NOW 91: Little Mix – Black Magic

The inlay booklet to NOW 91, a collection of songs that were huge in the post-Uptown Funk world of summer 2015, contains a double-page computer-generated picture of a series of water slides. Music has always had a social function, be it to soundtrack chattering networkers in a salon in Georgian England, get people through picking cotton in the Deep South or have something to nod along to while taking drugs in the rock era. In 2015, pop music was like a sunhat; you put it on and went outside to play.

There are several big sunhats, or tunes, from summer 2015 here. I recall that Kanye West headlined Glastonbury with his massive ego, England’s Ladies football team lost in the last minute of their World Cup Semi-Final to Japan and I celebrated Watford’s promotion to the Premier League. Otherwise I spent it watching Netflix with Amanda in our four-room flat in South Wimbledon. She wrote chapters of her book and earned no money, I read chapters of books and earned money. It was stressful to deal with a lettings agent rather than a landlord, and I vowed never to rent a property through a lying, deceitful agent who assured me the landlord was in the country and didn’t alert me that workmen would be present for a year building an extension to the law firm we lived above. (I could have chosen to live somewhere else, so on my head be it.) The head of this agency, which was named after a famous South-West London postcode, once accidentally sent me a lewd picture and has been fined for trying to trash another agent’s reputation. All I wanted was a place to live; instead I barely existed and, without warning, my old friend moved back in to stop me enjoying life. There was only room for two in the flat; three was a crowd.

As I continued to write my football book, I listened to lots of music, especially the Radio 1 playlist, which in summer 2015 included tracks written by James Bay (Let It Go), Hozier (Someone New) and J Kash. The funniest pop song of summer 2015 was by LunchMoney Lewis with Bills, co-written by Ross Golan’s great friend Jacob ‘J Kash’ Kasher. The poor chap is hungry but has to ‘work, work, work every day’ to pay all his bills and ‘make sure everybody eats’. The chorus is driven by an infectious piano hook while LunchMoney sold the song and made it his own. I’d put him through to Boot Camp.

J Kash also helped Carly Rae Jepsen follow up Call Me Maybe. He is partly responsible for the electrifying I Really Like You, beloved by my friend Iain Richards. I tasked Iain to help me pick the final ten playlist songs for the NOW playlist. At this point I will thank Fraser McAlpine, Chris Imlach, Polly Holton and Adeel Amini, as well as Iain, for giving up their time to help me in my silly project. You can hear our discussions at

Our playlist choice was from Little Mix, the girlband of the era, stepping into the vacuum created by the departures of Girls Aloud and The Saturdays. Black Magic was the first single from their third album Get Weird; a three-week UK number one, it is 99% Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (I’m not complaining). It is a superb confection written by four writers including Camille Purcell and Ed Drewett, who were essentially staff songwriters for whomever Simon Cowell wanted to make money off. Aston Merrygold from JLS had gone it alone, but Get Stupid is just that.

Iain was only 17 when these songs emerged in summer 2015 but he was a huge pop fan. He also advocated See You Again by Wiz Khalifa, with a hook written and sung by the young music college graduate Charlie Puth. I noted Ross Golan’s successes in the last essay and Ross had Charlie on a great episode of his And The Writer Is… podcast; Charlie sent the song’s demo off to the record label thinking someone like Justin Bieber would record over his part. In the end, they kept it in and See You Again, a song from the seventh Fast & The Furious movie which was released after the death of its star Paul Walker, took over the world after Uptown Funk. It stayed at the top of the US Hot 100 for six weeks before being displaced for a week by Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar – thanks to the release of the video of Bad Blood, featuring Taylor’s ‘squad’ of women – then reigning at the top for six more weeks. Thus it topped the charts for 12 weeks and became the American version of the Robbie Williams song Angels.

Then came six weeks (interrupted by Max Martin and his friend Abel Tesfaye, more on whom next time) of Cheerleader, remixed by Felix Jaehn and sung brilliantly by Jamaican singer OMI. The song had been number one in the UK in May and June, and eventually toppled Wiz and Charlie in late July. Was reggae back?!

Max Martin wrote Love Me Like You Do by Ellie Goulding, from the movie Fifty Shades of Grey, and Tove Lo two-times having also written that song and Talking Body, her own hit and another Popjustice pop classic that deserved to be even bigger than it was. It was produced by Shellback, who spent 2015 counting all the Taylor Swift money. No track from 1989 appeared on a NOW, but then it sold 10 million copies so everyone owned Shake It Off, Blank Space and Bad Blood. Jason Derulo had a four-week UK number one with the brill pop song Want to Want Me.

Better than all of those tracks was a song by Major Lazer & DJ Snake featuring Mo. Lean On was the streamed more often than any song in 2015 (Taylor Swift kept her music off Spotify and sold 10 million albums…) because it was so infectious. The inlay booklet says the trio, made up of Diplo, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire, took ‘the best elements of EDM, dancehall, hiphop and pop’; they would have more hits but none as ‘earth-shaking’, to me, as Lean On, which I have never not loved. It is one of the decade’s finest pop songs.

I recorded my version of another, Shut Up And Dance, by Walk the Moon. I first heard it on America’s Greatest Hits, the Radio 2 show presented by Paul Gambaccini, as the number one in the rock charts, though it’s a pop song with guitars. Rock, as I have written, is now as heritage a genre as romantic classical music.

When it sailed in at the top of the UK charts, Black Magic had deposed a dance track called House Every Weekend by David Zowie, which is present on NOW 91 along with fellow number one Not Letting Go, a summer smash sung by Tinie Tempah on the verses and Jess Glynne singing a great hook. Michael Jackson’s brother Jermaine is credited since the track samples There’s a Better Way. It became Tinie’s sixth UK number one and the fourth for Jess.

In summer 2015 the ‘stadium busker’ Ed Sheeran headlined Wembley Stadium, supported by OneRepublic. He was the first solo performer to headline there since Elton John 40 years before him; Elton went on to declare his bisexuality, which ended his Imperial Phase, while Ed had a bit too much fun and took the whole of 2016 off. Nobody has heard from him since (!). He appears on NOW 91 in a duet with Rudimental on his song Bloodstream, written with Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol (whose depression derailed his career) and Johnny McDaid. On Disc 2 is the other act supporting Ed at Wembley, Northern Irish cult hero Foy Vance who sings on the Rudimental track Never Let You Go. I had been introduced to him by Matt Livingstone, from Foy’s hometown of Bangor, back in 2007 at the Fresh Air music team. Foy is staunchly independent and, in a just world, would sell as many records as Ed. His great third album The Wild Swan was released on Ed’s Gingerbread Man imprint.

Returning to a NOW are Years & Years (the Greg Kurstin co-write Shine), John Newman (the Greg Kurstin co-write Come and Get It, on which he sounds like he’s found a donut on the vocalisation before the chorus comes in), Meghan Trainor (Motown pastiche Dear Future Husband) and Florence + The Machine (Ship to Wreck, where she sounds shipwrecked).

Jessie J delivers a song co-written by Sia and Sam Smith called Flashlight from one of the summer’s big movies, Pitch Perfect 2, a movie about a cappella contests and directed by Elizabeth Banks, who it must be noted is a woman. One of the stars of the Barden Bellas, the group who sang their version of the song during the movie, was Ester Dean, who watched her co-star Hailee Steinfeld have the pop career she (scandalously) has not yet had. What will it take to make Ester Dean a star?!

Iggy Azalea continued her career with Trouble, co-written by Judith Hill, herself a session vocalist who would have sung with Michael Jackson at his London shows in 2009. Iggy’s career would be stymied by accusations of cultural appropriation that seem both stupid and unfounded; Jennifer Hudson, who became a judge on The Voice UK, adds her soul to Iggy’s rap. Rita Ora appears with Poison, which is written by a young lady called Julia Michaels with Kate Nash (that Kate Nash!): ‘I could have beer for breakfast, my sanity for lunch’ is a heck of an opening line on a song that explodes on the title line and introduced the world to Julia’s songwriting. Maybe she can help make Ester Dean a star…

Nolan Lambroza, whose stage name is Sir Nolan, was the third writer on Poison and also wrote and produced Jealous for Nick Jonas, breaking away from his brothers. The chorus is one of the best of the year, while the production is contemporary and forward-thinking. He is an interviewee on And The Writer Is…; now I know what he has produced I can listen to the interview, which I skipped at the time, foolishly!

Nick’s fellow heartthrob Justin Bieber is moving into the Imperial Phase of his own career by warbling over cutting-edge EDM tracks. Where Are U Now is credited to Skrillex & Diplo and features elephantine woodwind. Stargate write Worth It, the latest hit for Fifth Harmony (featuring Kid Ink), while the girls’ fellow teenager Martin Garrix enlists Usher on Don’t Look Down, co-written by busbee, who was spending 2015 writing songs with young country music starlet Maren Morris over in Nashville, which had its own serial drama on US TV which I used to watch with Amanda. There are three centres of pop music in the USA: New York, as it always was; Los Angeles, as it always was; and Nashville, Tennessee.

Originally a county hit for Easton Corbin, Are You With Me was remixed by Lost Frequencies and became a UK number one. The song was co-written by Shane McAnally, whose name is misspelt as ‘McAnnaly’ in the booklet. Shane wrote with Maren’s fellow Texan sweetheart Kacey Musgraves on songs like Follow Your Arrow, one of the decade’s greatest pop songs and never on a NOW. Shane is openly gay and has written for the likes of Old Dominion, Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban; Kacey, who headlines Wembley Arena in October 2018 as part of her European tour, is being positioned as an act who can hook pop fans to country sounds. Expect to hear her song High Horse on NOW 101, if the stars align.

Catalogue also makes an appearance on Somebody, a radio-friendly ‘terrific two’ sung by Natalie La Rose which featured Jeremih interpreting the Whitney Houston song I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Jeremih two-times as a guest on the Krept & Konan song Freak of the Week, credited to 12 writers because it samples Who Am I (Sim Simma) from The Roots, whose UK chart career consists of two top 40 hits including The Seed (2.0), the track that introduced me to the power of Tariq ‘Black Thought’ Trotter’s lyrics and Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson, the modern-day Funky Drummer. Lethal Bizzle, meanwhile, takes a break from selling merchandise with the word ‘dench’ on it with his song Fester Skank, featuring producer Distortion.

Simon Aldred had written People Help The People, a hit for Birdy when she covered it, and the openly gay Simon writes and sings Waiting For Love, a brilliant hit for Avicii co-written by the two-timing Martin Garrix. Galantis have a big hit with Runaway (U & I), a club smash, Pep & Rash fill clubs with Rumours and Ane Brun adds a lyric to the Dr Kucho! & Gregor Salto instrumental Can’t Stop Playing (Makes Me High), remixed by Oliver Heldens.

Five More Hours was written by Julian Bunetta and John Ryan with Chris Brown (you know my feelings on him by now) that was credited to Deorro x Chris Brown since it was a remix of the Deorro instrumental Five Hours. Show Me Love, meanwhile, was more catalogue: a slowed-down version of the Robin S anthem by Sam Feldt (featuring Kimberley Anne).

Blonde recruit Alex Newell to bring his almighty voice to All Cried Out, and the latest Clean Bandit hit is Stronger, also featuring Alex (uncredited, scandalously). He appeared in the TV show Glee as someone to rival the voice of Amber Riley, who was clearly to be the breakout star of the show with her equally mighty pipes.

Pipes of a different kind are used by Kygo, who have summer 2015’s two omnipresent hits which are both on NOW 91. Firestone is the one that included the lyric ‘We light up the wooorld! sung by Conrad Sewell while Stole The Show has Parson James lamenting a lost love. Both songs are classed as ‘tropical house’ thanks to the choice of instrument used on the melodic hook of the song, which is more memorable than whatever the vocalist is warbling on about.

Fun fact: Michael Harwood, whom I mentioned as former member of Ultra who went to my old school, co-wrote Stole The Show, which was recorded at his Tileyard Studio complex in Kings Cross, London. The inlay booklet notes that Kygo appeared in the Radio 1 Live Lounge, which has replaced Top of the Pops as the BBC’s top place for popstars to promote their latest tunes. BBC 1Xtra launch the careers of rap stars with their Fire in the Booth segment; Drake brought fire to the booth on July 14 2018.

The new trend sweeping through EDM would be the pileup, or ‘orgy’ as I call it. David Guetta doesn’t just get Afrojack onto Hey Mama but also brings in Nicki Minaj and Bebe Rexha on the irritating but infectious tune which I never liked. I don’t know why Verdine White, bassist of Earth Wind & Fire, needed to team up with Flo Rida and Robin Thicke on I Don’t Like It, I Love It, another track that took the Get Lucky/ Uptown Funk formula of funky guitar and rapping, but I am sure Verdine’s accountant was happy.

NOW 90: Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk

The music video to Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran has been viewed on his official Youtube channel, as of July 2018, 2.3bn times: 2,300,000,000 times, one for every person in Britain watching it 33 times each.

When I first heard the song I tweeted its co-writer Amy Wadge and said: ‘You’ve written the Song of the Year.’ My ears were working and the song won many awards, topping the charts all over the world including, impressively, the USA, as Ed from Suffolk began his true Imperial Phase which has lasted right up to the release of NOW 100 in July 2018. He is now engaged, is planning a softer fourth album and is in the middle of his second tour of the world’s stadiums. Ed Sheeran is 27 years old.

