I put together 100 recordings of tracks from NOW 1 to today in my bedroom studio, recording into a condenser mic using the Audacity editing software. Daniel Bedingfield did the same and topped the UK charts in 2002.
It happened with blues, then with rock’n’roll, then with disco, then with house music. Now white men had seized the sound of black guys and had a massive hit. Daniel Bedingfield was, you recall, from New Zealand and, you recall, had a pretty face. For a brief moment in pop history he was one of the big stars, rivalling Craig David as the acceptable image of UK garage, one which was full of shooting, stabbing and swearing (and better things like community enterprise and pirate radio).
A schoolfriend used to go ‘OI! Who’s that Jon to the Brick?’ I would respond: ‘Lloyd!’ because that was the guy’s name. He was a fan of More Fire Crew, whose song Oi! featured the vocals of a very young Lethal B, who would become Lethal Bizzle. This song is one of the ur-tracks in the grime genre and is a sort of Grime’s Delight because the group members spell out their names. Grime was also called ‘eskibeat’ and came straight outta East London; it would pervade pop music from that point on.
At the time, however, Daniel Bedingfield and the white garage stars were having success. So were Blue, whose two-steppy album track Fly By was remixed (hence Fly By II) by Stargate, who added some twinkling percussion and the opening stabs of Hypnotize by The Notorious B.I.G.
Like Biggie, Aaliyah had passed away by the start of 2002, which saw the release of NOW 51. Her monumental number one More Than A Woman follows Gotta Get Thru This, the former having aged much better than the latter. R Kelly, who has committed a lot of well-documented indiscretions, some of which with Aaliyah, thought he was The World’s Greatest in one of those self-empowerment anthems that work well on montage videos and make a lot of money.
There were hits for S Club 7 (Have You Ever, another Cathy Dennis co-write), Kylie Minogue (In Your Eyes, another Biff Stannard co-write) and Britney Spears with the massive-sounding Overprotected, another entry in her diary of her career where she complained that she was not yet a woman, essentially. It was another Max Martin co-write with Rami Yacoub, who at 43 is even younger than Max but took a career break in the mid-2000s so does not have as many top ten hits.
Hear’Say returned with their second album that kicked off with Everybody, another Biff Stannard co-write and a song I hummed on the way to get the coach to school for most of my first year at secondary school, which I joined in September 2001. This was the start of Simon Cowell’s first great trick; in collaboration with Simon Fuller he put together a panel of experts who would choose the Pop Idol to take on the charts.
One of the contenders was the large singer Rik Waller, who pointlessly covered I Will Always Love You to show off his big voice. In April 2018 OK! Magazine reported that he had started a role as an exam invigilator and helped his dad run a karaoke service. Both Gareth Gates, the stammering runner-up, and Will Young, the shy winner, are missing from NOW 51, which instead has an awful lot of dance music. I remember playing Lazy by X-Press 2 a lot, singing along to the lazy vocals of David Byrne from Talking Heads, and I remember Something by Lasgo, one of those European trance hits with a female vocal that was all the rage back in the early 2000s. As for Star Guitar by Chemical Brothers, the video of a train going through the desert remains as seared on my mind as the repeated three-beat pattern of the song, one of the Chems’ best.
The Whistle Song is a trance song with a referee’s whistle in it that took over Europe thanks to DJ Alligator from Denmark. DB Boulevard brought Italian disco back with the chirpy Point of View, a big radio hit, and clubbers lost their minds to the trance of I Don’t Wanna Lose My Way by Dreamcatcher, which sounds like drugs, Drifting Away by Lange and Resurrection by PPK. The last of these were from Russia; with the rise of telephone voting at Eurovision, countries like Denmark and Russia gave the big five countries a run for their money. France, the UK, Italy and Spain are no-hopers year after year despite gaining a free pass to the Grand Final because they are all major funders of the Contest. Germany, the fifth of the Five, won the contest in 2010 when jury votes were added back into the mix. Latvia, Estonia, Greece, Ukraine, Turkey and Russia were among the winners in the 2000s. The UK’s 2001 Eurovision entry (and I had to look this up) came from Lindsay Dracass with No Dream Impossible; it received 28 points and came 15th.
