Now 104 is the final “main” Now That’s What I Call Music! release of the year (and indeed of the decade!).
The first track on CD 1 is ‘Dance Monkey’ by Australian act Tones and I. It is an international charttopper, and at the time of the writing is the current UK number
one and has been for a couple of months! Tones and I is a solo singer-songwriter rather than a group, and her voice is…. a bit of an acquired taste, to put it mildly.
That said, it obviously isn’t putting off many people. Technically, the title doesn’t appear in the song. Well it does, but not in that order. The lyrics go “just like a monkey I’ve been dancing all my life”, and the hook is “dance with me”.
Track 1 on CD 2 is Lewis Capaldi with ‘Bruises’. He’s another singer-songwriter whose voice isn’t exactly easy on the ear, and while he says the word “bruises” a couple of times, the hook is “there must be something in the water”. His voice doesn’t seem to putting many people off either, as he recently reached number one on the US chart, becoming the first British act to do so since… well, Ed Sheeran last year, but well done anyway.
Ed Sheeran is on CD 1, with Stormzy on ‘Take Me Back To London’. This was a big UK number one hit, unsurprisingly as Ed Sheeran and Stormzy are two of the biggest UK male solo artists at the moment. On this song they are both kind of humblebragging about how well they are doing, which I suppose you could say is fair enough, but still.
Stormzy has another track on here, ‘Crown’, which is more reflective and about the pressures and responsibilities which go with fame.
Kygo & Whitney Houston – ‘Higher Love’ has been a huge hit, and Whitney Houston’s first appearance in the UK chart for ten years, since ‘Million Dollar Bill’ in 2009. (OK, minus re-entries). ‘Higher Love is not her first posthumous release, but it is the biggest to date. It’s a cover of the 1986 Steve Winwood track, which was a US number one. Whitney Houston recorded a version which ended up as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of her I’m Your Baby Tonight album, released in 1990. Kygo remixed it this year, and it’s become a big hit, peaking at number 2 in the UK, quite a bit higher than the original, which got to number 13. Oddly enough Steve Winwood is British, yet he had the bigger US hit with it (the Kygo & Whitney Houston version at the time of writing hasn’t cracked the top 40 in the US), while Whitney Houston, who was American, has had the bigger UK hit with it! But I suppose that’s more to do with genre. The original version was more of a pop-soul song, which I think is slightly more popular in the US, while the new version is a tropical house song, and electrodance has always been more popular in the UK than the US.
It isn’t the first time a dance act has had a big UK hit reworking a Steve Winwood track. Eric Prydz got to number one with ‘Call On Me’ in 2004, which sampled Steve Winwood’s 1982 track ‘Valerie’. (Not to be confused with the noughties The Zutons/Mark Ronson & Amy Winehouse track of the same name).
Coincidentally, 2004 also had a dance act getting a UK number one sampling a Whitney Houston song. There was a bootleg mash-up which had vocals from Whitney Houston’s
‘How Will I Know’ and music from U2’s ‘With Or Without You’, which was eventually released commercially in 2004 by LMC as ‘Take Me To The Clouds Above’. However, for
whatever reason they weren’t able to get sample clearance for Whitney Houston’s vocals, so they were re-recorded by Rachel McFarlane.
This new version of ‘Higher Love’ is also, in a way, the second time Whitney Houston has had a hit with a cover of a Chaka Khan song! She covered Chaka Khan’s ‘I’m Every Woman’ in 1992, and the Steve Winwood version of ‘Higher Love’ featured backing vocals by Chaka Khan.
While I personally prefer the Steve Winwood and Chaka Khan version of ‘Higher Love’, the Kygo & Whitney Houston version is an excellent cover, and it reminds us of just what a magnificent vocalist Whitney Houston was.
Two of the biggest breakthrough stars of 2019 were Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X, two who were only teenagers when they had huge, defining singles from this year,’Bad Guy’ in Billie Eilish’s case, and ‘Old Town Road’ in Lil Nas X’s case. Now 104 has both of their follow-up singles.
Billie Eilish’s one is ‘All The Good Girls Go To Hell’, and like ‘Bad Guy’ it was written with her brother, and produced by her brother, with no other collaborators! The track mentions Lucifer, and the production has spooky electronic fairground-ish sounds, making it a good fit for Halloween, although there has been speculation that it has more depth than that, and the song is really about the climate emergency.
