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Then vs. Now: Music

Type: All  |  Category: Then vs. Now  |  Date: 19th September 2017


When you strip back the gimmicks, and look solely at the music, which generation had it better? Where do the ‘real’ hits lie? Leavers’ Books pit two moments of music defined by compilation CDs against each other to find out!

What decade really rocked? To help celebrate our new ‘Retro’ yearbook theme, Leavers’ Books are taking a look at the eras that influenced its design – the 80s and 90s. Each month, we humorously discuss what was great (and not so great!) about the good ol’ days and if they still stand the test of time!

Is it just me, or do we no longer ‘get’ music? I’ll look forward to a new release, but it won’t cling to my emotions and give me goosebumps they way songs would from my teenage years. I don’t feel as captivated or as blown away – and everything seems so hyped up, to only disappoint in the long run, or simply have no longevity. There are no special hidden gems amidst singles on album listings, or even hidden tracks anymore.

Earlier this year, we here at Leavers’ Books tried to banish Blue Monday and have a day of unfiltered, cheesy, nostalgic fun – to help clear the cobwebs. That included a non-stop playlist of everyone’s guilty pleasures. The song requests came flooding in without hesitation, to which my manager kept repeating “How is this a guilty pleasure? I still listen to this.”

You get a rush of emotions, and you realise from the back of your mind, you still know the lyrics; down to the spoken, subtle ‘yeahs’. It all makes sense why Flares is still as busy as ever. Even though you swear you only go once a year, with your work friends, because you didn’t get dressed up, and didn’t fancy going out-out, for a joke. Always stressing you go for a joke.

As soon as you hear the opening guitar lick for ‘Mr. Brightside’, you’re up and running to the dance floor to belt out the words with everyone around you, as you attempt to tie your work-tie around your head like a bandana.

Times, They Are a Changin’

Bob Dylan had a point. There is going to be a stark difference from when I look back at the song that was number one in the UK charts when I was born (Elton John’s ‘Sacrifice/Healing Hands’) to when someone of Generation Z searches through the archives in twenty-to-thirty years’ time and sees that the key lyrics surrounding the time of their birth was “Forget that boy, I'm over it / I hope she gettin’ better sex / Hope she ain't fakin’ it like I did, babe”. Not quite as profound as “I never knew love like poison / That burned like a fire / All I ever wanted was a reason / To drown in your eyes”, but hey, baby steps...

It’s a sign of the times – trends are changing, and with that, the way we see the world and the way creative artists are allowed to express themselves; what the public want and what is accepted within the public eye. Being liberal isn’t a bad thing, but it does take away that good ‘old fashioned’ style of fun – which now has the connotations of being corny. Cheesy pop hits, that are all considered guilty pleasures and can’t be taken seriously. Or can they?

The Experiment: a Battle of the Ages

When you strip back the gimmicks, and look solely at the music, which generation had it better? Where do the ‘real’ hits lie?

When I left Primary school, back in 2001, volume 49 of Now That’s What I Call Music! was released. Some of the songs on this compilation CD would’ve filled the school hall during my leavers’ disco, and others would’ve fuelled my summer as I prepared for secondary school. But were they any good?

Ignoring the fact you’re left wondering how on earth they come up with a new and (somewhat) unique cover each time, Leavers’ Books decided to pit volume 49 against the most recent release that came out in time for the class of 2017: Now That’s What I Call Music! 96.

49 is the veteran with age and experience on its side, it's been in the limelight since we can remember yet still somewhat of an enigma, nonetheless, a success; a natural knock-out specialist.
Sixteen years its younger, 96 is a fresh-faced up-and-comer, that the fans love, and they can get behind; from humble beginnings and with thanks to the internet, we've tracked its journey and witnessed it saw up the ranks.

With reviews from 2001 such as “this is a pretty good indication of the state of the UK pop charts at the moment”, surely we have a favourite going into this, right? Well, not for one reviewer who said “Let’s face it-the majority of modern music is really bad! Monotonous tunes, bad singing... What's happened to talent? Did it go out of fashion?! Albums like this highlight the state of the modern music industry right now [...] I really dread to think what music will be produced in the next 10 years or so. No, I'll re-phrase that: I really dread what music will be released tomorrow, because surely it can't get much worse than what is on this album!”, but let’s make up our own minds.

