NOW 65: Amy Winehouse – Rehab

Here’s Shakira, with her truthful hips that ‘don’t lie’. A massive worldwide hit featuring Wyclef Jean in awe of ‘Shakira, Shakira!!’ as she would henceforth be known – so good they say her name twice! – Hips Don’t Lie was a summer smash in 2006 to rival Crazy. Her 2018 London show at the O2 Arena was well received, and the Colombian ambassador for UNICEF is a global treasure to everyone except fans of Real Madrid because her partner Gerard Pique plays for Barcelona.

And here’s Beyonce, back again with Déjà Vu, which has writing credits from both her partner Shawn Carter and Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins. The bass comes in, then the hi-hat, then the synthesiser, then she says ‘let’s go get ‘em’. It’s a masterful piece of pop that is part of Beyonce’s Imperial Phase that endures to this day, as long as that of Diana Ross or Michael Jackson, who were imperial for decades.

Another top female returning in 2006 is Christina Aguilera with the irresistible Ain’t No Other Man, which is 99% sass. Fergie breaks briefly from The Black Eyed Peas on the fantastic London Bridge, while Nelly Furtado continues her run of hits with Timbaland on Promiscuous, which is really brilliant and a technical masterclass from Tim and Nelly. Cassie sings Me & U, a song written by one man, Ryan Leslie, who discovered her. Rihanna gets Stargate (remember them) to help her out on Unfaithful, The Pussycat Dolls sing I Don’t Need a Man and Pink offers U + Ur Hand, three songs that are self-empowerment anthems that make a lot of money.

I’ll pause briefly on Pink because, as with Since U Been Gone and Who Knew, the song is produced by the Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo of pop music. Dr Luke and Max Martin crafted the sound of pop music this century and come together with Pink to produce a masterful song that more or less tells a guy who is chatting her up to…go solo instead of go with her. Lily Allen, whose song Not Fair is also quite risqué, here offers her song LDN, a bouncy two-chord rocksteady tune whose second verse depicts an old lady being robbed. Jamelia sings over a percussive groove on Something About You; the inlay booklet says she took two years off to be a mum and it makes sense that in 2018 she often pops up on ITV talk show Loose Women.

LDN is one of six pieces of catalogue on Disc 2, since it samples a horn stab from a reggae song called, brilliantly, Reggae Merengue. Here are the others: Michael Gray enlists Shelly Poole on the magnificent Borderline (the inlay booklet unfairly uses the word ‘bizarrely’ when describing Shelly’s time in Alisha’s Attic), which is not a cover of Madonna but a use of Chapter 8’s song Ready For Your Love; Beatfreaks plunder Superfreak by Rick James on their latest club banger; El Chombo murmurs nonsense over an old eighties rap song on Chacarron, a favourite of Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills; Scott, now the host of the UK’s Official Chart Show, went large on a campaign to get David Hasselhoff to number one with a cover of Ted Mulry’s song Jump In My Car, which stalled at three; at the end of Disc 2, a song written by Jim Steinman is a hit for his old mate Meat Loaf, but I prefer Celine Dion’s version of It’s All Coming Back To Me Now. As this essay series goes out Bat Out of Hell is playing at the Dominion Theatre in London, a series of Meat Loaf songs strung together for tourists.

As described by Sylvia Patterson in her memoir, 2006 was ‘dominated by global showbiz entertainment and its tri-headed tyranny of reality TV, celebrity culture and talent shows’. Smash Hits magazine ceased to exist that year, following the death of Top of the Pops. Lily Allen, always keen to give a golden quote on TV and the daughter of fellow loudmouth Keith Allen, was right in the middle of the vortex. So was a nice Jewish girl named Amy, one of this century’s greatest popular musicians.

Sylvia’s chapter on Amy Winehouse is crushing to read. Like the movie Amy, the protagonist comes across as a talent who let drugs and bad relationships destroy her. Dead at 27, she was 22 when she wrote the album Back to Black, which brought her fame and infamy, tabloid headlines and gold records. It stands as one of the greatest expressions of a musician’s talent in the digital era. What a shame that Amy checked out before she could build on songs like Rehab, the track that kicks off Back to Black.

To Sylvia, who interviewed her in a cover story for the nascent Word Magazine (which published its final issue mere weeks before Amy’s death), she was ‘a geezer-bird…a natural born caricature, a chaotic combination of a young Paul Weller, a curtseying Minnie Mouse, a wolf-whistling cockernee builder…and nineties Tracey Emin’. All of this came together to form ‘the twenty-first century Dean Martin’. Her TV appearances were spellbinding but by 2011 she was a drug-addled mess who was booed offstage. A true talent who could not stop herself from the downward spiral, at least Amy left the world an astonishing second album that will go down as one of the century’s finest.

