Over Christmas 2002, I was probably still playing Championship Manager while working slowly towards GCSE Maths and French. Hormones raged, classmates fell in love with ska-tinged punk and I came home to turn on TV channel The Hits every day. At weekends, I think I watched Popstars: The Rivals on ITV and listened to the Radio 1 chart show. It was a simpler, happier time.
I’ve chosen to induct a modern classic with a vintage feel into the playlist. There is not that much choice, especially since I’ve just put Sugababes in and don’t want to induct Round Round, also a fab song produced by Richard X. Gregg Alexander has a case with his song I Love It When We Do, sung competently by Ronan Keating – Gregg also wrote Music Gets the Best Of Me with Sophie Ellis-Bextor – as does Eminem, who appears with his number one song Without Me, which is impossible to do karaoke to. The song is, humorously, co-credited to Trevor Horn, Anne Dudley and Malcolm McLaren, thanks to the allusion in the opening rap to Buffalo Gals.
The pop-punk of Girl All The Bad Guys Want by Bowling for Soup and She Hates Me by Puddle of Mudd would be inducted if they didn’t sound cynical, contrived and aimed at snotty 14-year-olds direct from a boardroom trying to capture a particular market, good songs though they both are, with chords and choruses. I could also throw a curveball and put in Jam Side Down by Status Quo, who were and still are the ultimate heritage act. The inlay booklet of NOW 53 says they ‘have recorded a grand total of 55 British hit singles, more than any other UK band’, which is both incredible and proves that you only need three chords to succeed.
I’ve gone for Dy-Na-Mi-Tee by Ms Dynamite. Sung at the top of her range, as opposed to the lower growl of It Takes More, her theme song is electrifying, and features a sample of Rose Len, a reggae track from Jamaica. The presence of Salaam Remi on co-writing duties is fascinating, as the vibe of the track foreshadows his work with another fab British female: Amy Winehouse.
Unlike Ms Dynamite, Amy would never win the Mercury Prize but was nominated twice. Badly Drawn Boy famously chucked away the cheque onstage when he won the Album of the Year in 2000 with The Hour of Bewilderbeest, which I love to this day. Damon Gough aka the Boy is on NOW 53 with the great You Were Right, which namechecks dead rock stars like Kurt Cobain, John Lennon and Jeff Buckley. Summer 2002’s big album was By The Way by Red Hot Chilli Peppers, whose old guitarist died of a heroin overdose in the late 1980s, with autumn bringing One By One by Foo Fighters, the band led by Dave Grohl, a friend and former bandmate of Cobain’s.
The rise of the Chilli Peppers, who followed up 2000’s Californication with more of the same, and Foo Fighters (All My Life is not on NOW 53 but hit number five in October 2002) proved that rock could still sell and sound great on the radio. Indeed, guitar-led pop could be marketed to preteens in the form of Busted, whose debut song What I Go To School For sounds painfully of the time, with references to teachers who ‘show me more’ when they bend down. The week it was released, the song landed at three, with Cleaning Out My Closet by Eminem landing at four.
The old beasts of rock music, and not just Quo, returned to the NOW series: U2 released Electrical Storm to promote their nineties Best Of; Oasis, who had hit number one with The Hindu Times from their album Heathen Chemistry, put out a slow song called Little By Little whose video included actor Robert Carlyle; Chad Kroeger benefitted from his song Hero being used to promote the new Spiderman film, and Richard Ashcroft warbled his way through the average Check the Meaning. In 2018, both Chad and Richard are as much dinosaurs as Oasis and U2 were in 2002.
Aside from rock, it was not reggae that had a revival in 2002 but dancehall, a sort of hiphop version of reggae. Feel It Boy by Beenie Man includes both Janet Jackson, credited as Janet (‘no introduction necessary!’ gushed the inlay booklet), and The Neptunes on production, as they seemed to be for many hits of 2001-2004.
Dance tracks on NOW 53, again on Disc 1 rather than Disc 2, include Walk on Water by Milk Inc, Pray by Lasgo, Posse by Scooter and Heart of Gold by Kelly Llorena. Joey Negro contributes two tracks: the Raven Maize song Fascinated and the Jakatta song My Vision, with vocals by Seal and a sample from the cult movie The Shawshank Redemption, which was enjoying huge DVD sales in 2002. Disc 2 ends with Starry Eyed Surprise, which I heard on BBC radio during the composition of this essay; it soundtracked a 2002 Capital Radio campaign where it changed the ‘dance all night’ line to ‘dance all day’.