The music video to Uptown Funk, credited to Mark Ronson and featuring Bruno Mars, has been viewed on Mark’s official Youtube channel, as of July 2018, 3.1bn times: 3,100,000,000 times, one for every person in Britain watching it 44 times each. [Update: as of April 2022, it’s up to 4.5bn times: 4,500,000,000 times.]

Peter from Hawaii aka Bruno Mars is 32 and plays London’s Hyde Park in July 2018. As I write, there are still tickets available, which would be a mystery but for the fact that they cost £86 each in a very crowded market for outdoor events. Bruno is one of the most electric live performers on the planet, as befits someone who, like his hero Michael Jackson, has been performing since he could first walk.

The Saturday Night Live performance of Uptown Funk, track one on DISC 1 of NOW 90, which might as well have been advertised as ‘Those two massive songs and some others’, is extraordinary. It was one of the best TV performances I’ve ever seen and one that I think made me exclaim ‘WOW!’ when it ended, when I put it on again.

Chris Molanphy, fast becoming my favourite pop writer (with apologies to Alexis Petridis, Ben Thompson, Charles Shaar Murray, David Hepworth, David Quantick, Laura Snapes, Fraser McAlpine and Bob Stanley) notes of Bruno Mars that he straddled both trends in the current decade: ‘The music of the decade’s first half could broadly be described as soaring dance-pop, heavy on female hit-makers: Think Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift.

‘And the back half of the ’10s, in which we’re now mired, is largely street rap and bro-pop, its winners much more male: Drake, Justin Bieber, the Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, the Chainsmokers.’

Mr Hernandez was ‘right on trend with soaring ballads and fluttery pop’, including his vocal turn on Nothin’ On You then four top hits which all hit the top: playlist choice Just the Way You Are, Grenade, Locked Out of Heaven and When I Was Your Man.

To Chris (and you can read the essay in full here), Uptown Funk was ‘a preening blast of male peacocking’, which is rather off-brand but chimed with the times, making him a modern-day Mariah Carey, Beyonce or Rihanna. Mark Ronson, meanwhile, slaved on the guitar part for months, only content when Nile Rodgers gave it his blessing. As 2014 became 2015, everyone was dancing to Uptown Funk; it was number one in 16 countries, including for 14 weeks in America and seven non-consecutive weeks in the UK.

Before it started its run it had to knock Max, Shellback and Taylor off the top. The trio had consecutive number ones from the 1989 album: Shake It Off was replaced by Blank Space, two irresistible concoctions that rank among the best of Max Martin’s 22 number one US hits. From January 17 to April 24, Americans were Uptown Funking more than grooving to any other tune, streaming the song in their millions. I maintain that Runaway Baby is Bruno’s funkiest number but Uptown Funk, the Crazy In Love of the 2010s, was more successful. He need never work again and seems like the ultimate professional who lives for his job.

The Sound of poll was by now a fixture of the ‘end of year’ music coverage, which like Christmas begins earlier each passing year. The Sound of 2015 were Years & Years, led by gay singer-songwriter Olly Alexander, who first appeared on the charts in 2014 and took the UK number one with the ebullient King. Like Florence, who returns to a NOW with the ever-melodramatic What Kind Of Man, I find Olly’s vocals an acquired taste, but as an openly gay artist in a world where there are only three or four LGBTQ performers, as MNEK told a magazine during Gay Pride Week 2018, he is one of the more important acts in British pop music. ‘A star is born’ is how The Times greeted his Roundhouse show in July 2018, proving what the critics knew back in 2014.

The fashion in recent years from the three major labels – after EMI went bust, Warner, Universal and Sony are the remaining three – has been to warm up the public for a new voice by having them appear on a dance tune: Sam Smith (Latch), Jess Glynne (My Love), Emeli Sande (Diamond Rings), Becky Hill (Afterglow), Ella Eyre (Waiting All Night) and Olly himself, on Sunlight by The Magician, all share this trait. I suppose it is ‘preparation for market’, a way of seeing if the public take to the voice before they take to the art. It also means a less risk-averse environment and, in some cases, bland artists.

I don’t think James Bay, who finished second in the Sound of 2015 poll and won a 2015 BRIT Award for Critic’s Choice (another award made up to promote new talent before they proved their talent), is as bland as people make out. He has a soulful voice, groomed on the open mic circuit, and his new album is alright. Three reviewers all wanted to hear the real James Bay, reckoning his follow-up was decided on by committee. They all have a point. Hold Back the River, his debut single, was a slow burner, but I really got into it; Iain Archer, who wrote Chasing Cars with Snow Patrol, worked his magic and I recorded my version of it as part of the 100 Songs on 100 NOWs project which you can find along with 12 podcasts on

Some songs on Disc 1 of NOW 90 seemed to appeal to a mature, ‘Radio 2’ audience; were the compilers realising the people who bought the CD were mums at the supermarket wanting something for the school run? If data was driving hit singles, it could also drive the songs on the compilations, another sign that culture was, at the fat end of the long tail, a case of giving people what they wanted.

In the ‘music for mums’ category, Take That were now down to three members: Jason Orange, the only member to question his accountant about where his money was going, left the group, leaving Howard, Mark and Gary to soldier on and fund their tax bill. These Days was passable and dominated Radio 2 at the end of 2014. On Radio 1 I loved Doing It, from Charli XCX’s superb album Sucker, featured Rita Ora; it was one of my favourite songs of the year, and was produced by Ariel Rechtshaid, who worked on HAIM’s 2014 album Days Are Gone. They had been the Sound of 2014 and starred at festivals throughout the year, with Este pulling shapes with her mouth as she played the bass.

In early 2015, when it wasn’t Ed from Suffolk or Mark from North London (who grew up in New York), it was Maroon 5 with one of the better efforts, the saccharine Sugar (the video sees the band playing as surprise guests at three weddings). That song is another from Mike Posner, Dr Luke and the mighty J Kash. It was a ‘terrific two’, a victim of the hegemony of Uptown Funk.

Sam Smith two-times with Like I Can and Lay Me Down, Ella Eyre sings on Gravity, a DJ Fresh track, while Jess Glynne uses the C major arpeggio to form the verse melody of Hold My Hand, another number one, which was also on an advert and was co-written with Jack from Clean Bandit and a producer named Jin Jin, who has written at least five of the finest songs of the decade: Real Love (Clean Bandit ft Jess Glynne), Right Here (Jess Glynne), You Don’t Know Me (Jax Jones ft Raye), Lullaby (Sigala ft Faloma Faith) and Not Letting Go (Tinie Tempad ft Jess Glynne). More people should know the name Janee Bennett aka Jin Jin. Fact fact: her dad is former footballer Gary Bennett, who played for Sunderland for ten years.

One Direction, meanwhile, are fascinated by bhangra and other Indian music…Nope, they are still banging on about love and stuff on Night Changes, another song with a video shot by GoPro cameras. It comes their fourth album Four, on which Where Do Broken Hearts Go was my favourite; the album had a lot of filler. Olly Murs duetted with Demi Lovato on Up, a song which had a fun, bouncy chorus but was let down by the middle eight which included 30 ‘yeah’s.

You will remember, reader, Ben Haenow…You know, who won the 2014 iteration of The X Factor. He is on NOW 90 with Something I Need, a cover of a OneRepublic song written by Ryan Tedder and Benny Blanco. Ella Henderson had her third hit with Yours, which she co-wrote, and a full decade after her first number one Kelly Clarkson took Heartbeat Song into the charts, another irresistible piece of pop with a heck of a chorus.

Here is a list of producers who are still raking it in during the EDM revolution and who appear on NOW 90: Calvin Harris appears twice with Pray to God (featuring vocals by the aforementioned HAIM, on their first appearance on a NOW) and with Outside, which has Ellie Goulding on vocals; David Guetta two-times with What I Did For Love (with Emeli Sande, whose delivery is the most syncopated since Diamond Rings) and Dangerous (with Sam Martin, who sounds just like John Martin); Alesso brings in Tove Lo on Heroes (We Could Be); Oliver Heldens releases a well-constructed song called Last All Night (Koala); and Avicii’s latest hit is The Nights, which has a Mumford beat and includes advice from a father to a son (I really hate that motif!!).

DJ Snake (whom we’ll meet again soon) co-produces the above average Promesses with Tchami, who is the lead artist on a track featuring Kaleem Taylor. I also liked I Loved You by Blonde, which was all over Radio 1 thanks to Melissa Steel’s vocals. Wretch 32 continued an impressive career with 6 Words, a song which deserved to do better and can be compared to Stormzy’s more tender tracks; the unsigned rapper finished third on The Sound of 2015 poll.

I admire that the Gorgon City song Go All Night, co-written by Kiesza, has the featured vocalist Jennifer Hudson and reaches for the Chicago house sound that filled clubs in 1990, which by 2015 was 25 years before.

MNEK co-writes Say Something for Karen Harding but has no credit on the track. Repeating the trick on Changing – pairing a UK vocalist with a euphoric, urgent track – Sigma return with Higher, featuring Labrinth and another co-write for Wayne Hector, while Lab sings an almighty pop song called Jealous. In 2018, I attended a songwriters round with Natalie Hemby, a renowned country songwriter, who admitted that she had written Jealous with Josh Kear, a man who need never work again having written Need You Now with Lady Antebellum. I had previously thought that Jealous was a little light and fluffy, but when Natalie performed it I was very struck by the structure, lyric and power of the song: the rain and wind get to touch his former friend but Lab is no longer allowed to. Even the mic placement is brilliantly chosen, with Labrinth right next to the mid as he laments his lost love, sounding like John Legend singing an Adele song. Jealous deserved consideration as a playlist entry were it not for Mark from North London and Peter from Hawaii.

G.D.F.R. (aka Goin Down For Real) was a song with a stupid but hooky riff by Flo Rida, featuring Sage the Gemini. Far better is When the Beat Drops Out by Marlon Roudette, stepbrother of Mabel, stepson of Neneh Cherry and son of Cameron McVey, as well as the guy from Big City Life by Mattafix. The song features some tropical instrumentation, and it was written by Jamie Hartman, the same chap who wrote All Time Love for Will Young.

John Newman and Bonnie McKee help keep Cheryl’s career going by writing I Don’t Care. In the category ‘r’n’b singers move with the times to keep their career going’, Usher teams up with Juicy J on the light I Don’t Mind, a track written by seven writers including J Kash and Dr Luke; Chris Brown (am I boring you by telling you he punched Rihanna in the face?) enlists Tyga on Ayo, which is annoying but catchy; Ne-Yo pops up with Coming With You, another Stargate co-write.

There are some smart samples on NOW 90, using catalogue to brilliant effect. Alex Adair took the line ‘make me feel better, so let’s stay together’ from the middle of Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing by Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell, put a dance beat under it and reinvented it as Make Me Feel Better, a UK number one song with a lightly tropical feel.

Tough Love sample Freek’n You by male vocal harmony group Jodeci and add a wobbly beat with a tropical feel, while Philip George brings Stevie Wonder onto a NOW with Wish You Were Mine, which speeds up My Cherie Amour and adds a beat underneath it. I started calling this sort of music ‘Chris Stark music’ after the Radio 1 DJ from Pinner who acted as a ‘sidekick’ to Scott Mills. A kid my age, a fellow Watford fan, broadcasting to an audience of under-30s, Chris was famous for giving Watford shirts to Hollywood actresses like Jennifer Aniston and Mila Kunis. He is now engaged to be married, which means his ushers, Chango The Beast and Sir Dosser, will dress up. Scott Mills will surely be best man, and the pair do seem like genuine friends.

Meghan Trainor returns with another three-chord marvel, Lips are Movin’ (WITH NO G!!), while Sia re-records a song she had originally placed on the soundtrack to The Hunger Games. The video to the new version of Elastic Heart, which sounded like the future of pop, stars actor Shia Lebouef. Elsewhere, Fergie stops counting her money and puts out LA Love (La La).

In great news for fans of Tom Fletcher, 2014 saw a collaboration between McFly and the keener two members of Busted (Matt and James), which led to Air Guitar, which is on NOW 90, and a full album credited to…McBusted. Rixton’s Wait On Me is perfectly fine but took many hands to cook up: Stargate, Benny Blanco and Wayne Hector are among seven writers who include the host of the songwriting podcast And The Writer Is, Ross Golan.

Ross is able to walk down a street unmolested and answer the question: ‘Oh yeah, what have you written?’ with the following list of songs: Marilyn Monroe for Nicki Minaj; Take You for Justin Bieber; Compass for Lady Antebellum; If I Could Fly for One Direction; Halfway Right for Linkin Park; Wake Up for The Vamps; When I Find Love Again for James Blunt; the quirky You Gotta Not for Little Mix; Hold Up for Demi Lovato; Barbies for Pink; You Are Fire for Latin pop artist Prince Royce; three songs by Lucas Graham and two songs by Maroon 5; and the big two Top 40 number ones, Same Old Love by Selena Gomez and My House by Flo Rida.

And the writer is…Ross Golan.

NOW 89: Hozier – Take Me to Church

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.

