NOW 79: Adele – Someone Like You

And to think I wanted to put in Party Rock Anthem before Adeel Amini sensibly whacked me over the head.

Here is the most amazing stat about Someone Like You, written by Adele with Dan Wilson of Semisonic. Never before on the US Hot 100 had a song which was just piano and vocals gone to number one; not Billy Joel, not Paul McCartney, not George Michael, not Elton John. Adele from Tottenham achieved the feat, which ushered in many more piano-and-vocal ballads in the 2010s.

Chris Molanphy, who writes a column about why songs get to the top of the US charts for Slate magazine, labelled it the first of many songs with the label New Stark. All Of Me by John Legend, When I Was Your Man by Bruno Mars and Stay by Rihanna, co-written by a man Adeel spoke to for a PressPlayOK podcast called Mikky Ekko, followed.

Adele is by some distance the popstar of the 2010s, with apologies to Swift, West, Bieber, Beyonce, Obama and Sheeran. She didn’t just have one multiplatinum album in several markets, but two; she also became a mum, a wife (to an entrepreneur) and a member of the top tax bracket, about which she moaned with some justification. She headlined Glastonbury, recorded a Bond theme and became, very rapidly, a National Treasure. Someone Like You, performed at the 2011 BRIT Awards, was her breakthrough moment and I watched it in a flat in Edinburgh with my friends Brett and Alex. I knew it was good but I had no idea it would elevate her to superstardom. I don’t think she did either. My friend Paul has a fun anecdote about seeing a Jamie T gig when the performer had to deal with his friend’s drunken heckling. Adele has swapped one life for another, the life of a mother.

I had an idea in 2014 to write a jukebox musical called Someone Like You, including the best British pop music from my lifetime. It’s on the back burner – Max Martin: The Musical takes priority – but I think songs by The Verve, Oasis, Pulp, Blur, Girls Aloud and others would make a great story.

Pop music in 2011 is represented on NOW 79, which is the summer release. I was up in Edinburgh, about to cover the Fringe as a freelance journalist, and also visited America in the last time I left the UK (I hate air travel). I also broke up for good with that girl I was telling you about, realising I was not ready to love someone without conditions (conditions are the best part!).

Ed from Suffolk appears with his Ivor Novello Award-winning song The A Team, a deliberately simple song about people who live on the streets, feed a nasty habit and find it ‘too cold outside for angels to fly’. Ed’s style is unique and would soon conquer first arenas then stadiums, in a genre which has been called ‘Stadium Busker’. Coldplay, who also bothered stadiums in the 2010s, return to a NOW with Every Teardrop is a Waterfall, featuring the line ‘I’d rather be a comma than a full stop’, which is quite a good line. Coldplay moved into the ‘stadium dance’ era of their career, with a focus on programmed sounds. They would get help from Swedes on future albums but Mylo Xyloto (stupid title) had them working again with Brian Eno, who used ambient sounds in 1977 and created the genre of chillout or ambient music.

One of Take That’s best singles, Love Love, came from an extended version of their album Progress;  Gary seems to be doing a Robbie impression, which is fun for old fans of Take That. Other UK acts include Scouting For Girls (Love How It Hurts), The Saturdays (Notorious, not the Duran Duran song), The Wanted (Glad You Came, music for clubbers) and Yasmin (on her own this time with Finish Line).

The strangest use of catalogue on NOW 79 award goes to Jason Derulo, who quotes Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat song on Don’t Wanna Go Home. Silver goes to Jennifer Lopez, who puts a dance beat underneath the Lambada to create On The Floor, featuring Senor Worldwide. Bronze goes to Birdy, a teenager who covered Bon Iver’s song Skinny Love on a piano, with an honourable mention to Californian rapper Mann, who enlists both 50 Cent and I Can’t Wait by Nu Shooz on Buzzin’.

I have just discovered, thanks to the alumnus magazine with old boy Michael Harwood, that the band Ultra went to my old school in the late 1980s. They had hits in 1998 with Say You Do, Say It Once, Rescue Me and The Right Time, and I never knew that the same hall I took my violin exams also resounded with the early music of Ultra. A fellow music block user was Joe Ray, who was in the top year when I was 13 and in Year 9.

Joe teamed up with a fellow called Dan Stephens to form NERO, who were inspired by dance music and jungle. In 2011, their song Guilt appears on NOW 79 from the UK number one album Welcome Reality, which would be described as Electronic Dance Music and is led by a fine vocal by Alana Watson. The next single Promises was a UK number one and NERO later won a GRAMMY Award for a collaboration on a remix of the song with Skrillex, a dance producer with a stupid haircut. I don’t think any Merchant Taylors’ old boy has both a UK number one song and a GRAMMY apart from Joe Ray. Fellow alumni of the school include MP for Rutland Sir Alan Duncan, Nobel laureate and molecular biologist Sir John Sulston, actor Rizwan ‘Riz’ Ahmed who was one of TIME Mazagine’s People of the Year 2017 and my friend Alastair Vettese, who is now a trainee corporate lawyer and once scored 100% in a Latin exam, the cad.

