Duffy could have been more than a footnote in UK pop music, but her only number one song Mercy, so addictive and so of the time, remains that. Track 1 of Disc 1 of NOW 69, it took the retro-soul sound of Amy Winehouse and gave it to a Welsh lady whose album Rockferry was produced by the former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler. Mercy was radio-friendly, driven by that four-note riff. It was one of the top tracks of 2008 but Duffy ruined her career, like Kelly Clarkson threatened to, by disobeying the record label and trying to have hits on her own.
Basshunter, with Now You’re Gone, struck gold in both the clubs and on pop radio with a high-BPM tune that revived trance for a new generation complete with shouts of ‘ARE YOU READY?’ The kids were, though I wasn’t dancing in the student union clubs, instead still busy presenting the music team show on Fresh Air up in Edinburgh, when I would put on unsolicited CDs and mp3s and see if they were any good.
I studied music as a minor as part of my degree (40 credits out of 120 every year were dedicated to music courses), learning about J.S. Bach and (my main man, despite being a lady) Hildegard von Bingen, who was big on plainchant in a time before even printing presses. I also joined an orchestra which played music composed by students, full of long notes and dissonance. I preferred pop music still, in particular the Pitchfork-magazine approved sounds of Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend, all on independent labels and nowhere near NOW 69.
Adele from Tottenham appears for the first time with the Eg White co-write Chasing Pavements, the best track from her debut album 19 that kicks off Disc 2. Alicia Keys finally turns up on a NOW with No One, a ballad, while cult pop act Alphabeat, from Denmark, appear with the brilliant Fascination, where a bloke and a woman sang the same note an octave apart. The first NOW appearance from Hot Chip, who took the mantle of ‘quirky nerdy pop act’ from Pet Shop Boys, is Ready For the Floor.
Ryan Tedder two-times on NOW 69 with Stop and Stare, a midtempo ballad, and Apologize, the single which Timbaland included on his album but which gave Ryan his second enormous hit of 2007, after Bleeding Love. A sparse piano-led song which is a post-break-up song about it being ‘too late’ to say sorry (Justin Bieber would take this template in 2015 and run with it all the way to the bank), I never really dug it at the time but Ryan Tedder’s sweet voice sounds brilliant a decade on.
Love is a Losing Game, written by a 22-year-old girl from North London, is one of the finest songs of this century. George Michael recorded a version of it, and it would slot in as a neat bonus track on his album Songs from the Last Century, representing the 2000s. Very few songs on NOW 69 have become standards in the last decade; two past standards on the compilation include a 2008 remix of the Utah Saints track Something Good and a version of When You Believe, written by Stephen Schwartz and first popping up in the Disney film The Prince of Egypt, by Leon Jackson. Pop fans will remember fondly (without looking it up) that telegenic Leon won The X Factor in 2007, defeating the likes of Same Difference and Rhydian, the guy with the hair who sang opera.
Back again for more NOW appearances are Mika (Happy Ending, the album’s big ballad), The Hoosiers (Goodbye Mr A, with the lyric ‘if life is subtraction, your number is up’), The Feeling (I Thought It Was Over, from their difficult second album, influenced by disco), Shayne Ward (Breathless, co-written by three Swedes including Savan Kotecha and Rami Yacoub, on which our Shayne hits a very high note indeed), Bloc Party (Flux, influenced by disco), Amy McDonald (This is the Life, not influenced by disco), Kate Nash (Pumpkin Soup, fun as ever) and Scouting For Girls (Elvis Ain’t Dead, and nor is the formula).
Girls Aloud return with Call The Shots, another classic from Xenomania which features the famous ‘millennial whoop’ of the third and fifth notes of a triad rotated briefly in the chorus, while Nickelback annoyed millions with their satirical song Rockstar. Booty Luv deserved a bigger hit with Some Kinda Rush, a brilliant song even I would have danced to.
Otherwise dance-pop came in the form of Heartbroken (T2 ft Jodie Aysha), What’s It Gonna Be (H “two” O ft Platnum) and What Hurts the Most, a song taken into the UK charts by Cascada following success in the country and pop charts when sung, respectively, by Rascal Flatts and Jo O’Meara from S Club 7.
Intelligent pop came from Robyn, whose song Be Mine! (with an exclamation mark!) is a kiss-off song to rival those of Pink, and Kylie Minogue, who co-wrote Wow with Greg Kurstin and Karen Poole (again, I only mention the names because they deserve as much credit as the performer). Sara Cox uses the song in the jingle to her famous ‘Half Wow-our’ on BBC Radio 2. American DJ Bobby Bones likes to ‘appreciate’ his listeners and plays the irritating hit Crank That (Soulja Boy), credited to Soulja Boy Tell’em, when he does so, as in ‘I appreciate YOUUUUU’. The song is rubbish, but it got people cranking it in the early months of 2008. The financial markets would crash in September, but I don’t think Soulja Boy Tell’em was to blame. Almost as bad was Heater by Samim, possibly the only hit this century with the accordion as a lead instrument.
Ten points to you if you bought or remember Just For Tonight by One Night Only (landfill indie by numbers, unfortunately) or Sun Goes Down by David Jordan, produced by the great Trevor Horn with an Eastern flavour. Meanwhile, a man called Poo Bear co-wrote Work with Kelly Rowland, while Mary J Blige was Just Fine on a song co-written by the chaps who wrote Umbrella for Rihanna. In the UK, Jay Sean returned with Ride It and Taio Cruz enlisted Luciana to help him with Come On Girl. Fun fact, thanks to the inlay booklet: Taio co-wrote Your Game for Will Young, a song never on a NOW.
The most interesting use of catalogue is Don’t Stop The Music, another Stargate special which takes Wanna Be Startin’ Something by Michael Jackson and puts a Rihanna song about love and stuff over the top of it. In second place is The Journey Continues, which featured on the advert for a famous bank (one that survived the crash) in 2008 and uses ‘the classical piece Eliza Aria from Wild Swans’ (thanks inlay booklet) and adds, of all people, Sarah Cracknell from Saint Etienne.
Goldfrapp go lowkey with A&E, which follows a song from the third version of Sugababes, Mutya having been replaced by the magnificently named (imagine Peter Dickson from The X Factor announcing her) AMELLE BERABBAH. At the end of NOW 69 is the 2007 Children in Need single, a version of What a Wonderful World performed by the living Katie Melua and the non-living Eva Cassidy, two acts bigged up by DJ Terry Wogan. For a fun laugh, go here to hear what the Togmeister would have sounded like on pirate radio.