NOW 88: Sia – Chandelier

The boyband in the Internet era had it tough. As well as the dancing, singing and magazine appearances, a boyband member had to look good for social media and interact with fans. But what if your band had so many fans that you simply cannot keep up? Fans cry ‘MESSAGE ME’ or ‘WHY DO YOU NOT ANSWER ME’? I would have hated to have been in a boyband, but at least five young men thought it was the route to pop stardom.

One Direction will never need to reform unless finances get particularly awful. Harry Styles is the one with the nice haircut who wrote an album in Jamaica; Niall Horan is the happy chappie who will be big in Ireland; Liam Payne had a child with former partner Cheryl and had a hit with a song written by Ed Sheeran; Louis Tomlinson is a nice Northerner who seems harmless enough; Zayn Malik left the group, citing exhaustion, and split up first with a popstar (Perrie from Little Mix) then a supermodel (Bella Hadid). He remains a paragon of pop for any young British Asian and has had some hits of his own despite not touring at all due to stage fright.

Meanwhile, 5 Seconds of Summer keep touring. Unlike 1D, who were put together on TV, 5SOS emerged on Youtube which positioned them perfectly as they launched their debut album in summer 2014. It featured Don’t Stop, a brilliant pop-rock song which is on NOW 88, co-written by Calum and Luke from the band with two pop geniuses, Mike ‘busbee’ Busbee and Steve Robson. The album closer, Amnesia, was written by the Madden brothers from Good Charlotte, which makes absolute sense: when pop-punks grow up, they write for younger pop-punks.

Second album Sounds Good Feels Good followed a year later, with more Madden-penned tunes including Hey Everybody and She’s Kinda Hot. After two years of writing, 5SOS’s third album came out in June. The cast of characters is impressive, and points to you if you recognise any of these ‘backroom boys’ and girls: Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter, Wayne Hector, Rami Yacoub, Rivers Cuomo, Ali Tamposi, Andrew Watt, Carl Falk, Steve Mac and Jacob ‘J Kash’ Kasher. It’s ‘Pop by Committee’ and it will make the band and their label a lot of money. The lead single Want You Back features on NOW 99.

I wanted to pick Don’t Stop as my NOW 88 playlist choice but Polly Holton convinced me to pick a song written by a fine songwriter and performer: Sia.

There is a huge disparity between the sexes in terms of biggest songwriters of all time. Of the 118 writers or teams of writers spoken to as part of Si & Bri’s Sodajerker on Songwriting series, 24 women have appeared, including Joan Armatrading, Miranda Cooper of Xenomania, KT Tunstall, Allee Willis, Carole Bayer Sager and Cynthia Weil. No Madonna, Bjork, PJ Harvey, Dolly Parton, Lucinda Williams, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, Lily Allen, Carole King or Taylor Swift.

Nor have they yet spoken to Diane Warren, who is the most consistent and durable female songwriter in popular music. She gave Paloma Faith the song Only Love Can Hurt Like This, the biggest track from her third album A Perfect Contradiction (did you buy it?), which closes NOW 88. A June 2018 interview with Music Week had Diane astutely observing that Paloma didn’t have many hits from that album.

In case you don’t know Diane, her songs include Because You Loved Me (Celine Dion), I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing (Aerosmith), How Do I Live (Aerosmith), There You’ll Be (Faith Hill) and the recent Stand Up For Something (Common). Nominated nine times for the Best Original Song Academy Award, including for all five of those songs, she has yet to win. Of her 12 GRAMMY nominations, she won in 1997 for Because You Loved Me. For five years in the 1990s she was ASCAP Pop Songwriter of the Year and was the first songwriter in US chart history to have seven concurrent singles in the Hot 100 to be sung by different artists. She owns an entire studio complex named RealSongs where she works, writing words and music herself, and in 2018 she was starstruck when meeting Sir Paul McCartney, which proves that everyone you worship has their own idol.

Si and Bri have not yet snared Sia Furler either, who is one of the many songwriters interviewed by Paul Zollo in one of his two big Songwriters on Songwriting series (Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde and Loretta Lynn all feature in Volume 2). Sia told Paul via email about Chandelier, which ‘entranced’ him the moment he heard it and contains an octave leap that is ‘triumphant and anthemic’ yet underscored a lyric that was ‘compellingly dark’. Paul compares Sia to Randy Newman, who also put sad lyrics to happy tunes. Chandelier, which I appreciated more than liked (I prefer Diamonds and Cheap Thrills), was a song Sia felt she ‘couldn’t give away’, as it was about her alcoholism (‘one, two, three, DRINK!’).

Sia told Paul, who noticed that her live performances were in a huge wig, that ‘performing takes so much time and energy, and I would rather devote that time to writing songs and making records and putting out my music into the world.’ In the last decade she has written hits for Rihanna, Celine Dion, Ne-Yo, Rita Ora, Jessie J, Katy Perry (Chained to the Rhythm), Camila Cabello (Crying In the Club) and for herself. Her success in the world of Max, Luke and Calvin is a light to all songwriters, particularly women.

As mentioned in this series, I have decided to become a songwriter and it has been beneficial to listen to what makes a hit a hit. Sometimes it’s chasing a trend – one is an outlier, two is a trend, three is a formula…when will it end? – but sometimes it’s about standing out and having a supportive record label. Someone Like You by Adele, or Baby One More Time by Britney, or Beautiful by Christina were all outliers and idiosyncratic when they hit number one in the UK.

Some of the finest male songwriters of the current decade are high up the NOW 88 tracklisting: Ryan Tedder pens Ghost with 2013 X Factor contestant (Peter Dickson voice) Ella Henderson; Ed from Suffolk has Pharrell’s help on the two-chord chant Sing; James Napier aka Jimmy Napes helps Sam Smith articulate his feelings on Stay With Me; and Joel Pott, formerly of Athlete, helps George Ezra twist the blues into a ‘gap year folk’ style on Budapest (I never liked it).

Max Martin’s daughter Doris encouraged her dad to work with Disney channel starlet Ariana Grande, who teams up with Iggy Azalea on Problem, where the song’s title is whispered; Calvin Harris wraps I Will Never Let You Down in a bow and gifts it to Rita Ora, who has another UK number one; Avicii helps Coldplay become the biggest band in the world all over again with A Sky Full of Stars; heck, even Elton John pops up, lending Aloe Blacc Your Song on The Man, which I never liked.

Then comes Michael Jackson, from beyond the grave, with Love Never Felt So Good, based on a demo he wrote with Paul Anka, the man who took the song Comme D’Habitude, wrote a lyric with the title My Way and gave the world the ultimate ‘dying of the light’ song. Michael is helped by Justin Timberlake, and the song is slight, as befits a song based on a demo. I remember seeing This Is It, the concert film based on rehearsals for what would have been the 2009 London dates for Michael, and it was like looking at an artist trying to fight his body to do what it used to do. It was clear he was in pain and also that he was 50 years old, but the world will look back on the great albums from his lifetime which influenced millions of singers including Justin Timberlake.

At the end of Disc 1 is the soaraway song of the decade not written by someone named Adele, Max, Pharrell or Ed. Robert Lopez has not just won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Academy Award (or Oscar) and a Tony; he’s done it twice, the only ‘double EGOT’. He wrote his masterpiece, Let It Go, with his wife Kristin Anderson-Lopez. ‘Conceal, don’t feel’ is a dark lyric to put in a song aimed at children, but the narrative of the movie Frozen demanded it. The song’s structure is fascinating, with a bridge that leads into the famous chorus, then a second verse that differs in structure from the first. Max Martin would surely compliment the ‘maths’ of the song, which amps up to the appearance of the chorus and is a proper musical theatre song befitting the writers of the brilliant Avenue Q.

The big smash hit in the UK was Waves by Mr Probz, remixed by Robin Schulz, which sounded like being at the beach (not that I remembered what a beach was, as I didn’t have a summer holiday in either 2012 or 2013, nor would I have one in 2014). Equally enormous was the playground chant Fancy by Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX, analysed by Chilly Gonzales the musical genius here. Fun fact: Chilly is the brother of Christophe Beck, who wrote all the orchestral music in Frozen.

In the vocal booths, John Martin gets a turn as a lead artist on Anywhere For You, while Bebe Rexha appears for the first time on a NOW as a featured artist on Take Me Home by Cash Cash. Tove Lo (featuring Hippie Sabotage) has the fascinating pop song Stay High, with a hedonistic video that seemed to attach a GoPro camera to the head of the protagonist who is at a party. The atmosphere of the song is spellbinding, while Tove blethers on about wanting to ‘numb the pain’. The version of the song on NOW 88 is a remix, but the original is just as good; the former has had over 300m Spotify streams, the latter 260m, which is a lot of staying high.

Appearing on their first NOW are smart Cambridge graduates Clean Bandit with their song Extraordinary, featuring Sharna Bass doing the singing, and the even better number one Rather Be, with vocals by fellow two-timer Jess Glynne, who enlists Gorgon City (uncredited) to help her write Right Here. Fellow long-haired singer Ella Eyre is on NOW 88 with If I Go, while Little Mix are loud and boisterous on Salute, ‘representing all the women’ and imagining what Destiny’s Child would sound like in 2014. Neon Jungle did the same on Welcome to the Jungle.

You know age is running away from you when the popstars weren’t even born when you were conscious. Rixton were the latest band of teenagers targeted at people born in the year 2000, and their song Me and my Broken Heart (‘Myanmar Broken Heart’ I called it) is written by the superb team of Wayne Hector, Benny Blanco, Ammar Malik and Steve Mac. Rob Thomas got a credit since it reworked the chords from his song Lonely No More, from a dim and distant NOW which came out long before Rixton were teenagers. Singer Jake Roche is the child of Shane Richie and Coleen Nolan, going into the entertainment business.

Also returning are The Vamps who two-time with the fun morning-after tune Last Night and the song Somebody To You, a typical teen-pop song which was a duet with Demi Lovato and was written by Savan Kotecha and Carl Falk. Back too are Tiesto (Wasted, featuring Matthew Koma, a drinking song) and Calvin Harris, with Summer, a big band tune that looks to Glenn Miller (nope, it’s a dance-pop song).

The latest act to namecheck their forebears and have a hit song is MKTO with Classic, a lost pop gem that mentions Michael Jackson, Prince, Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway. Signed to Columbia Records, Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller (hence MK and TO) were child stars on a Nickelodeon show and had a top 20 Hot 100 hit in the USA, opening for Demi Lovato on her 2014 tour. In June 2018, happily, the band have found a new label., meanwhile, is the latest artist to have his own record label, and signed Cody Wise to it. He produces the awful song It’s My Birthday to try to get Cody some hits; Jason Derulo gets Snoop Dogg to Wiggle with him (I never liked the song); Chris Brown, who hit Rihanna in 2009, returns in 2014 with Loyal, joined by Lil Wayne and Tyga (don’t they know he hit Rihanna?); Fuse ODG keeps his career on track with Dangerous Love, drafting in Sean Paul; Robin Thicke and Jessie J sing on the DJ Cassidy song Calling All Hearts, which is 99% Nile Rodgers but gets feet moving as befits a song that beckons people ‘to the dancefloor’.

Here is a list of dance anthems from 2014 which are on Disc 2 of NOW 88: Hideaway by Kiesza; Gecko (Overdrive) by Oliver Heldens and, with a credit this time, Becky Hill; Nobody to Love by Sigma, which borrows the line sung by Charlie Wilson on the Kanye West song Bound 2 and puts a beat underneath it; I Wanna Feel by Secondcity (more nineties house in summer 2014); Make U Bounce by DJ Fresh vs TC featuring Little Nikki that sounded like an early video game; Don’t Look Back by Matrix & Futurebound is some euphoric drum’n’bass with a great vocal from Tanya Lacey, who is credited; and Always by MK featuring Alana, remixed by Route 94.

The saxophone takes the lead on both the pan-European number one hit Jubel by Klingande and Changes by Faul & Wad Ad and Pnau, led by a massed choir of children’s voices. Touch by Shift K3Y brings back the early-00s two-step sound and married it to the current synth-led club music; it’s brill and addictive and made its way out of the clubs onto the radio. Radio 1, in particular, was brilliant at spotting trends in the clubs and the NOW compilers were equally adept at reflecting what was going on in the charts in an easy-to-purchase compilation.

NOW 87: Pharrell Williams – Happy

In the last essay I tried to define eras of pop music during the NOW era. It’s easy to do it by ‘decades’ of NOW compilations: NOW 1 to 10, from 1983 to 1986, seemed to be the Live Aid era of U2, Queen and Phil Collins; NOW 11 to 20 took us to 1990 through the Jam & Lewis era; NOW 21 to 30 were the early 1990s and the rise of guitar-driven rock and processed beats in equal measure; then came The Spice Girls (NOW 31 to 40); Swedish pop with American vocal groups and singers like Britney (NOW 41 to 50); Pharrell Williams and The Neptunes (NOW 51 to 60); Xenomania (NOW 61 to 70); and another era of Max Martin with singers like Katy Perry and Pink (NOW 71 to 80). I reckon Calvin Harris can lay claim to NOW 81 to 90, and Drake and the hiphop sound is the key component of music from NOW 91 to 100. Who will be next? I hope it’s country.

