NOW 68: Leona Lewis – Bleeding Love

If anyone can challenge Max Martin and Dr Luke as kings of the post-Xenomania era of pop, it is Ryan Tedder, a sort of Neymar figure to Max and Luke’s Messi and Ronaldo.

In 2008, Ryan was the hottest star in pop, both behind the mic and in front of it. His track Bleeding Love, co-written with forgotten star Jesse McCartney, was chosen to launch Leona Lewis after her 2006 X Factor win. It remains an enormous song, track 1 on Disc 1 of NOW 68, which was also a rare American number one hit for a UK act. It is the correct NOW playlist choice, full of church-like organ and vocals delivered near the top of Leona’s range.

I didn’t know that Ryan also wrote the insistent Do It Well for Jennifer Lopez (thanks inlay booklet), or that Cathy Dennis and Dr Luke co-wrote About You Now, an indestructible banger from Sugababes that they took to number one. At this stage, anything Dr Luke did turned to hit; his fellow Swede Robyn returned to the charts in a big way with her song With Every Heartbeat, remixed by Kleerup and heading right to the top of the UK charts. Robyn had worked with Max Martin in the 1990s; a decade on, with Swedish pop having transformed the sound of popular music, she was in a perfect position to purr on a track that Adeel Amini and I agreed didn’t really have a chorus. Max is present on NOW 68 with No U Hang Up, a song given to Leona’s fellow (2005) X Factor winner Shayne Ward and featuring the falsetto techniques of r’n’b which Max and mate Savan Kotecha had absorbed.

Astoundingly, NOW 68 celebrates music that in 2018 is ten years old: Rule The World by Take That, a single from the movie Stardust; the Xenomania-produced Sexy! No No No by Girls Aloud; the whistle-tastic, sync-friendly Young Folks, by Peter, Bjorn and John featuring Victoria Bergsman from a band I loved, The Concretes; and a track which must have bought writer Tom Higgenson a house, Hey There Delilah by Plain White T’s, a track made for montage videos of summer romances that sounds painfully like summer 2007.

I preferred ‘landfill indie’, as the genre was termed by the great Word magazine critic Andrew Harrison, over wet acoustic pop. Every successful musical idea becomes a trend, and thanks to the mid-2000s bands like Arctic Monkeys (still not on a NOW), a host of other bands popped up with what critic Rachel Aroesti in the Guardian called ‘angular, jangly guitars plus big riffs plus amusingly pretentious lyricism (and hair)’. I loved Worried About Ray by The Hoosiers and, before I got tired of it, She’s So Lovely by Scouting for Girls, whose formula was staccato lyrics and chanted choruses that repeated the title.

Kylie Minogue’s song 2 Hearts is fantastic, as she commemorates 20 years of being a pop princess with yet another fine song. Karen Poole writes another hit, this time along with Groove Armada, who draft in Mutya to sing Song 4 Mutya (Out of Control). Rihanna’s very un-RiRi-like Shut Up and Drive (which sampled Blue Monday by New Order) could have been by anyone, as could The Way I Are, another Timbaland special from his album Shock Value which featured scant vocals from Keri Hilson, who also (thanks inlay booklet again!) wrote Gimme More for Britney Spears. Britney was undergoing what comedian Alex Horne called a ‘mental safari’ in 2007, with public breakdowns that put more focus on her life than on her music; her fifth album Blackout was a big release that year.

Pete Doherty, another mental safari tourist, had formed the band Babyshambles but the only allusion to the former Libertine (who headlines the Blackthorn music festival near Manchester this summer) is on Mr Rock & Roll by Scottish singer Amy McDonald, which I never liked but many thousands did. My rocking lady was KT Tunstall, whose second album kicked off with the excellent Hold On. Amy Winehouse correctly released Tears Dry on their Own, probably my song of 2007, as the next hit from Back to Black, though she is forced to credit Ashford & Simpson, who wrote Ain’t No Mountain High Enough from which Amy borrows (or steals, as great artists tend to do).

Catalogue plays a big role in the music of 2007. Kanye West starts his Imperial Phase with Stronger, a UK number one which samples Harder Better Faster Stronger by Daft Punk and includes the affirmation that he ‘would do anything for a blonde dyke’, though the slur is omitted on the single version. His third album was bigger than his first two, and I prefer his ‘college’ trilogy (The College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation) to the more abrasive second trilogy (808s and Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Yeezus – Watch the Throne with Jay-Z is I think classed separately).

