Now 103

Now 103 is this year’s summer release of the Now! That’s What I Call Music series.

The cover has a tropical theme, with an island in a tranquil sea, and the island having white sand and tall palm trees. They do seem to be continuing with the multicoloured goo thing they had in Now 102 though. In Now 103 once again, the Now! logo is surrounded by rainbow goo.

The first track on CD 1 is ‘Old Town Road (Remix)’ by rapper Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus. Yep, the same Billy Ray Cyrus of ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ and “Miley’s dad” fame. Lil Nas X is a new artist, and this is his debut single. He came out as gay during Pride month this year, and openly LGBT rappers are even today quite rare. ‘Old Town Road’ contains a sample of ’34 Ghosts IV’ by Nine Inch Nails, so all in all this isn’t the sort of hit song you get every day! In fact, in the US it is the longest running Hot 100 number one song ever, staying there for 19 weeks!

It also topped the charts here in the UK, though only for 2 weeks. It’s possible that it’s not quite as groundbreaking over here? In the US there was a bit of controversy over whether ‘Old Town Road’ counted as a country song or not, and I don’t think we’re quite as bothered about genres so much here. We’ve also already had a country/rap crossover song get to number one. ‘Over And Over’ by Nelly feat. Tim McGraw got to number one here back in 2005 (it got to number 3 in the US). But who knows.

And what knocked ‘Old Town Road’ off the US number one position after all that time? Billie Eilish with ‘bad guy’. It peaked at number 2 here, but I think it will still be seen as one of the key hit songs of 2019. Though it seems mostly a very “sulky teen” sort of song to me. The stand-out “duh!” parts in particular. But you know what, that’s probably just me getting old. When I was a teenager, Billie Piper was the teen popstar of the day, so that tells you how long ago that was! I think the backing track to ‘bad guy’ is fantastic though, it’s very much an earworm, and certainly one of the most intriguing pop backing tracks we’ve had in a while. The song was produced and co-written by Billie Eilish’s brother Finneas O’Connell. But Billie Eilish herself is the other writer, and her personality is one of the driving forces of this track, so I’d say both deserve credit for how well this song has done. I’m not a fan of the remix with Justin Bieber though.

I’m also not a fan of Justin Bieber’s song with Ed Sheeran, ‘I Don’t Care’. That’s not on Now 103, but it was the first single off Ed Sheeran’s latest album, No. 6 Collaborations Project. It’s his fourth album, but his sixth “collaborations project”, basically every song is him working with other artists. I’m glad that Now 103 went for ‘Cross Me’ instead of ‘I Don’t Care’, as ‘Cross Me’ is a much better track! ‘Cross Me’ is with Chance The Rapper & PnB Rock, and maybe it’s because it’s more of an R&B song and because it’s with more underground artists, but it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than ‘I Don’t Care’!

Stormzy’s career is going from strength to strength in 2019. He headlined the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury this year, and gained his first number one single with ‘Vossi Bop’, which went straight in at number one in April this year. It contains the lines “fuck the government, and fuck Boris!”, and this was months before Boris Johnson had even got the job of Prime Minister, so it’s ended up being even more relevant in the long run! Idris Elba is also mentioned in the track (needless to say, in a much more positive way!) and he’s in the video.

‘Never Really Over’ by Katy Perry is her best single in absolutely ages! Having said that, it heavily samples ‘Love You Like That’ by Dagny, and to be honest that song is even better.

After Avicii’s death last year, the album he’d been working on has been released after being finished by other producers, writers and artists. It was titled Tim and all profits from it will go to The Tim Berling Foundation, a charity named after Avicii’s real name Tim Berling by his family, and set up to raise awareness and help for people with mental health issues and to prevent suicide. Two songs from it are included on Now 103. They are ‘SOS’, which is sung by Aloe Blacc and interpolates ‘No Scrubs’ by TLC, and ‘Heaven’ which is sung by Chris Martin. ‘Heaven’ in particular is a nice song, though obviously there is an underlying sadness to these two tracks.

Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello are the first track on CD 2 with the internationally charttopping Latin pop duet ‘Señorita’. This is actually the second time Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello have collaborated for a song. They did one called ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ in 2015, which as far as I can tell was nothing to do with the, let’s face it, not-very-good 1997 horror film of the same name.

