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December 30th, 2012

12:23 am - 2012 - The Year in Music
2012's been a bit of a funny year in the world of pop. At first glance it's a musical landscape that easily seems to continue the trend of the decade so far - the top 20 sellers of the year have Rihanna present and correct, as she has been for every year so far of the 2010s. Jessie J, Flo Rida, David Guetta and more are also there again, all linked by the synth-heavy dance-pop that's defined the last few years and even as we close this year seems to rest easy at the top of the pop charts. Whether it's a good thing perhaps depends on your generation - if you're over 30 it might all sound a bit naff, but for those a decade or two younger - particularly those who turned about 10 this year, this is perhaps the only 'pop' music you've ever known. It's the music that all songs from now on can simply aspire to be, your 'year zero' that will be nostalgic of youthful youtube views and Spotify streams forever. The likes of Rida and Jessie are to 2012 what, say, Nelly and Shakira were to 2002. What Take That and Shakespear's Sister were to 1992, Boy George and Alison Moyet to 1982 - huge pop stars that older folks may grumble at, muttering something about not being as good as the old days, but to a generation they're the most awesome people on the planet. Loving those '82 synths/'92 breakbeats/'02 guitars/'12 synths!

Saying that, there's the feelings of something rumbling under the ground, waiting to be found or rediscovered. Already people are tipping 2013 to be The Return of Rock, a genre that's been fairly unrepresented in the singles chart for about half a decade. While we haven't had many huge rock anthems this year, some of the year's biggest sellers display quite a notable difference from the put-your-hands-in-the-air-and-party sound we've been long used to. It's still remarkable, for example, to note the success of a certain Australasian twosome known as Gotye and Kimbra.

When 'Somebody That I Used To Know' hit these shores at the very beginning of the year, it had already been a substantial hit overseas. But even so the British charts very soon saw it shoot up to the top and sound unlike anything else in the top 40. A number 1, shock horror, with no pounding synths. No rap break in the middle and certainly no dubstep drops. Instead a basic acoustic guitar and some xylophone coupled with a quiet, restrained, almost mumbled delivery from both singers in the verses came to many like a huge breath of fresh air - and sometimes, as this song proved, it's good to be different and stand out from the crowd. By Christmas the song had sold over 1.3 million copies, putting it up there with one of the biggest selling songs ever, let alone 2012. Neither Gotye or Kimbra have been seen in the chart since, but indeed why should they need to? They can happily ride off the back of their one collaboration for the rest of their lives. For those used to the Guetta sound the song could seem dull, almost offensive at first - where's the euphoria? The heavy 4/4 beat? There's not even any autotune! Nonetheless it became one of the biggest songs of the year to truly cross over to an older audience, sounding like it could have been released in any of the last five decades and sound fresh every time.

Another huge seller, though about as different to Gotye & Kimbra as you can get, again for once came from a country that for once was neither here or the United States. Canadian Idol contestant Carly Rae Jepsen had ended 2011 scoring a big hit in her native land, and a few months into 2012 it made its way here. Again, it defied many expectations. On your first listen to 'Call Me Maybe' you wonder if you've gone back in time to the late 80s or 90s. Yes it uses synths, but much more sparingly compared to the all-guns-blazing sound we're used to in this decade. Instead it takes a much more simplistic, bubblegum-pop sound you could imagine Kylie Minogue releasing circa 1989 or Britney Spears a decade later. "Hey, I just met you - and this is crazy - but here's my number - so call me maybe" she sings and a million songwriters gnash their teeth in envy. Of course! It doesn't have to be complicated, it doesn't have to be groundbreaking, just be as simple and catchy as possible and you're guaranteed a hit. Again it stood out - mostly to a younger audience instead of the more older crowd on Gotye's side - and soon joined him in the million sellers club, Carly not having any major follow-up solo hits to date but being rescued from one-hit wonder status when a collaboration with Owl City went top 10 later in the year.

If there was any song that indicated, though, that rock was on the verge of returning, it's that by the curiously named 'fun.', complete with lower-case F and full stop at the end. 'We Are Young' (feat. Janelle Monae) not only gets this author's pick as the best song of the year, but easily wins the best song of the decade so far. Starting with a simple marching drumbeat and basic piano, it entices you in and then blows you away with a euphoric, punch-the-air-and-sing-along chorus that the first few times I heard it, it moved me to tears. And again, it achieves it not using pounding synths but with heavy drums and soaring choral vocals. It needs to do little else for its remaining three minutes as it has you gripped tightly already, never leaving your head and feeling like every time you listen to it you're witness to a musical event rather than just a song. Sales by Christmas were very close to a million and it seems surely inevitable that it will pass that magical milestone during next year.

Although the three tracks above were all products of a new-school of acts, the faces of the (very) recent past few years still had it in them. Remember David Guetta? Perhaps worrying that his dominance of the charts over the last several years was starting to count against him, no longer seen as a world-class DJ but a cheesy pop producer, the very start of the year saw the ascendance to the top of the greatest song he's ever made. 'Titanium', with Ozzie singer Sia doing her best Adele impression over the top, defines the word 'euphoric' so much it deserves an entry in the dictionary. The singing is immense. The beat is the equivalent of the entire Earth being grabbed by the hand of God and thrown to and from the wall of the universe like a tennis ball for three minutes. Everything about is huge and like 'We Are Young' leaves you breathless at the end. Even the biggest critiques of Guetta after listening to this had to go, ok, fair play dude, you've still got it. An attempt to match the magic came in the autumn when he brought back Sia for 'She Wolf (Falling To Pieces)' which has some initial joy but one listen to Titanium again and it's won you back over.