Following Kanye are two more sample-tastic tunes: Beautiful Girls by Sean Kingston is a rap by a teenager over Stand By Me (another JR Rotem special), while Craig David returns with Hot Stuff (Let’s Dance), a song that brings together David Bowie’s old CHIC-produced classic, Craig’s silky vocals and the great producer Fraser T Smith, who helped Stormzy become a huge star a decade later and, as we shall discover, is responsible for many more hit songs.

The big hit from Mark Ronson’s Version project brought back the cast of Back to Black: the Dap Horns parped while Amy Winehouse purred, and Dave McCabe’s Valerie, an already classic song by his band The Zutons, was repurposed and reworked to become the definitive version. A Youtube clip from 2011 shows Mark and Dave playing the song in Greenwich in honour of Amy; humorously Dave sings ‘stop making a nob out of me’ instead of ‘fool’. Se:Sa turn Groove is in the Heart by Deee-Lite into Like This Like That, and Peter Gelderblom takes By the Way by Red Hot Chilli Peppers and turns it into Waiting 4.

Enrique Iglesias has a hit with a cover of the forgotten song Tired of Being Sorry by the band Ringside, and Akon continues his streak with the silky Don’t Matter. It helped that he was attractive but, above all, the songs sounded great on radio. Nicole Scherzinger and Will.je.suis (I mean Will.i.am) team up on Baby Love, the Pussycat Doll’s tender first single; the pair of them would both be TV talent show judges and maximise their talents by spouting bizarre catchphrases like ‘Schermazing’ and going off on prosaic tangents about the power of music. I wonder how big their houses are…

Original dance music which helped pack European clubs in summer 2007 comes from two of the big guys. Axwell’s magnificent I Found U proves that Swedes can now do club-friendly music too – Axwell would form Swedish House Mafia in the 2010s – and David Guetta brings his Gallic touch to Love Is Gone, featuring superb Chicago house-inspired vocals by Chris Willis. Freemasons returned with Uninvited, Freaks take the addictive song The Creeps to the top ten, while Ida Corr and Fedde Le Grand produce a ‘terrific two’ (stuck behind Sugababes) called Let Me Think About It, which still sounds annoying ten years on.

Original pop music came from Newton Faulkner, recently seen in the Green Day musical American Idiot. In 2007 he and his dreadlocks were all over commercial radio thanks to the wistful Dream Catch Me. I attended my first music festival in September 2007 up in Scotland and was sad my brother Rich wasn’t there to see Newton with me (he was on the continent with his then girlfriend). I did enjoy sets from Bjork, Hot Chip, Modest Mouse (with a cool Johnny Marr on guitar and the rain pelting down), Beastie Boys and Primal Scream, and bellowed along to Teenage Fanclub’s jangly pop (never on a NOW, despite being on the same label as Oasis and Primal Scream).

By 2007, The Killers were able to put out an album of B-sides and rarities, though I never liked Tranquilize, their duet with Lou Reed. Far more fun are the ‘big girl’ pair of songs which, stupidly, are not placed together: Mika’s Big Girl (You Are Beautiful) and the smooth Big Girls Don’t Cry by Fergie prove that pop can make you dance and think. James Blunt, who returns with 1973 in a brief break from counting his money, makes the listener feel nostalgic, even if the song is poor.

Feist, with the mighty 1234, announces herself via an Apple advert while someone in a gorilla costume drumming to In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins helped bring Phil back into the pop charts, proving once again that retro classic plus charming advert equals hit. Lots of chocolate bars fell off the shelves.

While I was plodding through my second year at Edinburgh, with a two-hour Fresh Air show on Tuesday afternoons called From Our Own Music Correspondents, Tom Fletcher was writing another top three hit. The inlay booklet says he had ‘co-written nine UK number one singles and he is still only 22 years old’; his band’s Hits collection included a lovely piano-led Barlow-y ballad called The Heart Never Lies. Other ballads included When You’re Gone by Avril Lavigne, It Means Nothing by Stereophonics (reverting to type) and Home by Westlife.

Michael Buble was everywhere with his sub-Sinatra schtick in 2007, but it was Westlife who appear on NOW 68 with his song Home to become (ugh) their ‘21st consecutive top five single’, which they covered in a crunk style (nope, straight ballad even wetter than the original). They are nothing if not consistent.

 

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