Much like your first kiss, your first gig or your first moment of extreme public humiliation, you never forget your first ‘Now That’s What I Call Music!’ compilation. In fact, if you’re lucky enough maybe all four of them are combined in one extreme moment of lust, public nudity and pop magic. The long-running chart compilation released its 95th installment last month, and despite the fact that CD sales have been slipping into oblivion for the past decade, the ‘Now’ market remains as strong as Donald Trump’s toupee glue. The cold hard stats are impossible to beat; the latest CD sold a humungous 230,000 copies in its first week, and over the years they’ve shifted over 100 million copies across the world.
The series launched back in 1983 and in 1992 I got my tiny hands on my first ‘Now’, picked up from the long since gone Wood Green branch of Our Price. Released just before Christmas 1992, it was ‘Now 23’, a double cassette packed full of 39 bona fide bangers. It kicked off with one hit wonder Tamsin Archer’s one very good hit, ‘Sleeping Satellite’, before offering up Billy Ray Cyrus’s mild version of country in ‘Achy Breaky Heart’, The Shamen’s not-very-subtle-at-all drugs ode ‘Ebeneezer Goode’, East 17’s hardcore ‘House of Love’ and the Euro-dance themes to computer games Tetris and Super Mario Land. There was also some ABBA, and for some reason ABBA tribute band Bjorn Again, Enya, Bob Marley, INXS and Roy Orbison. Pop, reggae and psychedelic techno; the musical landscape of the early 1990s was a beautiful thing indeed.
From the moment I had the chubby plastic casing in my hand, I was addicted. The next instalment came four months later, boasting perhaps the most beautiful of all the outrageously lurid ‘Now!’ artworks; purple lettering floating in a violet-shaded gathering of clouds. The contents was just as majestic. Shabba Ranks, 2 Unlimited, Shaggy – and yes, yet more East 17. You can never have too much East 17.
In 2016 ‘Now!’s stronghold over the British imagination is as potent as ever, offering a easy, tried-and-tested answer to that eternal question; ‘what shall I listen to today?’ without the faff of endless streaming playlists with increasingly niche song selections. Instead, ‘Now’ does what it always has, offering up a shameless selection of chart hits; from Drake and Little Mix to Christine and the Queens. Pop has never been known for its staying power, but the compilation’s 33 years at the top lets its makers boss the charts in the same way that David Attenborough does the natural world. Now that’s what we call impressive.