Elsewhere in 2012 land, Nicki Minaj successfully completed her journey from 2010's "Annoying woman who raps over other people's songs", to 2011's "Still annoying woman who occasionally raps over other people's songs though 'Super Bass' isn't bad" to truly turning things round and cementing herself as a solo star this year. 'Starships' sold the most, a summery song that took advantage of a brief March heatwave to rise to number 2 and sell bucketloads, combining a singalong chorus with a heavy Guettaesque beat and, most amusingly of all, a sudden segue into 19th-century classic Twinkle Twinkle Little Star during one of the verses. It was good, yet follow-up 'Pound The Alarm' was even better, using exactly the same formula but the instrumental breakdowns literally sounding like all the alarms in the world being - ahem - pounded at once, enveloping the listeners ears with a seemingly chaotic yet irresistable wall of noise. Taking a trip over to Scandinavia, the DJ collective of Axwell, Steve Angello, and Sebastian Ingrosso - better known together as the Swedish House Mafia - shockingly called it a day and split this year, despite being one of the best acts of the decade so far. They'd ended 2010 with two of the best songs of that whole year ('One' and 'Miami 2 Ibiza') and continued the run nicely this year with the buzzing, dubstep-influenced collaboration with Knife Party that was 'Antidote', the etheral electronic beauty of 'Greyhound' and finally - finally - getting the number 1 they'd deserved for so long with their final single 'Don't You Worry Child'. They will be much missed indeed.

Closer to home, new girl group Stooshe launched with a blaze of glory at the start of the year and by the end were missing the top 20 with their singles, but they did at least give us a future classic with 'Black Heart', a Motown-influenced groover which sounds like a blatant commercial attempt at a hit single but it does its job so well you don't care, winning you over from the very first listen. Then there's former grime king Wiley, who may not be the credible underground force he once was but boy does he know how to write a good tune. 'Heatwave' was perhaps the ultimate sound of the summer, a repetitive chorus featuring the easy-to-remember "On my body, on my body, put your hands upon my body" and Wiley rapping his verses over a sun-drenched array of general synthy drums and bleeps. Ironically for a year that barely had any sun at all and is mostly remembered for half the country's villages disappearing under almost apocalyptic floods, even as I write this in December it takes you back to a seemingly blissful scorcher of a summer that technically didn't actually exist. You know you've written something with power when it messes with your historical meteorological memory.

By the time we reached our Olympic summer, out of all the songs released so far arguably Gotye & Kimbra and Carly's tracks had caused the biggest cultural impact. Everyone knew them both, they were played and referenced regularly and surely, unless something came out of nowhere in the last few months, they'd be perhaps jointly crowned as the most remembered two songs of 2012. Right?

Step forward, confusing everyone, a 34 year old Korean man wearing sunglasses.

"Naje-neun ttasaroun inkanjeo-gin yeoja! Keopi hanjanye yeoyureuraneun pumkyeok i-nneun yeoja" are hardly the most obvious opening lyrics for a song that in just a few weeks would take over not just the world but very possibly a few nearby planets in our solar system. It is now impossible to imagine what life was like before Park Jae-Sang and his demonstration of 'Gangnam Style'. It started out as just a funny little youtube video of 'PSY' (to give his professional name) rapping stuff in Korean, wearing a pink suit and doing a demented dance involving the pretend ride of an imaginary horse. A sizeable hit in his native country soon followed - well of course, he was a big star there, sort of like the South Korean version of Eminem. But come on, surely this is where the story should end - we've had this before with Rebecca Black and her hilariously simplistic 'Friday'. With the late Eduard Khil and his easy-listening Russian anthem involving the repetition of a 'trolololo' sound. Hell, even Keyboard Cat. All were briefly popular and gained many views but none troubled the pop charts, certainly in this country.

Except this wasn't just your typical youtube viral. This was a song that, despite its silliness, was catchy enough to play in clubs. A dance craze simple enough to imitate. And, best of all, if you uploaded your own parody or homage, they wouldn't take it down for copyright infringement - indeed it was encouraged. As summer became autumn, Gangnam Style grew and grew and grew until it became the biggest craze to hit pop since perhaps Macarena Mania of 1996. Eventually it wasn't just your expected viral audience of teens and twenty-somethings who knew about it. Your mum knew about it. Your grandma knew about it. And, incredibly, after a few sherries, they were doing the dance in your living room over Christmas. But you didn't mind because you'd done it yourself with your friends at the club the previous week. Even your younger cousins were getting in on the act. More so than Gotye, more so than Carly, more than any other song it united not just every age group, but every country, every nationality in Gangnam Goodness. Indeed the song's probably in your head as you read this paragraph. Ha!

It's perhaps ironic that in a year that saw several high-profile breaks from your usual early-2010s synth sound, the one that had the biggest cultural impact of all was one that stuck to it perfectly. Except instead of English it's Korean and has a silly dance coupled with it. Gotye may win the prize of the biggest seller of the year, but ask anyone to name a 2012 song in a few years time and surely Psy's got it in the bag. There's more chance of that than him ever having another hit, anyway.

So 2013? Maybe rock will return. Maybe acts like Alt+J, already hotly tipped, will bring back the 'indie rock' sound we haven't heard in so long. Maybe Guetta, Rida et al will fade? And surely at some point the Gangnam revolution has to die down, although too early to predict when. Some things are for sure - Rihanna will release yet another massive single. John Lewis will get another hit with an inoffensive young girl covering an inoffensive old song in inoffensive piano form on an inoffensive advert. And surely out of all the songs to be released over the next twelve months, we will get a couple at least that will be remembered forever. A Gotye/Carly/fun./Psy kinda song. Someone's future favourite song - possibly even mine - could come out in 2013. And my ears can't wait already.