Ding, ding, ding.

  1. Robbie Williams - Eternity vs. Ed Sheeran - Castle on the Hill

‘Eternity’ has the emotional factor, but it does lack that much-needed power ballad ‘umph’, and somehow a little bit too slow and lacklustre to be a pop hit. Despite its awkward lyrics, ‘Castle on the Hill’ has it all: a story, level changes, and soaring atmospherics. Robbie had the UK in the palm of his hands, but Ed seems to have captured the entire globe. That, combined with his rags to riches story sees Now take the lead out of the gate.

Then 0 - 1 Now

  1. Gabrielle - Out of Reach vs. Rag'n'Bone Man - Human

Gabrielle does have a banger on her hands, but like Robbie, it lacks the ‘bang’. It’s soft, subtle and charming, but ‘Human’ seems to go that step further; it experiments with modern music, blending gospel with indie, adding a side-hint of country and dash of R&B. Rag'n'Bone Man got the mix right, to have ‘Human’ suit many an occasion, and enough to take the win.

Then 0 - 2 Now

  1. Atomic Kitten - Eternal Flame vs. Little Mix - Touch

It may be a cover, but it’s one incredible cover that stands the test of time and is perfect for the ‘slow song’ at the end of a school disco. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Touch’ is a good song, very poppy, very up-beat and all the rest, but it’s not quite got that spark that evokes emotion – that makes you pretend you’re singing along as you stretch your hands out, grasps the air and cling them back into your chest. Powerful stuff.

Then 1 - 2 Now

  1. Blue - All Rise vs. The Weeknd - Starboy (feat. Daft Punk)

I feel bad voting for the Weeknd in this bout; I feel bad for Antony Costa who has since gone bankrupt and pictured relieving himself on a cash machine during a night out. I also feel like a vote for ‘Starboy’ encourages poor grammar and the incorrect spelling of one of my favourite words, ‘weekend’. But, Blue didn’t win us Eurovision, and that comes at a cost(a).

Then 1 - 3 Now

  1. S Club 7 - Don't Stop Movin' vs. The Chainsmokers - Paris

Well, it’s not too much of a contest this one. In the blue corner there is ‘Paris’, which is fun, but it won’t last long – in fact, it’s probably forgotten about. In the red corner however, you can still reel off the names Rachel, Jo, Bradley, Jon, Hannah, Tina and Paul (you may have struggled with Paul). ‘Don’t Stop Movin’’ is a song with much more character, and much more of a right hook.

Then 2 - 3 Now

  1. Geri Halliwell - It's Raining Men vs. Starley - Call on Me (Ryan Riback Remix)

Similarly, ‘Call on Me’ is fun, but it lacks identity. It’s generic in its style, with anticipated build up, easy, repetitive lyrics and funky danceable beat on loop. It’s certainly not bad in the slightest, but the significance and impact Ginger Spice had with this cover was monumental.

Then 3 - 3 Now

  1. Ronan Keating - Lovin' Each Day vs. Anne-Marie - Ciao Adios

“Lovin’ each day as if it’s the last, meh-muh-muh-ma-meh, having a blast, oh bay-beh, I want you right here next to me”! See, you practically still know the words. It beats “I’m into you-oh! Yeah you-ooh!” hands down. The former Boyzone’s hit may be cheesy, but it just works. Ciao, adios, I’m done with this round.

Then 4 - 3 Now

  1. Stereophonics - Have a Nice Day vs. Bruno Mars - 24K Magic

Hey, Kelly Jones, don’t tell me what to do. The song resembles a dull, grey afternoon, full of nothing but apathy and disappointment. Bruno Mars on the other hand has the star quality a mainstream artist strives to posses. ‘24K Magic’ hits the nail on the head. Having a better voice and rhythm, if nothing else, ensures that Bruno picks up the points for Team 2017.