As if to rubberstamp the rise of club sounds on the chart, track 1 of Disc 1 is a trance cover of the Bryan Adams hit Heaven by DJ Sammy. It could not sound more like 2002 if it wore a David Beckham England shirt and danced like David Brent. (Westlife’s eleventh number one knocked Heaven off. Nobody remembers Unbreakable.) Next is the summer smash Asereje (The Ketchup Song), a cross between the Macarena and Rapper’s Delight; the chorus is a phonetic equivalent of the opening rap of the Sugarhill Gang song, and it worked, climbing to the top in October 2002.
Enrique Iglesias had another hit with Love to See You Cry, while Samantha Mumba returned with I’m Right Here, another Swedish pop song that pastiched US r’n’b. Swedes also helped produce It’s All Gravy, the weird duet between Romeo (from So Solid Crew) and Christina Milian. S Club Juniors squeaked their way through Automatic High, which I loved at the time thanks to an addictive chorus and a better-than-average middle eight. It’s a cute pop song about the girls of the band singing about the boy (or girl) giving them ‘that special feeling’.
But the world was moving on from Swedish teenpop, as was Britney, who pointlessly covered I Love Rock’n’Roll which at least ought to have sent some people back to the Joan Jett version. Ditto Atomic Kitten (the ‘laydeez’ as the inlay booklet calls them) with The Tide is High, which was both a number one and preposterously unnecessary. Far better are One Love, the title track of Blue’s excellent second album, and Come Into My World, a woozy song by Kylie Minogue whose video features many, many Kylies and was one of my favourite videos to watch upon coming home from school back in the day. It was another smash for the team of Cathy Dennis and Rob Davis, right down to the ‘na-na’s that mimicked the ‘la-la-la’ of Can’t Get You Out of My Head.
The chap who had failed to get into Hear’Say, thanks to a bizarre ‘performance’ of Baby One More Time, then had come third on Pop Idol, finally began his brief pop career in August 2002. I loved Darius’ album Dive In, but never really loved the anaemic first single Colourblind which (fun fact) kept In My Place by Coldplay off number one. The band have only had two UK number ones, though they did appear on the Band Aid 20 single in 2004. I will reveal one of those number ones later in this series.
Missing from NOW 53 is the song that kept Oasis from number one, a duet between Will Young and Gareth Gates of the Beatles song The Long and Winding Road, again beyond pointless (and which would probably be a pointless answer on UK Number One Hits by Pop Idol Stars were it to be a category on the TV show Pointless). The extraordinary pop songs Kiss Kiss and Down Boy by Australian actress Holly Vallance, which riffed on Turkish pop songs, are also absent, as is the debut single by Avril Lavinge, Complicated. Liberty X, however, covered Got To Have Your Love note for note and had a hit, which is on NOW 53 along with Abs from Five who used Uptown Top Ranking by Althea & Donna to create a strange rap called What You Got. Another fun fact: Abs entered the chart the week that Blazin’ Squad (WITH NO G!!!) took the Bone Thugs n Harmony song Crossroads to number one, which I hope made Bone Thugs a lot of money in publishing. Atomic Kitten knocked them off, then held off Fantasy, by Appleton, the two sisters from All Saints (on NOW 53) in a week when Paul Weller returned to the top ten with It’s Written In the Stars (not on NOW 53, but he soon would be).
There is no place either for Kelly Osborne’s cover of Papa Don’t Preach by Madonna, a song which traded on her TV image. Jan Wayne, meanwhile, took the Bruce Springsteen-composed song Because The Night into trance clubs, which I think is Bruce’s first appearance on a NOW. A mournful cover of Imagine by Eva Cassidy promoted her second posthumous set, and Elvis Presley is alluded to in Gaz Coombes’ vocal delivery on the Supergrass song Grace, which is another addictive power-pop tune.
Likewise the funk-pop of James Dean (I Wanna Know), the second hit for Daniel Bedingfield who was proving he could also imitate Michael Jackson, whose album Invincible was forgotten by the end of 2002.