Otherwise? Bring it on!
Current Mood: goodgood
Current Music: Stooshe - Black Heart

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October 9th, 2012

10:46 pm - It's 63-Co Time
In the 82, soon to be 83 volumes to be released so far, is it possible for there to be a "worst Now album"? Surely not as it must vary by individual taste. Someone who grows less interested with music per year must see every new album to be worse than the previous, while albums released before the subject was born may not quite have the nostalgic factor of later examples.

But discounting all that, I've seen a fair few posts on the internet agreeing that if the title of 'worst' went to any of them, it would be to that of Now 63. and this includes opinions years after release so it's more than just a music-of-today thing. The climate this time is the beginning of 2006, when the world was going crazy over the Da Vinci Code, a whale was spotted in the River Thames and 'Life on Mars' and 'The IT Crowd' were the coolest new shows on the planet. The internet meanwhile began to go through a remarkable new age, hundreds catching on to a social networking site called 'Myspace' and a video sharing network called 'Youtube'. One would soon fall to a better competitor while the other just kept on growing.

Last time we looked at 2004's Now 58, which saw us in a completely physical world of CD singles and falling sales. By early 2006 the singles chart had finally added downloads, but in a bizarre compromise rule where a physical had to exist at the same time, causing a chart not reflective at all as to what people were actually buying and making it all a bit of a mockery. The X Factor was around but yet to find its Leona, JLS, One Direction etc, instead a series of flash in the pan one-hit wonders who'd score an initial huge #1 but then vanish. Meanwhile Top of the Pops was on its last months of broadcast, shunted to Sunday afternoon BBC2 with absolutely nobody watching. It really did seem that the introduction of downloads had done nothing to halt the decline of the single, and the days of huge-selling widely known songs were forever in the past.

Oh how little we knew. To be honest I'm glancing at the tracklist for this one already and slightly grimacing...I'm about to review an album from a musical era that is in no way revered today, at least what I've seen, and relistening to some of these will be a bit of a pain. I don't even have any good memories attached, coming as it does in what was perhaps the worst year of my life when I was 17. I'd already left school and had absolutely no clue what to do, my life yet to get kickstarted and by now I was wondering if it ever would. I have no pictures of me from that time, but here's one a few months later when things were slightly better at least:


Right. Deep breath. Early 2006 we meet again, and Disc 1 of Now 63 commences!

Now 63 - Track by TrackCollapse )
Current Mood: blahblah
Current Music: Fall Out Boy - This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race

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September 27th, 2012

02:00 pm - 58 it like a Polaroid picture
Right then, let's have another Now review. First some background reading of my previous album writeups:

Now 28 (1994)
Now 42 (1999)
Now 72 (2009)
Now 79 (2011)

Notice, instantly, a ten year gap from 1999 to 2009. I've said in the past that most of the music released in the 2000s was "dire", with only the two years either end of the decade - 2000 and 2009 - being musical years that I love, both having a wonderful amount of classic songs I still play today.

But then again, a lot of this is based on memory and nostalgia. The 1990s (and very early noughties) take me back to childhood while the very end of the 2000s into the 2010s show me at my early twenties peak, enough memories for both to fill an album on its own. What you have in between are the dreaded teenage years, when I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and was generally an unsociable, miserable bugger of a teen, spending every waking hour on forums, MSN Messenger and IRC chatrooms.

So let's try something different. Rather than look back at a Now album with lots of happy memories, let's try one from the dullest of teen years. In the Summer of 2004 I was 15 years old and was doing nothing of note in my life, disliking school so much I was barely in half the time. Big Brother 5 was dominating the ratings with the infamous 'Fight Night' and the most bonkers set of contestants to date, Tony Blair had purple powder thrown at him in Commons, and a certain show called 'The X Factor' was about to start. Music-wise the charts were still 100% based on physical, go-to-a-shop-and-buy-the-song sales, particularly the CD single which by now was selling in very low numbers. Internet connections were rife and people had well and truly discovered the medium of downloading songs instead, either illegally or in something called the 'iTunes Music Store' which had just launched but wasn't elegible in the charts yet.

Against all this madness. Now 58 was released. And I own a very unusual version of this album.

That's right, what you see there is a cassette tape. In 2004 these were endangered species in itself, but shortly after Christmas 2007, when I was looking at the CD shelf in WHSmith and found this sole, sorry-looking lonely cassette album on the bottom shelf, I couldn't quite believe my eyes. A cassette! In this day and age! And, as you can see, knocked down from £10.99 to £3. I swiftly bought it just for the novelty value, and to this day I haven't seen a single cassette sold anywhere else outside of boot sales and charity shops. I wonder sometimes if I was the last ever person to buy a music tape from WHSmith anywhere...certainly there's even less chance of seeing one today, now even CDs are equally endangered.

Contemporary photo of me in 2004? Believe it or not I've been able to find just one, from March that year - after that I went into a bit of a camera shy don't-photograph-me phase...

Let's start with Disc 1 and see if what I remember being a pretty rubbish musical year has any hidden gems!

Now 58 - Track by TrackCollapse )
Current Mood: calmcalm
Current Music: The Rasmus - In The Shadows

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April 21st, 2012

10:28 pm - I want to praise 42 like I should
I've got time to do one more of these before the end of my Easter break, and given the vintage of the act I saw last night, this one seems only fitting. I started with last year's Now 79, then in recent weeks did 1994's Now 28 and 2009's Now 72. Thought I'd fill a hole in that fifteen year gap next.