In 2006, as well as Amy, radio playlists rotated Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol, America by Razorlight (co-written by drummer Andy Burrows, later to be in Foregone Conclusion backing David Brent in a 2016 movie), Never Be Lonely by The Feeling (another mighty pop song), Nothing In My Way by Keane (terrific middle eight), Empire by Kasabian (the first appearance for Leicester’s version of Oasis), When You Were Young by The Killers (their best song that is 99% Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, something I have no problem with) and Smiley Faces, the difficult second single from Gnarls Barkley, which is oddly credited to the pair individually as well as to the duo, which is probably to do with publishing rights that are too boring to explain.

Instead, welcome back All Saints after their solo excursions. Greg Kurstin, who was half of duo The Bird and The Bee and would go on to help Lily Allen and Adele have enormous hits, wrote Rock Steady with Shaznay from All Saints, a song which stands up well today and sounded like Girls Aloud in 2006. I had the album given to me by Tallah Brash, the Head of Music at FreshAir.org.uk, my second home at university. Tallah is now Music Editor of monthly magazine The Skinny up in Scotland, while 2006/7 Station Manager Tim Johns works on The Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2; Heather Davies, who was Secretary, is a producer of Sounds of the 70s on Radio 2 and also produced documentary series about pop music. What amazing jobs the three of them have, and I am grateful to them for helping me settle into uni life.

It was tough living 400 miles away from Watford. My housemates either drank or pratted about; I preferred spending time in the library to going to Potterrow to dance and drink the night away. I also launched myself into about ten student societies, including Folk Club where I once sang a version of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. I actually reviewed Back to Black for the student newspaper, where one of the writers was Jonathan Liew, who is now Chief Sportswriter on the Independent and covered the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

In Edinburgh I found friends from Northern Ireland, Glasgow, Connecticut, New York and North London. My first year was a special year where I grew a massive beard and got to host my own radio show, The Jonny Brick Show, on Saturdays at 3pm from November to May. I also attended Music Team meetings on Wednesday afternoons, headed up by Tallah, and several tracks on NOW 65 made the Fresh Air playlist. Chelsea Dagger by The Fratellis is now a football chant, but I always liked it; Scissor Sisters had a number one with Elton John, who co-wrote but was not credited on I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ (WITH NO G!!!), track one on Disc 1.

Every time I hear Sexyback by Justin Timberlake I think of Fresh Air, since every show seemed to use the looped intro as ‘bed music’ over which to speak. The song has not lost its power and is probably Justin’s best. Fellow blokes included Ne-Yo (Sexy Love, written with Stargate), Lemar (It’s Not That Easy), James Morrison (Wonderful World, a mighty song co-written with Eg White with a bulletproof arrangement), Paolo Nutini (Last Request, his debut hit), Simon Webbe (the optimistic Coming Around Again, which he co-wrote) and Matt Willis, with the song Hey Kid.

As for McFly, their song Star Girl both hit number one and became a favourite of Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles, who would always play the song on Friday or, as he called it, on McFLYDAY! Jason Perry from A co-wrote this one too. Westlife, meanwhile, were experimenting with Mongolian throat music…No they weren’t, they put out a cover of The Rose, written by Amanda McBroom and made famous by Bette Midler. Girls Aloud have another Xenomania-produced classic with Something Kinda Ooooh, while Robbie Williams plucked the obscure songwriter Lewis Taylor’s song Lovelight as his next single.

Dance music was still filling the clubs, in the guise of Cascada (Everytime We Touch), Bodyrox featuring Luciana (the irritating but undeniably danceable Yeah Yeah) and Fedde Le Grand, with the execrable Put Your Hands Up For Detroit, which makes me think of Vernon Kaye, who played the song on his Radio 1 ‘lie-in’ weekend slot. Bob Sinclar employed C&C Music Factory’s Gonna Make You Sweat on Rock This Party (Everybody Dance Now), which featured three rappers. A new name featured with the funky song Love Don’t Let Me Go (Walking Away); we will meet David Guetta a lot more on future NOW compilations.

The big rap song of the year was Ridin’ by Chamillionaire, later to be turned into nerd anthem White and Nerdy by Weird Al Yankovic. The big TV hit of the year was High School Musical, where a boy called Troy and a girl called Gabriella got into a romance as Zac Efron was introduced to the world. He didn’t actually sing Breaking Free, which must have given songwriter Jamie Houston a nice cheque and closes Disc 1 of NOW 65.

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