Before talking about one of the Neptunes, a quick mention for Juicy J, who rapped on Dark Horse, the latest US number one for Katy Perry written by Max Martin and Dr Luke. It was Max’s 17th and his eighth to be sung by Katy Perry; I hope Katy still gets him Christmas gifts.

The song that knocked Dark Horse off the top in the US was the earworm of the decade. Pharrell Williams is a musical genius, the Stevie Wonder or Nile Rodgers of this era. He famously sees colours when he hears music, and in 2013 had three songs on the charts at any one time. He would happily forget Blurred Lines, would never forget Get Lucky and will forever make money from Happy.

Imagine being the behatted star: turn on the radio anywhere in the world – anywhere, in the world –  and you are guaranteed to hear either ‘We’re up all night to get lucky’ or ‘Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof’ or Robin Thicke trying to have sex with a girl.

Happy is the best of the three and had a huge life which saw it become the soundtrack of people dancing and clapping. It featured on a film about a curmudgeonly villain Gru trying to get used to being good, raising his three kids with his new partner and defeating the evil Russell Brand (I mean the character Brand voiced) with the help of his yellow Minions (who would have their own brilliant movie in 2015).

Pharrell is the sole artist credited with writing Happy, which is a perfect pop song that was number one in the UK on three different occasions between January and March 2014, one of the most durable pop songs of the pre-streaming era. Happy is thus the only credible playlist choice from NOW 87, which came out in Spring 2014.

I was at law school, learning about torts (not crimes but lesser evils), contract law, the UK constitution (unwritten and with lots of conventions), criminal law (sexual touching is bad), equity and trusts, land law (horrible but useful), European Union laws (which need to be updated after Brexit) and competition law (cartels are bad). I also enjoyed mooting, arguing the legal points of a case from both sides, and made a couple of friends at the time who were smart and determined to become lawyers.

By about March 2014, I realised I did not want to pursue the Legal Practice Course (which would cost £16,000) that was necessary to secure a chance at a traineeship at a law firm (what’s finer than gold dust?). I liked learning about Donoghue v Stephenson, the famous case in tort law where someone thought a snail’s remains were in a bottle of beer and the very fear of it led to liability on behalf of the vendor; thus there needs to be ‘reasonable proximity to harm’ to be responsible for a tort. The lecturer, Max Alavy, was outstanding; I attended all of his lectures (skipping those of many other lecturers) but all the answers were in the books. Essentially the Graduate Diploma in Law was seven sets of books to regurgitate in seven three-hour exams, with two essays throughout the year as well.

I failed six of the seven exams. When I learned this, I just laughed hollowly.

I spent most of early 2014 in the company of Amanda, a girl from California who loved Prince, Fleetwood Mac, Harry Potter and TV shows. I treated her as a serious girlfriend and I enjoyed hanging out with her at weekends and on ‘Orange Wednesdays’ where I could take her to the movies for free. I spent a lot of time down in Kingston, South-West London, and was accepted into her small circle of friends: Emily Anne, a biologist; Ed, her videographer boyfriend; and Allyson, a child with an innocent heart and ambivalent sexuality.

I was happier again with a new friend, writing songs and watching lots of TV. I remember a lazy New Year’s Day at her flat as we saw in 2014. I also remember the 2013/4 football season, when I watched a lot of sport on BT Sport, who had the rights to several live Premier League games. Watford, having missed out on promotion to that division, were struggling in the league below. I had bought a season ticket but would sit in silence (with my friend having got in for free) trying to enjoy something I used to enjoy. It would have helped if Watford could have won a game that autumn, as nine winless matches cost the manager his job.

There are 46 songs on NOW 87, the most to have ever been on one. Songs were getting zippier, all the better to stream. The streamiest was by a former child star who was continuing her life as an adult performer, in both senses of the word.

Miley Cyrus would knock Royals by Lorde off the top of the US Hot 100 (after Lorde had knocked her off initially), and she did this in a novel way. Chris Molanphy produced an entire podcast in his Hit Parade series about music videos, in which he concluded that a risqué video where the performer licks hammers, rides a wrecking ball and wears few clothes can push a song to number one.

Initially, Wrecking Ball leapt from the fifties all the way to the top because the video was a cultural moment. Chris says that after Youtube views starting to count for the charts, a new kind of song entered the hit parade, including Harlem Shake by Bauuer. Gangnam Style was too late to benefit from it by about two weeks. Incredibly, Miley went back to number one thanks to a member of the public, Steve Kardynal, dressed up as Miley in a complete shot-for-shot parody then shared reactions to his video when he played it to users of the video streaming service Chatroulette.

The Youtube clip, posted over Thanksgiving 2013, has been viewed 166m times as of July 2018; it shows the reactions to viewers of the video, the cultural craze for ‘Reaction Videos’ and TV shows like Gogglebox, where you are watching the watchers in an act where TV eats itself. The significance of the parody video is that it uses Wrecking Ball in the video and thus counts as ‘one stream’ of the song, which helped it vault back to number one.

The UK charts have just brought in Youtube views, with George Ezra having the first number one of the new era. Three Lions, the England Euro ’96 song, has benefitted greatly from the rule change.

As for dancers in the clubs who wanted more than Pharrell and Miley, DJs kept churning out music for tushes to shake to: Calvin Harris teamed up with Alesso and Hurts on Under Control; Alesso two-times on a track written by Benny Blanco and Ryan Tedder, If I Lose Myself, which is credited to OneRepublic & Alesso; Martin Garrix & Jay Hardway produced Wizard, which announces ‘the drop’ with the word ‘drop’; DJ Fresh and Jay Fay enlisted Ms Dynamite (whose durability is incredible) on Dibby Dibby Sound, which sounds like the Notting Hill Carnival.

Avicii’s latest hit from True is Hey Brother, sung by Dan Tyminski who is famous as the vocalist on the big songs on the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou, while there is a name new to a NOW but old to the clubs. Tijs Verwest aka Tiesto links up with the super team of Carl Falk, Rami Yacoub and Wayne Hector (who can all, of course, still walk down the street mostly unmolested) to produce Red Lights, which sounds like a perfect intersection between the charts and the clubs (though, kids, don’t run any red lights).

The amount of money DJs like Calvin, Tiesto and Avicii earned for one engagement is in inverse proportion to the amount of work they did at those gigs; all the work was done beforehand in the studio. The DJ was there to provide the vibe and get people moving. Las Vegas emerged as a global centre of club culture, bizarrely. Returning with vibes of their own to a NOW are Fuse ODG, with Million Pound Girl (Badder Than Bad), John Newman (Out Of My Head, full of rich piano and strings) and Foxes with Let Go For Tonight, full of the same piano but with some awesome drums. Pharrell two-times by giving his song Can’t Rely On You to Paloma Faith.

Number one songs in the UK in early 2014 included Money On My Mind by Sam Smith (with irritating chorus), Tsunami (Jump) by DVBBS & Gorgeous featuring the vocals of Tinie Tempah (I never liked it but appreciated the syncopation after ‘the drop’), My Love by Route 94 featuring new name Jess Glynne, the first of her seven UK number ones so far (as of July 2018) and the addictive I Got U by Duke Dumont featuring Jax Jones, which samples My Love Is Your Love by Whitney Houston.

Another fascinating use of catalogue comes on Of The Night by Bastille, who mash together Rhythm is a Dancer by Snap and Rhythm of the Night by Corona, two songs which were both over 20 years old by the time Bastille worked their magic in 2013. I also loved Ready For Your Love by Gorgon City featuring Uzoechi Emenike, who records and produces as MNEK, who is fast becoming one of the UK’s most important producers.

A new year brings a host of new names to NOW 87: Elyar Fox (the quirky and poppy Do It All Over Again), A Great Big World (Say Something, with Christina Aguilera, which is wetter than wet), girlband Neon Jungle (club banger Braveheart, where the drop is counted in in Japanese), Vance Joy (the twee Riptide) and, closing Disc 2, American Authors with the hook-filled Best Day of my Life, which I loved. London Grammar, the critically acclaimed band fronted by the stagefrit Hannah Reid, appear with Hey Now; like James Blake or The xx, two acts which took the Mercury Prize in the 2010s, I admire rather than love the music of London Grammar, undoubtedly atmospheric and ‘hauntingly beautiful’ though it is. Chris Imlach introduced me to Phildel, who did much the same but was not on a NOW.

I’ve found a record for names within the brackets. On Dance With Me by Le Youth featuring Dominique Young Unique, 19 writers are credited. That means each songwriter receives just over 5% of whatever is left over in publishing and mechanical rights; the song cuts up the lyrics of No Scrubs by TLC. Ed Sheeran would later allude the melody of the song in Shape of You, but over summer 2014 he was preparing for the release of his second album.

You will remember, if you went clubbing in early 2014, songs like Dr Who! (Tujano & Plastic Funk ft Sneakbo) and Control (Matrix & Futurebound ft Max Marshall). Sub Focus are here with the euphoric retro-house track Turn Back Time which contains a Roland drum machine snare sound and an incredible vocal hook before ‘the drop’. It’s a slice of 1990 in 2014.

The Vamps continue their run of hits with Wild Heart, written by nine writers including Jamie Scott, who wrote one of the great lost pop songs, Searching, which was big on Radio 2 in about 2005. 5 Seconds of Summer, straight outta Australia and picked to tour with One Direction, announce themselves with She Looks So Perfect, which namechecks American Apparel, a surefire way to get sponsorship and thus free underwear. In 2018 the band’s third album has landed straight in at the top of the US charts, following the achievement of their first two LPs.

Story of My Life sees One Direction move into Chinese folk song (nope, it’s a ballad, co-written by the band with Jamie Scott). Little Mix two-time with the 2014 Sport Relief single, a cover of Cameo’s Word Up!, and their own song Move. 2013 X Factor winner, prison officer Sam Bailey, takes the Demi Lovato song Skyscraper and sings the hell out of it, makes it her own, ‘what I like about you Sam…’, ‘you remind me of a young Mary Byrne’. Sam was dropped from Syco in 2015. Toby Gad two-times on NOW 87 since he wrote both Skyscraper and All Of Me, a song with piano and vocal played by John Stephens aka John Legend. The perfect wedding song, John will never have to work again.

Gary Barlow is still working, bringing out his second memoir in 2018 and entertaining crowds across the nation with his middle-of-the-road anthems. A gig in Cornwall was screened on the BBC in July 2018; his setlist for a show in Manchester included 25 songs, all of which have been hits. They include songs from his solo catalogue: Open Road, Forever Love, Love Won’t Wait and Let Me Go. The last of these, on NOW 87, was promoted in a documentary to celebrate the release of his 2013 solo album Since I Saw You Last.

Let Me Go was really about his stillborn child but had a lyric set to a stomping Mumford beat. It’s his most tender song. Gary (still not Sir Gary, strangely) has won Ivor Novello Awards for Shine, Pray and Back for Good, was the Songwriter of the Year in 1994 – Adele and George Michael have won it twice – and Gary was awarded an Outstanding Contribution to British Music award in 2012 along with his Take That bandmates. Other winners of that prize include Portishead (2016), Boy George (2014), Duran Duran (2005) and Norman Cook (2007).

Guy Chambers, another Songwriter of the Year, co-wrote Crying For No Reason by Katy B, a slow ballad in the Adele mould, while Fraser T Smith helped Example write Kids Again. Dr Luke is one of 10 writers on Timber, Senor Worldwide’s latest idiotic club song, while he guests on Enrique Iglesias’s equally idiotic I’m a Freak. Dr Luke and Ke$ha would be at war for several years and the performer’s contract held against her will in a court case that eventually was won by Dr Luke, whose reputation is untainted but who seems unfairly targeted by the mob.

Cee-Lo Green has also been subjected to criticism for saying and doing stupid things; not even his status as judge on The Voice in the USA could spark his career back into life, though he is listed as one of the seven writers on Pixie Lott’s hit Nasty, which samples Funky President by James Brown and two other songs. Pixie seems to be doing whatever she is told, as is Ellie Goulding, who covered The Waterboys’ classic folk song How Long Will I Love You for Children In Need 2013. Ellie was going out with Radio 1 DJ Greg James at the time; Greg is now engaged to someone who isn’t a pop singer.

In 2014, despite his numerous well-advertised indiscretions, R Kelly returns to a NOW as the featured artist on Do What U Want by Lady Gaga. The song’s lyric, ‘do what you want with my body’ must be ironic, and it is one of Gaga’s weakest singles. I feel her Imperial Phase passed when Artpop didn’t create songs as huge as those on her first two albums; her next project was a jazz album with Tony Bennett. With a starring role in a remake of A Star Is Born, Gaga’s career will spike again. R Kelly had his music removed from Spotify playlists, though a subscriber can still listen to his brilliant music. Who will be the next to be ‘muted’ by the mob?

Kanye West, probably, who features along with Q-Tip and Lil Wayne on the excellent Busta Rhymes song Thank You. And I almost got through this essay without mentioning #SELFIE by The Chainsmokers, a meme in the form of a song.

NOW 86: Lorde – Royals

Teenage life in the 2010s is beset by misery, bullying, pressure in exams and the uncertainty of the future. So were my teenage years in the 2000s but now we have the added cocktail of 24/7 social media online existence. Teenagers have never been so sad.

