Ah look, it’s The Libertines. Finally the NOW compilers have looked at the NME, and the tabloid press, and realised that Pete Doherty and Carl Barat are important musicians. Never mind that Pete was jailed for burgling Carl’s flat while nursing a horrific drug habit; the pair made up in the song Can’t Stand Me Now, which was produced by Mick Jones of The Clash for the second (overrated) album.
The song was another tune on heavy rotation on the Radio 1 playlist that I listened to for weeks on end in summer 2004, as I waited for my GCSE results, which were fortunately fine, though I have no idea how I managed top grades in all three sciences. Number one the day I received my results was These Words by Natasha Bedingfield, the second person with that surname to reach the top of the charts. I wonder how many siblings have topped the charts separately…I can think of two Jacksons.
Natasha knocked Baby Cakes by 3 of a Kind off number one, which was a marvellous garage track that leapt overground. Baby Cakes was in turn displaced by My Place by Nelly, who continues to make everything he touches turn to hit. The song samples tunes by both DeBarge (I Like It) and Gamble & Huff (Come Go With Me), making it an update of the sort of soul that sold well in the 1970s. An even bigger song came from one of the icons of the rap era: Ice Cube’s song You Can Do It has Kraftwerk in its writing credits, which makes it their first appearance on a NOW (and not their last). In a similar vein, Christina Milian and Joe Budden’s song Whatever U Want sampled a song called Spellbound by The Barkays, a top jam band from the funk era of the 1970s. I had little time for the pornographic sounds of My Neck My Back (Lick It) by Khia, but many did.
In May of that year, I turned onto BBC Radio 2 to listen to their coverage of Eurovision. A trailer during the broadcast alerted me to the new 10.30pm slot for Mark Radcliffe, who had moved on from Radio 1 to Radio 2. I remember that his first show would coincide with the date of my Biology GCSE exam and would include a session from Badly Drawn Boy, who was promoting his third album One Plus One is One at the time. At about 10.29pm on June 7 2004 I remembered that the show was on air and my life changed. I cannot thank Mark Radcliffe and Janice Long, who had the midnight slot, for educating me on music I had missed in my chart logbook years. By the end of the year I was done with the charts.
Even the charts were done with the charts. The logbook notes that on September 1 2004, the first ‘Official UK Internet Legal Download Top 20’ was counted down. At the top was a live version of Flying Without Wings by Westlife (I actually sighed as I typed that…) which stopped the download-only song Blazin’ Day (WITH NO G!!) by Blazin’ Squad (WITH NO G!) from topping the chart. Maroon 5 were the highest-placed song that was also a physical release with She Will Be Loved, track 2 on Disc 1 of NOW 59. I never liked the song because I preferred Harder to Breathe, their fantastic first single from the album Songs About Jane.
Other number ones from 2004 included Brian McFadden from Westlife with Real To Me (not on NOW 59) and a magnificent use of catalogue by Eric Prydz from Sweden, who used the ‘call on me’ element of Valerie by Steve Winwood to create Call On Me, with its pornographic video. Again, pornographic video plus eighties sample equals hit. This one leapt back to the top after being displaced for a week by Robbie Williams, who had a number one hit with Radio, not one of his best and a freebie on his Greatest Hits. It was co-written with former Duran Duran member Stephen Duffy, who would help Rob on his next album Rudebox, where he realised he was mortal. Duran Duran, incidentally, returned with a song called Reach Up for the Sunrise, which was a top five hit but not on NOW 59. Ronan Keating, meanwhile, covered another contemporary country classic, I Hope You Dance, and had another hit with his never-changing formula. Louis Walsh strikes again!!
My playlist induction is What You’re Made Of, which is a pop song done by an act who would marry John Osborne, a guitarist who has won Country Music Association (CMA) Awards for Best Duo or Group as part of Brothers Osborne. Lucie Silvas now lives in Nashville; her album E.G.O. comes out in August and will be toured in the UK where she grew up. As someone embarking on a crazy country project in the next few years, I feel I have the authority to place a country act in the playlist, even if Lucie is her own genre.
