Over Christmas 2014 I had finally found a decent, paying job, proofreading eBooks for a company which went bankrupt in 2018 (good because they forgot to pay me in June 2016 without due reason, bad because people had to get new jobs). I spent the days in front of a laptop checking that a word document matched the original scan of a physical book. Mum also found a gentleman who quickly made his home in the house in which Mum was letting me live. To give her space, I spent more time with Amanda, working on podcasts and essays for my website and watching How I Met Your Mother which was a legen – wait for it – DARY show. I identified with Ted Mosby, played by Josh Radnor, who spent nine series outlining to his kids how he met their mother while working to become a top architect. As for Barney Stinson, wearing great suits and talking like a bro, he was an over-the-top idiot and a great sitcom character which brought the brilliant Neil Patrick Harris into my orbit; he ended up hosting the American version of Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.
Pop from the latter half of 2014 is present on NOW 89. One Direction bang on about how nobody is gonna steal their girl on Steal My Girl (Hector/Drewett/Bunetta/Ryan/Tomlinson/Payne), while 5 Seconds of Summer have Amnesia, the one co-written with the Madden brothers from Good Charlotte. Olly Murs enlists Travie McCoy for help on the funky Wrapped Up (someone’s been listening to Get Lucky), while fellow X Factor runner-up Ella Henderson has her second big hit with Glow, written by Steve Mac and Camille Purcell. After my long exegesis on female songwriters, here’s one in the flesh.
Camille was profiled on the BBC website in June 2018 under the headline ‘The stockbroker who writes hits for Little Mix and Jess Glynne’. Having had her first hit with What About Us, the number one from The Saturdays, she then helped out on The X Factor as a vocal coach (‘Give the audience what they want’ advised Simon Cowell, in a break from counting his money). Camille wrote Black Magic, Power, Shout Out to my Ex and Love Me Like You for Little Mix, Sax for Fleur East and You Don’t Know Love, the best song from Olly Murs. In 2018 alone Camille had had consecutive number ones with I’ll Be There (Jess Glynne) and Solo (Clean Bandit featuring by Demi Lovato). Whatever she’s doing, it’s working.
Katy Perry should also be applauded as a songwriter, and she teams up with Max Martin on This Is How We Do, the fifth single from her album Prism and another hook-filled sugar rush of a song rather ruined by some choices of percussion. Max and Savan Kotecha team up with an exciting new name whose career I am following with interest: Zedd, who takes his name from Zaslavski, his surname, seems to have a hit with every song he releases and his first one was the enormous Break Free, with the vocals of Ariana Grande.
Max completes yet another hat-trick (he is truly the Lionel Messi of pop music) on Bang Bang, the enormous song based on one chord (C major) featuring Jessie J, the two-timing Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj. Nicki two-times with her booty-shaking song Anaconda, which follows Black Widow, a song written by Stargate, Katy Perry and Benny Blanco, wrapped up in a bow and gifted to Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora.
Meghan Trainor made a virtue of having a bigger bum than other popstars and wrote All About That Bass with Kevin Kadish. Who knew that people with big tushes need to ‘shake it, shake it’ sometimes; an inspired idea, the song topped the charts in the US for eight weeks, in the UK for four weeks and was number one in Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Spain and Switzerland. She need never work again; check out her song The Road Less Traveled, written with her pal and American Idol runner-up and huge voice Lauren Alaina. I am surprised Lauren has not been drafted in on a dance hit herself; she has one of the best voices in all popular music.
All About That Bass kicks off NOW 89, the playlist choice for which is a piano-led song that was a US Rock number 1 for Irishman Andrew Hozier-Byrne, recording as Hozier. The piano dominates the opening verse, with lyrics about a woman whose Sundays get ‘more bleak’. The word ‘amen’ is used as a bridge before a huge chorus that slowly swept across the world as the song became a sleeper hit, a ‘terrific two’ in both the UK and US. Like Somebody That I Used To Know it was unusual and always stood out on radio.
The radio pumped out the jams of summer 2014, which saw the England football team failing to get out of a tough World Cup group: Changing, sung by Paloma Faith and produced by Sigma, was written by five writers including Wayne Hector and Ella Eyre; Lilly Wood and Robin Schulz teamed up on Prayer in C; Clean Bandit and Jess Glynne reunited on the fab Real Love; and on Fireball, John Ryan stepped out of the writer’s room and onto the mic to help Senor Worldwide keep doing his thing (did nobody else want to work with Pitbull?).
Moving on from a featured appearance with Pitbull, G.R.L. used a ukulele and a Mumford beat on their song Ugly Heart, another song whose top line was written by Ester Dean, Camille’s fellow female songwriter (I hate to define by gender but I must). Dr Luke produced the song; in 2014 he was being sued by Ke$ha for various crimes including sexual assault. He was cleared of all charges.
Fuse ODG enlisted Angel to sing on T.I.N.A., which stands for This Is New Africa, while African sounds came from Nico & Vinz, two Austrian blokes, with their song Am I Wrong (which, by the way, is a very annoying turn of phrase, almost as irritating as putting ‘no?’ instead of ‘right?’ after a statement). Popcaan, a dancehall artist from Jamaica, introduced himself on the track Kisses For Breakfast by Melissa Steel, which is a great image with excellent nutritional value (sort of). The song contained the bajon beat – boom, BAH BAH – that would dominate pop music for the next few years.