How refreshing that the big star of this era, for the under-20s, is not called Beyonce, Taylor or Ed (or even a Youtuber) but a girl from New Zealand who was astonishingly young when her song Royals topped the charts all over the world. But what is it that makes Royals so magical?

The first verse puts Lorde’s voice upfront with echoey percussion on the offbeat. What is she doing singing about ‘postcode envy’? The song references lots of hiphop clichés including ‘tigers on a gold leash’ and ‘Cristal’ champagne. Yet in the chorus Lorde denies these desires: ‘We crave a different kind of buzz,’ she sings, and wants love and friendship. ‘My friends and I, we’ve cracked the code’, she sings as they head off to parties, not to go ‘trashing the hotel room’ but just to hang out with each other.

Royals appealed to millions around the world and, incredibly but not surprisingly, Ella Yellich O’Connor (and Joel Little who co-wrote it) had a number one song in Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Israel, Italy, New Zealand (her home), Venezuela and on both sides on the Atlantic. It ruled (ruuuuuled) America for nine weeks; Blurred Lines did it for 12. Only one of these songs sounds good today.

Another number one was a self-empowerment song written by Dr Luke and Max Martin, with help from Bonnie McKee, Henry Walter and its performer, Christian girl Kathryn aka Katy Perry. Roar is about having ‘the eye of the tiger’ and being the ‘champion’. It’s as if Max and Luke sat down and said: ‘Let’s write a song that all girls [including Max’s daughter Doris] can sing along to.’ Better still, it made Max a lot of money to make Doris’s life even more amazing. That kid must have met every popstar of note in the last 20 years; her birthday parties must have been rad, as the kids say (!).

In August 2013 Miley Cyrus had become the second person after Iggy Azalea to suffer from the vogueish trend of folk attacking white people for doing something black people do, in Miley’s case ‘the twerk’ with a foam finger at the Video Music Awards. After three years away, she returned with We Can’t Stop, co-written by Mike Will Made It; the song was a number one in the UK but a ‘terrific two’ in the US behind Blurred Lines, another song with a risqué video. I was annoyed because Mike Will (‘my quill’) was my songwriter alter ego in an early podcast series.

Aside from We Can’t Stop, the only songs on NOW 86 to really benefit from the visual aspect of how they were sold are at the end of each disc. Disc 1 ends with that year’s John Lewis advert song, a cover of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know by Lily Allen. I wanted to put this into the NOW playlist to commemorate the power of the TV sync, but Polly Holton convinced me otherwise. You can hear the 11th of 12 podcasts at Disc 2 ends with The Fox (What Does the Fox Say) by Ylvis, the Norwegian Ant & Dec (or Keith Lemon). The song is produced by Stargate, which would be like Guy Chambers or Fraser T Smith producing a song by Keith Lemon (or Ant & Dec).

The other songs Polly and I could have chosen for the playlist were also big hits at the end of 2013. Three of them are by Ryan Tedder: Burn by Ellie Goulding was produced by co-writer Greg Kurstin; Bonfire Heart was written with its performer, former serviceman James Blunt; and Counting Stars by his band OneRepublic (with no space between One and Republic).

Ryan told Ross Golan’s And the Writer Is podcast that when he played Counting Stars live in Morocco, the audience went wild and he realised it was his next huge hit. Like Royals, it was about ignoring money: ‘instead of counting dollars, we’ll be counting stars’, ‘take that money, watch it burn’ and ‘everything that kills me makes me feel alive’ are all great lyrics. Also odd about Counting Stars is that it’s a solo composition: Ryan wrote the music and the lyrics all on his own.

Only one other track on NOW 86 shares that status and it’s an instrumental dance composition by teenager Martin Garrix called Animals. Avicii two-times as he put out his debut album True in 2013: Tim Bergling is on Disc 1 with his UK number one Wake Me Up, written with the vocalist Aloe Blacc, and on Disc 2 with You Make Me. Disc 2 contains dance bangers about summer: Sonnentanz (Sun Don’t Shine) was performed by Klangkarussell with the vocals of Will Heard; Summertime Sadness was a Lana Del Rey song given a remix by Cedric Gervais (no relation to Ricky). She just sounds bored, so why should I be interested? Her albums remind me of F Scott Fitzgerald novels, which were populated by careless people. I appreciate others may have fallen for Lana; some people like Marmite, some people do not.

Three new British names appear on NOW 86. I once met Becky Hill in the same West London studio complex used by Fraser T Smith; along with the Zelig-like Talay Riley, Becky co-wrote Afterglow, which is solely attributed to Wilkinson. It is her voice on the track, which was first heard on The Voice UK. Louisa Allen recorded as Foxes and her track Youth is on Disc 1 sandwiched between Lorde and Lady Gaga.

The third new name are an old name. Finally, eight years after their debut hit, Arctic Monkeys are on a NOW with Do I Wanna Know, the song that broke them in America. The band headlined Glastonbury in 2013, with singer Alex Turner putting on a musichall persona, treating thousands of people as if they were in a small club. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he purred, grinning, while playing a tremendous back catalogue along with his mate, Matt Helders, one of the finest drummers in Britain.

Here are some familiar names on the compilation. Dizzee Rascal is joined by with Something Really Bad, who two-times with the woeful Bang Bang which starts burlesque and quickly becomes; The Saturdays sing about Disco Love; Wayne Hector co-writes Big Where I Was Little by Eliza Doolittle; John Newman appears with Cheating, a radio smash, and Rizzle Kicks use the co-writer of Cheating, Emily Phillips, on Lost Generation, laying bare the fact that Jordan from the band was active in youth politics before becoming a Rizzle Kick.

Naughty Boy and Emeli Sande reconvene with Lifted, and Tinie Tempah borrows John Martin from Swedish House Mafia on Children of the Sun. With It’s My Party, Jessie J returns to the kind of fluorescent pop she sung on Domino, either confirming her versatility or her ability to do whatever the record company told her to do. Lawson sing about Juliet on a tune co-written and produced by Max Martin’s mate Carl Falk, while The Wanted’s song Show Me Love (America) is produced by Fraser T Smith. His songs, like those of Ryan Tedder, are strong on singable melodies and this is no exception.

The DJ is still making money in late 2013, thanks to the domination of dance music in the US. The club banger Earthquake, a song that tells you to shake your tush within the first ten seconds, is credited to DJ Fresh vs Diplo featuring rapper Dominique Young Unique, and Diplo will return as part of a supergroup of DJs very soon. It features an anti-drop, pulling back a bit for the dance break. Newcomer Ben Pearce provides some chilled house with a top ten song called What I Might Do, and two Dutch brothers recording as Showtek put out Booyah, featuring We Are Loud & Sonny Wilson. Ray Foxx enlists Rachel K Collier on Boom Boom (Heartbeat). Better than all three is Count On Me by Chase & Status, with a killer riff cycling behind the vocals of Moko, which I recorded as part of the 100 Songs from 100 NOWs project.

Calvin Harris two-times on Disc 2: he remixes Eat Sleep Rave Repeat (a song credited to Fatboy Slim and Riva Starr featuring Beardyman, who is the beatboxing brother of the comic Jay Foreman), and drafts in vocalist Ayah Marar on Thinking About You, one of his best and the ninth single (9th single!!) to be taken from 18 Months, all of which I think were on various NOW compilations.

Truly this was the Era of Adam from Dumfries, who had taken over from Max and Luke, who had taken over from Xenomania, who had taken over from The Neptunes, who had taken over from Max Martin, who had taken over from The Spice Girls, who had taken over from Noel Gallagher. Taking over from Adam would be Aubrey from Canada. Drake returns to a NOW with his song Hold On, We’re Going Home, from the period when he still used melody as a way to sell his songs, rather than the drawling ‘human meme’ he would later become (see future essays).

Jason Derulo, meanwhile, had a hit song with the rappers 2 Chainz called Talk Dirty, a fun enough song with a stupid (in the best way) hook. Lady Gaga was living for the Applause (never liked the song) from her third album Artpop, while Bruno Mars banged his chest like a Gorilla. His marvellous ballad When I Was Your Man was never on a NOW, which is a shame as it is astonishing; he would repeat the trick co-writing All I Ask for a big-selling album of 2016 called 25.

Simon Cowell had decided that James Arthur needed an urban edge, and his debut single You’re Nobody Til Somebody Loved You seemed like it was being sung by a deer who got lost on the way to the river. One Direction stuck to the formula – jumping around, singing ‘woah’ and being blank canvases – on the song that featured at the end of the This Is Us movie. Best Song Ever, which is 99% Baba O’Riley by The Who, is nowhere close to the best song written by any of the four chaps who wrote it: Wayne Hector, Ed Drewett, Julian Bunetta and John Ryan.

Again proving that the market didn’t just need one boyband but four, The Vamps emerged playing their own instruments on Can We Dance, a song co-written by Philip Lawrence, one of the Smeezingtons. Also in ‘hot sexy guy’ news, Labrinth co-writes R U Crazy with its performer Conor Maynard (great middle eight, very catchy song) while Sean Paul releases Other Side of Love, a song with quite a tragic lyric about fighting (‘how did we get here?’). Sean starts the song singing over a piano like Ne-Yo or Usher or any black performer in the 2010s. He had come a long way from Get Busy and Gimme The Light back in the very early 2000s.

Since you asked, I spent autumn 2013 at law school in London. Why? I had run out of excuses not to go.

NOW 85: Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams – Get Lucky

The cover of NOW 85, credited to Gary De Bique at Qd Ltd, is of some boogie boards. Given the song of summer 2013, there should be a man in a helmet somewhere. Random Access Memories sounded expensive and Get Lucky, trailed smartly online, hyped up the new Daft Punk album. Would it be like Homework or Discovery, or more like Human After All?

The album included contributions from musical genius Chilly Gonzalez, disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder, Julian Casablancas from The Strokes, Todd Edwards who worked on the cut-up track Face To Face and, of course, Nile Rodgers and Pharrell. One chap worked in the 1970s and 1980s with David Bowie, Madonna, Diana Ross and his own band CHIC; the other worked with Britney, Justin and his own band N.E.R.D. There was no way a four-chord marvel about dancing would fail, and Nile Rodgers finally achieved the kudos to match his influence on popular music over the last 40 years. Having beaten cancer, he tours incessantly. Meanwhile Daft Punk stayed in character as ‘the robots’ throughout the campaign, which ended up in an Album of the Year GRAMMY.

Get Lucky is the obvious NOW playlist choice. The other big song of summer 2013 has aged terribly; a bloke murmuring ‘I know you want it’ on a song that stole the vibe of Got To Give It Up by Marvin Gaye and written while Robin Thicke was on drugs. It gave Pharrell his second of three humungous hits in 2013. He need never work again, but he never needed to after all the Neptunes production work. Robin Thicke’s next album, about his divorce, flopped and that was his career over.

Justin Timberlake stopped acting for five minutes and put out (incredibly) only his third set of music as a solo artist, a double release with the title The 20/20 Experience. Mirrors, another Timbaland collaboration, was a big number one and a big track on the album, which he toured. His old friend Nelly also returned with two big hits: Cruise, a duet with Florida Georgia Line (not on a NOW), and Hey Porsche.

In songwriter news, Ed Drewett co-writes Dear Darlin’ with Olly Murs, Max Martin and Shellback return with the hooky Taylor Swift song 22, Dr Luke copies the Jagger song by writing Walks Like Rihanna and giving it to The Wanted, Jason Derulo co-writes his own tune The Other Side and Greg Kurstin and a songwriter named Lily Rose Cooper (nee Allen) worked with Pink on True Love, where Lily gets a featured vocal credit. Charlie Brown is the latest singer-songwriter given a major-label push and his song On My Way is a self-empowerment song that sounds very 2013.

Rock muscles its way onto Disc 1 with two enormous songs: Radioactive by Imagine Dragons and Still Into You by Paramore, a song I didn’t like at the time but which I was so captured by in 2018 that I recorded it as part of the 100 Songs from 100 NOWs project. The 1975, a rock group from Manchester who dominated Radio 1 in 2013, appear with the addictive Chocolate, while Tom Odell brings his elegant piano and nearly-there vocals to NOW 85 on Another Love.

I think Come & Get It by Selena Gomez, with tabla drums running through it, is incredible and addictive: Ester Dean plus Stargate, sung by Selena, equals hit. Almost as good is Heart Attack by Demi Lovato, while more dopamine hits came from the shoutalong I Love It by Icona Pop featuring Charli XCX, a singer from Hertfordshire called Charlotte Aitchison whom we will meet again soon.

Two massive commercial radio hits of summer 2013 were by blokes called Mike. Mike Rosenberg recorded as Passenger and blethered on philosophically, aping Joni Mitchell, about only loving a woman when you Let Her Go; Michael Buble seemed to take his cue from U2 or (as per the satirical Good Morning Baltimore from the musical Hairspray) Stephen Schwarz as he sang It’s a Beautiful Day, proving he was now a popstar rather than a jazz crooner. My friend Adeel Amini followed him for a documentary and said only good things, which is on brand because he does seem terrific, and has a son who went into remission for cancer, forcing a postponement of his 2017 shows. He headlined Hyde Park on July 13 2018; I hope he plays It’s A Beautiful Day, with its awesome melodic heft.

