Gary Barlow is a hero of mine. Having become a millionaire in his twenties by writing massive number ones like Babe, Pray, Sure and some songs with more than one word in the title, he went solo and then became fat and depressed. As I’ve written, he kept writing songs, such as Guilty for Blue, but in 2004 even Mark Owen was more successful than Gary.
Robbie Williams, meanwhile, sold out massive fields in 2003 and followed his 2004 Greatest Hits with an odd album called Rudebox, best known for remaindered copies being melted down to cover roads. Working with Pet Shop Boys, he credited them on a track called She’s Madonna, which was top five in Holland and Germany but missed the top ten in the UK. The money helped, but Robbie’s big phase as Britain’s best entertainer was over. Ironically, Gary Barlow would take that mantle.
In 2006, Take That reconvened without Robbie as a fourpiece for the album Beautiful World. It was so far in the middle of the road it could have been surrounded by cat’s eyes on both sides but produced what I think is one of the century’s finest pop songs. Every day for three months I would flick to the music video of Patience, which returned Take That to number one after a decade. I’d sing along to a chorus in which Gary sang: ‘My heart is numb, has no feeling’. The song is perfect: acoustic intro, measured melody line, talk of ‘frustration’ and being held close, a chorus which soars, a middle eight which goes into the major key of B-flat and a soaraway final chorus. It’s Gary’s best song and one which set him on a path to becoming a national treasure.
NOW 66 emerged in 2007, when I was enjoying my time in Edinburgh, putting myself forward to be Head of Music at FreshAir.org.uk and passing my first year. I still helped put music on the playlist and enjoyed singles by Kaiser Chiefs (Ruby), Just Jack (the irrepressible satire of Starz In Their Eyes), The View (Same Jeans, which chimed with my habit of wearing the same clothes for days), Klaxons (the magnificent Golden Skans), The Fratellis (Whistle For the Choir) and Amy Winehouse (You Know I’m No Good), which are all on the compilation.
Iain Richards, who helped me choose playlist entrants from NOW 91 to 99, is a massive fan of Mika and Justin Timberlake, so the presence of Grace Kelly by the former and What Goes Around…Comes Around by the latter make this NOW compilation, to quote Iain when he played the pair back to back at 7.07pm on Wednesday nights on his radio show, ‘THE BEST ONE EVER!’
Timbaland, who produced the JT track, is a two-timer since he produced the brilliant Say It Right by Nelly Furtado. Beyonce appears again with the box-stacking pop song Irreplaceable (‘to the left, to the left’), as do Eminem, guesting on Smack That by Akon, and Cee Lo, singing the chorus of Lil Star by Kelis. R’n’B-inflected pop was never better.
Catalogue comes from that year’s Comic Relief single, a pointless cover of Walk This Way by Sugababes and Girls Aloud (a good idea on paper), who are both two-timers with, respectively, a song called Easy and a pointless cover of I Think We’re Alone Now. Two covers…Has the Xenomania well run dry?
There is no stopping catalogue in 2007. Eric Prydz returns having somehow been able to convince Pink Floyd to give him the opening line of Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two on Proper Education; Sharam borrow Eddie Murphy’s voice on PATT (Party All The Time); Cascada take Savage Garden’s song Truly Madly Deeply (never on a NOW…) and stick a dance beat under it; Seamus Haji and KayJay take the old disco staple Last Night a DJ Saved My Life and house it up.
Original club songs in 2007 that I wasn’t dancing to were Perfect (Exceeder) by Mason, featuring Princess Superstar banging on about nothing, Boogie 2Nite by Booty Luv, which sounded great on the radio, and The Creeps, another spooky dance tune by Camille Jones and Fedde Le Grand. Also a bloke from Dumfries in Scotland named Adam Wiles announced himself, under the moniker Calvin Harris, with Acceptable in the 80s. Seeking inspiration from that decade, and in particular Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode, Jamelia sounded fab on Beware of the Dog. Going back further to The Sound of Music, Gwen Stefani sang Wind It Up, which always annoyed me but was clever.
