Before I look to the music, I want to note the information box within the inlay booklet for NOW 56, which thanks the purchaser for ‘supporting the artists, songwriters, musicians and others who’ve created it and made it possible…Since you don’t own the copyright, it’s not yours to distribute.’ If users share the music online, ‘it’s hurting the artists who created the music.’ Fully four years after Napster came into being, and only a few months before iTunes came into existence, the music industry was begging the fan for its honesty, which is like a very expensive pot calling a very full kettle black.
The music industry is full of shysters and crooks, and people who just put out bad music. The best musicians do not necessarily sell the most CDs or concert tickets. I find happiness in good music that sells well, put out by artists who are socially aware and are unafraid to experiment. Counting Crows, Dawes and Sondre Lerche all do this, as does Paul McCartney and between them have hardly had a hit in the UK, although McCartney isn’t chasing them any more. All have a great fanbase and are still putting out music. So is Beyonce, though her three children take up a lot of her time.
Put Crazy In Love on anywhere in the world in 2018 and people will dance. As I was watching Paul McCartney playing his hits in a Liverpool pub as part of a TV skit to promote new music, I suddenly realised that billions – BILLIONS – of people knew his music. Billions more would know it over the next century. That is superstardom, and why songwriting is an amazing profession.
I could never be a superstar, with every moment controlled by minders and managers, being part of a big marketing plan for a corporation like Sony, Warners or Universal – the only three huge record labels left – and having my personal life mined for clicks and hits. Indeed, to writer Sylvia Patterson, social media is ‘a radioactive global megaphone’ which produced ‘guarded personalities, suppressed opinion and avoidance of the controversial’. The most guarded star is Beyonce, which made the episode in the elevator with her sister and husband so shocking.
Beyonce Knowles-Carter (she is married to Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter) has been described by Sylvia Patterson as ‘more hologram than human’. She releases tremendous music with strong political awareness, as well as dance anthems for women to shake their bums to. Crazy In Love is one such song, which riffs on the horns from Are You My Woman by the Chi-Lites. It is the playlist choice to end all playlist choices, and I voted it the Best Song Ever on a NOW in the NOW awards.
In ‘hot songwriter’ news, Xenomania are now branching out beyond Girls Aloud, whose Life Got Cold has a fun reference to Wonderwall by Oasis, by giving Hole in the Head to Sugababes, also on NOW 56 and which is an amazing song which contains the words ‘crazy s—t’. I completely forgot it was a number one, though it was unfair of me to celebrate in my chart logbook (not a nerd) with ‘HOORAY’ the demise of the six-week number one it replaced at the top, on which more below. Gregg Alexander helped create Mixed Up World for Sophie Ellis-Bextor, who is popping up a lot in this era before having lots of children, and Biff Stannard emerges again to help Atomic Kitten have another hit with If You Come To Me. Louise was trying to remain relevant with Pandora’s Kiss.
As One True Voice’s career expired, the lads who didn’t make the cut formed Phixx and had a debut single called Hold On Me which sounds like 2003. Elliot Kennedy and Gary Barlow – whose name has not been mentioned for a while as he dealt with depression and a failed album in 1999 – co-wrote Blue’s song Guilty, which I don’t think I knew (always read the credits!!).
Two former vocal harmony group members produced solo singles. Too Far Gone was the latest Lisa Scott-Lee hit, while Mark Owen had Elliot Kennedy in the room when he wrote Four Minute Warning, which was an apocalyptic pop song which counted down ‘minutes left to go’. Mark remains my favourite member of Take That, and I saw him in the flesh at a live performance for the BBC. He was with his kids, so I didn’t yell out his name, but I will place on record my admiration for his solo career, which included the 1996 hit Clementine.
Lucie Silvas, then a pop songwriter and today a lady working out of Nashville, Tennessee, co-wrote Jumpin’ for Liberty X – we will meet Lucie again soon – while Icelandic artist Emiliana Torrini helped Kylie secure a number one with Slow, keeping the filthy Flip Reverse by Blazin Squad at two (Emiliani was heard on the soundtrack to Lord of the Rings). Kylie’s pal Cathy Dennis and three Swedes wrote Sweet Dreams My LA Ex, a smashing pop song full of attitude sung by Rachel Stevens from S Club 7, the first to branch out into a solo career; S Club 8 sang a dull song called Sundown and Emma Bunton tried to add a touch of cool to her catalogue with Maybe.
Eg White, who would have a number one with Leave Right Now by Will Young, teamed up with Javine and the duo Ashford & Simpson (Solid was their big hit) to write Surrender (Your Love), a song which ought to have been a huge career song. The great Desmond Child wrote Invisible for the American Idol star Clay Aiken, which Irish boyband D-Side covered. Desmond’s impressive (to understate the word) list of hits includes Dude Looks Like a Lady for Aermosmith, Poison for Alice Cooper, Livin La Vida Loca for Ricky Martin, Old Before I Die for Robbie Williams, How Can We Be Lovers for Michael Bolton and several massive Bon Jovi hits. I wonder how big his house is…
You may have missed the words ‘American Idol’ in that last paragraph. Simon Cowell’s next trick was to export the format to the biggest music market in the world. Ruben Studdard, a soulful black guy, pipped Clay to the title of the winner of the second season; a girl called Kelly Clarkson won the first series, and we will hear from her shortly.
