NOW 73: Beyonce – Halo

Before I start this essay, I must emphasise that Never Forget You by the Noisettes is one of the best pop songs never to be a number one. It is perfect and was my choice for the playlist track for NOW 73. In the end Adeel Amini flipped a coin to decide which of two tunes went forward. Queen Bey won, as she tends to do.

Ryan Tedder – who also wrote the enormous Battlefield for Jordin Sparks, which is on NOW 73 – proves his genius with a ballad that seems to echo those great songs of the past where the arrangement never gets in the way of the vocal, as on the best Barbra Streisand or Diana Ross classics. On Halo, Beyonce’s walls ‘are tumbling down’ thanks to her angelic partner; she began 2009 at the top of the US chart with a song called Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It). She was well into her Imperial Phase and the one-two punch of that song and Halo cemented her status. Both came from the 2008 album I Am… Sasha Fierce, which coincided with her marriage to Jay-Z and the election of a black President of the USA, Barack Obama, at whose inaugural ball Beyonce played, singing the Etta James song At Last. The era of 2009-2017 is as much Beyonce’s era as Barack Obama’s.

2009 was also the year ‘electronic dance music’ began to explode. The melancholic I Remember by Deadmau5, a guy whose stage costume was a massive mouse’s head, is the penultimate track of NOW 73, and he would earn a lot of money as a DJ and producer as ‘EDM’ became the soundtrack of American popular music.

Of all the people to popularise the genre, however, in the US it was The Black Eyed Peas with the enormous Boom Boom Pow, which was top of the Hot 100 between April 18 and July 11 (12 weeks) before being replaced by another Black Eyed Peas song. In the UK it was Dylan Mills aka Dizzee Rascal. Wiley had worn his Rolex adequately but Dizzee topped the charts with a crazy song called Bonkers which was ginormous thanks to Armand Van Helden’s production and Dizzee banging on about how ‘there’s nothing crazy about me’. Crazy times, crazy songs. Fun fact: both songs in this paragraph were number one for two weeks in the UK.

Elsewhere in music to which to shake one’s tush, the man whom I call Senor Worldwide, Pitbull, has his first of many appearances with I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho). It seemed the world was going to party its austerity away with a Latino sexy guy named after a dog. Freemasons call on Sophie Ellis-Bextor for Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer), and David Guetta enlists Kelly Rowland on When Love Takes Over, one of his many enormous hits, which is a favourite of Adeel’s and caused us to flip a coin to decide which Destiny’s Child lady would go into the NOW playlist.

Summer 2009 was dominated by familiar names: Pink (Please Don’t Leave Me, written with Max Martin), Katy Perry (Waking Up in Vegas, written with Desmond Child who, if Max is Messi, must be a sort of Pele figure), Girls Aloud (Untouchable, Xenomania having another hit), Lily Allen (Not Fair, a 15-rated song about sex with an addictive chorus), Calvin Harris (his first proper club anthem, the number one hit I’m Not Alone), Cascada (the massive number one Evacuate the Dancefloor, with an uncredited rap from Carlprit) and The Saturdays (Work).

Akon two-times on NOW 73 in duets: Stuck With Each Other is a song by Shontelle, while Beautiful is credited to Akon as the lead performer, backed by Colby O’Donis and Kardinal Offishall. Other songs with more than one featured artist include Love Sex Magic (Ciara ft Justin Timberlake, co-written by James Fauntleyroy who was also working with Rihanna in 2009), Kiss Me Thru The Phone (Soulja Boy Tell’em ft Sammie) and Knock You Down (Keri Hilson ft Kanye West and Ne-Yo, on which Kanye was ‘the new Slick Rick’ and referenced Michael Jackson and his ‘real mad’ dad Joseph).

Fellow rapper Flo Rida continues his streak with Sugar, featuring Wynter, which samples Blue (Da Ba Dee) by Eiffel 65. Britney Spears returned with If You Seek Amy (awful title) and Lady Gaga moved to track 1 of Disc 1 with a song about her p-p-Poker Face that is 99% Vogue by Madonna. Madonna turned 50 in 2008 and had released 4 Minutes, another number one song, and an album Hard Candy. Another Best Of, called Celebration, followed in summer 2009.

Alesha Dixon also keeps up her run of hits with Let’s Get Excited, which could have been by anybody and mentions Madonna and her song Into the Groove, as well as a lyric about her being ‘a detective, I’m all over you’. The movie of the year was Slumdog Millionaire, about a poor kid on a TV quiz show (a metaphor for the times), and the song Jai Ho (You Are My Destiny) leapt out of the soundtrack of Danny Boyle’s film and gave The Pussycat Dolls another big hit which went to number one in seven countries and stalled at three in the UK.

The Veronicas came straight out of Australia and offered Untouched, while Agnes Carlsson, recording as Agnes, came from Sweden with Release Me, a song that could still be a hit today. How can those pesky Swedes beat England at their own game (I wrote those words 48 hours before the nation of ABBA played the nation of The Beatles in the quarter-final of the FIFA World Cup 2018!)?

Empire of the Sun were another Australian duo making futuristic pop; We Are the People was a Radio 2 favourite. Nick from the band would form dance act Pnau, who once cut up Elton John songs on a wonderful album. At 61, Elton John himself is credited on the Ironik track Tiny Dancer (Hold Me Closer) which introduced pop fans to Chipmunk, later Chip. ‘Na-na-nye’-ing their way to number one, in a case of musical nominative determinism, was Number One by Tinchy Stryder and N-Dubz. It was co-written and co-produced by Fraser T Smith.

Chip two-times on NOW 73 as he is also here with the ska-rap of Diamond Rings, which in turn introduces the listener to Adele Emeli Sande, a medical student in Scotland who moonlit as a guest vocalist. Emeli revealed that she came up with the vocal hook while doing the housework! She would return to the charts in a few years, and this is a great introduction to her talent. Also popping up for the first of many times on a NOW is Pixie Lott with a sort of teen-pop version of the song Back to Black, Mama Do (Uh Oh, Uh Oh), a UK number one co-written by Phil Thornalley who wrote Torn, the Natalie Imbruglia hit, and who is Bryan Adams’ touring bassist.

The Sound of 2009, according to the BBC’s poll of critics and tastemakers, was a lady called Victoria Hesketh who recorded under the name Little Boots. She was tipped to break big with songs like New in Town, co-written and co-produced by the mighty Greg Kurstin. Florence Welch aka Florence + the Machine showcases her bombast on the song Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up), which is near of Disc 2 and was co-written and co-produced by the mighty Paul Epworth. Both Kurstin and Epworth would work with Adele, whose album 19 kept selling throughout 2009. I find Florence’s voice less impressive than her stage performances but she has cultivated a huge global fanbase. In the algorithm of mighty 2009 pop sung by fab females, In For the Kill by Ellie Jackson aka La Roux is also found, as is Never Forget You by The Noisettes, which I think I mentioned is the year’s best pop song not written by Ryan Tedder.

James Morrison (Please Don’t Stop the Rain, co-written by Ryan who is thus a three-timer on NOW 73), Paulo Nutini (Candy) and Daniel Merriweather (Red, written by Scott McFarnon, nominated for awards with his song Once in a Lifetime, sung by Beyonce) fly the flag for swarthy voiced blokes chasing the same market.

Take That return with Up All Night, sung by Mark Owen, while The Prodigy have another hit with Warrior’s Dance. Kasabian, the sound of Oasis and The Prodigy fighting over the same woman, had their biggest hit yet with Fire, from their third album.

A nice curio closes the compilation. Sigur Ros’s album Takk contained a song about jumping into puddles, Hoppipolla. Eurotrance act Chicane produced a version called Poppiholla, which stands as a reminder to a piece of music which soundtracked many nature documentaries in what was now TV’s Golden Era. Beyonce, as much a visual as musical star, is the era’s greatest pop figure.

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