Then 4 - 4 Now

  1. Wheatus - Teenage Dirtbag vs. Zara Larsson - I Would Like

We all know the clear winner here – one of these songs simply floated amidst the charts, the other became an anthem for a generation, helped shape early 2000 teen-films and encapsulates a catchy tagline chorus. ‘I Would Like’ has the same problem as ‘Call on Me’, and just can’t keep up with the pace Wheatus have on display. Just try to side-glance that awkward moment when you realise you're no longer a 'teenage dirtbag, baby' and you're now just a 'dirtbag'.

Then 5 - 4 Now

  1. Blink-182 - The Rock Show vs. Katy Perry - Chained to the Rhythm (feat. Skip Marley)

Props to Katy for holding her own, but it was no match in the long run – and it’s not her finest record. ‘The Rock Show’ was one of the main songs to summarise teenage trials and tribulations and a big hit that put Blink-182 on the mainstream map. You can hum the riff to one of these with no hesitation; the song that guarantees to get people dancing and letting loose and air drumming; the one that’s picking up the point in this round.

Then 6 - 4 Now

  1. U2 - Elevation (Tomb Raider Mix) vs. Sean Paul - No Lie (feat. Dua Lipa)

Sean’s lost the plot musically by this point, and we’re left with a very mundane and rather whiney song that isn’t the easiest of listening, and similarly, the only good thing about U2 is their reference in Alan Partridge... Call me an old stick in the mud, but no one gets a point this time.

Then 6 - 4 Now

  1. OutKast - Ms. Jackson vs. Martin Jensen - Solo Dance

The young lady singing on ‘Solo Dance’ certainly has talent, and the song is a great representation of modern dance music – perfect for TV shows, adverts and parties, but if you were stuck in an elevator with five random people and you blurted out “Sorry Ms. Jackson... Ooo”, one of those five would reply with “I am for reeeal”, to which you’d look each other in the eyes, face-to-face and continue “Never meant to make your daughter cry”... The tide is starting to sway.

Then 7 - 4 Now

  1. Destiny's Child - Survivor vs. Zedd & Alessia Cara – Stay

I wonder who will survive this round, heh, heh, heh. The bigger, better song of the two obviously belongs to Beyoncé and co. It houses more sass, more power, and more of a message.

Then 8 - 4 Now

  1. Hear'Say - The Way to Your Love vs. Sigrid - Don't Kill My Vibe

Sigrid appeared out of nowhere with this track – taking Spotify by storm. It’s fresh, daring and different; soft and sombre yet also scatty and loud. Hear’Say were always somewhat not-quite-it. With uplifting and quite dramatic, with swaying, simple dance moves, they found commonplace on CD:UK and your local radio station. ‘The Way to Your Love’ is such an early-00s song it hurts, and despite the good lungs on ‘em and good harmonies, there’s a lack of chemistry and so the early-00s is where it’ll stay.

Then 8 - 5 Now

  1. Backstreet Boys - More than That vs. Steve Aoki & Louis Tomlinson - Just Hold On

At a glance you think that Backstreet boys would walk this – but they’re up against a member of the infamous One Direction and one of the most successful producer and DJs. The Western-tinged R&B love song by the Boys wasn’t their strongest outing and sort of fell flat in the grand scheme of things, it felt generic. ‘Just Hold On’ has it all that from the uplifting motto to an uplifting dance beat. Both songs suit their current trend, but ‘Just Hold On’ does it better.

Then 8 - 6 Now

  1. Britney Spears - Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know vs. Dua Lipa - Be the One

Like with Backstreet Boys, by this stage Britney had fallen into monotony and was part of the furniture. I actually had to seek out this song because I couldn’t remember it at all. So is it really that good of a song? Did it have that much of an impact? No, and with ‘Be the One’s vibe, it conquers the hedonistic nature of Britney’s effort and is much easier to listen to, and is a much better song.

Then 8 -7 Now

  1. Marti Pellow - Close to You vs. Jonas Blue - By Your Side (feat. RAYE)

Look, the Wet Wet Wet singer went on Emmerdale to perform this song. ‘Close to You’ has a wonderful piano competition, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before – it feels somewhat dated, even for 2001. It’s the type of song my dad would call “naff”. RAYE’s vocals, however, that reign over this track are sublime, and Jonas Blue has utilised a piano in a modern way, to brilliant effect. Just as it was growing up in my childhood home, my father’s word is final.

