NOW 67: Rihanna featuring Jay Z – Umbrella

Summer 2007 was long for me. I had no job in the break between first and second year, no desire to do an unpaid placement at some bank and thus had no clue what to do. I thus caught up with Hollywood movies, watching as many as 20 classics a week. The Shawshank Redemption was the best. I ought to have really been outside but, handily, a song reminds me how wet it was.

Eventually finding its way to Rihanna, Umbrella (‘ella, ella’) was sung every time it rained. I cannot believe it took 55 years of the UK charts for a song called Umbrella to hit number one, but here it was. It remains a high point of pop music in the first decade of this century, a perfect song with a minimal beat, some synths, a magnificent middle eight and Jay-Z popping up with some rapping. Adeel Amini, who helped me pick playlist tracks from NOW 67 all the way to NOW 82 and edits, changed my mind on many of my choices but not Umbrella.

One thing to notice on NOW 67 is the collaborations. Timbaland finally has a go at being in front of the camera rather than behind it, taking the second verse of a song called Give It To Me which features Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake: ‘Remember how I helped you have some hits? It’s your turn now…’ Stargate help both Ne-Yo with Because Of You, which is 99% Michael Jackson (no bad thing) and Beyonce and Shakira on Beautiful Liar, which is known in the trade as an ‘event single’. Humorously, Amanda Ghost, a songwriter I admire who also works in an executive role at a major label, is credited on Beautiful Liar.

Elsewhere, Fergie enlists the help of Ludacris on Glamorous and Akon goes ‘woo-hoo!’ on The Sweet Escape, an amazing piece of pop from Gwen Stefani that jumped out of Fresh Air in 2007 when I was Head of Music in charge of the playlist committee. Akon is a two-timer with the lewd I Wanna Love You (the album version has him doing something ruder than ‘love’) with the purring of Snoop Dogg, who was putting ‘izzle’ on the end of every word at the time. Irritatizzling.

Contemporary singer-songwriters included Snow Patrol, with a dull song called Signal Fire that featured on a Spiderman movie, and The Twang, who bellowed laddishly through Either Way. The most pleasing appearances on NOW 67 come from two heritage acts, though I hasten to call Manic Street Preachers heritage in 2007 as they had only been active 15 years. They are back in the top three with the ‘terrific two’ Your Love Alone is Not Enough, helped by Nina Persson of the Cardigans on a song written by Nicky Wire about his old friend Richey Edwards, who disappeared in 1994 and in 2007 was still missing presumed dead. Paul McCartney is in wistful mood with a song featuring the mandolin as the lead instrument and a video starring Mackenzie Crook (Gareth from The Office) as a postman; I always loved Dance Tonight, another hit song for Paul, who was 65 years old when NOW 67 emerged.

Jellyfish, a band heavily influenced by The Beatles, were Tom Fletcher’s latest musical touchstone, and Baby’s Coming Back went all the way to number one to give the mighty early-nineties power-poppers a UK number one composition via a straight cover by McFly. The band were entering their difficult era, as described in the band’s memoir Unsaid Things, which documents the ups and downs of being in a successful boyband.

Mutya Buena from Sugababes went solo in 2007 with a stunning piece of pop called Real Girl which takes its musical cue from It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over by Lenny (Leonard!) Kravitz. Elsewhere in catalogue, I remember playing Gym Class Heroes on Fresh Air, with a song that is entirely credited to Supertramp thanks to them rapping Cupid’s Chokehold over their song Breakfast in America, and I was also a fan of Mark Ronson’s Version project, where he added horn sections to classics hits such as Stop Me by The Smiths, which vocalist Dan Merriweather ‘made his own’, to use cliched X Factor parlance.

Klaxons, meanwhile, took the UK Album of the Year for a J.G. Ballard-inspired album Myths of the Near Future, which featured an indie-disco cover of It’s Not Over Yet, co-written by DJ Paul Oakenfold. I think it is one the high points of the indie-dance scene of the years between 1990 and 2010. Booty Luv take Jam & Lewis and CHIC and release a new version of the Luther Vandross song Shine. I didn’t know that, but the inlay booklet is full of factoids, including that the two girls of Booty Luv used to be in Big Bruvas, who once put out a garage-pop version of My Favourite Things from The Sound of Music (not on a NOW).

Other top dance music tracks in the clubs in summer 2007 were Destination Calabria (Alex Gaudino ft Crystal Waters) and Bigger Than Big (Super Mal ft. Luciana). If you remember What Am I Fighting For by Unklejam and Here (In Your Arms) by Hellogoodbye, you will remember the trend for dance-led pop. Groove Armada did this best, and featured Stush and Red Rat on Get Down, a song that sounded huge on the radio. Calvin Harris continued his early run of his with The Girls, in which he purred that he liked all kinds of girls, a true equal-opportunities lothario. It seemed ironic, whereas now it would be creepy and not get anywhere near the radio. It was a simpler, happier time…

Linda Perry again helps Christina Aguilera on the retro-sounding Candyman, Dr Luke helps Avril Lavigne to a huge number one, Girlfriend, and Justin Timberlake two-times with Love Stoned/ I Think She Knows, from his big-selling second album Futuresex/Lovesounds. Amerie’s ace song Take Control was co-written by Cee-Lo, who probably never had to work again after Crazy.

Mika, meanwhile, writes Love Today on his own, as does quirky popstar Kate Nash, from Harrow, with her fun first single Foundations. The two share space on Disc 1 with Take That (Shine, sung by Mark), Kelly Clarkson (the average Never Again, the only hit from her third album My December), Natasha Bedingfield (the curious I Wanna Have Your Babies) and Robin Thicke, whose song Lost Without U was a slow jam that would have been his career highlight if he hadn’t got greedy in about 2013 and ruined his career with a lecherous song that seems even worse today.

The compilers of NOW 67 welcome back Amy Winehouse (Back to Black), The Fray (Over My Head (Cable Car)), Fall Out Boy (Thnks Fr Th Mmrs, a stupid title), Paolo Nutini (New Shoes), The Chemical Brothers (the insistent Do It Again) and Jamie T, whose song Sheila is about a girl who exhibits laddish tendencies.

Maroon 5, with the discotastic Makes Me Wonder, are high up Disc 2. Maroon 5 are one of those bands with both eyes on the bottom line: what music can I make, thinks singer Adam Levine, that will keep me pratting about on stages around the world? Whatever sounds current is the Maroon 5 sound. I have to admire their acumen, if not their music. Enrique Iglesias also follows the dicta of his record company, here recording a song called Do You Know which features ping-pong ball percussion, hence its subtitle The Ping Pong Song.

The NME, fresh with subscribers following the rise of guitar-led bands from Sheffield like Arctic Monkeys, approved of the message of John McClure, part of guitar-led band from Sheffield Reverend & The Makers. Last spotted playing the festival dedicated to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the band’s first single Heavyweight Champion of the World caught the moment and sounds a lot like 2007.


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