As ever, guess from these stories:

* Who Wants to be a Millionaire was a ridiculously huge success, garnering 19 million viewers.

* The National Minimum Wage came into force, paying workers no less than £3.60 an hour.

* Some show called 'Family Guy' started in America. I haven't seen it but I heard it rips off The Simpsons. Probably won't last long.

We're going back ten years from Now's early 1999! The end of March saw the release of Now 42, which I bought in the same store as 28 and 72 a few days back. By coincidence it's another crucial one for me as it's when I really, really started to get into music. I was always aware of it but it's from this album that I begin to know and remember tons of songs. I was ten years old, in year 5 of primary school...and here's the contemporary picture.

Here's the 40 songs that defined the beginning of 1999!

Now 42 - Track by TrackCollapse )
Current Mood: lethargiclethargic
Current Music: Divine Comedy - National Express

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April 12th, 2012

11:31 pm - My Life Would Suck Without 72
Ok, before I say when this one was released, try guessing from these clues:

* Barack Obama was sworn in as US president, to much celebration. Mostly because even if he does nothing for four years he'll still be better than Bush.

* Slumdog Millionaire was storming the British box office.

* Swine flu slowly began to spread the world.


Yep! We're at the beginning of 2009, and it was in April that Now 72 was released. I picked this one up at the same time as Now 28 so thought I'd see how music tastes changed fifteen years on, and what memories I have associated with the songs. Hmm, maybe I should bridge the gap and do a 1999 one after this ;)

Here's a fresh-faced me in early 2009:

And here we go with a track-by-track review of the soundtrack of my 20 year old life!
Now 72 - Track by TrackCollapse )
Current Music: Alesha Dixon - The Boy Does Nothing

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April 9th, 2012

07:48 pm - Love in the 90s (Now 28)
Last year I looked at what was then the latest addition to the Now That's What I Call Music range, Now 79, and reviewed every single track on there. And then, erm, forgot to post it for months, but here it is to have a gander. So on today's rainy Bank Holiday I thought I'd do it again - but rather than look at the latest release, I'll go back in time. Indeed I'll go back to a time of a musical climate when I'm mostly too young to remember the songs, so not many memories associated and those I do have are very hazy. Some songs I'll be listening to for the very first time, others are ingrained in my head already as classics.

It was the summer of 1994, and I looked like this.

I'm on the right. Elsewhere the world was watching an England-free World Cup, the Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive were battling it out for console supremacy...and some guy called Tony Blair became leader of the Labour party. Most importantly it was when 'Now That's What I Call Music 28' was released, and buying the CD in CeX recently, I thought I'd give it a listen. What were we listening to seventeen summers ago, when I was five years old?

Now 28 - Track by TrackCollapse )
Current Music: Let Loose - Crazy For You

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December 31st, 2010

01:42 am - 2010's music hall of fame
It's the last day of the year. The obligatory review will follow later, but for now I'm looking back of the music of the last 12 months. Here are five acts that absolutely owned 2010.

Tinie Tempah

I couldn't stand him at first. Seemingly appearing from nowhere in March, suddenly everyone was talking about "Pass Out" and it started being played everywhere. Hearing lyrics such as "I've got so many clothes, I keeps them in my aunt's house" and the now legendary "I've been Southampton, but I've never been to Scunthorpe" at first I thought it was a Chris Moyles parody. When I found out it was genuine, I dismissed it as novelty one-hit wonder nonsense and would turn over whenever it played. Follow-up hit "Frisky" sounding exactly the same, with equally silly lyrics ("Would you risk it for a chocolate biscuit?" and the "Lalalala, lalalalala, lalalala, lalalala frisky" chorus) met similar dismissal from me.

But gradually, I warmed to him, and the songs became the soundtrack of my year. Those first two hits were played all the time at the National Youth Theatre summer course, while I listened a lot to "Written In The Stars" while in Edinburgh. By the time "Miami 2 Ibiza" came out, I loved it, and subsequently revisited the previous hits and found them not too bad. The lyrics are still silly, but there's a certain charm about them. Somewhat terrifyingly he's two months younger than me, but at least he hasn't sold out as badly as Dizzee Rascal has yet.

Favourite Tinie Tempah memory: It's gotta be during NYT in August, when during Pass Out we all randomly started shouting "Scunthorpe!" constantly throughout the song. Sounds bizarre writing it, but at the time it felt like the most hilarious thing ever.


Yes, the originals are best. Yes, all the cast are about ten years older than who they're meant to be playing. But I still loved this show and played their covers endlessly during the first half of the year. From breakthrough cover "Don't Stop Believing", to "Somebody To Love" to the brilliant 'embarrassing song' episode when everything from Ice Ice Baby to U Can't Touch This to Total Eclipse Of The Heart got the showtune treatment, I was hooked. And rather than spend loads of money buying them all, instead I scour youtube and now Spotify to get my listening fix. Season 2 starts next month and I can't wait.

Favourite Glee memory: Waking up in March to a beautiful sunny morning, about to book for the V Festival, and playing their medley of "Halo/Walking On Sunshine" on repeat for hours. Finally the weather was turning and spring was beginning.

Bruno Mars

Someone else who just seemed to come from nowhere, starting as guest star on other people's records before graduating into a solo career in the autumn. First came "Nothin' On You" in the Spring, collaborating with the ridiculously named 'Bob'. Somewhat passed me by at the time but listening back it's a beautiful track, taking me right back to that May, and bonus points for mentioning the Nintendo 64 in the lyrics. More than anything, though, I'll remember him for summer hit 'Billionaire', this time working with Travie McCoy. Slightly unneeded profanity notwithstanding ("I wanna be a billionaire so f***ing bad"...did you really have to, Bruno?) I write this in freezing December, but just listening to Billionaire I'm back in those hot summer days.

