Pop music is a funny old game. One minute, you’re top of the charts and all over the radio waves and music video channels. The next, you’re in the folder marked ‘Where are they now?’. And it only takes you to hear a song from the distant past to sit and work out how long it’s been since you first heard that song – and then realise, perhaps with some faint horror, how much time has elapsed since then.
Whilst a lot of other entertainment and music blogs and sites have focused on celebrating songs that are turning 10 or 20 years old this year, I have instead been indulging in a bit of even number time traveling for the purposes of today’s blog and playlist, and have decided to set my musical clock back 15 years ago, to 2002.
I was 13 years old, about to start my third year of high school, and sound tracking that time were these 15 songs that I’ve chosen for this particular playlist. Some of the artists here have since lost record deals, or disappeared into the ether. Some have prospered. Some have even come back with new albums recently. One thing that remains true of them all though: they are solid gold classics. So sit back, hit play and enjoy…
NO DOUBT – Hey Baby (from the album ‘Rock Steady’)
The Californian ska rockers had previously enjoyed colossal success with their 1995 album ‘Tragic Kingdom’, which spawned the worldwide number one hit ‘Don’t Speak’ – itself turning 20 this year. But it wasn’t until they returned with their fifth studio album that they finally hit chart paydirt again, collaborating with the likes of The Neptunes, Bounty Killer and Lady Saw on a run of seriously addictive singles, all of which paved the way for their ever glamorous frontwoman Gwen Stefani to achieve her mammoth solo success just two years later.
AALIYAH – More Than a Woman (from the album ‘I Care 4 U: The Definitive Collection’)
There is something that remains colossally unfair about the trajectory of Aaliyah. Discovered when she was just a teenager by legendary hip hop producer Timbaland, 2000 had seen the release of her still timeless R&B banger ‘Try Again’, from the soundtrack to Jet Li flick ‘Romeo Must Die’, that she also starred in. Just a year later, in August 2001, she was tragically killed in a plane crash at the age of just 22, and six months later scored a posthumous UK chart topper with this smooth and effortless cut from what was to be her last studio album.
A1 – Caught in the Middle (from the album ‘Make it Good’)
Despite two UK number ones at the turn of the millennium, A1 criminally seemed to remain on the B-list when it came to the 90s/00s boyband pecking order. It was a shame more so, that they hit their creative and commercial stride just as their time at the top started to unravel. ‘Caught in the Middle’ eschewed the cheery, dance routine led power pop of their earlier material, for guitar led pop rock. It goes without saying that this remains a blinder of a pop single, the kind that had Take That released it as a single in the throes of their post-2006 comeback would be hailed by all as an instant classic. It is to me, anyway.
SHAKIRA – Whenever, Wherever (from the album ‘Laundry Service’)
One fun thing about doing this playlist is being reminded that certain songs, whilst sounding like they were number ones, were in fact not. Yes, despite Colombia’s finest launching with a bang for her English language debut – eye catching video, nonsensical lyrics and all, she ran into a far bigger force than non mountainous breasts on release week here in the UK – chiefly, Will Young’s Pop Idol coronation single ‘Evergreen’, which remains the fastest selling debut single in UK chart history. No matter, this Gloria Estefan penned booty shaker has more than stood the test of time.
DB BOULEVARD – Point of View (from the album ‘Frequencies’)
The 00s were, in many ways, the last hurrah for glittery disco house that was backed with a chorus and some commercial crossover. This oft forgotten number from an Italian production team even found success on the Billboard dance charts in America, as well as being used in an episode of Sex and the City.
1 GIANT LEAP – My Culture (from the album ‘1 Giant Leap’)
If a round asking for ‘Names of UK Top 40 Singles by Robbie Williams’ ever comes up on the BBC teatime favourite Pointless, it may be worth venturing this as a guess. Only reappearing at the year’s end for his million selling ‘Escapology’ album, the Robster was musically quiet for much of 2002, bar this appearance alongside Faithless’ Maxi Jazz for this obscure, yet blissful one off top 10 by this UK based trip hop act, who we’ve heard neither hair nor hide of since. Why Olly Murs hasn’t done a cover of this yet is beyond us.
SUGABABES – Freak Like Me (from the album ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’)
One of the greatest mysteries around the most successful female chart act of the 21st century (Guinness World Records 2006’s title, not necessarily mine) was not their headache inducing penchant for lineup changes, but more the way, following their being dropped after a well received but commercially under-performing debut ‘One Touch’ in 2000, they rose back from the flames even more successfully than before. Marrying the synth riff from Gary Numan’s ‘Are Friends Electric?’ to a new Jill swing jam by Adina Howard, via the much lauded electropop producer Richard X, ‘Freak Like Me’ marked the dawn of pop’s second golden age in the 21st century.