Then 8 - 8 Now

  1. Dido - Thank You vs. Coldplay – Hypnotised

‘Thank You’ is recognisable and if not for this record, but for being sampled on Eminem’s ‘Stan’ – confirming its significance and importance. Whilst it not be a conventional pop song, and marches to the beat of its own drum (or lack thereof) and doesn’t sound like some knock-off Disney song like Coldplay produced, dull and lifeless. Namesake isn’t enough to win them this round.

Then 9 - 8 Now

  1. Zero 7 - Destiny vs. John Legend - Love Me Now

It’s still quite an even contest as we approach half-way. ‘Destiny’ is an interesting feature on this complication – it lingers with that All Saints-esque aura and makes you want to paint mandalas and mediate to incense – nonetheless it’s a great song, but it can’t quite compete. John Legend is a musician we take for granted, and ‘Love Me Now’ is exhilarating, magical and packs a punch.

Then 9 - 9 Now

  1. Radiohead - Pyramid Song vs. Robbie Williams - Love My Life

Robbie jumps ship and is the only artist to feature on both complications – some rewarding feat. But does his music stand the test of time? Sadly not. Especially when it sounds like his old back catalogue. ‘Love My Life’ is at a standstill, not quite current, and not quite the eerie, cerebral effort from Radiohead. If I’m hounded down and asked which the better song is, my answer will always be ‘Pyramid Song’. Could do with cheering up now though.

Then 10 - 9 Now

  1. Eddy Grant - Electric Avenue vs. George Michael - Fastlove (Part I)

If we’re talking ‘cheesy’, ‘Electric Avenue’ is another that will always remain associated with that word. It’s the type of song you’ll hear at a disco or on a children’s direct-to-DVD film. It’s ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ adjacent. At the other end of the spectrum, George Michael’s music is timeless, talent-ridden, and this posthumous release solidifies his legacy.

Then 10 - 10 Now

  1. Gorillaz - 19-2000 vs. Jax Jones - You Don't Know Me (feat. RAYE)

The vibrancy of ‘You Don’t Know Me’ seems to fade against the freaky trance ’19-2000’ puts over on you. The second single from Gorillaz was a sensational hit and is the much bigger song of the two.

Then 11 - 10 Now

  1. DJ Pied Piper & Masters of Ceremonies - Do You Really Like It? vs. The Weeknd - I Feel it Coming (feat. Daft Punk)

Quite possibly the toughest bout we are to witness. ‘I Feel it Coming’ is a wonderful song, but what can be said about ‘Do You Really Like It?’? It screams summer, it calls out for you to feel good and act cheeky. Enter the dragon, baby, because this one is just that more iconic.

Then 12 - 10 Now

  1. Mis-Teeq - All I Want vs. Martin Garrix & Dua Lipa - Scared to Be Lonely

Don’t tell me your head is not bopping and you’re feeling ‘the feels’: ‘All I Want’ is a fierce hit. This is now the third time Dua Lipa features on this complication, but this effort doesn’t stand out from the pack. Like with many of the Now songs, its lack of character sees it fall short.

Then 13 - 10 Now

  1. Roger Sanchez - Another Chance vs. Kygo & Selena Gomez - It Ain't Me

‘Another Chance’ is a song you remember, but don’t really care that you remember. It’s no match up for the Queen of Instagram.

Then 13 - 11 Now

  1. Basement Jaxx - Romeo vs. Rae Sremmurd - Black Beatles (feat. Gucci Mane)

‘Black Beatles’ had its five seconds of fame – but during those seconds, it went viral and became a worldwide hit. It started a trend. The mannequin challenge will always be synonymous with this song going forward. In ten years, at some wedding, it’ll come on and the bride and groom will freeze and giggle to themselves whilst kids eight-and-under will run around them, sliding on their knees, ruining their smart trousers.

