On July 30 2006, the fortieth anniversary of England winning the World Cup, Top of the Pops counted down the charts for the last time on BBC Television. Though Christmastime sees acts perform the hits of the year, and the new show Sounds Like Friday Night once again enables pop acts to appear at primetime to plug their new songs, it is not the same as when, before the fracture of the media in the 1990s, millions watched Boy George and George Michael and Pan’s People then went out and bought Culture Club or Wham! singles, or just marvelled at Pan’s People.
I had stopped listening to the charts every week at the end of 2004, just short of my seventeenth birthday, with Radio 2 taking its place. By summer 2006, sitting A-Levels in Latin, Classical Greek and English Literature – Shakespeare, Milton, Fitzgerald, Homer, Euripides, Virgil, Horace and other main men – I had also gathered an eclectic knowledge of pop music. My biggest coup was leading the school’s chamber orchestra after my friend Will Walter hurt his arm playing rugby; that seems a long, long time ago in an era where violin was my primary instrument. The guitar overtook it soon afterwards.
Two fun facts about NOW 64 are that it was the last to be issued on cassette and it featured a song which reached number one despite not initially being issued as a physical product. Thanks to its use on a TV ad to promote Zane Lowe’s Radio 1 show, Brian ‘Danger Mouse’ Burton and Thomas ‘Cee-Lo Green’ Callaway had a number one song that was so big that when it did come out physically the pair told the record label to stop printing it. Gnarls Barley appeared on Top of the Pops performing Crazy so often that they sometimes slowed the track down to a funereal pace, with Cee-Lo wearing a military outfit. It is the unassailable choice for the NOW 64 playlist entry, the Song of Summer 2006. No other song comes close.
Not Maneater by Nelly Furtado, her first hit with Timbaland on production; not Who Knew by Pink, who finally lands on a NOW with a song about a former friend written with Max Martin and Dr Luke; and not Smile by Lily Allen, a two-chord marvel that sounded great in the summer sunshine. In any other year, those three eclectic tunes would be dead certs. I also loved the Eg White co-write You Give Me Something, the first hit for the swarthy James Morrison, and the gorgeous chart-topper from Shaffer ‘Ne-Yo’ Smith called So Sick, in which the poor guy writes a love song about being ‘so sick of love songs’. Meta!!
Returning once more to a NOW are Bon Jovi (Who Says You Can’t Go Home), Fall Out Boy (Dance Dance), Orson (Bright Idea), Razorlight (In the Morning), The Ordinary Boys (the awful ska-pop of Nine2five), Pussycat Dolls (Buttons, which sounds like a lapdance), Sugababes (Red Dress, another Xenomania special), Girls Aloud (Whole Lotta History, another Xenomania special), Snow Patrol (You’re All I Have), Keane (Is it Any Wonder, which always annoyed me because you could hear Tom Chaplin gulping for air), The Feeling (Fill My Little World, an ABBA-esque pop song with a tender diminished fifth chord), The Shapeshifters (the funky Sensitivity), Ronan Keating (All Over Again, an acoustic ballad featuring the gorgeous vocals of Kate Rusby) and Christina Milian, with the fun Say I.
Another act who made the Sound of 2006 list were The Automatic, and if I had a penny every time I heard the line ‘What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a monster?’ I would have been as rich as Penny from The Automatic, who piloted his shouty backing vocal style on the song Monster (I preferred their first hit Recover). The Zutons, from Liverpool, had a fun song called Valerie which was also all over Virgin Radio in 2006, assisted by parps of a saxophone, while Primal Scream’s career now veered towards country with the song Country Girl. Having done acid house, punk, electronica and indie disco, they had one of their biggest hits with a simple pop song about love and stuff. The Kooks, led by BRIT school alumnus Luke Pritchard, had a big album which included tracks like She Moves in her Own Way, a fine acoustic pop song, while Carl from The Libertines put together Dirty Pretty Things and had a hit with Bang Bang You’re Dead, which I own on 7-inch!
In the clubs over summer 2006, the big songs that I didn’t dance to because I hate clubbing (the dancing, the music, the late nights, the cabs, the drinking, the snogging, the chance of horrible violence fuelled by the drinking and the dancing and the music) included Voodoo Child by Rogue Traders, Love Generation by Bob Sinclar and From Paris to Berlin by Infernal. Repeating the trick, Sunblock took The First Time by Robin Beck and put a dance beat under it, Supermode take the ‘tell me why’ line from Bronski Beat’s Small Town Boy and Beatfreakz loop another Michael Jackson vocal line, this time from Somebody’s Watching Me by Rockwell, and had a hit with it. Eighties Jacko plus dance beat equals hit. Jackson himself was more (in)famous at the time for dangling his child out of a hotel balcony, buying one of everything at Harrods and for being sued by the father of a kid who falsely accused Jackson of molesting him. No wonder Jackson spent a lot of time in Bahrain or with his llamas at Neverland.
The most disappointing album I have ever heard was Human After All by Daft Punk, which had one good song called Technologic. Busta Rhymes uses it on his song Touch It, which makes it onto NOW 64 to prove he is one of the greatest rappers of all time. The Black Eyes Peas use Miserlou by Dick Dale (as used in Pulp Fiction) on their tune Pump It, one of their better ones, and they two-time by rapping over the Sergio Mendes song Mas Que Nada. Beverley Knight proves how underrated she is with a straight version of Piece of my Heart, the old Erma Franklin song.
Rihanna had a huge hit with SOS, co-written by J.R. Rotem, one of contemporary pop music’s unsung backroom stars who has written hits for Sean Kingston, Nicki Minaj and Jason Derulo and produced many songs on the TV show Empire. Thus in 2005 a Barbadian singer was able to sample Tainted Love, the old soul song made famous by Soft Cell, and have a worldwide smash. Better still, whoever put Horny by Mousse T together with Bohemian Like You by The Dandy Warhols to create Horny as a Dandy has my eternal gratitude, and the compilers saw fit to add the song to NOW 64.
The Busted/McFly era is coming to a close, with Busted splitting after Charlie got fed up pratting around and wanted to take his serious eyebrows to rock: he formed Fightstar, a harder rock band, then became a solo acoustic artist. James Bourne followed his muse with Son of Dork, while third member Matt Willis put out Up All Night, written with Jason Perry who was part of the band A, who recorded a song called Starbucks that looked forward to a lot of guitar-pop in the 2000s. McFly, meanwhile, who would also work with Jason, covered Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen, the official single of Sport Relief, the sportier version of Comic Relief. That year’s show featured Jack Osbourne, son of Ozzy, defeating Bradley from S Club 7 in a boxing bout (we finally got to see Bradley ‘swing’!). 2018’s version had Vanessa White beat Hannah from S Club 7. It appears S Club were better at dancing and singing than hitting, as it should be.
Perhaps the most curious track on NOW 64 is by a Scottish singer-songwriter who performed gigs ‘in her basement’ and broadcast them live over the Internet. Again, as with Eamon and Frankee, when in doubt, fake it. LIPA graduate Sandi Thom used a stunt to promote her song I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in my Hair), which interpolates two movements in music history in a sort of nostalgia fondue, with added tambourine. It is awful, but Sandi did very well out of that song and is still performing to a loyal audience today. The man who signed her at RCA Records was Craig Logan, the non-Goss from Bros, the Matt Willis of his day.
In August 2006 I received confirmation that I had attained the grades to get into tertiary education. I was off to Edinburgh University to study Classics and the second chapter of my life began.