Much more remembered by the general public though will no doubt be his biggest hit and first solo release, 'Just The Way You Are' which to my surprise is one of the biggest sellers of the entire year. Sure, yeah, another beautiful song and it continues the nice melody work we've heard from him before, but I really didn't think it would sell the over half a million that it has. Time will tell if he grows into a huge megastar next year, or remains a 2010 flash in the pan.

Favourite Bruno Mars memory: Very similar to the Glee one, but flash forward to August, very early in the morning, and playing 'Billionaire' as I'm about to start at NYT. Even then I knew the best two weeks of my life were about to start, and I couldn't get it out my head for that whole month.

Plan B

This one's rather a shame, as he started the year with the most amazing track ever but then quickly descended into blandness. Said song was 'Stay Too Long', which begins innocently enough with him crooning in a high voice to an upbeat and 60s sounding backing, before he suddenly starts rapping in the middle. Good in itself, but it's the final minute of the track that elevates it into legendary status. Said rap gets bigger and bigger before by the end, he's literally screaming out the lines, every other word an expletive and squealing, distortion-filled guitars and choirs echoing out everywhere. The perfect mixture of genres and a deserved top 10 hit, my favourite song of the whole year.

So what happened? Well, next came his biggest hit, the much more commercial 'She Said'. Still a great tune, but a bit too much crooning and not enough rapping for my liking. From then though the rapping disappeared altogether, his album 'The Defamation of Strickland Banks' is a good listen but there's far too many bland ballads for my liking - maybe I'd like them more had 'Stay Too Long' not existed, but after I'd heard that epic, nothing was going to compare. And yet no doubt everyone's only going to remember him for She Said. Oh well.

Favourite Plan B memory: Other than hearing STL for the first time (in a McDonalds, of all places) it would be seeing him live at August's V Festival.

Professor Green

A lot of 2010's tracks were slow burners rather than instant likes. But the first time I heard Professor Green's 'I Need You Tonight' I loved it. Looping the instrumental of INXS's 'Need You Tonight' with Mr Green rapping random stuff over the top, unsurprisingly some people were up in arms and saying it ruins the original. But for me, it worked - that guitar riff is so good he could be reading his shopping list over it for all I care and I'd still enjoy it.

How to follow up that? Well, with another cover, except this time rope Lily Allen in. 'Just Be Good To Green' delivered the magic once again and during June and July it was probably the song I played the most. This one was slightly more imaginative and made it all electro-poppy, and another top 5 hit was assured. Unfortunately, after that he tried releasing original material and the public just didn't seem interested anymore, his third hit only just scraping the top 30. Unless he comes up with something incredible in 2011, it seems he'll only be remembered as the guy who did novelty covers of songs from 20 years ago. Maybe in 2020 he'll make a comeback sampling S Club 7 and Craig David...

Favourite Professor Green memory: Seeing him and Lily Allen perform Just Be Good To Green LIVE together at the Wireless Festival in July.

2011 will no doubt see more one hit wonders, breakout stars, bizarre comebacks, and just maybe the occasional classic that will be played for years to come. Can't wait!
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: Tinie Tempah - Frisky

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December 1st, 2010

01:56 am - Christmas list
And so it begins. Except this year, for probably the first ever time in my life, with a difference - the snow has come ALREADY. The 1st December has barely begun, yet outside my London window is the earliest wintry snowscape in memory.

I just can't believe it - we had a decade of barely any snow at all in London. From the late 1990s to about 2007, you'd get a bit of sleet in February and that was it. Then came unexpected April and October snowfalls in 2008, the snowiest day in eighteen years in 2009, the coldest winter in 30 years in January...and now we've just come out of the coldest November in 25 years, hence current conditions. And I love it. I can play all the Christmas songs already.

Here are my top ten favourites!

10) Chris Rea - Driving Home For Christmas (1988)

Starting with one that, unbelievably, completely missed the top 40 on original release. No, really - in 1988 this festive classic could only climb as high as number 53. It has however lasted the passage of time and joined the greats. Chris Rea's husky voice sounds warm and awesome over this blissful piano tune, and is so evocative that as he sings I can imagine that car driving down a frosty motorway, a winter chill in the air. Happily, the advent of downloads meant that in 2007 it finally got the top 40 position it deserved.

9) Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas? (1984)

Well, how can you not? Worth noting that this is for the original, beautifully made 1984 version, feverishly put together in hardly any time by musical genius Midge Ure. The now famous synth lead before the chorus gets me every time, and almost every 80s great is on here. To be honest, I don't mind the 1989 version as it has an awesome lineup in its own right (Kylie! Jason! Chris Rea! JIMMY SOMERVILLE!!), but the 2004 version is crap in the extreme. Bono sounds rubbish and as for Dizzee Rascal, oh god...

8) John & Yoko - Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (1972)

Funnily enough, I always think of Slade and Wizzard as the originators of the 'modern' Christmas song in '73, yet Lennon came out with this a year earlier. Like lots of his work, it's got a dreamy, magical feeling to it which all good Christmas songs have. You really do believe that war can be over if we want it, but then you think of Iraq, and now Korea, and suddenly there's a lot of sadness here as well, knowing not only have we since lost Lennon but war definitely isn't over...yet. Rubbishly covered by the Pop Idol finalists thirty years later, but brilliantly didn't get to number 1, probably the only ever time Simon Cowell's actually hasn't succeeded.