Other nice blokes having hits in 2013 were Ant & Dec, who are adored by millions thanks to three TV shows: they were the hosts of Britain’s Got Talent and I’m a Celebrity…, and also had their Saturday Night Takeaway, bringing back the anarchy of SM:TV Live (I used to love Wonkey Donkey…IT’S GOTTA RHYME!!!) and coming back into the charts with Let’s Get Ready to Rhumble after performing it on TV. Proceeds for the downloads in 2013 were donated to Childline, proving how nationally treasured they are (even as Ant goes through a tricky divorce and addiction issues).

Elsewhere on the compilation it’s all Scottish folk music and Irish trad…Nope, it’s commercial dance music featuring Justin Bieber (#thatPOWER, with gratuitous hashtag, on which more in 200 words’ time), Calvin Harris featuring Ellie Goulding (I Need Your Love), David Guetta featuring Ne-Yo & Akon (Play Hard), Senor Worldwide featuring Christina Aguilera (Feel This Moment), Sebastian Ingrosso featuring Tommy Trash & John Martin (Reload), Armin van Buuren featuring Trevor Guthrie (This Is What It Feels Like), Breach (Jack), and Chris Malinchak (UK number one So Good To Me, which sampled Marvin Gaye’s If This World Were Mine) are all on NOW 85.

In the UK Rudimental featuring Ella Eyre (Waiting All Night), Disclosure featuring Eliza Doolittle (You & Me), John Newman (Love Me Again), Chase & Status featuring Louis Mttrs (Lost & Not Found) and Naughty Boy featuring Sam Smith, with the phenomenal La La La, all produced great pop music in the current style. A new name is Duke Dumont featuring the aforementioned A*M*E with the forward-thinking Need U (100%), a great club banger that recalls house music in 1991, while Wiley continued his second great period with Lights On, featuring both Angel and Tinchy Stryder.

Australian white rapper Iggy Azalea would be one of the first victims of the global craze for pointing out when white people take aspects of black culture and earn money from them – isn’t this de-desegregation which is in no way helpful? – and had her first big hit with Bounce. Fuse ODG (or is that FUUUUUSE) leaps onto the scene with a dance-friendly Afropop song Antenna, and the inlay booklet notes a global dance competition #AntennaDance that promoted it. The hashtag was now all over pop culture, neatly satirised in this fun clip starring Jimmy Fallon, Justin Timberlake and Questlove from The Roots (‘HASHTAG SHUT THE F— UP!’).

Peter from Hawaii and his Smeezingtons crew return with Treasure, which is 100% music from Off The Wall by Michael Jackson (nobody complained, though they would complain when he won a Record of the Year GRAMMY 2018, because he is from Hawaii and not Philadelphia). Jessie J took a job as a judge on The Voice UK and used the job to promote her new music, which was closer to Do It Like a Dude than Price Tag; Wild featured both Dizzee Rascal and Big Sean, one of those American rappers who was becoming very popular over there, and thus over here too. Dizzee two-times with his own Goin’ Crazy (WITH NO G!!!), featuring Robbie Williams singing the chorus, which is above average.

The Saturdays speak their way through the irritating Gentleman. PSY tried to sustain the Gangnam momentum with Gentleman, a song that was at least an improvement on the last one, but his 15 minutes were almost up. Why the compilers choose not to put the ‘songonyms’ together, I have no idea. A songonym is when songs share titles but not melodies or lyrics. It in inspired by the Paul Gambaccini bit It’s Not the Same Old Song.

Since I have words left over I think I can dwell on Gambo. In 2013 I actually made my own America’s Greatest Hits homage, including rock, r’n’b and pop number ones from that week in history and that week in 2013 and releasing my show as a podcast. Paul’s broadcasting is peerless, often dropping in chart positions and biographical details in a manner which has been called ‘discographic’. I haven’t met Paul but I did send him a letter to ask permission to copy the format. His reply is in my Memory Box. Paul’s career would be put on hold as some twit accused him of sexual touching and he was placed ‘under the Yewtree’.

One reason I cannot work for the BBC, which is unfortunately the best broadcaster in Britain, is because they employed Jimmy Savile for so many years while he was committing crimes (as per the title of a book about them) in plain sight. Paul has since claimed the BBC, with its layers and layers of management, is the world’s ‘worst employer’. I know of many people who work for the BBC and I use its service every day, but I don’t think I can work for a state employer (ie NHS, Met Police, BBC). I am content to be an independent broadcaster and writer, but I am of course available to produce shows independently for the BBC, who outsource a lot of work to independent production companies. And did I mention that in this era women get a really bad deal there and have to fight for equal pay? It’s improving slowly…

2013 saw my friend Chris Imlach settle in London after moving here in the middle of 2012. We both swapped music and talked about it on our Opportunity Inbox podcast (a pun on the old talent show Opportunity Knocks). When I relaunched in June 2013, Chris got his workmate Glyn to play a set upstairs at a pub in Central London. My brother Rich corralled several of his friends and it was a lovely afternoon.

Proving that 15 minutes of fame could be shrunk to three, Gabz was a 14-year-old girl in a cap who sang-rapped a song called Lighters (The One) which was catchy and fun (but not great on Britain’s Got Talent. The song went top ten, and songwriters everywhere tore their hair out: so all I need to do, they thought, was let Simon Cowell put me on TV and I’ll have a hit. Like Jedward, or Steve Brookstein (winner of the 2004 X Factor).

Greedily, as Cowell shows no signs of stopping, Union J emerged from the 2012 edition of The X Factor and their wet debut single Carry You is present on NOW 85. One Direction get a NOW off as they gallivant around the globe during 2013, making Cowell more millions. Cowellpop, as the genre is called, is continuing at a pace.

NOW 84: The Lumineers – Ho Hey

‘Grab every single one of your friends/ And start a Mumford band…You just stomp your feet, and you clap your hands…Woah!’

Key of Awesome perform parodies of pop songs and put them on Youtube. That one tickled me back in 2012, after a raft of songs from folk-pop acts who obviously traded on the Mumford & Sons dollar. Students like me who were in Edinburgh between September and December 2006 were in the city at the same time as a young Marcus Mumford. He would sometimes show up to Latin 1C and at all times write songs. I used to nod at him when he came out of Greek 1A and I went in for Greek 1C. I knew he would play his songs at a pub near the catered accommodation at Edinburgh University; one was called White Blank Page, which made the tracklisting of the debut Mumford & Sons album Sigh No More.

By 2013 Marcus and his waistcoats were global stars thanks to the second Mumford & Sons album, Babel, more of the same. The band headlined Glastonbury that summer, in a year which began with me still friends with my evil compadre who was making it difficult for me to function as a proper human being. I had a job over Christmas 2012 which took me to Victoria for three five-hour shifts a week at £6 an hour. I would get in at 11am, clock off at 4.30pm (I was shooed out the door) and had to listen to women (and they were all women) taking bookings for theatre shows. My role was to assist in marketing, including writing search-engine-friendly text with keywords. All my money went on a therapist.

I remember staring at Microsoft Excel, computing the prices of shows offered by rival ticket merchants and wanting to leap out the window (impossible as they were barred). I would get a soup every day and wander aimlessly around London after I was released from my agony, passing Buckingham Palace and wondering what I was going to do with my time on earth. To add insult, when I quoted the company a figure of £100 a week to do the job as a freelancer at the end of the three-month ‘trial’, there was no negotiation and I was sent on my way. I wonder if they wanted to get rid of me anyway, even though they were nice enough to employ me for three months, pay me in full and on time, and grant me tickets to five shows including Top Hat.

I went to top hat with a girl I’ll call M, whom I met online and was into marketing and culture like me. M was one of many single ladies whose finger I didn’t put a ring on, including one who remains a friend and admitted recently that she fancies girls rather than guys. It was good to meet new people, even if it would not get beyond the initial stages, and I enjoyed working for a company which seemed to be run sensibly. They were sold on in 2016 and I hold no grudges. Running a small business is hard, and I was never anything more than ‘a trial’ and a hired hand parachuted in. Like an employee, I suppose, but in a freelance role. I don’t even remember signing a contract of employment.

I was that desperate for work, but not so desperate I would work for an app like Uber or Deliveroo. I was also working on a book about modern football, which I planned to finish in three years and release research in the form of ‘volumes’ every year. The end of the 2012/3 season saw Watford FC lose a match at Wembley Stadium to Crystal Palace and the release of ‘Volume One’. My local team were now ‘my team’ and I enjoyed football as a fan. I was a writer who wanted to write and also a songwriter, though I didn’t write many songs at all with my buddy around.

I did still listen to music and many good tunes are on NOW 84, issued over spring 2013. As Marcus kicked open the door, sundry ‘Mumford bands’ popped up with music full of ‘hey!’ I heard one musician describe it witheringly as ‘heycore’. The Lumineers are quoted in the Key of Awesome song (‘three cheers for The Lumineers!’) but they are far better than a mere Mumford-aping band; their rootsy music had a wide audience with the song Ho Hey, a ‘tremendous three’ on the US Hot 100 written by Wesley Schultz.

Rock, such as it was in 2013, was enjoying a periodic rise on NOW compilations to rival those in the middle of the previous two decades. Biffy Clyro (Black Chandelier, their best chorus), Ben Howard (Only Love, tenderly sung) and Pink (Try, written by busbee and a great self-empowerment song filed more under rock than pop) all flew the flag. Pink two-times with Nate Ruess from fun on the song Just Give Me a Reason, a great ballad that never did it for me but is a great pop song all the same with a proper melody.

As for Diamonds by Sia – sorry, Rihanna, who sings over the demo – it is one of Sia’s (sorry, Rihanna’s) best, a Transatlantic number one with a mighty melody. Diamonds, Titanium – is there no hard substance Sia cannot write a song about? She wrote one called Radioactive with Greg Kurstin, with which Rita Ora had a hit by singing over the demo.

Elsewhere in rock, Fall Out Boy return to a NOW with the awfully titled My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up). Lawson (Standing in the Dark) and McFly (the twee Love Is Easy) also prove guitars can make a noise in 2013, and new band Bastille were all over the radio with a song about Pompeii, which used the Roman town buried by (my main volcano) Vesuvius’s eruption in AD 79 as a metaphor for something. The song was mixed by Mark ‘Spike’ Stent, and the recording of the song is as powerful as the song itself.

TV syncs brought hits in late 2012. An appearance on a stop-motion TV advert gave Fleetwood Mac a NOW appearance under their own name with Everywhere. Thanks to a famous John Lewis advert starring a Snowman, Gabrielle Aplin’s cover of The Power of Love (the Frankie Goes to Hollywood song, not Huey Lewis or Jennifer Rush) helped send many feet to the store to spend money at Christmas 2012. Gabrielle sang one of her own, Please Don’t Say You Love Me, on Disc 2.

Popstars of the era keep up their runs of hits. One Direction appear twice: Little Things was written by Ed from Suffolk, complete with mention of ‘a cup of tea’ in the second verse; and a mashup of One Way of Another by Blondie and Teenage Kicks by The Undertones, the 2013 Comic Relief single. Little Mix return with the hard-edged DNA, Ke$ha has a massive hit with Die Young (another song about seizing the day), Ellie Goulding was setting off Explosions and Emeli Sande put out the lush ballad Clown.

Once again UK grime’s two warring forefathers are together on a NOW. Dizzee Rascal returns to his pirate radio roots on Bassline Junkie but ruins it by banging on about a ‘dirty stinking bass’, while Wiley gets Chipmunk (who ‘met Wiley at 14’) and Ms D to help him on Reload, which is outstanding and far better than the average club banger; it even mentions Oxide & Neutrino from the days of garage. Wiley two-times as a featured artist on Animal, a Conor Maynard song with a bouncy bass running through it.

Devlin continued his run with Rewind, co-written by and featuring a stunning singer called Diane Birch, whose song Fools I loved at the time. I also love Not Giving In, another Rudimental song featuring John Newman and Alex Clare, who deliver a self-empowerment lyric over a stunning production, and White Noise by Disclosure and AlunaGeorge, a duo who were one of the acts listed as The Sound of 2013, finishing second behind Haim, three sisters from California. CHVRCHES, Laura Mvula and Angel Haze made it an almost all-female top five, with only the bloke from AlunaGeorge getting in the way. Also on the longlist of 15 were Abel Tesfaye, whom we will meet soon in his guise of The Weeknd, and A*M*E, who would sing on a number one hit from 2013. But which one? Find out in the next essay.

I love the pure pop of Brigit Mendler, which references the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton, and I remember exactly where I was when I first heard Latch by Disclosure, featuring the vocals of Sam Smith. I was in the car, pulling off the M1 at junction five, I think. What a wonderful song, I thought, and I was not surprised that Latch was an extraordinarily big song for two teenagers and a fat lad called Sam. I cannot believe it was not a number one song; I cannot believe it was never a top ten song, peaking at 11 and doing better in the US when it hit seven. What on earth were we doing not making this a number one?! put out another awful song called Scream & Shout, this time roping in Britney Spears, who was about to begin her four years in Vegas. Naturally people went wild and downloaded it all the way to the top. Taylor Swift was Max Martin’s current musical project; I Knew You Were Trouble is a smart pop song which moves from section to section with grace as Taylor tells her story of love and stuff. The verses are perky, the chorus is roomy and the post-chorus ‘oh’ section makes a concession to the dance-pop that dominated the charts in early 2013.