They also appear back to back on CD 1. ‘If I Can’t Have You’ by Shawn Mendes is track 9, and ‘Find U Again’ by Mark Ronson feat. Camila Cabello is track 10. I really like both of these tracks! ‘If I Can’t Have You’ sounds quite retro and more like a piano indie band song than a typical Shawn Mendes single. Similarly, ‘Find U Again’ is very different from what Camila Cabello normally releases. The production makes the song very absorbing, and Mark Ronson is an excellent producer. Those two songs are also about break-ups/missing an ex, and as ‘Señorita’ is about falling in love/lust, then if you wish you could view ‘If I Can’t Have You’ and ‘Find U Again’ as sequels to ‘Señorita’.

The songs I like the most on Now 103 include ‘One Touch’ by Jess Glynne & Jax Jones. Jess Glynne’s soaring vocals and Jax Jones’ production on this House track really hit the spot for me!

Another one of my favourites is ‘Joy’ by Bastille. It isn’t quite as happy as the title suggests, but is still one of the most uptempo tracks Bastille have done. It’s about how sometimes a person can lift your mood and allow you to escape from feeling down. The music video for this track is hilarious, featuring a compilation of people caught unawares on camera doing embarrasing and/or immoral things.

My favourite song on here though is ‘Hypersonic Missiles’ by Sam Fender. He won the BRITS Critics Choice Award, and this is the title track from his upcoming album. I think ‘Hypersonic Missiles’ is a great song, about worries of all the trouble going on the world, that it might all get worse and trying to distract yourself with pop culture and feeling resigned to not being able to do much about it. It’s quite bleak lyrically, though musically it sounds quite nice, which I think works in its favour.

Sam Fender is from a musical family, with his dad and brother also being singer-songwriters and playing instruments. Though as far as I know Sam Fender himself has had
the most mainstream success.

‘New York City’ by Kylie Minogue is the new single from her latest greatest hits album. ‘New York City’ samples Mylo’s fantastic 2004 track ‘Drop The Pressure’. Which reminds me of another time ‘Drop The Pressure’ has been paired with the vocals of a famous pop diva. However, in that case it was a mash-up rather than a sample. It was in 2004, when  ‘Drop The Pressure’ was mixed with ‘Dr. Beat’ by Miami Sound Machine (the lead singer of Miami Sound Machine being Gloria Estefan) to make ‘Doctor Pressure’.

Italian production trio MEDUZA collaborated with British production trio Goodboys for the track ‘Piece Of Your Heart’. Despite there being a Russian mythology figure named Meduza, most likely this MEDUZA are named after the famous snake-haired gorgon from Ancient Greek mythology, Medusa. The picture in the booklet showing the single cover for this track shows a statue of Medusa, but with CCTV cameras in her hair as well as snakes!

Talking of Ancient Greek mythology, there are several characters in that named Europa, and a whole bunch of things got their name from them, including one of the planet Jupiter’s most famous moons and the continent of Europe. To add to that long list is a dance music side project. This Europa is made up of dance DJs Jax Jones and Martin Solveig, though the only track released so far is ‘All Day And Night’, which also features singer Madison Beer. Hailee Steinfeld and Becky Hill had a hand in writing it too!

When I first heard ‘Wish You Well’ by Sigala & Becky Hill, I thought the lyrics were “a wishing well” not “I wish you well”! Looking in the booklet, and seven years on and several hit singles later Becky Hill is still being referred to as “The Voice finalist Becky Hill”! She can’t seem to shake that tag off! That said, are there any other The Voice UK contestants of note? I mean, there’s been a few that had done stuff before they went on, and I think Joe & Jake who represented the UK in Eurovision 2016 came from there, but I can’t think of any others.

Ariana Grande is on CD 1 with a track written all in lowercase, ‘break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored’, and on CD 2 with a track written all in capitals, ‘MONOPOLY’,
which is with Victoria Monet.

With her dad Billy Ray Cyrus appearing on the first track on CD 1, Miley Cyrus is on the same CD on track 22, with a song also referring to her parentage, with it being called ‘Mother’s Daughter’.

Mabel’s parents are ’80s/’90s popstar Neneh Cherry and Massive Attack producer Cameron McVey. Both the maternal and paternal sides of Mabel’s family have a lot of
pop music background. On her dad’s side, Cameron McVey has a son (Mabel’s half-brother) Marlon Roudette, who released ‘When The Beat Drops Out’ in 2014, a song I really liked that year. On her mum’s side of the family, Mabel’s uncle is Eagle Eye Cherry and her grandfather was jazz musician Don Cherry! While Mabel and Sam Fender are completely different sorts of singers, what they have in common is they both come from musical families!

Mabel’s song on Now 103 is ‘Mad Love’, a catchy, sexy track with tropical sounds which are fitting for the summer heatwaves.

‘Summer Days’ by Martin Garrix feat. Macklemore & Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy is a lot more coherent than you might expect a track by a dance DJ, a rapper and the frontman of a pop-rock band to be! That said, it’s a pretty by-the-numbers summer song.

