Welcome to part four of Pig Hits!, not computer compiled by Gallup, in which we mark the upcoming 100th Now That’s What I Call Music! by taking the first half of that century and putting democracy in action – we pick three tracks from each, a special guest each week chooses another, then we put all four to our Twitter audience on @tvcream and let them vote for their favourite to go on a – so far imaginary but we hold out hope – Actual Best Of Now! album.
Week three, volumes 11 to 15, gave us some of our closest voting yet (out of three weeks’ worth, yes), with two 3% margins of victory recorded, and one of those with a third track less than 10% off the winner. When the polling stations ended we were left with the following:
Now! 11: Kylie Minogue – I Should Be So Lucky
Now! 12: S’Express – Theme From S’Expess
Now! XIII: Jane Wiedlin – Rush Hour
Now! 14: Neneh Cherry – Buffalo Stance
Now! 15: The Beautiful South – Song For Whoever
So on we go to the Now!s covering the end of the Eighties and into the Nineties. Joining us this week, reviewer of pop and dance compilations through the ages on the excellent A Pop Fan’s Dream, Paul English:
Now That’s What I Call Music! 16 (released November 1989)
Obviously cashing in on the month there, except it was released two weeks after Guy Fawkes Night. Not sure what the reflection on the water is meant to symbolise. And neither of those are the most confusing thing about the record – CD purchasers got three extra tracks including French Kiss, even with those not a single number one made the cut for the first time as Black Box and Jive Bunny carved up the catchment period between them, and Wendy & Lisa’s Waterfall becomes the least successful Now! entrant to this point, peaking at 69. Despite the comparative lack of success there was a lot we could have picked, from Tears For Fears having a go at being the Beatles via SAWed up Cliff to Redhead Kingpin & the FBI’s ace sole hit, but eventually these emerged from the pack.
Belinda Carlisle – Leave A Light On
Having spent the previous two years establishing her niche, Virgin would really go for it on her album this year Runaway Horses, extracting a full six singles like it was Thriller or something, rather than accomplished and highly likeable drivetime FM rock. It’s almost slick (“almost” the operative), it’s peppy and air-punchy in the ideal places, it rips off I Think We’re Alone Now, and it’s got George Harrison on very familiar slide guitar solo.
Rebel MC & Double Trouble – Street Tuff
They were Double Trouble & Rebel MC on their previous single. Something went on there. The collaboration of reggae toaster and hip house production unit sounded, and sounds, like little else with its ska bassline and deliberate differentiation from both Americanisms and novelty, hence the line reappropriated for Steve Wright’s Mr Spoons song (“is he a yankee? No, he’s a prat!”), even if it did also use a version of the ubiquitous “woo! yeah!” sample. Double Trouble’s Karl Brown became a huge name garage DJ and Rebel MC went on to marry sub-Fox page 3 starlet Maria Whittaker.
Shakespear’s Sister – You’re History
What were people expecting from Siobhan Fahey’s post-Nanas project? Probably correct spelling (an accident kept for singularity purposes), for one, but whatever it was probably wasn’t this, streamlined synthpop nodding more than a little at INXS with a not so secret ingredient. Marcella Detroit was never supposed to be a full member and the pair never got on to the extent that Fahey eventually left via a message delivered at an awards ceremony by someone else – though they met for the first time in 25 years just last monthhttps://www.instagram.com/p/BjAkGC8lyno/ – but her vocal range against Fahey’s new murmur gave them, and this, something instantly themselves.
PAUL’S CHOICE: Fresh 4 featuring Lizz E – Wishing On A Star
“The closing track on the final Now album of the 1980s which also included three bonus tracks on the CD – presumably to make up for the complete lack of any chart-toppers. This is a wonderfully laid back cover of the Rose Royce classic. It’s produced by Smith & Mighty with Lizz E on vocals joined by Suv and Krust from Roni Size’s Full Cycle crew. Samples James Brown’s Funky Drummer and Faze O’s Ridin’ High. Still a massive Bristol bliss tune.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 17 (released April 1990)
Apparently being sold on the basis there’s one track worth listening to – and even then Seal gets no credit anywhere – this is where the covers start to bland out as the designers find a button to pixellate everything and that’s all the effort they put into it other than completely screwing up the title graphic. IT’S THE FUTURE. As is the styling of the tracklisting, with side 2 full indie disco and side 4 dance heaven. Jam Tronik’s version of Another Day In Paradise makes it onto Now! where the original didn’t, that’s how sucked into the zeitgeist Ashley Abram was.