Disc 2 is a time capsule of what people were dancing to and downloading at the time. Avicii had the first of two number ones with I Can Be The One, with vocals by Nicky Romero, and Bingo Players also hit the top with a song called Get Up (Rattle) with Far East Movement. The song that came in between them was released by an independent hiphop artist named Ben Haggerty, who recorded as Macklemore. Along with Ryan Lewis on production and Wanz singing how thrift shopping was ‘awesome’, Thrift Shop went all the way to number one. I remember being on a tube train when I heard the song for the first time on the NPR Music podcast All Songs Considered, hosted by geeks Robin Hilton and ‘NPRobin’ Robin Hilton; Thrift Shops which breaks all laws on pop hits of the time by starting with a long intro and leading with an instrumental hook followed by the chorus. All the same, it is magnificent.

You can guess my feelings on songs by Senor Worldwide (Don’t Stop the Party, featuring TJR) and Adam from Dumfries (Drinking from the Bottle, Calvin Harris’s next hit with vocals from Tinie Tempah).

The Saturdays feature Sean Paul on the charming What About Us, the band’s first number one at the 12th attempt and yet another for Sean Paul. It sounds like early 2013, full of synths and processed vocals from Rochelle, Mollie, Frankie, Una and Vanessa. Girls Aloud returned for a final flourish in late 2012, in the same way that The Jacksons toured the world just after Michael Jackson had released Thriller; Cheryl (or Michael) are the big cheese in the fondue. Something New was brash and big (and better than What About Us), on which the girls sang about being ‘leaders of the pack’. In truth, it was Xenomania who led the pack, with Wayne Hector co-writing a song from the second Best Of from the Girls that doubled as the year’s Children In Need single.

Other ladies releasing tunes were Nicole Scherzinger (Boomerang), Christina Perri (A Thousand Years, a better title than her last hit) and Alicia Keys, with the self-empowerment song Girl On Fire that marked the popstar’s return after giving birth to her son Egypt. Alicia would also pop up on The Voice in the US in 2016, another proper singer who can sing and I would listen to her advice; Bob Dylan even namechecked her on his song Thunder on the Mountain (never on a NOW).

The winner of the 2012 X Factor took his winner’s song to number one, tattooed James Arthur delivering a smart version of the Shontelle song Impossible. The cheeky contestant from way back in 2009, Olly Murs, returned with a marvellous pop song featuring Flo Rida blethering on about being a Troublemaker. It sits perfectly alongside another returning pop hero, Peter from Hawaii aka Bruno Mars with the electrifying Locked Out Of Heaven, a near-perfect rush of adrenaline that seemed to be on the radio for years.

However awful my friend made my life in 2013, it was nothing compared with the families of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster of April 15, 1989. Justice had been fought to reopen the enquiry into the deaths, due to crushing at an FA Cup Semi-Final, and The Justice Collective came together to take the 2012 Christmas Number One with a cover of He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. It was produced by Guy Chambers, who played piano. Scouse musicians included Peter Hooton of The Farm, Rebecca Ferguson, Melanie C, Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes To Hollywood (who thus two-times on a NOW at the age of 53), Dave McCabe of The Zutons, John Power of Cast and The La’s and Merseybeat legend Gerry Marsden. Paul Heaton, Shane McGowan, Glen Tilbrook of Squeeze, Robbie Williams and Beverley Knight also appeared, as did Liverpool’s most famous living musician, returning to a NOW: Sir James Paul McCartney.

NOW 83: Taylor Swift – We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

As part of this project I have listened to every song from every NOW compilation. I have not been able to get through track 1 on Disc 1 of NOW 83, which I know well.

Billions of people have watched the video and done the dance moves, and many millions have bothered to discover it is a satire on the materialistic people of the South Korean district of Gangnam. I hate the song and hate that brilliant songs never on a NOW have not had the billions of ears that bloody PSY has had with his bloody Korean-pop song Gangnam Style. It did, however, help former MP Ed Balls transition to a light-entertainment star in 2016. Ed Balls Day, commemorating a tweet from Ed on Twitter, is celebrated every year on April 28.

The Strictly Come Dancing clip is extraordinary. A former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer with degrees from Oxford and Harvard throws everything into the routine, featuring all the famous moves. Like his friend Ed Miliband, who as I write this is about to spend three days sitting in for Jeremy Vine on the 12pm show on Radio 2, popular opinion has shifted as the human side of former Labour Shadow Cabinet members has been on show on TV and radio.

In late 2012, Britain was basking in a post-Olympic glow but I met a friend with whom I’ve had an on-off relationship. In October, I suddenly stopped working on my football book and started frowning. At 24 I had a degree, some great friends and an enviable middle-class life, but something was wrong. Therapy didn’t seem to help, nor did long hours trawling job sites with supportive parents pointing out my strengths. My friend was omnipresent; I couldn’t enjoy music or comedy and had one of my saddest days when I was told to quit on the second day of a week’s trial at a digital start-up. I remember going to Camden to see a show and not even smiling. Life was grim. In possibly connected news, something happens with the brain of a 24-year-old as it matures fully.

Away from my friendship with my new amigo, Taylor Swift was beginning her Imperial Phase with her fourth album Red. This began her ‘pop’ trilogy, after she had written most of her third album, aimed at teenage girls in America. I think We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together is one of the pop songs of this century, and it is no surprise that Messi and Neymar helped her out. Max Martin’s genius is matching a sound with an artist: once again, he found a willing partner in Taylor Swift and he and Shellback had an enormous number one song about moving on from a relationship.

The middle of the song includes lines from the song’s work tape, which was common practice in the country world in which Taylor grew up. Before a demo of any song, the work tape includes all the ideas that go into a track, including the conversation that helps flesh out the lyrics and melody. Here Taylor seems to be describing breaking up with an ex and delivers it in a syncopated manner full of bulletproof hooks, sometimes two at once as in the final iteration of the chorus. It is no surprise that Taylor, then only 22 years old and a veteran who had toured the US as a headline act at 20, could articulate her stories and speak to millions of old fans, converting millions more into new members of her squad.

Amusingly the song was still released to country radio, meaning it became the biggest country hit since Need You Now, a ballad by Lady Antebellum that was never on a NOW that nonetheless helped kick off a country movement in the UK starring the likes of The Shires and Ward Thomas (both of whom have never been on a NOW…yet).

To return to Max, he had three number one US hits in 2012: Part of Me by Katy Perry (one week at the top in March); We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (three weeks at the top in September); and the song that meant he knocked himself off the top, One More Night by Maroon 5 (still doing what their record company etc etc), written with Savan Kotecha and Shellback. A nine-week chart-topper, One More Night was a simple three-chord pop song with a syncopated delivery which had hooks in the verses (‘you and I go…’), the bridge (‘baby, there you go again…’) and the chorus (‘so I cross my heart…’), each as irresistible as the rest and tied together with the addictive ‘ooh’ section from the intro as well as the hook ‘yeah baby give me one more night’. The production sounds contemporary and futuristic, proving that the Swedes led the way in pop music in the 2010s. Britain produced actors like Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch and Idris Elba; Sweden produced producers who were pop scientists. Max Martin should be awarded a Nobel Prize for making the world dance; he has made do with Sweden’s highest honour, the Polar Music Prize.

Polly Holton helped me choose the next eight playlist tracks, someone introduced to me by Adeel as part of the PressPlayOK team. We are both undying in our love for Max Martin, who three-times on NOW 83 since Katy Perry is Wide Awake, on a slower song that shows her range. We had a great deal of choice from the latter half of 2012, including many acts returning to a NOW. These included fun. (note the period) with Some Nights, Pink with the on-brand Blow Me (One Last Kiss), Owl City featuring Carly Rae Jepsen with the addictive Good Time, Nicki Minaj with Pound the Alarm (Carl Falk and Rami Yacoub again coming up with the goods on a song that repeated the magic of Starships) and Ellie Goulding with the sweet but slight Anything Could Happen.

Wiley, the godfather of grime, appears twice on Disc 1 as the NOW compilers see which way the wind is blowing: towards East London, where the brothers JME and Skepta and vocalist Ms D sing Can You Hear Me (Ayayaya?), a huge summer smash to rival Wiley’s Heatwave, on which Ms D sings the chorus too. Other Brits having hits include Cheryl (the charming Under The Sun, with one of her best choruses), Lawson (Taking Over Me, a decent pop song), The Wanted (I Found You, a dance-pop song co-written by Steve Mac and Wayne Hector along with Ina Wroldsen) and the woefully titled Beneath Your Beautiful (beautiful what?! You can’t use an adjective as a noun!!!!) sung gorgeously by Labrinth featuring Miss UK Pop 2012 Adele Emeli Sande. Fun fact: Mike Posner co-wrote this one too.

NOW 83 sees the first appearance in the writing credits of Johnny McDaid, who helps Example write Say Nothing (‘cos your eyes do the talking’). It is funny how similar in tone the song is to Example’s mate and another chap Johnny has written with; Ed from Suffolk guests on Devlin’s latest hit called Watchtower, which brings the Bob Dylan song All Along the Watchtower to new ears.

Meanwhile, as I struggle to get to grips with post-student life, my dropout mate Marcus moved to album two. Babel won a GRAMMY for Album of the Year; I Will Wait, the first single, was first performed without a title (or the ‘I will wait for you’ bit) in my friend Matthew’s living room in Edinburgh.

Other new names on the compilation include Trey Songz (club banger Simply Amazing), Karmin (Brokenhearted, a knockoff Katy Perry tune), Angel (Wonderful) and Elbow, with One Day Like This, which is 99% Hey Jude and 1% walking off a hangover. ‘It’s on again!’ songwriter Guy Garvey’s then partner used to shout to him during the Summer Olympics, when the soaring anthem became the unofficial song of the summer.

In a song calculated to be placed on Olympic montages, The Script team up with on Hall of Fame. Danny from the band had met Will on The Voice UK, where the Irish singer-songwriter took the gig to boost the sales of his own music. In the end, they turned into an Irish Maroon 5. Robbie Williams released the infectious Candy, co-written by Gary Barlow and produced by Jacknife Lee, a man from Dublin named Garret who produced The Killers, Snow Patrol and U2. The chorus was full of ‘heys’ and ‘hos’ and was Robbie’s best single in at least eight years in terms of sales. Album nine Take The Crown sold well, but only produced one single of note, proving that Robbie was both a live act and a heritage act by now. He was only 38.

The new Robbies were in the clubs. Swedish House Mafia gave John Martin credit on Don’t You Worry Child (more of the same), while David Guetta’s obligatory NOW appearance came with She Wolf (Falling to Pieces), which featured Sia. Calvin Harris continued his run of hits with an original composition called We’ll Be Coming Back, written with and featuring Example, and a remix of the Florence + The Machine song Spectrum (Say My Name). Sweet Nothings reverses the credits, with Florence after the ‘featuring’. She still needed singing lessons, but Calvin does well to turn her into a great featured artist before ‘the drop’ comes in and overshadows even Florence’s banshee wail.

Good singers were plentiful in 2012, one of whom you recall was Emeli Sande. Like Florence, she two-times but without help from Calvin Harris. Instead she calls on her friend Naughty Boy, who is listed as the lead performer on Wonder. Listen closely to the production and feel the gospel tinge on the chorus. I also love the middle eight telling the listener to pass on the ‘light’ of feeling ‘full of wonder’. As self-empowerment songs go, this is up there with the best. It’s even better than Live While We’re Young by Falk/Kotecha/Yacoub, the first single from One Direction’s second album Take Me Home.

Simon Cowell was still finding top singers and counting the money from his five-headed cash cow. The first single from Little Mix, the four-headed 2011 winners of his primetime show, was an awesome concoction which contains my pet peeve (‘mama told me’) but is a brilliant self-empowerment song written by 12 people, which is utterly absurd.

Amelia Lily also appeared on the 2011 iteration of The X Factor and in 2015 I would see her (with my friend sitting on my lap, annoyingly) in the West End in the musical American Idiot. You Bring Me Joy was a Xenomania song starved of inspiration, which is odd for them. JLS sang about the Hottest Girl in the World, while Rita Ora became a judge in the 2012 iteration of the show which propelled her song How We Do (Party) to the UK number one spot. The song was written by 12 people, which is again utterly absurd.

An almost equally absurd 11 people wrote Don’t Wake Me Up for Chris Brown, still best known for hitting women rather than having hits; one of the writers was William Orbit, who first had hits with Madonna in the 1990s. Stooshe cover TLC’s song Waterfalls very credibly but this didn’t connect with the public and their album was pushed back to 2013. It sold well, charting at eight, but the band were dropped after one album in a stupid music industry which often wrecks the careers of talented folk, yet allows people who beat their girlfriends to keep having hits.

Other catalogue on NOW 83 comes courtesy of Flo Rida, who takes a line from Brenda Russell’s Piano in the Dark (‘I cry just a little’) and turns it into a song that sounds like 2012. UK producer Redlight had a hit with Lost In Your Love which includes our friend ‘the drop’ and sounded great on the radio.