Darius returns with Kinda Love, a great song with an irresistible chorus, and V follow up Blood Sweat and Tears, which was on NOW 58, with Hip to Hip, one of two Xenomania tracks on Disc 1, the other of course belonging to Girls Aloud. They are just a Love Machine on one of their most beloved singles that was a ‘terrific two’ thanks to the power of Prydz. Another terrific two came from JoJo with Leave (Get Out), where the brackets should really be around Leave since the chorus goes: ‘Get out! Right now!’ Aged 14, Jojo sang one one of my favourite songs of 2004; after an agonising legal battle JoJo is now independent and the song deserves to be discovered by kids who were not born when Leave was a hit, ie those who are now turning 14.
Also ripe for rediscovery is the Mousse T comeback Is It Cos I’m Cool, which brings back the voice of Emma Lanford, who was also the voice of Horny (thanks inlay booklet!). This is a better song. It is a thousand times better than the soaking wet ballad The Reason by the horrifically named Hoobastank. In 2004, a song that sounded like a wet kiss could be ‘gamed’ to be a massive hit. Something needed to emerge to save people from such soppiness. And again: they were called Hoobastank, almost as bad a name as Limp Bizkit.
Hit songwriter and producers are in demand in late 2004. Diane Warren’s song Nothing Hurts Like Love finds its way to Daniel Bedingfield, and R Kelly, whose alleged crimes are music legend, turned to gospel on Happy People. Elsewhere, Jamelia brings back Stop, the Sam Brown hit, which served to promote the second Bridget Jones movie.
The Mario Winans song I Don’t Wanna Know had an answer song in You Should Really Know, which is credited to The Pirates and four acts including Enya and Shola Ama. More sampling comes from Blue, of all people, as Stargate utilise Pasttime Paradise (which was used on Gangsta’s Paradise) to create Curtain Falls. The Swedes also help Jay Sean write Stolen, a Bollywood-inflected pop song that sounds great today. A cover of More More More by Rachel Stevens (the song sampled by Len on Steal My Sunshine) and a remix of Hungry Eyes, the Eric Carmen song from Dirty Dancing redone by Eyeopener with a dance beat, are pointless.
Far better are dance music contributions to NOW 59. Angel City return with Do You Know (I Go Crazy), which is based on Children by the late Robert Miles; Michael Gray’s The Weekend was another A List track on the hour, every hour, on Radio 1, while Pump It Up by Danzel samples In The Mix by Mixmaster and was a continent-wide hit that sounds like 2004. In a precursor of dance in this decade, Dannii Minogue is ‘versus’ Flower Power on You Won’t Forget About Me (she never had a number one, I don’t think, so cannot follow the Bedingfield analogy), and Lisa Scott-Lee provided vocals on the funky Get It On, a song by Intenso Project.
Elsewhere, the era of Tom Fletcher was upon us. Today Tom is a father, husband and children’s author but in 2004 he was churning out number ones with his friends Danny Jones and James Bourne. James was in Busted, pratting around with a guitar, and he and Tom co-wrote Thunderbirds Are Go, the theme to the live-action movie that history does not remember fondly. This was Tom’s third number one of 2004, following Five Colours in her Hair and Obviously, which were written by his band McFly. More on them, and on the boyband in general, in the next essay.
Returning for a third NOW in a row were Keane (ballad Bedshaped), Scissor Sisters (ballad Mary) and Black Eyes Peas (hooray), with the non-ballad Let’s Get It Started, which on their album Elephunk was called Let’s Get Retarded, which was in no way acceptable on the radio where people with physical disabilities would listen.
Songwriters are on hot streaks. Karen Poole and Marius De Vries are co-credited as writers on Caught in a Moment by Sugababes, while Eg White is credited on You Had Me by Joss Stone, which is also a great pop song. As for Chris Martin, his streak is so hot he can afford to give his song Gravity away to his friends Embrace, who made a comeback filled with ballads which, like all Coldplay songs, is credited to the whole of the band. For that reason, they are celebrating 20 years together in 2018.
But there is one songwriter on NOW 59 who trumps them all. Writing I Believe My Heart for his musical The Woman In White, Andrew Lloyd Webber finds his way once more onto a NOW. It makes Duncan from Blue, credited as Duncan James and featuring classical soprano Keedie, a two-timer.