Depeche Mode – Enjoy The Silence
Their Now! debut, and they’d only make two more appearances. It would have been more jarring had it not been preceded as a single by Personal Jesus, but this was them back to approaching their peculiar version of pop after the weird Hansa Studios years. Martin Gore has said it reminds him of the Pet Shop Boys and there’s a case for saying this is their Being Boring, a song that in its depth and melodic catch is the one even non-fans tend to love. Although… just some of us who think that in the prominent bassline and synth washes it owes a more obvious debt to New Order?
Happy Mondays – Step On
We’ve tried to steer away from covers unless there’s a good reason to include one, but John Kongos’ source material is treated with such offhandedness it barely qualifies as one. Shaun Ryder made a career out of an adlib (it means “confusing my head”, allegedly) but it’s the glam riff and house piano doing the heavy lifting. The video featured Ryder and various colleagues hanging around a big E. Obviously.
The House Of Love – Shine On
They were going to be the new… someone. Stories of how leaders Guy Chadwick and Terry Bickers fell out in ever more creative ways that stopped them achieving what many thought they could abound but they left behind a monolith that didn’t fit into 80s indie, Madchester or the coming wave of Britpop – forceful, gothically chiming and somehow getting away with namechecking themselves in the first eight words.
PAUL’S CHOICE: Inspiral Carpets – This Is How It Feels
“The first Now album of the decade emerged at a time when two worlds collided: indie and dance. Side 2 captures the vibe in a similar way that the spirit of house music is preserved on side 4 of Now 11. This Is How It Feels was the Inspiral Carpets’ breakthrough. The taster for Life; the gig at Dublin’s McGonagles took place on the day before the debut LP was released. The crowd were so enthusiastic in their dancing that they broke the floor. A song for those who cannot cope; a Madchester classic.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 18 (released November 1990)
A longer than usual gap with the traditional summer release missed out, and by the time they’re back it’s farewell to the balls logo that had served well since volume 3, never to return as Virgin/EMI/Polygram try to find a replacement by experimenting with resizing and fonts until someone comes in with some blocks and neat styling. Covers and remixes abound, Johnny Rotten/Lydon makes his only ever Now! appearance with PiL’s Don’t Ask Me, and disc 2 eventually breaks out into Hit Man & Her club night nirvana via the likes of Technotronic’s Megamix and Bombalurina, maybe not as finger on the pulse as the last few releases.
Betty Boo – Where Are You Baby?
So which is actually the more awkward line, “Please use the telephone service, I hope today you hear this” or the ever popular “I’ve used up all my tissues cos there’s more serious of issues”? After barging her way into the popular conscious with Doin’ The Do Alison Clarkson going full-on cartoon to match the Emma Peel in microshorts look and kiss-off delivery was kind of inevitable but, on a track entirely self-penned and partially self-produced, in a highly appealing way. “Window” and “handle” still don’t rhyme, though.
The La’s – There She Goes
Not about heroin, apparently. Other thing it doesn’t have that most don’t care to notice: any verses, just a slightly reworded chorus, a bridge and a repeat to the end. No wonder Lee Mavers found it so impossible to follow it drove him to distraction, though his apparent demand to only use a mixing desk with original 1960s dust on it didn’t help.
Pet Shop Boys – So Hard
With Being Boring falling between the gaps in Now! terms we had to give the nod to the less celebrateed previous single from Behaviour, arguably just as reflective and lyrical but more directly house-sounding so somehow seen as not as directly approachable. Or something. Anyway, “we’ve both given up smoking ’cause it’s fatal, so whose matches are those?” is a classic Tennant line, Lowe and Harold Faltemeyer do their best Giorgio Moroder impression, and in tone you can definitely make a through-line from the more celebrated Enjoy The Silence to this.