7) Wham! - Last Christmas (1984)

The fact that this is only at number 7 says a lot about the quality of the top 6, as I absolutely adore this. I think this is still the only ever million seller not to get to number 1, being kept at #2 by Band Aid. Beautiful 80s brilliance, and I melt every time that main synth lead and sleigh bells come in. Not much more to be said - everyone knows it.

6) Pet Shop Boys - It Doesn't Often Snow At Christmas (1997/2009)

First issued as an exclusive to fan club members in the 90s, remixed as a single last year. Well, it's the Pet Shop Boys, they can't do anything ironic is it though that after waiting years to release it, that year it actually DID snow at Christmas. I saw them live that Christmas, and Neil Tennant sheepishly noted the irony before performing it. Deserved way more than its number 40 chart position, but I'll be playing it every year forever from now on.

5) The Pretenders - 2000 Miles (1983)

Even just the melody is gorgeous. That long slow fade in to the most wonderful guitar riff...and then Chrissie Hynde starts singing and you're in heaven. This is easily the most underrated of the lot, not a massive hit on original release (number 15) and deserves way more attention. I actually can't type anymore as I'm so entranced by her voice and the song. Wow.

4) Shakin' Stevens - Merry Christmas Everyone (1985)

Awww :) I have happy memories dancing to this with friends at a 2008 Christmas party. Actually ridiculously underrated in my opinion, yeah it's one of the most well-remembered songs and played all the time, but still not as much as it should be - this should be on as much as Slade, Wizzard and The Pogues! And I can never resist that keychange at the end. Just listening to it now, with snow still falling outside, I can't stop smiling...

3) The Darkness - Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End) (2003)

One of the very very few good Christmas songs of the last two decades. It's more than good, though, it's brilliant - and I wanted it to be #1 SO much. They clearly made a huge effort for this to join what was even then a huge list of festive classics, which I think they just about did but hopefully in years to come it'll be even bigger. Was very disappointed when it stalled at #2, but lots of greats have stalled at that position. A bit like the next song...

2) Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You (1994)

Funny story with this. Big hit on original release, though not number 1 (kept at #2 behind East 17), but it's really only in the last five years or so it's become MASSIVE. Before then it wasn't played as much - maybe it's people's overexposure to Slade/Wizzard/Wham/Band Aid, so they've moved to more recent stuff instead? Back in the 1990s, Slade was the number 1 Xmas song, but now I think it's this and The Pogues. Anyway, I liked it before its resurgence - the second ever song I legally downloaded from iTunes, and despite being overplayed in recent years, I still love it.

1) Wizzard - I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day (1973)

I still love it. No matter how many hundreds and hundreds of times I've heard it, and approaching its 40th birthday(!), it's my number 1 Christmas song. Roy Wood sings the lyrics full of joy, and everything from that big orchestral backing to the kids at the end ("Alright you lot, take it!") encapsulates everything about Christmas. And is there a better ending to ANY song than that final, massive, "WHY DON'T YOU GIIIIIIVE YOUR LOOOOOOOVE FOOOOOOORRRRRRRR CHRISTMASSSSSSSSSS!!!"?

And it didn't even get to number 1. In fact it only climbed to an almost insulting number 4, behind the New Seekers, (erm) Gary Glitter, and yep, Slade.

Just missing out, but fitting into my top 15:

Mud - Lonely This Christmas
Gary Glitter - Another Rock And Roll Christmas
Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody
The Pogues feat Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale of New York
Geraldine McQueen - Once Upon A Christmas Song

And any others I've forgotten about.

Now all I have to do is make sure not to overplay them so I'm not sick of them by Christmas itself!
Current Mood: excitedexcited
Current Music: Wizzard - I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day

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September 24th, 2010

03:09 pm - Twenty-Two Top Tens - 2010
I've only just realised that actually, including this one, it's twenty-three top tens.

But oh well, too late now - we're finally here. From Stock/Aitken/Waterman, to rave, to Britpop, to manufactured groups to urban, it's been quite the 22 years in music. We finish with a review of the chart on this very day, 24th September 2010 and my 22nd birthday. And then the all-time ranking to see just which charts were the best and worst!

10: Shontelle - Impossible (New Entry)

Well, this I wasn't expecting...despite being the current and up to date chart, I've never heard this song before. A fairly standard R&B ballad but it's got a tune to it, so it's not too bad.

9: Flo Rida feat David Guetta - Club Can't Handle Me (Non-Mover)

Quite the long runner, first entering at the beginning at August and not leaving the top 10 since, even getting a week at #1. There's been so many of these similar sounding rap/dance songs recently they're all beginning to blur into each other, but this is one of the better ones, got a nice uplifting quality to it.

8: Katy B - Katy On A Mission (Non-Mover)

This chart's obligatory debut single, from someone who's younger than me. What an odd song too, with influences of dubstep and garage to it. As people get older, a common cliche is "This isn't music, it's just noise" and certainly at first, that's what this sounds like. But it's got a nice catchiness to it, maybe I need to hear it in a club first as it sounds very tinny on the youtube video.

7: Usher feat Pitbull - DJ Got Us Falling In Love (Up 7)

See what I mean with #9? This could practically be the same song, the opening synth lead keeps making me think a Vengaboys song is about to start. This isn't as supremely annoying as 'OMG' was earlier this year, and it's got its moments, but not quite enough for me to really like it. And I have absolutely no idea what Pitbull's saying in the middle.