Then 13 - 12 Now

  1. Da Hool - Meet Her at the Love Parade 2001 vs. Machine Gun Kelly & Camila Cabello - Bad Things

‘Meet Her at the Love Parade 2001’ is about as horrendous as Da Hool’s eyebrow piercing. It makes me think of an attendant manning a fair ground ride: “Alright, all you ravers! Scream if you wanna’ go far-ster!”, and I don’t think that’s a good thing. It optimises a bad time, and nothing like ‘Bad Things’ (which is pretty cool).

Then 13 - 13 Now

  1. Ian van Dahl - Castles in the Sky vs. Sage the Gemini - Now and Later

I feel like I’m watching Kevin & Perry Go Large and I’m loving it. ‘Castles in the Sky’ feels euphoric, whilst ‘Now and Later’ feels like it’s a year or two too late. I ordered Jason Derulo’s ‘Wiggle’ online and ‘Now and Later’ arrived at my door 10-14 working days later. Needless to say, I complained to the re-seller via. Twitter.

Then 14 - 13 Now

  1. Fragma - You Are Alive vs. Tinie Tempah - Text from Your Ex (feat. Tinashe)

Tinie is back with a quirky song that’s easy and fun, and takes on Fragma, another stereotypical electronic trance record that did far better in the UK than in their native country of Germany. Both songs are good, but we’re deservedly picking an Uber over über this time.

Then 14 -14 Now

  1. Steps - Here and Now vs. Stormzy - Big For Your Boots

Well isn’t it ironic that 20 years later Steps are back and going strong with a new album (the first ‘real’ album in 17 years) and a sell-out tour. Either they predicted this comeback well in advance and played the long game, or just got desperate for money and needed a quick reunion (after the Christmas flop 5 years ago). Nonetheless, ‘Here and Now’ is very relevant to its time. ‘Big For Your Boots’ helped grime capture the mainstream. Stormzy, amongst others such as Skepta and JME, has been all the rage the past year or so reaffirming a genre. For that, I’m giving him the W in this round.

Then 14 - 15 Now

  1. A*teens - Upside Down vs. Tom Zanetti - You Want Me (feat. Sadie Ama)

A*teens were tacky. There, I said it. They’re the audio equivalent of stubbing your toe on the coffee table. ‘You Want Me’ is serious, but in a dark, moody and cool way. It rinses the floor with ‘Upside Down’ – the better song is very apparent.

Then 14 - 16 Now

  1. Bellefire - Perfect Bliss vs. Martin Solveig - Places (feat. Ina Wroldsen)

See above.

Then 14 - 17 Now

  1. Texas - I Don't Want a Lover (2001 Mix) vs. Robin Schulz, David Guetta & Cheat Codes - Shed a Light

What a great song. How uplifting and defiant. It’s lame and weird and hard to pin down, all rolled up into one. It may be a little bit repetitive, but hey, that’s a part of its charm! But which song am I talking about?

Then 15 - 17 Now

  1. Boris D'Lugosch - Never Enough (feat. Featuring Róisín Murphy) vs. M.O - Not in Love (feat. Kent Jones)

Hats off if you’re still reading this; it’s end-to-end stuff. Not quite sure what I’m listening to when ‘Never Enough’ started to play, and it’s certainly not a song I remember from my youth. I feel the same may be thought of about M.O down the line, but for now, the song has a lot going for it, and it is a great listen.

Then 15 - 18 Now

  1. Janet Jackson - All for You vs. Rag'n'Bone Man – Skin

Janet is pure fire. ‘All for You’ is pop through-and-through, and a track you just cannot find a flaw with. One you wish you never end. ‘Skin’ hits the right spots, but doesn’t echo the need for choreography in the way ‘All for You’ does. They’ll both stand the test of time, but there can only be one victor and Janet Jackson cinches it.

Then 16 - 18 Now

  1. Eve - Who's That Girl vs. Train - Play that Song

An easy fight for Eve here; her Latino influence and rhymes puts up quite the display and belittle Train. Another song that oozes sass and power puts its dukes up against ‘Play that Song’, which title dictates its style: unoriginal, uninspired and tiring; its fate was sealed from the get-go.

Then 17 - 18 Now

  1. Nelly - Ride wit Me (feat. City Spud) vs. The Vamps & Matoma - All Night

This is so one-sided, it’s not enough funny... Eyy, must be the money!