Which could also be said for ‘Cool’ by the Jonas Brothers. It has a lot of shout-outs to other media though, including Game Of Thrones, Jane Fonda, James Dean and Post Malone.

The Jonas Brothers aren’t to be confused with dance DJ Jonas Blue, who has a song on here ‘What I Like About You’, which features singer Theresa Rex. Which could also be written as T. Rex! Theresa sounds vaguely similar to Tyrannosaurus anyway! OK, I’ll stop making silly jokes about her name. The song is… well, it’s one of those “good girl falls for bad boy, and is SO IN LOVE WITH HIM, and even though her friends and family warn her off him, that just makes her want him all the more etc etc etc” songs.

Dance acts have been collaborating with indie bands a lot in the last few years, and on this CD it looks like they are starting to work with pop acts who have rock elements too. There’s the Chainsmokers & 5 Seconds of Summer on ‘Why Do You Love’ and Pink feat. Cash Cash with ‘Can We Pretend’. There’s also ‘Be Someone’ by CamelPhat, which features vocals from singer-songwriter Jake Bugg.

There are more singer-songwriter blokes on CD 2. The main one of this year has been Lewis Capaldi, who I still don’t quite “get”, but his track on here ‘Hold Me While You Wait’ is OK. Dominic Fike has ‘3 Nights’, which is interesting, with it showing a mix of indie-rock and urban elements.

Two acts who are associated with the ’90s have new songs on here. Liam Gallagher’s ‘Shockwave’ is a good track, sounding like something Oasis would have released in
their heyday. The Lighthouse Family release their first new material since 2001 with the new single ‘My Salvation’, which again is pretty decent and sounds like something they would have done back in the ’90s.

As with Now 102, Now 103‘s CD 2 has tracks from musical films. On Now 103 they are both based on an established act’s back catalogue. One is Rocketman, a biopic about
Elton John. The first song from it is ‘(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again’, which is a new song and is sung by Elton John himself, along with Taron Egerton who plays him in the movie.

The second song is ‘Rocket Man’ (which the CD tracklisting helpfully tells us is “from Rocketman“), performed by Taron Egerton. This is followed by Himesh Patel’s version of ‘Yesterday’ (which, again the CD tracklisting tells us is “from Yesterday“). ‘Yesterday’ is a cover of the Beatles song, in fact the idea behind the whole film is a singer-songwriter wakes up one day, finds out he’s the only person who remembers the Beatles so starts covering their songs and passing them off as his own.

At the end of CD 2 are four “throwback” tracks from Now 3 to celebrate that albums 35th anniversary re-release. I can’t say I’m a big fan of them tacking on tracks from 35 years and 100 Nows ago, and they’ve done this twice in a row, so I hope it isn’t going to be a permanent thing, but hey.

The first of the four throwback tracks is hip hop song ‘White Lines (Don’t Do It)’, credited to Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel, though the history of the group is a little convoluted,  and Grandmaster Flash himself had long since left at this point. But anyway, the song is certainly still relevant today, with the lyrics about drug use, that people who take drugs can become addicted, how it can ruin their health and lives and the unfairness that street kids caught with drugs will be locked up, while rich businessmen caught with larger amounts of drugs won’t be.

There’s also ‘I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’ by Nik Kershaw, who was one of the throwbacks on Now 102 as well, with ‘Wouldn’t It Be Good’.

I hadn’t heard ‘Locomotion’ by Orchestral Maneuvres In The Dark before listening to Now 103. But I was half-expecting it to be a version of the Little Eva/Kylie Minogue track. It isn’t, it’s a totally different song altogether. But then I probably shouldn’t have expected it to be the Little Eva/Kylie song, as technically that song is called ‘The Loco-Motion’. But a band who did record a version of ‘The Loco-Motion’ were Grand Funk Railroad, who were one of Homer Simpson’s favourite bands, and speaking of Homer Simpson’s music taste, his all-time favourite song is one of the throwbacks.

That is ‘It’s Raining Men’ by The Weather Girls! Which is a gay anthem and a camp classic, and of all the four throwbacks it’s the one that still gets played the most today. The production extravaganza on the backing track still sounds good as well. What I’ve always thought about this song is a lot of it was how Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes-Armstead delivered it. Yeah, they had great voices, but more than that. They were well aware of how bonkers the lyrics are, but they sung them like they believed them, while still showing it was all meant in the spirit of fun, and I think that’s why it works so well.

I really enjoyed listening to Now 103, it’s a decent selection of songs, and pretty varied as well.

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