MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 14: RONAN KEATING

Can I be very candid and honest? I was never a big fan, if a fan at all, of boy bands. Sure I’d know about them from time to time, and more recently there was this wee little band called One Direction (and yes, I will discuss this influential band in length in another post dedicated to them!); but as a whole, boy bands weren’t at all that impacting to me when I was younger. Even now, they aren’t necessarily the most sought-out ‘genre’ of music that I’d listen to from the word ‘go’. Nevertheless, boy bands have shaped and moulded music and society as we know it- from Boyz II Men, Take That, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and Westlife, to Jonas Brothers, Jackson 5, Boyzone and One Direction; boy bands have been sprouting up throughout music history aplenty, and thus, it is no wonder that one such artist from my list of 100 would be of the boy-band variety. And so for me to prepare for this blog post, I was a little unprepared throughout the week, and even now, I’m trying to find the words to say about this artist- words that will do them justice and respect the amount of success they’ve had since being a part of their former boy-band group. For me, this ‘genre’ of music is as much needed in society as it was back then- but when music for lack of a better term, is consumed at a faster rate as years go by; boy bands can sometimes fly under the radar to become the ‘forgotten’ ‘genre’ of music. This week’s discussion leads from the front with singer-songwriter Ronan Keating; an Irish singer who was one of the founding members of boy-band BoyZone, a popular Irish group in the 1990s. With around 10 albums under his belt, Ronan has solidified himself as one such artist, whom has successfully broken off from their former boy-band group, to have a relatively successful career as a solo artist- other artists to achieve such a feat include Robbie Williams (of Take That), Michael Jackson (of The Jackson 5), Ricky Martin (of Menudo) and Justin Timberlake (of NSYNC), to name a few.

Let me say this from the outset- I was reluctant to place any representative of boy bands into my top 100 influential; purely on the basis of the assumption that boy bands in general deliver vapid and superlative lyrics with music that matches the lyrics by showcasing looping percussion and thereby, song that are radio friendly, but nothing else more. And here I stand, after listening to a week or so of Ronan Keating and his music; and stand to say that my assumptions of boy bands are totally wrong. Sure, yes, it’s not my preferred musical genre, and if I had a choice, I’d pick CCM, pop, or even the folk-acoustic of the Andrew Peterson style, even before boy bands. But, as where it stands, Ronan’s music is far from what I expected the music to be- in a very, very good way. With his career spanning the years of 2000 – now, we have been blessed to hear arguably one of the most impacting and influential artists/bands to come out of the Ireland area (aside from U2), as we witness a solo career, I reckon, as big or even bigger than the boy-band preceding it. With covers, duets, iconic takes on classic melodies, alongside his own original material, Ronan’s repertoire of music keeps getting wider and wider, the more I hear his music. Not the dangerous and scary big mountain to climb that I thought Ronan’s music really was, I decided to take the plunge a week or so ago- and what has resulted is what I reckon is one of the most impacting and eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had in preparation for any artist for this blog series these last few months!

I have a confession to make- I wasn’t totally clueless about Ronan’s music to begin with. I knew of him, and a few songs here and there. I just didn’t remember which songs, and from what I did, it was of songs that I could only recall part of. Even so, Ronan still imparts a sense of joyous refrain and a passion one can barely see in the mainstream music industry. Though in the industry for quite some time; Ronan can still bring to us songs full of hope and life, and much of his discography is testament to this. A cross between pop, radio friendly, adult contemporary, easy listening, and just general all round 2000s pop goodness; Ronan’s styles change from album to album, and his seamless transitions between these genres at ease is a very reason why Ronan himself is one of Ireland’s most successful artists (yes, maybe at the moment even ahead of U2).

Boyzone went on hiatus during the late 1990s, and it was then that Ronan decided to take the plunge and invite us all into a solo career that showcased a lot of his talent, but also be reminded that his song process and the heart behind much of his songs throughout his whole discography is nothing short of unique and interesting, as we see set before us a 10 year journey full of songs that can be catalysts for change, and I’m sure many are indeed. Ronan’s first few years as a solo artist was nothing short of miraculous- ‘When You Say Nothing at All’, his debut single in 2000, was featured in the movie Notting Hill starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, and speaks about the topic of unrequited love, and how one can go on years loving someone but never acting, out of either immense love and respect, or out of fear, or both. Regardless, this song struck a chord with a lot of people, and then propelled Ronan to deliver hit after hit after hit- ‘Life is a Rollercoaster’, ‘Lovin’ Each Day’ and ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ are all solid radio hits from his debut album Ronan, with ‘Life is a Rollercoaster’ being a live staple at many of his concerts, and shows us the theme of the fragility of life and how life doesn’t always turn out like we plan it to be- hence, the rollercoaster theme. Ronan went on to present to us both Destination and Turn it On, both moderately successful albums compared to the first, and both delivering songs that impacted and challenged people’s thinking about issues and their own lives.

‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’ wonders what could happen if we don’t act on what we feel and share it with the other- it could never come to pass because of our own hesitancy; while ‘Love it When We Do’ is a summer pop song that speaks about love (though most of the times it is superficial) we have for a significant other, regardless of how transient this love can be. Nevertheless, it is great for Ronan to sing of such love, because to love and maybe lose it, is better than never taking a chance and loving in the first place. ‘The Long Goodbye’, the last single from Destination, showcases what Ronan describes as a long goodbye- realising that the relationship of the past is nothing more than just a flicker, and thus, it should be acknowledged as a goodbye, albeit a short one; while songs like ‘Lost For Words’ paints a picture of a person who wants to speak his mind but cannot find the words for whatever reason, while Ronan asks the question in ‘She Believes (In Me)’ as to why people, especially his significant other, believes in him, when he, I’m sure, doesn’t believe in himself! Ronan also did a cover of powerful and inspirational hit ‘I Hope You Dance’, and while his own version was a tad fast for my liking, the song overall is covered respectively by Ronan, and is a timely reminder for us all to be participators in life rather than spectators, having the courage to ‘dance’ and explore life even if people tell us what we’re doing is foolish and unwise!

Though Ronan’s career didn’t really continue with the same spark and unique moments of impact, in his subsequent releases, Ronan still highlights many songs as the years go by. By 2006, Ronan released another album in Bring You Home, spanning radio hits ‘Iris’, ‘This I Promise You’ and ‘All Over Again’; ‘Iris’ being a cover of The Goo Goo Dolls’ song of the same name, captured for the movie City of Angels starring Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage, and the other two being a heartfelt song of promise and assurance (This I Promise You) alongside a duet with English singer Kate Rusby (All Over Again), a song that uses the harmonies quite well to present a theme of helping a significant other out. Ronan also delved and dug deeper into his original material, giving us a brand new album in 2012 that showed this. Fires showed us a song that in time could’ve been seen as a semi-spiritual song (the title track), while ‘Wasted Light’, is a warning to a friend or a significant other, to never rely too much on one thing- but to have a million arrows in a basket, and to understand that ‘…it’s a long way down when you’re far from the ground, and I’ve been falling most of my life, and though the sunshine’s on, even after you’re gone, I feel sorry for the wasted light…’ His most recent album in 2016 was titled Time of My Life, and showcased a more acoustic sound, and delivered to us pop-acoustic ‘Let Me Love You’, a song devoted to his wife; and ‘As Long as We’re in Love’, a song that speaks of how if we’re in love, that no obstacle can shake what is between us (the us in the song is between Ronan and his wife, but the song can still be applicable in a lot of situations and circumstances!).

What is great about this last week is that at the beginning of the whole process in listening to Ronan and his music, is that I came initially for the music, and at the end of the process, I continued to listen because of all the things Ronan has accomplished, aside from the music, or at least, aside from the music he sung on his own. Much of Ronan’s discography is sung by himself, but then there are other songs that aren’t…and a lot of them. And herein lies the point- that Ronan is as good singing on his own as he is singing with someone else. Ronan’s heart and passion for music never changes or wavers regardless of who is singing with him, or if he is just on his own. And as we look over his own discography, I can see many, many songs he’s created with other people, that have impacted us all over the years.