Ne-Yo two-times on NOW 83, writing Turn Around with Benny Blanco and Stargate for Conor Maynard but keeping the awesome Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself) for himself, on which Sia is credited. It’s both a great sentiment and a synth-led club banger to get bodies gyrating. It topped the UK charts having toppled Little Mix, who had toppled an irritating one-hit wonder by Sam and the Womp called Bom Bom.

My eyes are not deceiving me. Grown-up punk-poppers Simple Plan are on a NOW, featuring Sean Paul, with Summer Paradise in a song that is 99% I’m Yours by Jason Mraz. I don’t remember this song; my friend stopped me playing music. Read the next essay to see if my friend got lost or if (s)he stayed around.

NOW 82: Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe

Summer 2012 was important for someone who grew up in London. After seven years of chuntering, of redeveloping East London, of wondering what would go wrong, the Summer Olympic Games arrived and brought a glow of optimism to the city. The Opening Ceremony may be the single most brilliant piece of theatre I have seen, a magnificent global TV event that, for me, peaked with the bit with Sir Tim Berners-Lee announcing: ‘This is for everyone’. The show inspired a song I haven’t yet written which says this slogan in several languages, a global anthem that I still need to write, hopefully before Tokyo 2020.

The Games themselves were fab. I was at indoor volleyball, beach volleyball and water polo (the glamorous events) while the BBC offered complete coverage of the Games. The joy of being ‘self-employed’ meant I could immerse myself in the coverage; I had left the job in Camden which was unsatisfying and dull (and I had accidentally kicked a football in a colleague’s face, which cannot have helped though I maintain it was an accident) to work on a book. While I slaved I realised that footballers were earning millions for being skilled in the right environment to earn those millions. I had gotten back into Premier League football, but why did I not follow my local team, Watford FC?

I decided to write a book based on 11 questions about the modern game and worked on it throughout summer. As I did so, I heard the following songs on the radio which make it onto NOW 82: Whistle by Flo Rida; Where Have You Been by Rihanna (with production from Calvin Harris and Dr Luke and a melody from Ester Dean); Payphone by Maroon 5 ft Wiz Khalifa (Shellback and Benny Blanco co-wrote it, Shellback produced it, Adam Levine showed up at the studio to pick up a massive cheque); Part of Me by Katy Perry (Max and Luke, another number one for them on both sides of the Atlantic); and Call Me Maybe by a young Canadian called Carly Rae Jepsen.

I asked my good friend Iain Richards, who still loves Carly after six years, why he was so attracted to the song, which Adeel and I chose instantly as the playlist entrant from NOW 82. It was the UK’s best-selling single for four weeks and was the US number one for nine weeks, one more than Somebody That I Used To Know. ‘It’s the perfect pop song,’ said Iain, who has heard a few and helped me pick tracks for the NOW playlist from NOW 91 to NOW 99. He continues:

‘Carly Rae Jepsen is on my wall. My first memories of her obviously stem from the global hit Call Me Maybe. The first time I heard it was whilst watching the music video. I then saw it grow into the Despacito or the One Dance of its time.

‘Entering the UK charts, she knocked superstar names like Chris Brown and Katy Perry off their pegs and the following week it continued by maintaining the number 1 spot from her mentor Justin Bieber. As good a tune as Boyfriend by the Biebs, Call Me Maybe got everyone singing.

‘After one or two listens, you knew the chorus; after one or two interviews, you loved the girl behind the voice. There’s a range of talents that went into making this song as big as it was. The low budget music video was cheesy and lovable, the song was very memorable and very catchy, with an uplifting mood, and Carly had the star power and the incredible voice.

‘The same can be said of Gangnam Style and What Does The Fox Say but they were much worse and much more annoying.’

The song took nine months to write and is full of hooks written with Josh Ramsay and Tavish Crowe, who I hope bought some nice property with the Call Me Maybe money. Carly’s second album would be written with super Swedes, who also worked with Taylor Swift (not on NOW 82 but she’s coming). Jack Antonoff went on to write with Pink, Lorde and Taylor, but announced himself with his band fun and Janelle Monae, the modern incarnation of Prince. Nate Ruess delivers a wonderful vocal on a song that pulls back in the instrumentation for the chorus but offers a magnificent chant: ‘Tonight we are young/ So let’s set the world on fire, we can burn brighter than the sun!’ It’s bulletproof, went to number one in the US for six weeks and the UK for one week, and is track 1 on Disc 1, compiled by Jenny Fisher, who must have read the lever arch file left to her by Ashley Abram.

In other songwriter news, Wayne Hector co-writes Sparks for Cover Drive and Picking Up the Pieces for Paloma Faith, her first time on a NOW. Dr Luke helps Marina & the Diamonds be a Primadonna, while Stargate are on hand to co-write R.I.P., a track by Rita Ora and Tinie Tempah, produced by Chase & Status (were they on secondment to the Stargate studio?). Swedish House Mafia release a song called Greyhound (about the dog or the bus?), Ed from Suffolk’s latest release from the album + is Small Bump, with a gorgeous chorus, and Train’s song Drive By rhymes ‘move me’ with ‘groove me’ and ‘sue me’ and was all over the radio in summer 2012. Ditto Only The Horses, a fun tune from Scissor Sisters, releasing their fourth album Magic Hour which the inlay booklet claims says is produced by Calvin Harris; one track on that album is co-written with rapper Azealia Banks.

It seemed as if Azealia torched her career very quickly. The full tragic tale will be told some day, but a promising singer whose song 212 (featuring Lazy Jay) was lewd, crude and exciting remains her lasting contribution to pop music, though as I write she put out a new song only two days ago. She was forced to release a full-length album in 2014 without a label. It was critically acclaimed and included 212, which came out fully two-and-a-half years before. Never mind Waiting for Godot, how about Waiting for Azealia?

Elsewhere I Won’t Give Up, a song that sounded a bit like Annie’s Song by John Denver, led to another appearance by the great Jason Mraz. Another silky male voice comes from Alex Clare from Golders Green, North London (yes, ladies, he’s Jewish), whose song Too Close was all over TV and radio as it was on an advert for Microsoft. The track was co-produced by a man called Diplo, another EDM celebrity who was familiar with sonic texture and mood and could take the listener on a journey.

Plan B (to quote a funny Youtube clip, ‘What is planbuk? What is buk tho?!’) returned to hiphop with iLL Manors, an album based on life in Forest Gate, East London; the lead single is on Disc 2 and is led by a cello riff. Ben Drew’s dad is in the music business and for two days I worked for him, for no money and with no joy. In unconnected news, Paul Ballance had abandoned his son Ben Ballance-Drew when he was a child.

Other blokes on Disc 2 include B.O.B. with the fun So Good, co-written by Ryan Tedder; Sway, a British rapper called Derek, whose song Level Up brought the underground overground; Taio Cruz used RedOne and Senor Worldwide to help create There She Goes; Labrinth borrowed the old Charles Wright song Express Yourself (the one NWA sampled) and rapped over it; and The Wanted continued their run of hits with Chasing The Sun, written by Example. New band Lawson, sold as a boyband, appear with When She Was Mine, apparently (thanks inlay booklet) about singer Andy Brown’s former girlfriend Mollie from The Saturdays, whose latest hit 30 Days is on NOW 82.

I love Princess of China, a smart pop song with Brian Eno’s fingerprints by Coldplay and Rihanna (a duet) which samples Takk by Sigur Ros. I am less keen on Starships by Nicki Minaj, which combines every pop trick in one song, as befits a song written by Nicki with RedOne, Carl Falk, Rami Yacoub and Wayne Hector. Breaking Starships into its constituent parts we have a guitar-led hook followed by Nicki rapping about going to the beach, then comes a sung melody about loving to dance, then comes a bulletproof chorus that can only be written by Swedes which is repeated, then comes ‘the drop’ and RedOne’s contribution, a wild siren with pitch-shifted vocals. Verse two stars with singing (‘I owe that’) and moves into rap which quotes Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and changes the rhythm of the delivery, then comes an abridged recap of the singing bit and the chorus. Then the breakdown, then the chorus, with the vocals prominent the first time, then the breakdown to the final bars. Sensational, apart from the breakdown.

It may be one of the best songs of this decade to land as a ‘terrific two’. Number ones from spring 2012 included Turn Up the Music by Chris Brown, who still had a career despite hitting Rihanna in the face; Young by Tulisa, which could have been by any female singer and is purely product for Tulisa to sing on The X Factor, on which she was a judge in 2012; and Call My Name, a Calvin Harris song by Cheryl (no longer Cheryl Cole), which could have been by any female singer and is purely product for Cheryl to sing on The X Factor, on whose US edition she had flopped spectacularly in 2011, returning to help Gary Barlow ‘pick’ contestants for the 2012 UK edition.

Astonishingly, there are no Simon Cowell acts on NOW 82, apart from Labrinth who was not a product of one of his shows. Instead we have some brilliant, original acts. Feel The Love introduced two British stars who ape the ‘Producer plus Singer’ formula. John Newman sings 21 words (‘You know I said it’s true, I can feel the love, can you feel it too? I can feel it ah’) while Rudimental build an unstoppable series of beats behind it designed to keep people partying. It worked and became their first number one.

David Guetta, meanwhile, two-times again as he keeps earning money with songs like LaserLight, credited to Jessie J featuring Monsieur Guetta, and Turn Me On, an enormous song credited to Monsieur Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj, which is the superior of the two songs. Fun fact: David’s real first name is Pierre (Peter Dickson voice: PIERRE GUETTAAAA!) Another club banger from 2012 was Hot Right Now by DJ Fresh, with the vocals of Rita Ora, which I never liked but gets my tush shaking. Calvin Harris outdoes his mate and appears for a fourth time on NOW 82 with Ne-Yo on Let’s Go, which features ‘the drop’ at the 51-second mark.

Usher joins Ne-Yo as ‘soulful black guy singing dance-pop’ with his song Scream which is written by, would you believe it, Shellback, Savan Kotecha and Max Martin. ‘If you wanna scream YEAH, let me know and I’ll take you there!’ Simple and effective, the IKEA version of pop. That year’s Eurovision Song Contest was won by Sweden’s Loreen with the song Euphoria, another dance-pop song. It is the first Eurovision winner in a long time to be on a NOW; 2000’s winner featured in a dance version, but I loved both Fairytale (Alexander Rybak, Norway, 2009) and Satellite (Lena, Germany, 2010), both never on a NOW but available on the Contest’s own CD compilation.

I attended the 2011 Contest in Germany, which was won by a fluffy ballad by two non-Azeri performers who took it to Baku, Azerbaijan. Sweden did pop best and would host the Contest in 2013, which was won by (I had to look this up) Denmark. The UK, of course, sent well-known musician (whose heyday was 1968) Englebert Humperdinck, who came second last and only scored points from Estonia, Ireland, Belgium and Latvia. Russia famously came second with some ‘Babushki’, grandmas., whose judging on The Voice UK had impressed millions in late 2011, had yet another number one with This Is Love, co-produced by two of Swedish House Mafia and co-written, would you believe it, by Max Martin! Vocalist Eva Simons also contributed to the writing process on a song that sounds like pop in 2012 to the extent that she also asks people if they can ‘feel the love’.

Conor Maynard was the latest star to leap out of the online world and into the charts, with his debut single Can’t Say No. He was pitched as a British Justin Bieber; the Canadian version returned with a hard-edged song called Boyfriend, which he wrote with Mike Posner. It’s a nifty song with a great acoustic guitar lick and a great vocal. If only Bieber would stop pratting about with monkeys and girlfriends – the day I wrote this essay it was reported he was engaged to Stephen Baldwin’s daughter Hailey – he would be the biggest star in the world.

The proliferation of African sounds on pop radio in the UK has been welcome. D’Banj was one of the breakthrough acts with his song Oliver Twist. Other black performers populated playlists: Stooshe’s magnificent pop song Black Heart is electrifying, while My Kind of Love by Emeli Sande was understated. Looking back, however, it unleashed a genre I call ‘Sound Of Pop’, as in an act whose music is produced to appeal to a wide range of fans after a promotion on the BBC Sound Of polls: the songs are a little bit pop, a little bit dance, a little bit urban, a big load of blah. I would have this problem with Sam Smith, Rag ‘N’ Bone Man and James Bay, who all won critical approval before they even put out their debut album. The Sound of 2012 was Michael Kiwanuka, a soulful chap whose album Home Again was terrific but had no singles included on a NOW. Stooshe were on the longlist for the poll, in which 184 tastemakers voted for their tips; Skrillex, A$AP Rocky and Frank Ocean did well, as did Azealia Banks.

At the end of NOW 82 comes Sing, written by Gary Barlow and Andrew Lloyd Webber in honour of Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. In the sixty years Good Queen Bess has been on the throne, pop has moved from orchestras to beat groups to confessional singer-songwriter to new-wave rock groups to vocal harmony groups to stadium buskers.

Since 1952, Britain has led the way in the creative arts, producing world-renowned actors, singers, comics, stagehands, directors, producers, solo performers and Jedward (who are Irish but found fame on British TV). Britain has talent and I am privileged to live in an era where I can enjoy it.