6: Eminem feat Rihanna - Love The Way You Lie (Up 1)

Ok, you know something has gone seriously, seriously wrong when this is the current biggest selling single of the year. It's been permanently in the top 10 since the start of July, and yet has never made number 1 - that has to be a new record. It's a nasty, bitter song about the bad side of relationships, Rihanna and Eminem displaying some quite remarkable venom in their vocals with Eminem screaming them out by the end. How did a song as unpleasant as this sell over 650,000 and be the year's biggest seller? What happened to the days when the biggest seller was a happy, uplifting song? Clearly 650,000 people have just had a nasty breakup, and I know stories of exes singing it down the phone(!) and posting the lyrics on Facebook. Example lyric: "If she ever tries to f***ing leave me again, I'm gonna tie her to the bed and set the house on fire". Youtube video count - 120 million views.

Saying that, it's catchy. It's been in my head since the moment I heard it. But even listening to it just depresses me.

5: Olly Murs - Please Don't Let Me Go (Down 1)

Back to normal with the latest of Simon Cowell's money machines. Former Deal or No Deal contestant Olly (yep) got a #1 with this, it's generic but actually a very pleasant song, a welcome change from the screaming hell of Eminem and Rihanna. Liking the lo-fi nature of it as well, too, with scratchy vinyl samples at the start and end.

4: The Script - For The First Time (Up 1)

Back from 2008. At first it sounds like new vocals over the top of Snow Patrol's 'Chasing Cars' but quickly finds its own identity. It's a refreshing change to hear this very mid-2000s indie sound back in the chart after all the synths, and this isn't bad. And nicely, 'The Man Who Can't Be Moved' which I reviewed in 2008's chart is back this week at #35!

3: Katy Perry - Teenage Dream (Down 1)

Another return from 2008. I can't stand any of Katy Perry's solo songs - they're some of the worst things I've ever heard. But as a supporting artist she's not too bad, 3OH!3's 'Starstrukk' was good and Timbaland's 'If We Ever Meet Again' was brilliant. This though is more crap, as was California Gurls (yes, 'Gurls'. Ugh), and Hot and Cold, and I Kissed A Bloody Girl. Awful, awful music that doesn't appeal me and more to teenage girls.

2: Taio Cruz - Dynamite (Up 1)

Oh yikes, Taio almost became my birthday #1 for two consecutive years. He seems to get worse over the years, I remember loving 'Come On Girl' in 2008, last year's #1 'Break Your Heart' was ok if a bit dull, this just has no redeeming qualities at all. Thank goodness this wasn't #1, would be a pretty rubbish end to these posts.

1: Alexandra Burke feat Laza Morgan - Start Without You (Non-Mover)

Instead it's a surprisingly good song at the top, the only one out the top 10 I've bought. A happy song that implants itself in your head the moment you hear it, with a very familiar sounding chorus melody - people have noted the resemblance to Boney M's 'Holi-Holiday'. After all the tuneless rap and generic beats in this chart, it's good to hear an actual tune, even if it is another Simon Cowell product.

Favourite song in the top 40: Again, lots. As it's the final chart I'll just list all my other favourites:
#11 - Yolanda Be Cool & DCup - We No Speak Americano
#17 - Travie McCoy feat Bruno Mars - Billionaire
#21 - Ne-Yo - Beautiful Monster
#22 - Eliza Doolittle - Pack Up
#24 - The Saturdays - Missing You
Favourite goes to either Yolanda or Travie.

So, here we go people, the all-time rankings! In reverse order:

23. 2000 A great year for music but the worst chart in the list. Just one song that I like.

22. 2008 A couple of good tracks, but some really awful ones too including one of my least favourite songs ever, so it was never going to do well.

21. 1994 A deathly dull chart, mostly full of bland ballads, but made up by two Eurodance stompers.

20. 1995 Not many classics but slightly more upbeat than 1994.

19. 2010 Oh dear. This year doesn't do well at all, a similar story to 2008 - there's too much bad outweighing the occasional good.

18. 2003 A chart full of dinosaurs, struggling through their last ever hit.

17. 2002 Another chart with a few good songs, but mostly bad.

16. 2004 Similar to 2002, just better quality.

15. 2005 The noughties on the increase.

14. 2007 And further still.

13. 2006 One of the better charts of the last decade.

12. 1988 Some absolute classics, but a few stinkers letting the side down.

11. 1990 About 60% good, 40% middling. but no truly bad songs from here on.

10. 1993 A few average songs together with some great ones.

9: 1992 A chart of forgotten classics, just one iffy song.

8: 1996 Approaching the glory days of the late 1990s.

7: 1997 Some dance and rock classics in here.

6: 2009 Last year doing very strongly, a chart full of modern classics.

5: 2001 A gloriously varied chart of pop, novelty, rock and dance.

4: 1998 Another chart with something for everyone.

3: 1989 Late 80s brilliance. Enough said.

2: 1991 The party chart. Non-stop uplifting rave.

And the winner goes to one of the most summery charts ever made, the 24th September 1999. A time when music didn't need to have lyrics about trying people to chairs and setting their house on fire, simply happy, uplifting pop music for people to dance to. The best year for music ever.

Thanks very much for reading...and see you in 2031 for 'Forty-Four Top Tens'! Now to work out what my next blog project will be...
Current Mood: pleasedpleased
Current Music: Green Day - Wake Me Up When September Ends

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September 23rd, 2010

04:25 pm - Twenty-Two Top Tens - 2009
Today is the last day of my 21st year, so in some good timing, here's the chart as it looked on the first day, twelve months ago. I thought this was one of the strongest years for music for some time, so after years of fairly mediocre charts, hopefully this one will show it. The top 10 of 24th September 2009 went like so.

