Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Now: Then (Redux)

Now That’s What I Call Music”, i.e. the first one, has recently been re-issued. And so, what better time could there possibly be for us to put up the director’s cut of the article BrokenTV’s Mark X wrote last year for Arena Magazine’s website. The article below is quite different from the version submitted last year, mainly because of Mark’s idiot idea to react to the statement “here’s a maximum word count” with the twisted logic of “I know! I’ll write a sprawling piece three times the maximum word count, then just take bits out. This can’t possibly end badly!”. Subsequently, he ended up taking all the ‘extra’ bits out, leaving just an empty husk of an article that didn’t really go anywhere. The clot.

So, here for the first time, with freshly added charts that also take into account the since-released Now 71, is Now: Then – The Eight Month Anniversary Edition Director’s Cut, With Added Charts.

Your nan is wandering around the aisles of Woolworths. It is the 22nd of December, and she still hasn’t found a Christmas present for you yet. Socks? Way, way too clichéd. A selection box? You might be getting too old for them, and it’s not really very healthy. A Beano annual? No, your other grandmother has got the monopoly on that particular gift, the sodding cow. Monopoly? Damn, she bought that for you last year.

What now?


Your nan meanders into the music part of the store. Of course, an album! You like music. Why, you were listening to some the last time she visited. But what type of music was it? It was some sort of cacophonous racket, just like everything else in the hit parade, but what exactly? Peering over the top of her spectacles, your nan peers at the albums in the current top twenty and scans for possibilities.

She can see: Madonna – Like a Virgin, Wham! – Make it Big, Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA, A-Ha – Hunting High and Low, Aled Jones with The BBC Welsh Chorus conducted by John Hugh Thomas - Aled Jones With The BBC Welsh Chorus, Russ Abbot – I Love A Party, Chas & Dave – Jamboree Bag Number 3, and Now That’s What I Call Music 6.

What now?


A scene doubtless carried out throughout the UK innumerable times every festive season. Now That’s What I Call Music, that perennial safe bet Christmas present from grannies everywhere, has just notched up outing number seventy. With the series of compilations closing in on its 25th anniversary, it has played host to a total of 2,695 different tracks from 1,466 different artists, ranging from Phil Collins, to Grandmaster Flash, to Carter USM, to Bob The Builder, and most points in between (although it’s fair to say the genre of polka is wholly unrepresented). Listening to every single edition back-to-back would take you precisely seven days and thirty-one minutes, about the same amount of time it would take to walk from London to Aberdeen. Although if you attempted to do so, by the time you reach Stoke-on-Trent you’d be listening to Doop, Culture Beat and Richard Marx, so best stay at home.

My personal experience of the Now albums began in 1984, with a festive gift of the fourth volume. The theme from GhostBusters, Heaven 17, the Style Council, and a cartoon pig in sunglasses on the cover – what more could a ten-year-old ask for from an album? From that point on, concentrated campaigns of cajoling were needed before birthdays and Christmases in order to keep the collection going, with a tricky choice to be made between Walkman-friendly cassette versions (sure to be a boon for travelling on family holidays) and the more impressive-looking vinyl. It didn’t matter that for every worthwhile track within; there’d be at least three from the likes of Chris De Burgh or Simply Red. I was building up a record collection.

The distinctive (not to mention impressive) concept artwork used for the series from Now 6 onward certainly helped spur this newfound collecting instinct. NOWs six through sixteen saw the ‘coloured balls/speech bubble’ trademark depicted via situations such as a neon-lit sign, beach balls on a diving board, a hi-concept spaceship, or fireworks reflected on a lake. By NOW 17, the design team had discovered computers, and churned out a few uninspired text-heavy covers before NOW 20 ushered in the modern CGI logo for the series, used ever since.

By that point I had progressed onto just buying any singles I liked on their own, preferring the likes of Indie Top 20 when it came to compilations (Blaggers ITA seemed the saviours of rock. Well, I was young). And yet, the NOW series muddled through without my endorsement, even attracting a healthy quota of NME-friendly artists. On NOW21 alone, The KLF, The Wonder Stuff, The Jesus and Mary Chain, James and The Cure rubbed shoulders with Brian May, Roxette, Right Said Fred and Curtis Stigers. This variety of styles made the NOW albums a first port of call when it came to pub jukeboxes, meaning there’d always be at least half-a-dozen tracks worth listening to amongst the mum-friendly ‘Best Ofs’.

The series certainly benefited when the full CD versions became affordable. There can’t have been many dance music fans happy to sit through tracks by Boyzone, Damage and 911 to get to Underworld’s Pearl’s Girl on NOW35 (and vice versa), which may have contributed to that volume being the vinyl swansong for the series. The recent rise of legitimate download services also increased popularity – the 43 tracks on last week’s NOW70 (currently £10.99 on iTunes) would cost almost £34 if bought individually. Consequently, NOW70 recorded first week sales of 383,000, making it the fastest selling edition of the entire series.

So, here’s to the next twenty-five years of NOW, by which time I confidently predict NOW140 will be available in pill form.


4 .:

Doughboy said...

Come on, that's a song that's helped a lot of sofa shops beat the credit crunch.

Or did they go bust?

Besides, I'm sure some of those mid 80s stock aitken vomit inflected compilations are just 89 minutes of heaving, steaming rotten ear ordure

Mark X said...

Even in the dark SAW days of the late 1980s, there's a lot to like on the Nows:

1987's NOW10 included the Pet Shop Boys, M/A/R/R/S, The Style Council, Karel Fialka, Jan Hammer, Nina Simone, The Housemartins, Squeeze and The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl (or "Two drunks arguing", as TV Cream's Steve W excellently puts it).

1988's NOW13 included the Art of Noise feat. Tom Jones,
Bomb the Bass, Wee Papa Girl Rappers (who were good, dammit!), Yello, D-Mob, Beatmasters, ex-Go-Go Jane Wiedlin and Transvision Vamp.

Earlier to that, 1988's NOW11 - the same edition that included the fuse that made entire SAW monster explode, Kylie's I Should Be So Lucky, also played host to the Pet Shop Boys (again), Belinda Carlisle, Morrissey, The Mission, Joyce Sims, Vanessa Paradis, Morris Minor & The Majors, Bomb The Bass, Coldcut featuring Yazz & The Plastic Population, Krush, Jack 'n' Chill, Beatmasters featuring The Cookie Crew and Two Men a Drum Machine and a Trumpet.

Essentially, society is fortunate that the period that saw imperial phase SAW coincided with the popularity of house music, acid house, and the best years of Tennant and Lowe.

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