The big worldwide hit of early 2002 came from Enrique Iglesias, son of Julio, with the wetter-than-wet Hero, still a karaoke classic. I preferred the title track of the album Hero came from, Escape, and She Be The One was the jam that deserved to be a hit. Other fine tunes came from Christina Milian with AM to PM and the real-life couple Ja-Rule and Ashanti with Always on Time, which sounds painfully like 2001 and is now a vintage slow jam. Lin-Manuel Miranda revealed that the song Helpless from the musical Hamilton was inspired by the pair, who covered the song on The Hamilton Mixtape, another coup for slow-jam fan Miranda.
The Hamilton Mixtape and the cast recording of the Broadway show were produced by Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson of The Roots, who today are the house band on The Tonight Show, America’s version of The Graham Norton Show. Back in 2001, The Roots were one of the top jam bands in America whose conscious hiphop had a huge audience; I remain a huge fan of their song The Seed. Their tune Silent Treatment was used by City High and Eve on Caramel, which sits on NOW 51’s second disc just before Beverley Knight’s Shoulda Woulda Coulda. This was, incredibly, written with the brilliant Craig Wiseman who is a country music hitmaker of some repute and owns the Big Loud publishing company named after his big, loud shirts.
I once saw Peter John Vettese perform in Edinburgh. He wrote Walking on Broken Glass for Annie Lennox and he is on NOW 51 as a writer of Calling by Geri Halliwell, which is very jazzy but is sung terribly. Her fellow Spice Victoria released A Mind of its Own, which is very poppy but is sung terribly. In fact, she speaks the verses; Victoria’s music career would soon take second place to motherhood and fashion design, at which she has been much better. Her own memoir, which was overlong, was a book she admitted not to have read. I lost faith in Posh Spice when I discovered this.
Max Martin comes out of paternity leave to write another UK top ten hit for Backstreet Boys, this one called Drowning, and Gregg Alexander co-writes the magnificent Murder on the Dancefloor by Sophie Ellis-Bextor, which has magic all over the track, not least in the soaraway chorus.
Less magnificent but still fun are Crazy Rap by Afroman, which mentions famous marijuana users Cheech & Chong, and Bad Babysitter by Princess Superstar, who sang about making ‘six bucks an hour’ to an addictive hook. As for Addicted to Bass by Puretone, the inlay booklet says its producer worked with Baz Luhrmann on Moulin Rouge, which accounts for the ‘bashing it over the head’ lack of subtlety.
Sting was becoming as borrowed as the Bee Gees by the 2000s, and Mary J Blige sampled the funky guitar riff wholesale from The Bed’s Too Big Without You by The Police for her addictive song Dance For Me. Fellow neo-soul diva Jill Scott has writing credits on It’s Love (Trippin’) by Goldtrix, who called upon the vocal talents of Andrea Brown and mix a soft beat with a steady loop. It sounds somewhere between 1999 and 2004, which is it since this is 2002.
A smart cover of the song Somethin’ Stupid by Frank and Nancy Sinatra gave Robbie Williams a Christmas number one in 2001, as Nicole Kidman brought her soft voice to the number one slot having already had the year’s big movie with Moulin Rouge. A stupid cover of Bucks Fizz hit The Land of Make Believe came from Allstars, while fellow male-female group Steps sang Words Are Not Enough. I am pleased that Steps have enjoyed the fruits of the 20-year cycle and enjoy a decent summer tour in 2018.
Ditto Stereophonics, who overcame the suicide of their original drummer to keep pumping out music that was more optimistic than the cover of Michael D’Abo’s famous song Handbags and Gladrags, the theme to the TV show The Office which explains its cultural significance in 2001. Heavier guitars came on Movies by Alien Ant Farm, In Too Deep by Sum 41 and How You Remind Me by Nickelback, the song which made them very rich and thus too successful. Because they are Canadian they are treated in the same way in America as the likes of James Corden, who in 2001 was a jobbing actor yet to break into popular purview.
Sacha Baron Cohen was another Brit who would crack America. He took his upbringing as an Orthodox Jew, married it with a love of clowning and comedy and created Ali G, one of Britain’s greatest satirical characters. A full-length movie seemed like a paycheque rather than a piece of art, but it meant Sacha could propel the film’s theme song Me Julie to number one, a duet with Shaggy which included the line ‘you turn me on with your big babylons [breasts]’. It was Shaggy’s third number one inside a year, which meant he didn’t have to work again and remains an impressive chart feat. I wonder how many Orthodox Jews have had UK number one singles…