Also introducing herself via a feature is Tori Kelly, who sings the hook on the elegant Lullaby by Professor Green, who was famous for marrying Millie from the TV show Made In Chelsea (they later divorced) and presenting a well-received documentary on mental health issues for the BBC. Cheryl (still one name) was as famous for being on TV and marrying a man called Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini (they later divorced) as she was for her music; Crazy Stupid Love nonetheless became another hit for Cheryl (infamous for hitting a toilet attendant but nobody talks about that), with Tinie Tempah popping up too.
The movie of the year was The Fault in our Stars, based on a novel about kids with cancer. The soundtrack sold well and propelled Boom Clap by Charli XCX to the upper reaches of the chart. The earworm of the year was a light ska-pop tune by Canadian band MAGIC! Their song Rude was about a guy asking a girlfriend’s dad for her hand in marriage and being rejected: how rude!!
So many old friends return: Calvin Harris was all over the radio with Blame, sung by John Newman; David Guetta was too, with Lovers on the Sun, sung by Sam Martin and co-written by Avicii; and Nicole Scherzinger had Your Love, written by the blokes who wrote Umbrella for Rihanna. The Script (Superheroes, all over radio), George Ezra (Blame It On Me, irritating) and The Veronicas (You Ruin Me, an attempt to bottle the vibe of Someone Like You) have more hits.
Club hits which sounded great on the radio included the piano house banger My Head is a Jungle (Wankelnut & Emma Louise, remixed by MK), Sunlight (The Magician, featuring Years & Years, on whom more shortly), Walking With Elephants (Ten Walls, from Lithuania, in a track which used trumpet-like synth stabs to allude to the title) and Giant in my Heart (Kiesza, a euphoric break-up song). Won’t Look Back, co-produced with Jax Jones, was the third banger in a row for Adam Dyment aka Duke Dumond. Faded was allegedly by a chap named Steve Zhu who recorded as ZHU; at the time, the inlay booklet for NOW 89 says he or she has remained anonymous. In February 2015 it was revealed that he really was Steve Zhu, who also sang on the track!
Ryan Tedder helps Maroon 5 do whatever the label tells them to do with Maps, produced by Benny Blanco and Noel Zancanella, another big name in songwriting this decade. In his other job, Ryan’s band OneRepublic have a hit with Love Runs Out, though Maroon 5 had now usurped OneRepublic as the key band in American pop.
NOW 89 contains six bits of catalogue. Jeremih featuring YG’s track Don’t Tell ‘Em had both the ‘ey!’ sound that was all over hiphop at the time and an interpolation of Snap’s Rhythm is a Dancer. It was co-produced by DJ Mustard, a big name on the scene. The Vamps introduced the world to teenage Vine star Shawn Mendes (whose videos lasted six seconds) on Oh Cecilia (Breaking My Heart), which took the Simon & Garfunkel song and ran with it. Parra For Cuva (an awful name, perhaps on purpose) did the same with the Chris Isaak song Wicked Game, retitling it Wicked Games and getting Anna Naklab to purr it.
Proving that his misdemeanours were no barrier to his music being sampled, R Kelly’s song Bump & Grind is remixed by Waze & Odyssey in a very irritating manner that highlighted the line ‘my mind’s telling me no but my body’s telling me yes’. This sounds as blackly comic as Jimmy Savile going ‘Now then, now then’, which would be a dance music song that can never be played; Jimmy, who was the first DJ in Britain if not the world, has been airbrushed from popular culture, a fate that may befall R Kelly just as it has befallen the likes of Gary Glitter, Phil Spector and Jonathan King.
The 2014 John Lewis advert was soundtracked by Tom Odell warbling a John Lennon song called Real Love, which was released by The Beatles in 1997 to promote their Anthology package. The Children In Need single was from Saint Gareth Malone and his All Star Choir, who sang a new version of Avicii’s Wake Me Up. The Choir includes the likes of Mel Giedroyc (Mel from The Great British Bake Off), Craig Revel Horwood (off of Strictly), Larry Lamb, former footballer Fabrice Muamba, comic Jo Brand, Gareth himself and TV presenter John Craven.
Ed from Suffolk, perhaps the most successful name in the 2010s, is on a third NOW in succession with his song Don’t, written with Benny Blanco and rumoured to be about Ellie Goulding sleeping with a member of One Direction instead of him. I love the allusion to Don’t Mess With My Man by Lucy Pearl, written by Raphael Saadiq. I also remember hearing I’m Not the Only One by Sam Smith for the first time after I visited my Grandpa in hospital and telling my mum it would be the big hit song. Stay With Me was the award-winner, but I love the structure and melody on a very sad song.
Grandpa (Jack Malcolm Conley) died in September 2014, three weeks before he would have turned 80. His beloved Man United won their 20th English title in May 2013. They haven’t won one since.