JoJo’s run of hits continues with Too Little Too Late – if only she hadn’t fought her record label she would have had a Beyonce-sized career – while Sophie Ellis-Bextor returns with Catch You, which I don’t remember but was written by Cathy Dennis and Greg Kurstin. Sophie married Richard Jones, bassist of The Feeling, whose latest fab hit from the album 12 Stops and Home was Love It When You Call, which adds a key change in the final chorus for good measure and still sounds great.
Other acts returning to NOW 66 are Scissor Sisters (She’s My Man, 99% I’m Still Standing by Elton John which is okay in my book), McFly (with the ballad Sorry’s Not Good Enough), Lily Allen (Alfie, about her brother), Fall Out Boy (This Ain’t a Scene, It’s An Arms Race), The Killers (Read My Mind, one of my least favourite songs of theirs), U2 (Window in the Skies), Razorlight (Before I Fall To Pieces, more of the same), Snow Patrol (Open Your Eyes, dull) and The Ordinary Boys (I Luv U, woeful).
New acts tore through radio playlists to prove that good songs can find an audience. How To Save a Life by The Fray is very soppy but as a song to encourage people to open up, it did its job. Standing in the Way of Control gave the world its first sighting of the incredible Beth Ditto, the plus-size lesbian who made sure the music and the voice took precedence over her plus-size lesbianness (she has since gone solo). Jamie T, from Wimbledon as per his Myspace ID, produced an album full of shouty singalongs like Calm Down Dearest, while a BRIT School graduate called Leona Lewis chanced her arm, won the X Factor and sang the same song Kelly Clarkson had sung when she won American Idol: A Moment Like This. Then she disappeared for a year.
Peter Kay, who became a national treasure in about 2000 and is Britain’s best-loved comic entertainer, popped up again during Comic Relief 2007 with another classic tune. Enlisting The Proclaimers, he took I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) and, in the guise of Brian Potter from Phoenix Nights, was joined by Matt Lucas, playing Andy Pipkin, a fellow wheelchair from the show Little Britain. Once again, Peter Kay had a number one, all for charidee. The clip on Comic Relief was introduced by Chris Evans and Kate Thornton, then Peter and Matt wheel themselves onstage and start singing karaoke in character. Matt offers Andy’s catchphrase ‘yeah I know’ and Peter as Brian shouts ‘CHAKA KHAN!’
As for Amarillo, celebrities watch on, including the following: Pete Waterman, Bob the Builder, one of The Krankies, Bill Oddie, snooker players Willie Thorne and Dennis Taylor, the late Keith Chegwin, Tess Daly and Basil Brush, Timmy Mallett, Claire Grogan, Roy Walker from Catchphrase, Tony Blackburn, Gary Wilmot from Eastenders, Jasper Carrott, Sonia, Status Quo, Des Lynam, David Tennant, Dusty Bin from 3-2-1, Louis Walsh, Frank Sidebottom, Cannon and Ball and Bobby Davro (BOBBY DAVRO!!). David Walliams comes on as Lou, Andy’s carer, to introduce The Proclaimers.
There is a cast list after the video. I failed to spot Bob Carolgees and Spit The Dog, Bucks Fizz, Stan Boardman, David Beckham, ‘Her Off Holby City’, Elton John (I thought it was an impersonator!), Bonnie Langford, ‘Lord Lucan’ (now they’re taking the mickey!!), Terry Nutkins, Shergar (nope, I didn’t see a horse) and Dave Lee Travis. I hope one day instead of Comic Relief the BBC will just put up Peter Kay for a whole day and let him chat and entertain for money. His weddings routine, complete with ‘walking to the dancefloor dance’ and the feeling one gets when YMCA comes on, is among the most joyous pieces of comedy I have ever seen.
Long live Sir Peter Kay (as he will surely be soon), Bolton’s finest citizen (Mark Radcliffe is a close second).