The carve-up of assets required to allow Universal to buy EMI could claim a well-loved victim: the ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ compilations. Unless a buyer arrives to take up EMI’s 50 percent stake of the Now! brand, the series will end with November’s ‘Now That’s What I Call Music 83’.
Launched in 1983, the series is a national institution and a rite of passage: there can’t be many self-respecting music fans who didn’t, at some point, fall prey to the TV ads – or get one for Christmas from a well-meaning grandparent.
To celebrate the series, we asked NME staffers to tell us about their first Now album. Mine would be ‘Now 17’, the mere thought of which places me precisely on a coach on a school trip to Blackpool. Like the best of the Now albums, its broad brush gave a snapshot of the then music scene, meaning sundry baggy bands (hello, Candy Flip) rubbed shoulders with ace, early ‘90s pop (Beats International, Adamski), rave (Orbital, E-Zee Possee’s factually correct but deliberately controversial ‘Everything Starts With An ‘E’’) and a weird smattering of oldies, Cliff Richard’s ‘Stronger Than That’ being the WTF-iest example.
Here’s what the rest of the office said...
“Being nine years old when ‘Now That's What I Call Music 11’ came out can be held completely responsible for every bad decision I have ever made in the name of pop music. It is dangerous, it indoctrinates you and makes you its hopeless bitch for life. Kicking off with the Pet Shop Boys doing Hi-NRG Elvis, it never lets you stop for breath. The stakes are so high that 'I Should Be So Lucky' by Kylie Minogue is considered worthy of inclusion only on the second side. It tackles indie with Morrissey's 'Suedehead'. It tackles complicated global politics with Eddy Grant's 'Gimme Hope Jo’anna'. And in its final act, where most compilations peter out, it entirely predicts the next 20 years of music with early house tracks like 'Beat Dis' and 'Doctorin' The House'. Curse you, ‘Now 11’!”
“I think we had all of them in the house when I was a kid, up to about 20, but 12 is the only one I have any fondness for. That swimming pool front cover is imprinted indelibly on my memory. It came out when I was eight, and I played it endlessly. Obviously it featured loads of good pop stuff – Tiffany's 'I Think We're Alone Now', The Timelords' 'Doctorin' The Tardis’, 'Theme From S'Express’, 'Mary's Prayer' by Danny Wilson, Salt N'Pepa’s 'Push It' – but it also contained Morrissey's 'Everyday Is Like Sunday' and 'Can I Play With Madness' by Iron Maiden. I think it was my favourite album for about four years.”
I never owned a 'Now...' album, as my sister hauled them all in so we just listened to hers. I can't remember the digit of the first, just a pleasing background meld of Shaggy's 'Oh Carolina' and Rednex's 'Cotton Eye Joe' in our household. I do, however, have an abiding memory of my best friend's dad collecting every single 'Now...' compilation since the first one came out – on cassette. Even in the late '90s, as CDs made the format crumble culturally as rapidly as cheap toilet paper in bleach, he'd buy the latest one and slot it into the big cabinet by the telly. He didn't even play them. At least now with this news, he can finally call his collection complete.
“Oh, ‘Now 34’. I owe you so much. Thanks to you, my party trick is that I can still do the dance to Gina G's 'Ooh Aah… Just A Little Bit', which is all down to your super-strengh tape reel that never wore out, no matter how many times I re-played it. And then there's the life-long impact you had on my musical taste. Take side one, a veritable odyssey through the great and the good of ‘90s pop – the Spice Girls, tarantula hair-era Peter Andre, and lest we forget Mark Morrison's 'Return of the Mack' and Louise Nurding's limp, post-Eternal single 'Naked'. Then there's the ‘indie’ side, side 2 (despite a brilliantly shit and misplaced finale of Boyzone's 'Coming Home Now'). Oasis' 'Wonderwall', Blur's 'Charmless Man' and Suede's 'Trash' – staples of the indie disco for generations to come.”
“I'm showing my age here, but my first ‘Now...’ album was… the first one! At the time, I was a ten year-old chart pop obsessive, but found that the pocket money my parents allocated me was a woefully inadequate sum if I was to get hold of all the singles I longed for. But then along came ‘Now’, a compilation album that record execs had cynically but helpfully designed for the likes of me, and was handily released in the run up to Christmas. The tracklisting, as would be the case on subsequent ‘Now’ releases, was uneven and seemingly arbitrary, but included a whopping ELEVEN number one singles from that year - result! But it was the (slightly) lesser–known likes of Tracy Ullman's 'They Don't Know' and The Cure's 'The Love Cats' that remain favourites of mine to this day. Even then, ‘Now’ was helping me sort the wheat from the chaff. Cheers, record company moguls!”
““Now that’s what I call music!” isn’t the first thing you exclaim when pressing play on your first double cassette compilation to hear The Spice Girls’ ‘Mama’, aka the worst Spice Girls A-side of all time. Luckily, I was a patient 10-year-old hanging on in with ‘Now 36’ to the point at which it hits its stride: No Doubt’s ‘Don’t Speak’ followed by White Town’s ‘Your Woman’ and Blueboy’s ‘Remember Me’ (Remember that?). While the remainder of cassette one pandered to all my Sugar/J-17 puppy love needs (Peter Andre! East 17! Boyzone! Backstreet! 911! Kavana!!!), cassette two prepared me for life. Bopping around to ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ and Prodigy’s ‘Breathe’, I learned to rave large. I also got a solid indie grounding from Space, Mansun, Blur, James and Monaco. And as for Sash!’s ‘Encore Une Fois’ – French education sorted.”
“Just looking at ‘Now 38’, late 1997 probably wasn’t a fantastic time for hits. The Spice Girls were on a Latin-styled comedown from Spice Mania and Hanson had released the song that wasn’t ‘MMMBop’. There was the Louise song that wasn’t ‘Naked’, and Ricky Martin’s ‘Maria’ was confusingly resurrected in the wake of ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’. Robbie Williams’ career-making moment ‘Angels’ was one ‘Now...’ away and the playlisters found space for Moby’s James Bond theme. Yes, ‘Now 38’ was messy, but it’ll always be my first. My first legitimate swear to Meredith Brooks’ ‘Bitch’, the first song I knew all the words to (Tina Moore’s ‘Never Gonna Let You Go’ cause you’re my baby, worth more than a million in gold…), first dance anthem (Gala’s ‘Freed From Desire’) and my first massive crush. Something that was fantastic in 1997 was The Backstreet Boys (definitely the One Direction of their day) and ‘As Long As You Love Me’. Those guys made chair dancing an art.”
“1996 was the year I discovered Spectacular nail varnish, velvet flares and guinea pigs but, more importantly, Deep Blue Something. ‘Now 35’ was as game-changer and I loved every track on it, bar Stretch 'n' Vern's 'I'm Alive' and Wildchild's 'Jump To My Beat'. I didn't get Bjork as an 11-year-old, opting for Backstreet Boys, Eternal and Babybird instead. Those were heady days. I heard Elite Gymnastics cover Spice Girls' 'Say You'll Be There' recently and it brought me straight back to nicking the occasional Jelly Belly Bean at my main hang-out (Woolies) and the smell of metal bars on the local climbing frame. That compilation opened my world: I started dreaming of eating breakfast at Tiffany’s, visiting Rotterdam and listening to as much pop music as possible.”
You can stream every track ever included on a 'Now...' compilation via this mammoth Spotify playlist:
Oh, and here's the 'Now...' Spotify app