my chart logbook which is in no way nerdy, each song in the top four in the chart dated March 25 2001 sold over 500,000 copies: Atomic Kitten, Westlife’s anodyne cover of Uptown Girl, Shaggy and Hear’Say. For cultural relevance, I pick Pure & Simple, which contains a banging key change, for the playlist. I pause to consider what 500,000 CD cases look like, and then press the play button on Spotify to commemorate what killed the CD single.

A nice footnote comes from NOW 48’s presence in the Peter Kay sitcom Car Share. The lovely Kayleigh gives Peter’s character John a copy of the compilation with the note: ‘Track two is from me to you, you’re a star’. That track is Pure & Simple, proving Peter Kay’s affection for pop music (he will reappear much later in the NOW series) and how he knows his audience will appreciate the cheesiness of a song whose chorus sings ‘I’ll be there for you’ and includes a ‘Eurovision’ key change (up a step).

Meanwhile, Kelly Jones started moaning about the music press, as Bob Dylan had done 40 years before him, on the boring Stereophonics song Mr Writer. Their slide into boring ‘bedwetting’ music had begun, while Popstars-style TV pop was proliferating. It is, after all, 2001, and anyone can be famous.

The first series of Big Brother gives the nation a villain, ‘Nasty’ Nick Bateman, and a hero, chippy Scouse trader Craig Phillips. NOW 48 begins with Atomic Kitten’s Whole Again, the huge number one co-written by Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Manoevres in the Dark, and S Club 7’s Never Had a Dream Come True, the huge number one co-written by Cathy Dennis with some lovely chords.

Stars of a bygone era were now writing teenpop hits to compete with Max Martin, who co-wrote Shape of my Heart for The Backstreet Boys and Stronger for Britney Spears. Biff Stannard had moved from Gabrielle to Kylie Minogue, who is still riding her wave with Please Stay. The song appears just before the 2000 Christmas number one by Bob The Builder (Can We Fix It?), which at least stopped Westlife from landing at the top with What Makes a Man. They nonetheless had their seventh hit with My Love, which is never heard today. Fun fact: Eminem’s Stan actually beat Bob on the week of release but Bob sold more than Eminem over Christmas week. I wonder what a duet would sound like, or whether Eminem cared that a cartoon beat him to the UK Christmas number one.

Disc 2 begins with Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Eva Cassidy, an act Terry Wogan championed on his Radio 2 show who had lost her life to cancer in 1996. There then come hard guitars: Feeder’s Buck Rogers is a power-pop banger, while Last Resort by Papa Roach is about alienation and ‘suffocation’, aka ‘why is mum always telling me to tidy my room?’ Far more melancholic was the first track of Coldplay’s album Parachutes, which takes its title Don’t Panic from TV show Dad’s Army, and doesn’t use it in a song all about how ‘everybody here’s got somebody to lean on’.

Elsewhere, the usual suspects return: Modjo (Chillin’), Fragma (Everytime You Need Me, with the vocals of Maria Rubia), DJ Luck & MC Neat (Piano Loco), Steps (It’s the Way You Make Me Feel), Samantha Mumba (Always Come Back to your Love), LeAnn Rimes (I Need You, a country song), Melanie B (Feels So Good, another Jam & Lewis co-write) and Architects (Show Me the Money) all pop up. Emma Bunton went all the way to the top with the middle-of-the-road What Took You So Long, which was blander than rice pudding.

Texas were helped by Gregg Alexander on the fantastic Inner Smile; I seem to be suggesting Texas never released a dud in this golden period, and are the great unsung pop act of the era, which is probably true. U2, definitely the sung pop act of the era, used Brian Eno and Danny Lanois to create their gospel-tinged song Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, probably my favourite U2 song on any given day thanks to its silky groove. On it, Bono sang: ‘There’s nothing you can throw at me that I haven’t already heard’ as if taunting or baiting his detractors. Atomic Kitten’s dominance made this song a ‘terrific two’; the next week Teenage Dirtbag by Wheatus would suffer the same fate, and two weeks later it was the song that will be the subject of the next playlist entry.

I was barmitzvah the weekend of March 10-11 2001. The number one, I’ll always remember, was It Wasn’t Me by Shaggy (featuring Ricardo “RikRok” Ducent), a song about either love or (in the non-radio edit) ‘banging on the bathroom floor’ which stopped the run of Atomic Kitten. The same week saw Nelly Furtado hit the top five with I’m Like a Bird, a fantastic song where she sang every part, while the following chart saw the entry of Clint Eastwood by Damon Albarn’s cartoon band Gorillaz. I loved both the original to that song and the ‘refix’ that charted which featured reggae star Sweetie Irie.

My 13th birthday in January 2001 saw Limp Bizkit celebrate their first number one with Rollin’, not on a NOW. I was its target market and enjoyed yelling along to what I now know is an execrable piece of music that made the record label a lot of money. The album title was Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog-Flavoured Water, which is probably a euphemism. The next week they kept two tracks off number one that are nowhere near NOW 48: at three was The Next Episode by Dr Dre, and at two was Pop Ya Colla by Usher, which have both aged far better than the wretched whine of Fred Durst, who was a grown man.

Bryan Adams appears uncredited on a song he co-wrote for Ronan Keating, The Way You Make Me Feel, and Martine McCutcheon plunders the Donna Summer song On the Radio, written by genre-defining producer Giorgio Moroder. Original dance compositions in the clubs include I Wanna Be U by Chocolate Puma, Dream To Me by Dario G, the wistful Chase the Sun by Planet Funk and Played-A-Live, helpfully subtitled The Bongo Song from two Danish drummers called Safri Duo.

The Kevin Spacey movie American Dream had a theme written by Randy Newman’s brother Thomas, which Joey Negro, as Jakatta, turned into a definitive chillout anthem. Sonique removed any trace of hyperactivity from the Screaming Jay Hawkins track I Put a Spell On You, drawing on the Nina Simone version and adding a four-to-the-floor beat.

Two new songwriters brought hits for Mya and Chante Moore respectively. Christopher ‘Tricky’ Stewart helped create the mighty Case of the Ex; he would go on to never have to work again after writing Umbrella, Single Ladies and Baby for Rihanna, Beyonce and Bieber respectively. Jermaine Durpi co-wrote Straight Up, showcasing the Noughties r’n’b sound that moved on from the likes of Aaliyah and Janet Jackson. It’s more hiphop influenced and would one day bring a fillip to the career of Dupri’s wife, Mariah Carey. One of my songs of the year was Stutter by Joe, which came out in an r’n’b version (which is on NOW 48) and a rap version with Mystikal, who had a huge hit of his own with the fun Shake Ya Ass.

Robbie Williams had moved onto album three and had a massive hit with the Guy Chambers co-write Let Love Be Your Energy, which was his attempt at writing an Oasis anthem like All Around the World, the song Noel Gallagher said Robbie pinched his entire act for (he has a point…). Fun Lovin’ Criminals had stopped robbing banks and were lounging by the pool in the video to the smooth song Loco which, says the inlay booklet, has ‘high heel effects by Tamiqua’. I hope she got a session fee.

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