‘We’ve Got Tonight’, a song recorded with famous Scottish singer-songwriter Lulu (yes, the same Lulu that acted in To Sir With Love  and sung and released the song of the same name way back in 1967), speaks of the importance of the here and now, and how sometimes, we ought not to worry about tomorrow and what happens to a relationship then, but to enjoy what is given to us now at a certain moment. Some can think of this notion as hedonistic, while others could just think of it as taking in every moment and living it too the full. Regardless of your view, ‘We’ve Got Tonight’ is a strong duet that takes us all back and reminds us of how a young girl whose powerful voice struck the world way back in the 1960s can still impact and influence even now. Ronan also collaborates with a lot of other famous people and sings very famous songs on an album titled Duet (exclusively released in Australia and New Zealand)- Guy Sebastian joins Ronan on ‘All For Love’ (the theme song for The Three Musketeers), while Cat Stevens (now promoting himself as Yusuf Islam) lends his own vocals to the Ronan duet of ‘Father and Son’, a song originally by Cat in the 1970s, and about the wisdom a father can impart to a son and the learnings and teachings that can be given from the older to the younger generation. Country superstar LeAnn Rimes lends her voice on ‘Last Thing on My Mind’, a hit from Ronan’s second album Destination, and a song that, though powerfully and emotionally executed, can sometimes slip by the radar and be a ‘forgotten’ song in and amongst his early years, while Australian country legend Lee Kernaghan and Ronan recreate and re-record his famous song ‘The Long Goodbye’, and the Bee Gees get the Ronan Keating treatment with the song ‘Islands in the Stream’, a duet with country trio, The McClymonts.

Can you love a cover version of a song as much, or more, than the original? Maybe, possibly…with Ronan’s discography so far, much of his material has been covers, and thus, throughout the week, I’ve been hearing such covers, and thereby impressed with what I’ve heard thus far. Alongside all the covers I discussed in a previous paragraph, Ronan continues with remind us that he can belt out a cover tune with as much grace, poignancy and passion, as opposed to any of his originals. ‘Words’, originally written and recorded by The Bee Gees, is showcased by Ronan on his 2004 compilation titled 10 Years of Hits, and for me, is one of the most underrated songs by The Bee Gees…ever. Ronan also unveiled to us a compilation album titled Songs For My Mother, songs that his mother enjoyed and liked, and is a tribute album from Ronan to her, considering that his mother passed away when he was a teenager- in the late 1990s. Nevertheless, such an album like Songs For My Mother, is a very awe-inspiring and heartfelt album- much of these songs I recognised instantly, others I didn’t…and that’s ok. Cyndi Lauper hit ‘Time After Time’ is track #1, and featuring a strong bass line; is a standout on the 2009 covers album. Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’, R. Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’, alongside Elvis’s ‘Suspicious Minds’, are all given the reflective Ronan Keating treatment, while a song like ‘This is Your Song’, is by far one of the highlights of the album. Written by Ronan himself as a way of making sense of his mother’s passing, the song reminds us of the special moments we all must have with our siblings, parents and friends, before it could be too late. ‘This is Your Song’, though initially recorded as a demo in 2003, fits quite well on Songs for my Mother, and is a classic reminder to us all to never let a moment pass us by- to live in the tension of the now and the not yet, and take each moment with our loved ones as a gift to learn and grow, to obtain wisdom and share encouragement along the exciting and unique, twisted and turning journey, called life!

While much of Ronan’s discography is serious, and there are some songs in his repertoire that are somber and reflective, there is also a light-heartedness and funny side to Ronan, with a song like ‘Summer Wonderland’ to showcase a side of Ronan that we have never seen before. Joyous and fun, and a lot less, dare I say, depressing, compared to the rest of his discography, here we see Ronan in a down-to-earth way as he totally redoes ‘Winter Wonderland’ and records it with an Australian flair- thereby titling it ‘Summer Wonderland’. A couple of videos below showcase the making of the song, complete with sponsoring by and product placement of Air New Zealand, alongside the lyric video for ‘Summer Wonderland’, for personal enjoyment.

As we are also reminded of Ronan’s life outside of music, we see a man heavily involved in philanthropy alongside being a judge for various singing competitions, The Voice and X Factor included. With Ronan also being an ambassador for charity work, especially a campaigner for The Marie Keating Foundation (named after his own mother), raising awareness for breast cancer; Ronan also decided to lend his voice and talents to acting, being in the fourth season of the now-cancelled Love Child while also delivering the singing voice of Postman Pat in the movie Postman Pat: The Movie. As we’re reminded that a singer, Ronan as an example, is much more than just singing, but as important, is the other things they do and accomplish; Ronan himself shows us why his talent is so sought after, as now more than 25 years in business (a few with Boyzone, and the rest as a solo artist!), we see an artist that is not nearing close to retiring. With his latest album released in 2016, I’m expecting a new project soon, be it an EP, full length album, or even a remix album? Regardless, Ronan’s career is to keep going, as we appreciate that Ronan and his music are popular around the world, to the point of them maybe usurping U2 as being the biggest artist in the English/Irish region!

Does Ronan Keating and his music, make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song (other than popular melodies like ‘Life is a Rollercoaster’, ‘Fires’, ‘This I Promise You’ and ‘Lost For Words’, to name a few) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

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