Lil Nas X’s one is ‘Panini’, which interpolates ‘In Bloom’ by Nirvana from their iconic 1991 album Nevermind. ‘Panini’ seems to address what can happen to an act and fanbases when they have a lot of success very quickly.
Post Malone is on track 5 on CD 1 with ‘Circles’, notable for the elaborate video with Post Malone dressed as a knight in shining armour, and the plot described in the Now 104 CD booklet as “Rapunzel inspired by zombies”.
Post Malone has a track named after him on Now 104, ‘Post Malone’ by Sam Feldt featuring RANI. But it’s mostly a party song than about Post Malone himself.
Track 8 on CD 1 is ‘Ladbroke Grove’ by AJ Tracey. It samples ‘Wandering Romance’ by Jorja Smith, and Jorja Smith appears immediately after on track 9 with ‘Be Honest’,
which features Burna Boy. Both ‘Ladbroke Grove’ and ‘Be Honest’ were summer hits, and sound like it.
According to Faithless and Pink on two separate songs, ‘God Is A DJ’. According to Ariana Grande, ‘God Is A Woman’, and according Tiesto & Mabel on this compilation, ‘God Is A Dancer’. So, if God is a DJ, a woman and a dancer, and if we view that through the filter of former Strictly Come Dancing contestants, Zoe Ball or Vick Hope might be God!
‘Turn Me On’ by Riton x Oliver Heldens feat. Vula musically samples the amazing 1982 track ‘Don’t Go’ by Yazoo, but lyrically it samples a 1977 song called ‘Doctor Love’ by First Choice. In a way, ‘Turn Me On’ reminds me of other electro-pop songs which were about fancying a doctor and using medical terms seductively, such as ‘Dr. Beat’ by Miami Sound Machine and ‘Doctor Jones’ by Aqua.
Nowadays it’s not at all unusual for acts to mix genres up. Dermot Kennedy, on CD 2 with ‘Outnumbered’, seems mostly to be a folky singer-songwriter, but shows some rap/R&B influences too.
Sam Smith has said that their forthcoming album will be less ballad heavy and more in a poppy/electrodance direction, and that seems to be the case with the first tracks from it, the collaborations with Calvin Harris (‘Promises’) and Normani (‘Dancing With A Stranger’) and on CD 2 of Now 104, ‘How Do You Sleep?’.
Normani has her first proper solo single here (the others were all collaboarations). The solo single is ‘Motivation’, and it is a great, catchy pop-R&B track, especially the horns. The CD booklet states that the sound of ‘Motivation’ was inspired by New Orleons, where Normani was raised.
Normani wasn’t the first Fifth Harmony member to do try for a solo career. Camila Cabello did a Geri Halliwell and left the group altogether to go solo, and she’s done very well so far, scoring two US/UK number ones with ‘Havana’, and ‘Senorita’ with Shawn Mendes. Camila Cabello and Normani aren’t far from each other at all on CD 2 of Now 104 though, they are track 6 and track 7 respectively. ‘Liar’ by Camila Cabello interpolates both the 1983 song ‘All Night Long (All Night)’ by Lionel Ritchie and the 1992 song ‘All That She Wants’ by Ace of Base. It also has a video with very surreal, dream-like visuals, notably elephants falling from the sky!
‘Doin Time’ by Lana Del Rey is a hypnotic track, and is yet another track which has quite a Matryoshka doll quality to it. It’s a cover of a 1997 song by the band Sublime, which in the first place was a re-working of the 1935 song ‘Summertime’, written by George Gershwin.
Jax Jones continues with the cartoon packaging theme with his single covers. The one for ‘Harder’, which features Bebe Rexha, is of a tin of spinich with Jax Jones drawn as Popeye the Sailor Man.
I don’t really have anything to say about ‘10,000 Hours’ by Dan + Shay featuring Justin Bieber, other than I really liked ‘Keeping Score’, Dan + Shay’s track last year which featured Kelly Clarkson, and I wish that would have been their mainstream breakthrough hit instead of ‘10,000 Hours’.
We have a lot of British rappers towards the end of CD 1, with Mist (from Birmingham), Fredo (from London), Young T & Bugsey (from Nottingham) and Aitch (from
Manchester). Their accents come through and they use a bit of UK slang. It’s often said that the UK can’t do rap/hip hop anywhere near as well as the US. Maybe so, but
at least this new crop are trying to make themselves distinct from their US counterparts.