Then 18 - 18 Now

  1. Sisqó - Dance For Me vs. Ariana Grande - Everyday (feat. Future)

Things are heating up as we can see the finishing line and enter the final few rounds. We all remember Sisqó for that risqué ‘Thong Song’ and not much else, but ‘Dance for Me’, well, it’s terrible... He’s a one-hit wonder to put it mildly. However, the Ariana Grande and Future collaboration is mysterious, sensual and an absolute tune.

Then 18 - 19 Now

  1. Aaron Soul - Ring Ring Ring vs. Major Lazer - Run Up (feat. PARTYNEXTDOOR & Nicki Minaj)

I’m cringing, are you cringing? Aaron should be if he ever plays this song back. This is a classic case of a man who cannot sing – he makes half the people in this office sound like angels – still, catchy chorus, so not all bad. Major Lazer were at least able to recruit people with some good lungs and a sweet Jamaican vibe; a great song for the summer (despite being released in the winter months).

Then 18 - 20 Now

  1. Damage - So What If I? vs. Post Malone - Congratulations (feat. Quavo)

If you ignore his look and dress- sense, Post Malone is a musical genius; his chilled out anthems and overall vibes are unrivalled. Damage was somewhat the foundations for what JLS would be – Damage were just not as talented or handsome. ‘So What If I?’ has really generic (but also tacky) lyrics and this was a time before auto-tone was a thing, so we’ve got just to sit and suffer for near 4 minutes. Nothing pops about the song, but for Post Malone, good lawd. He may have just won Now That’s What I Call Music! 96 the fight.

Then 18 -21 Now

  1. Melanie B - Lullaby vs. Julia Michaels – Issues

Look, we’re British. We ruddy love a Spice Girl.  As we posited out with Gerri’s cover song earlier, they just can’t do anything wrong. Baby Spice might run over my toe with her shopping trolley in Asda and I’d say ‘”thank you”. ‘Lullaby’ is soft and sweet, gentle, cheery, and sweet. A wonderfully sweet way to end the album. ‘Issues’ on the other hand, may also be described as exactly the same, but it’s so annoying at the same time.

Then 19 - 21 Now

  1. N/A vs. Lorde - Green Light

Some of us would much rather listen to white noise. That’s it, I’m deducting a point.

Then 19 - 20 Now

  1. N/A vs. Calvin Harris - Slide (feat. Frank Ocean & Migos)

This is how you end an album. ‘Slide’ is a cool classic with influential, a-star artists coming together to make a hit. Its modern tone and up-beat nature reflects the calm, simplistic and sophistication 2017 strives for... What’s more, it’s fun! That’s what music should be about after all – captivating emotions (especially positive ones).

Then 19 - 21 Now

Winner: Now That’s What I Call Music! 96

So, to summarise, if we have to, music is better now. But only just. When we reflect back to the songs of 2001, the good was good, but the bad were very, very bad. A lot of the songs are not memorable at all, and I would assume the same would be the case for the majority of songs on the latter of the two albums. In twenty years, ‘You Want Me’ won’t be relevant or remembered, or feature on any playlist. Like many things, they are products to their environments and subject to that time period.

It’s a weird time now where records are released at midnight, entirely out of the blue, and streaming over-shadows physical purchasing of songs – so a popular album can feature all 12 songs in the charts, and songs that aren’t even released as single shave music videos created and go crazy over the air waves. There’s no structure or convention anymore; it’s daring, different, and an exciting time.

We have access to so much more music. We have the ability to skip songs we no longer like, or at the drop of a pin, search for that song on our mind and play it. We also have the ability to ask our mobile phones what song is being played on the TV show we’re watching, or whilst we walk around the shops, and it’ll tell us!

If you hear someone say “they don’t make songs like they used to”, they’d be right, but it’s a good thing. A really good thing. Songs have to adapt and change, like with everything, to be new, separate and defined. You’re not the same person you were six months ago, so you certainly won’t be the same person ten years ago – so why should music be any different?

No matter what your age is, and whatever you end up listening to, remember it, and enjoy it; savour the moment. It won’t be around forever.

Note: Some opinions have been exaggerated for comical effect and debate purposes.

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