Disc 1 of NOW 56 is very pop heavy, with not much trance and club music to be found. Perhaps this was an effort by the compilers, but likely it is because there were so many top songs making the charts. With uncredited vocals by Justin Timberlake, rappers The Black Eyed Peas added a killer hook and topped the charts for most of September and October with Where Is The Love.
Like Black Eyed Peas, success did not happen overnight for Fatman Scoop. Fun fact 1: his real name is Isaac Freeman III. For young readers, he is a sort of DJ Khaled figure. The song that knocked Sugababes (hooray) off number one was the unbelievable Be Faithful by Fatman Scoop ft The Crooklyn Clan. It had been a club hit in 1999, but it took a long time to clear three samples, two of which were by CHIC. It quite rightly shot to the top of the charts.
I once watched Adnan Januzaj send off Fatman Scoop in a football match in aid of Sport Relief; the rapper is host of a sort of rap cabaret which is touring the world in 2018. Fun fact 2: the week it was released, Ooh Wee by Mark Ronson was at number 15, which remains his second best song. Mark will be mentioned a lot more often in future essays thanks to work with people named Amy and Bruno. The same chart saw a new entry for Damian Rice with Cannonball, a track which a young Ed Sheeran would strum around the East of England as a teenager.
Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers created Something Beautiful, with a music video which lampooned TV talent shows, riffing off the song’s opening line: ‘You can’t manufacture a miracle’. It’s an odd song where the verse is better than the chorus. NOW 56’s Fame Academy contribution comes from Lemar, whom I once saw entertain a batmitzvah party. The batmitzvah girl sang along to Dance (With U), his debut single which has a terrific beat.
Lemar follows three young kids who were all the rage in 2003. Lumidee took the same rhythm that Wayne Wonder used on No Letting Go and, with approximate vocals, had an enormous hit with Never Leave You, Uh Ooh, Uh Ooh, assisted by Busta Rhymes; a commercial radio staple that was overplayed, Jamelia had her biggest hit with Superstar, a Swedish pop hit; and Stuck by Stacie Orrico.
Stacie, who the inlay booklet says toured with Destiny’s Child, couldn’t get out of bed because, quoting Latin poet Catullus, she both hated and loved her boy and was thus ‘stuck on you’. The chorus of Stuck is huge, and I wonder if this song will have a revival at any point. The writer of the song would, a decade later, never have to work again after co-writing All About That Bass with Meghan Trainor; Kevin Kadish also worked with Jason Mraz on his album Mr A-Z, which I feel deserves a mention.
At the top of Disc 2 is an old song from Elton John, remixed for 2003, called Are You Ready For Love, which contains some key changes before the final chorus which raise it from good to great. Elton turned 56 in 2003 and today is a father, philanthropist, art collector, broadcaster on Apple Music and musician who is approaching retirement.
NOW 56 also contains Pretty Green Eyes by Ultrabeat, another pop-trance song, Love Me Right (Oh Sheila) by Angel City and Complete by Jamieson, which employed garage music once again. By 2003 garage had evolved properly into grime. Over in the States, their indigenous urban music produced songs by Ashanti (Rock Wit U), 50 Cent and Nate Dogg (21 Questions, which sampled Barry White), Joe Budden (Pump It Up, which somehow has nine credited writers) and Justin Timberlake, who again had The Neptunes to thank for Rock Your Body, which was always my favourite track on Justified and famously soundtracked a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ from Janet Jackson during the Superbowl.
The compilation’s bhangra track is Dance With You by Rishi Rich Project, which introduced the country at large to Jay Sean, who provided vocals on the track which must have been rotated heavily on the BBC Asian Network. Jay was Britain’s British Asian pop star and will reappear on future NOWs. Texas, meanwhile, borrowed Kardinal Official on their song Carnival Girl, which I never liked.
No such problems faced Nickelback, whose song Someday has an enormous chorus thanks to produced Joey Moi, who would later reinvent country music as the producer of Florida Georgia Line much like Mutt Lange used his production techniques to promote Shania Twain. Elsewhere in guitar music (of sorts), Busted are Sleeping With the Light On, Stereophonics quote the theme tune to TV show The Littlest Hobo on Maybe Tomorrow and Amy Studt is Under The Thumb, which is an odd word to sing. Kudos to Karen Poole again for helping her to another hit.
For a second time, Swing Low Sweet Chariot was a rugby-assisted hit. In November 2003 England won the Rugby World Cup, which propelled a UB40 version of the song into the charts. The big movie of 2003 was actually a DVD release, Donnie Darko, which crept steadily up the DVD charts in an era when piracy was wiping out the video rental market, though the site Lovefilm did exist. The Christmas number one was a fight between retro rockers The Darkness, whose song I Believe in a Thing Called Love (not on a NOW) was kept off the top by Black Eyed Peas, and Mad World, the Tears for Fears cover used in Donnie Darko that the compilers of NOW 56 could see was going to challenge for a seasonal hit. Gary Jules, who sang, and Michael Andrews, the composer, won.
The words ‘Produced by Phil Spector’ beside Silence is Easy by Starsailor always amused me. I actually stood next to the song’s vocalist James Walsh in spring 2018 and, were he not engaged in chatter with friends, would have asked him about the session with the man who once fired a live bullet in the studio. A few months after recording with Starsailor, Spector shot actress Lana Clarkson dead, which brought his Wall of Sound crashing down.