I don’t think Alastair needs a dollar. Aloe Blacc’s song I Need a Dollar chimed with the times as he adjusted Brother Can You Spare a Dime for inflation and put some nifty horns on a track sung competently. Bruno Mars, meanwhile, didn’t ‘feel like doing anything’ on The Lazy Song (a song that a friend told me someone once started whistling during an act of love-making!), while Katy Perry was busy recovering from a party on Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.), another Max & Luke classic that included the lyric: ‘That was such an epic fail!’

On a song that only becomes irritating in its final minute (‘switch up!’), The Black Eyed Peas return (hooray) with Just Can’t Get Enough, which is not the Vince Clarke song but one co-written with Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins, the Eusebio of pop. (I still haven’t found a Maradona…Maybe Phil Spector.) Cee-Lo Green is present with I Want You (Hold On To Love), which sounds a lot like a lost Stevie Wonder song and was written with Fraser T Smith, seemingly the David Beckham of pop who is now guiding the likes of Raye, Dave and Stormzy as they navigate the choppy waters of British pop. David Beckham owns a football team and has married to Victoria for 19 years. He need never work again.

Chanteuses on NOW 79 included Jessie J (Nobody’s Perfect), Rihanna (California King Bed) and Nicole Scherzinger (Don’t Hold Your Breath). Lady Gaga’s Born This Way is 100% Express Yourself by Madonna, with a to-the-barricades middle eight which spoke to ‘gay, straight or bi’ listeners. It sounded cynical but she carries it with enough heart to pull it off; I don’t like songs which start with a parent giving advice, as Born This Way does, and I prefer Bad Romance because it is in no way preachy. Gaga’s Little Monsters would flock to her live shows, as her Imperial Phase continued with a number one in 22 countries but not the UK, where it became a ‘terrific three’, stuck behind the behemoth Someone Like You. Humorously, Scherzy and Jennifer Lopez did get to number one, as did a song called Party Rock Anthem.

Some songs have one function: to get people dancing. (A second function can be summarised by the word KA-CHIING!) For four weeks in Spring 2011, an irritating squelch dominated music on Radio 1 and it came from descendants of Berry Gordy, founder of Tamla Motown. Redfoo was Berry’s Afro-sporting son while SkyBlu was his grandson, and they concocted a song about having ‘a good time’ which would make a listener lose their mind. I never liked the song, and anyway why were Berry Gordy’s family having to work?! Motown The Musical, about the great man who turns 89 years old in November 2018, is today playing to packed houses in London’s West End.

Other UK number one hits of summer 2011 included Louder, another song beloved by The X Factor and produced by DJ Fresh, who used the vocals of Sian Evans which pumped out of clubs that year. Also on the Ministry of Sound label was Example, with his number one hit Changed the Way You Kissed Me. Senor Worldwide put out a track which piled up Afrojack, Nayer and Ne-Yo; Give Me Everything was a typical club banger that got tushes shaking, as did Mr Saxobeat by Alexandra Stan.

The main takeaway from NOW 79 is the word ‘featuring’. Only seven tracks on Disc 2 are credited to one artist, one of whom is NERO, another Example. Swedish House Mafia (Save The World, with uncredited vocals from John Martin), Inna (Sun Is Up), Wynter Gordon (Dirty Talk, with Jason Derulo taking notes) and Katy B (Broken Record) all offer variations on a theme – club music with a decent vocal – while Nicki Minaj offers the electrifying Super Bass, one of her best singles that places her in the lineage of Queen Latifah and Missy Elliot. It is no surprise that Ester Dean helped her write a brilliant top line (and pops up on backing vocals, I think).

Other dance songs with the formula ‘Producer featuring Vocalist(s)’ include Where Them Girls At (David Guetta with Nicki Minaj and Flo Rida), Sweat (on which Snoop Dogg raps while David Guetta puts a beat under it), Bounce (Calvin Harris with Kelis, an irresistible hook recycled 50 times), What a Feeling (Alex Gaudino with Kelly Rowland), How We Roll (Loick Essien and Tanya Lacey), Beautiful People (on which Chris Brown is the lead artist and Benny Benassi the featured act) and Hitz, a collaboration between Chase & Status and Tinie Tempah with the line ‘she called me chauvinistic but she can’t even spell it’. Tinie two-times as a guest on Bass Down Low by DEV ft The Cataracs.

Even hiphop acts are featuring on each other’s records. The match all UK fans of urban-tinged pop demanded finally comes together as Dappy and Tinchy Stryder blether on a track called Spaceship. Far better is Unorthodox by Wretch 32 featuring two-timing Example. A smart sample of Fool’s Gold by The Stone Roses underscores a confident song that sounds great today and seems to lean towards ‘indie-rap’. Badman Riddim (Jump) is by Vato Gonzalez ft Foreign Beggars, another song that is more Zumba routine than pop song.

NOW compilers often end discs with ballads that don’t have an obvious spot anywhere else. The piano-driven One Big Family by Templecloud, two English producers, completely passed me by at the time but seems timeless; it’s a cover of the ballad by Embrace with vocals from Hannah Symons, and research says it was used to sell fried chicken to families. It makes sense that I never saw it because over summer 2011 I had no TV in my flat. Regardless, I hope Embrace used the money wisely and the well-known establishment run by a Colonel sold lots of fried chicken.

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