Celine Dion appears with ‘Lying Down’. It’s from her latest album Courage, where she has worked with modern writers and producers. ‘Lying Down’ was written by Sia, David Guetta and dance/R&B producer Giorgio Tuinfort. I’ve long thought that Sia’s songs would be a good fit for Celine Dion! ‘Lying Down’ also sounds very like a Eurovision ballad, which again is fitting, as Celine Dion is a Eurovision Song Contest winner! It was before her international popstar success, but she won representing Switzerland in 1988 with a song called ‘Ne partez pas sans moi’.
‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ has been recorded by several people, most famously by Bette Midler in 1988 for the film Beaches, and on Now 104 we have another version. This
one is by 89-year-old war veteran Colin Thackery, who won this year’s Britain’s Got Talent. ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ was his audition song, apparently. I don’t watch
Britain’s Got Talent, so maybe this made more sense in the context of that show. I’m sure Colin Thackery is a great, lovely guy who captured the public’s hearts and deserved to win, but… this track just sounds like karaoke to me, sorry.
With the 2010s coming to an end, it’s kind of funny to see something called Y2K. He is a record producer, but I remember around the turn of the millenium, late ’90s early noughties, so many things were labelled Y2K, meaning “Year 2000”. Obviously that got very dated very quickly, but now, nearly 20 years after the year 2000, it looks like it’s come full circle and the term Y2K is vaguely cool again due to nostalgia appeal.
We are very much getting into the “nostalgia for the noughties” period now. There has been a whole album released of UK garage covers! Put together by DJ Spoony, conductor Katie Chatburn and The Ignition Orchestra to mark the 20th anniversary of UK garage. The lead track from that album is on here, ‘Moving Too Fast’ by DJ Spoony feat. Paloma Faith, and it’s a cover of ‘Movin’ Too Fast’ by Artful Dodger featuring Romina Johnson, released in 1999 but didn’t become a hit until 2000.
It’s not the only example of noughties nostalgia on Now 104 either. ‘Sorry’ by Joel Corry is a re-working of the 2000 UK garage track ‘Sorry (I Don’t Know)’ by Monsta Boy, although the Joel Corry version is in the more modern genre of tropical house. ‘Ride It’ by DJ Regard is a cover of Jay Sean’s 2008 hit.
I’ll admit, it does make me feel old that I remember all those 2000s songs the first time round! Though the throwbacks from Now 4 don’t, as they are from before I was born!
The first is ‘Together In Electric Dreams’ by Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder. This is a classic. I wrote a Top Ten Significant Songs from Forgotten Films blog post with this on ages ago, but I’ve since found out that the film Electric Dreams is more well known than I thought.
The Style Council were a band formed by Paul Weller, after The Jam, but before his solo career. The Style Council were a more soulful, poppy band than The Jam, and ‘Shout To The Top’ is probably their most well known song nowadays.
‘If It Happens Again’ by UB40 was written as a protest against Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party winning the 1983 general election. Of course we have another election coming up very soon, but I don’t really want to tempt fate about the depressingly likely result of that, to be honest.
With ‘Hot Water’ by Level 42, I feel like making an “everything but the kitchen sink” pun, but … it’s a pretty messy track.
Finally there’s Rockwell with ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ which has always been a big Halloween track.
I think my favourite track on Now 104 overall is ‘Good As Hell’ by Lizzo. It was originally released in 2016, but Lizzo has broke through into the mainstream in 2019, and some of her songs have repeaked. ‘Good As Hell’ is her highest charting UK hit to date, and personally I think it’s by far her best song. I adore it. It’s just such an uplifting, positive confidence boost song, and the backing track is quite stylish and sophisticated as well.
I also like ‘Will We Talk?’ by Sam Fender, which has a catchy, energetic indie-rock music, but fairly melancholy lyrics, wondering about what an amourous encounter will amount to. They might dance together and go home together, but will they even speak to each other in the morning?
On the whole, I think Now 104 was fine. It’s a snapshot of the hit songs of the past few months, and that’s all a Now! album needs to be really. It was released on the first week of November, much earlier than usual, but I think I can see some logic in that. The final Now! release of the year usually seems to be out for the Christmas market, this had a couple of Halloween songs such as ‘All The Good Girls Go To Hell’ plus a song by a war veteran (Colin Thackery), so being released just after Halloween and just before Remembrance Sunday seems like a sensible date really.