HOLLY VALANCE – Kiss Kiss (from the album ‘Footprints’)
In a year where Kylie Minogue was conquering all before her, a second wave of former graduates from the Aussie soap whence she came from (Neighbours) attempted to vie for chart glory. Amongst them were Delta Goodrem, Natalie Bassingthwaite, and also sultry Ramsey Street madam Felicity ‘Flick’ Scully, better known as Holly Valance. She rocketed to the top of the UK and Australian charts at the start of that summer with a rewritten English cover of an old Turkish megahit, whilst appearing virtually naked in its unforgettable accompanying video.
LIBERTY X – Just a Little (from the album ‘Thinking it Over’)
And from one anthem of that summer, to another. Just as their supposedly far luckier winning counterparts from the first series of Popstars, Hear’Say, were falling apart at the seams, Michelle, Kevin, Kelli, Jessica and Tony – aka Liberty X – rose through the ranks and scored an instant number one smash with this, their third single, and went onto win a BRIT award for ‘Best Single’ with it. A sexy, R&B flavoured pop gem, it came backed with its own eye catching video, with the girls memorably donning rubber catsuits whilst playing the part of diamond thieves.
BUSTED – What I Go to School For (from the album ‘Busted’)
There have been a grand total of no UK top 3 singles since 2002 that have included the line ‘And I fight my way to front of class / To get the best view of her arse’. But no matter, the recently reformed Busted’s debut hit continues to make as much of an impression as it did back then. A witty and borderline NSFW punk pop ode to their favourite teacher, whilst they weren’t to get their first chart topper until the following April, they single handledly prepositioned themselves as the new boyband force to be reckoned with.
GIRLS ALOUD – Sound of the Underground (from the album ‘Sound of the Underground’)
Reality TV pop was everywhere you turned in 2002. From Will Young and Gareth Gates’ mighty clash of the titans on Pop Idol, to the ‘REAL MUSIC, YAR’ bore of David Sneddon on the BBC’s cringey take on the format with Fame Academy. And then, just at the point it seemed to have died a death, the second series of the Popstars format, titled Popstars: The Rivals, produced the UK’s biggest and most poptastic girl group since the Spice Girls. Three and a half minutes of dizzyingly addictive drum’n bass, surf guitar fed disco, ‘Sound of the Underground’ was the single that started it all for Cheryl, Nadine, Kimberley, Nicola and Sarah, staying at number one for an entire month.
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE – Like I Love You (from the album ‘Justified’)
Boyband members who go solo generally aren’t supposed to do well outside of their former pop glory days. They generally aren’t supposed to be the arbiter of cool, either. But newly parted from his *NSYNC bandmates, JT was about to change all that, and then some with his solo debut ‘Justified’. An effortlessly smooth mix of R&B, dance and pop, produced by Pharrell Williams and Timbaland to name but two, he became to his former band what Beyonce was to Destiny’s Child – a global megastar that set the bar high.
AQUALUNG – Strange and Beautiful (from the album ‘Aqualung’)
Used in a memorable TV advert that year for the recently revived Volkswagen Beetle car, Matt Hale, better known by his stage name of Aqualung released this, his only top 10 hit, a haunting and ambient number with very sparse instrumentation that reflects in the simplicity of this glorious track. It’s a wonder really that John Lewis didn’t get there first to use it for one of their overly hyped Christmas adverts – then again, there probably is still time for them to do that…
OASIS – Stop Crying Your Heart Out (from the album ‘Heathen Chemistry’)
Common consensus is that Oasis were poster boys for British rock uselessness beyond their Britpop heyday. Perhaps it was my sudden interest in them as a result of being a fan of Appleton, the post-All Saints side project of Nicole and Natalie Appleton, that made me think opposite to this, but no matter. A genuinely moving power rock ballad, ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ was part of a run of glorious singles they released in this year, along with ‘Little by Little’ and ‘Songbird’ from their fifth studio album.
COLDPLAY – The Scientist (from the album ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’)
This was the moment when Chris Martin and pals ascended to the worldwide success that they have enjoyed ever since, with their second album shifting a phenomenal quarter of a million copies in its first week of release. This remains one of the most timeless singles in their back catalogue – even when they performed it at Glastonbury last summer, and the entire crowd sang it back word for word, it felt like a genuinely beautiful moment.
What were your memories of the music of 2002? Are any of your favourite songs from that year featured here? Drop me a Tweet @ThePensmith10 and let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts!