NOW 62: Kelly Clarkson – Since U Been Gone

Aha. There’s Max Martin, creating one of the pop classics of the century.

A recent Hit Parade podcast by pop critic Chris Molanphy celebrated Since U Been Gone as one of the greatest number two hits of all time. He pointed to the influence of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a New York trio who made indie-minded rock music, and how Max loved their song Maps. If it had a better chorus, he thought, it would be a better song; Max being Max, he wrote Since U Been Gone, a song that Clive Davis thought would be a perfect tune for Kelly Clarkson.

Kelly hated it, bursting into tears at being told that this song would be a global smash by Clive Davis, the man who discovered Whitney Houston. She was won over, the song took over the world then Kelly briefly torched her career with a disappointing third album which had only one hit. Her fourth had lots of hits, including a number one, proving that the industry moguls (and Swedes) know best.

Kelly, you recall, had won American Idol as a down-home girl from the South; in 2018 she is a successful judge on a TV talent show, has kids of her own as well as stepkids and is married to Reba McEntire’s stepson. Kelly can still out-sing most other vocalists and is a national treasure in the States. Since U Been Gone remains a fine guitar-pop song and part of Max Martin’s second great run of hits.

NOW 62 emerged just in time for Christmas 2005. I passed my driving test the week before and went up to Oxford University to fail to get in to read Classics (their loss, my gain). I spent a lot of time playing Championship Manager to the extent that I was dreaming of formations and signings, and at school I enjoyed multiple free periods and being in the top age group, the Upper Sixth. I spent the days reading music journalism – the Guardian’s Friday Film & Music section and Q Magazine – and learned more songs on the guitar.

These included The One I Love by David Gray, who at last appeared on a NOW with a song from his Greatest Hits collection. A troubadour who had been around for several years before hitting big with White Ladder in 2000, I think I walked past him at a cinema but, as with KT Tunstall, I was not positive it was him (it definitely was!) so, again, here is a sentence that says I love David and his music, particularly the lost classic Late Night Radio.

Otherwise I listened to bands whose tracks are on NOW 62: Kaiser Chiefs (I Predict a Riot), Franz Ferdinand (the wry Do You Want To), KT Tunstall (Suddenly I See), The Magic Numbers (Love Me Like You), Kanye West (Diamonds from Sierra Leone, which took inspiration from Diamonds are Forever and Ms Jackson) and Coldplay, whose song Fix You is one of the songs of the century. A song about a guy pledging love to a girl who is crying, the atmosphere it conjures is better than the lyric. Live, this is the high point of their set and meant Chris Martin never had to work again were it not for his home in Los Angeles and the fact he can barely do anything else.

How droll that both Damon Albarn and Noel Gallagher were still having number one hits in 2005: Gorillaz had Dare, featuring Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays, while I remember phoning Zane Lowe to request Dead End Street by the Kinks, retitled The Importance of Being Idle by Oasis, a fun number one song whose video starred Rhys Ifans. I also recall that Zane was a big fan of Mylo, a Scottish DJ who had a massive hit with Doctor Pressure, a remix of Doctor Beat by Miami Sound Machine that correctly takes its place on NOW 62 alongside Love Generation by Bob Sinclar, a song I never really liked but which sounds good on a sunny day.

T.A.T.U. look old hat with their comeback song All About Us, while no fewer than four acts continue their career having splintered from their old bands: Robbie Williams is Tripping in a song that quotes Gandhi in the opening verse; Rachel Stevens sings I Said Never Again (But Here We Are); Simon Webbe offers Lay Your Hands with a silky voice; and Friday Hill feature three members of Blazin’ Squad as for some reason they try to continue to exist as an entity with the song Baby Goodbye, which is awful.

Far better is Biology by Girls Aloud, a song that can only be compared to other Girls Aloud tracks written by the Xenomania team. Like The Show, this one starts in one place, quickly goes somewhere else, makes us wait for a chorus then makes the listener play it again. Switch It On was Will Young’s most interesting single to that point, based on a Bo Diddley beat, while I’ll Be OK by McFly seems to be Tom Fletcher’s attempt to write a song about depression, something from which he suffered even as his band hit the top several times in 2005. It’s a cracking pop song that seems to reference David Bowie, or rather Ziggy Stardust, in the line ‘You’re not alone’.

Push the Button by Sugababes is, as expected, another gem, this time from r’n’b uberproducer Dallas Austin, who had sculpted hits for and with TLC and Pink. Another fine number one for the ‘Babes, the song has an insistent keyboard part that made it perfect for radio in 2005. If someone had had a bad day, then Daniel Powter had the perfect palliative with his song Bad Day, which had one magical chord in the final chorus on ‘see what you like’ that remains magical for me. I wonder how big Daniel’s house is. He played China in spring 2018, so he is still at work, although amusingly his Twitter profile @dpowtermusic has the photo of him with a caption ‘have a better day than Daniel Powter’.

Other big radio hits included Hollaback Girl by Gwen Stefani – who is a two-timer on NOW 62 as she purrs ‘you got it like that’ on Pharrell Williams’ song Can I Have It Like That – Don’t Lie by Black Eyes Peas (hooray, a softer song) and Don’t Cha, the first hit for the act that uses three derogatory terms for woman – Pussycat Dolls – and the first time Britain heard the voice of Nicole Scherzinger, who would be a TV talent show judge within a decade. The act started off as a burlesque troop fronted by Carmen Electra, and the music industry felt there was a gap for a risqué act wearing little clothing and singing songs about being hot. Busta Rhymes pops up with a guest rap before the first verse of a song which has aged well. Fun fact: it was co-written by a fellow who called himself Cee-Lo Green, so we have already heard from both Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo on various NOW compilations from 2005. 2006 would be their year.

I don’t remember Song 4 Lovers by Liberty X, which features Reverend Run from Run-DMC who is uncredited but I knew it was him within one bar. I don’t remember the song because the album was scrapped. I do recall Big City Life by Mattafix, a number one around Europe from a band which featured Neneh Cherry’s stepson Marlon, who also wrote songs for his stepsister Mabel and had a hit of his own with When The Beat Drops Out.

Big City Life was sung in a Jamaican patois over a processed beat and it seemed the Caribbean had another period when it influenced the charts. One of Bob Marley’s many children Damian introduced himself with Welcome to Jamrock, and a Barbadian girl named Robyn Fenty sang Pon De Replay under the name Rihanna. Daddy Yankee, meanwhile, brought the sound of crunk to many ears with Gasolina, a song that was too abrasive for my ears. I much preferred 1 Thing by Amerie, which was 99% Crazy in Love by Beyonce but perhaps most pop music should be 99% Crazy in Love by Beyonce. Akon also continued his run of hits with Belly Dancer, an addictive pop song about ladies dancing.

Elton John appears on Disc 1 with a song from the musical adaptation of the movie Billy Elliot called Electricity, which I never liked, while four of the final five tracks are from bands who had their first hits in the 1980s. Depeche Mode appear with Precious, U2 with City of Blinding Lights (another drab set of lyrics by Bono with soaring music from The Edge and the other two) and Texas rekindle their nineties flame with the superb Getaway. Were it not for Since U Been Gone, I would have chosen the high-octane thrust of Have a Nice Day by Bon Jovi, which is just enormous even if it 99% other Bon Jovi songs. You cannot plagiarise yourself, after all…

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