10: Sugababes - Get Sexy (Down 2)

The common consensus at the time was that as a song, it's good, but for the Sugababes it's a complete sell-out. For their whole career they'd made a point about not fitting in with the typical girl group sound, and now suddenly, here they were with a song about how 'sexy' they all looked. And the line "If I had a dime" annoyed me greatly - they're British! We don't have dimes!! But although I'm embarrassed to say now, I downloaded it at the time. It's enjoyable, and I still secretly like it, but only when I forget it's the Sugababes.

9: Mini Viva - Left My Heart In Tokyo (Down 2)

Is it too early to call this a one-hit wonder? This was a very busy month for new releases, and this was your typical debut single from a new group. Although it's only been a year since it came out I'd actually forgotten about this, and listening to it again, wow. It's brilliant, especially that chorus. Shame Mini Viva disappeared fairly quickly afterwards.

8: Dizzee Rascal - Holiday (Down 2)

One of my favourite songs of the year. The slow change of Dizzee Rascal to underground grime rapper to cheesy commercial sellout is well documented, but 2008-9 was a sort of transitional period where he made songs that clearly weren't as fresh sounding as his early stuff, but still pretty good. This was the best track of his 'Tounge N Cheek' album, a perfect summer song that is enlivened by one of my favourite endings of any song EVER made, producer Calvin Harris delivering the most incredible trance instrumental. And then a year later he was singing "Disco, disco!" and making bad covers of 80s songs with James Corden. How the mighty fall.

7: Black Eyed Peas - I Gotta Feeling (Down 2)

I doubt this needs any introduction. As with 'Sex On Fire' a year earlier, this song is going to last forever. "I gotta feeling tonight's gonna be a good night" sings over and over again, and became a million seller. When it came out, I remember thinking it was good, but a bit too commercial sounding after the awesome weirdness of previous hit 'Boom Boom Pow'. But very quickly it became impossible to imagine a world without it, seemingly law that this must be played in every single club at least twice in one evening. A year on, gradually it's losing its cool. A few months ago I saw this played at a 30th birthday party and everyone doing cheesy dancing to it. Give it a few years and you'll see your granny dancing to it at the next family birthday. I know I will.

Also, have you noticed so far that every song is down two places from last week? No prizes for guessing how many new entries there are.

6: Pixie Lott - Boys & Girls (Down 5)

Third former number 1 in a row. Pixie Lott really surprised me with her staying power, debut single 'Mama Do' was pretty brilliant but I was convinced she'd be yet another one hit wonder. But for this to go in at #1 as well showed that there was some proper songmaking talent behind her. Despite having that Mark Ronson-ish retro sound that was much bigger a few years earlier, she's racked up quite the few hits, and although this isn't as good as Mama Do it's still really enjoyable.

5: Shakira - She Wolf (Up 20)

Yep, up twenty. We've encountered her before with 'Hips Don't Lie' and this was her comeback. Good grief it's weird. Rather than another upbeat party anthem, this is very very subdued, with a chilled yet driving beat and Shakira displaying a different side to her vocals, not belting out anything and simply singing them normally, very high on the chorus. One of those songs you listen to and think "What was that?" afterwards. Not one I'd download, but the weirdness is pretty cool.

4: Jay-Z feat Rihanna feat Kanye West - Run This Town (Down 1)

Hated this. There weren't any Jay-Z songs at the time I could honestly say I liked, and this just seemed so dull, with Rihanna sounding asleep and Jay-Z simply going through the motions over a load of boring drumbeats. How it got to number 1 I've no idea. But then, suddenly people looked through the album and very quickly found two incredible songs - 'Young Forever' which debuted this week at #35, and especially, the now classic 'Empire State of Mind' which entered here at #15. Suddenly I had much more respect for Jay-Z, hopefully in the future he'll make more songs like that rather than this.

3: Madonna - Celebration (New Entry)

New Entry #1, and this wasn't really a comeback for her, just a stand-alone single to promote her new Greatest Hits album. It's got a very early-noughties trance sound to it, and it's pretty good, but as sacrelidge as this sounds, I'd much prefer the instrumental, as Madonna's vocals don't really add anything to the song.

2: David Guetta - Sexy Chick (Non-Mover)

Yet another former #1. Something about this song really annoyed me at the time, perhaps the presence of Akon who's made many annoying songs in this time. But wow, hearing this in a club is pretty amazing, especially when the huge synth lead comes in. I enjoy it better now, but like Madonna, give me the instrumental any day.

1: Taio Cruz - Break Your Heart (New Entry)

One of the defining sounds of 2009, and into 2010, was this synth-heavy R&B characterised by Taio, Tinchy Stryder, Chipmunk and many more. At first it sounded pretty new, but by the time this came out it was all getting a bit boring and generic. Definitely not one of his best, and probably one of my least favourite #1s of the year. Mildly catchy, but we'd heard so many songs like this by now. A much better song like this is 'Never Leave You' by Tinchy Stryder.

Favourite song in the top 40: Pretty much the entire thing!! Almost every song in this chart brings back memories for me...Mika, Muse, Little Boots, Tinchy, Mr Hudson, it's an incredible chart. Favourite though is the classic 'Bulletproof' by La Roux which sits here at #33.

Finally. FINALLY we have a really really good chart after years of middling ones. In fact it's one of the best ever, and becomes the first in years to get into the top 10, fitting in between 1997 and 2001.

Just one more chart to go, and it's bang up to the date with the chart of this very week!
Current Mood: goodgood
Current Music: Tinchy Stryder - Never Leave You

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