PAUL’S CHOICE: Sting – Englishman In New York
“Initially included on Nothing Like The Sun, the original 1988 single release was a flop. Two years later, its urban paranoia is enhanced with Ben Liebrand’s new funkier take which saw it reach #15 in the UK charts at a time when remaking mid-80s tunes was in vogue – Tom’s Diner, Close To Me – which are also included on Now 18. This 7″ edit is (Quentin) crisp and dry with a boom effect.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 19 (released March 1991)
Garish purple and too bright orangey-yellow are very 1991 design choices. Supposedly the worst selling of the whole series, that can’t help. That said, it fits in with the dance quota being pushed to the front, even if side 2’s Hale & Pace/2 In A Room/Vanilla Ice That Isn’t The Big Hit sequence chases off the unwary pretty thoroughly. Queen’s Innuendo is the last track of all, suggesting quite some horse trading has gone on somewhere. For the first time it didn’t come in an abbreviated video release – the VHS would return for 20 but never again after that. TV Cream’s music editor-at-large argued long and hard for Chris Rea’s Auberge on the basis that he once suggested it to the DJ of a 1991-themed party and it went down a storm, but eventually the rest of the office distracted him with Sporting Triangles off-airs and agreed on these…
The KLF featuring The Children of the Revolution – 3am Eternal (Live At The S.S.L.)
Even for the sometime King Boy D and Rockman Rock there’s ridiculous amounts of self-mythologising going on here. Just in the title there’s the catch-all term for an unspecified number of Drummond and Cauty co-conspirators, and S.S.L. stood for Solid State Logic, the manufacturer of their mixing desk. The second of the Stadium House Trilogy blasts off primarily referencing both their identities, taking acid house squelches widescreen and with Ricardo da Force as ever sounding like he hasn’t been clued in on what’s going on around him. Extreme Noise Terror, blanks fired at Sir George Solti, dead sheep and leaving the music business were just a year away.
Kylie Minogue – What Do I Have To Do
Nobody really talks about Rhythm Of Love in Kylie album terms apart from in vague SexKylie terms based on the have-you-ever-considered-the-merits-of-PVC videos but it’s the great turning point between BubblegumKylie and CoolKylie, still very evidently SAW-produced – ah, the rising synth note into the verse, how are you – while being a step into spectacularly insistent housier tones. The next album would start leading her down the dumper, the one after that would drag her back out of it, and so the cycle began.
Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy
Or just ‘Massive’, the Gulf War being what it was. A song that feels like it’s been around forever, so familiar are the standout parts – the strings, the chilled beats, the vocal sample, the Shara Nelson – yet also so comprehensively 1991 that it’s now televisual shorthand for “here are some emotional images of the 1990s” in the same way as Moby’s Natural Blues was for the early 00s.
PAUL’S CHOICE: Banderas – This Is Your Life
“The state of the nation: A chugging synth bass, relaxed groove and crucial message. Just go for it. You only get one life. The video is effective at putting across the idea or meaning – the long bench at the railway station is particularly evocative. A fine example of a leftfield pop tune that deserves to be played a lot more now than it actually is. Incidentally, Now 19 is the worst-selling volume of the entire series – not helped by the very lacklustre sleeve.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 20 (released November 1991)
And here’s the debut of the logo that the Now! franchise maintains to this day in not just its near-century of volumes but its many and varied spinoffs. (Now That’s What I Call Dad Rock? Really?) It’s also the first not to list the number of tracks on the cover, so clearly it’s confident in its branding by now. Prince makes his debut; Freddie Mercury was dead within a week of release. The full version of American Pie, the longest track in Now! history, closes side 4, giving the listener plenty of time to bail out.
PM Dawn – Set Adrift On Memory Bliss
Obviously built around True, but memory recall works two ways at once here as while the Spands are hot nostalgia business here in 2018 the kind of laid-back rap Prince Be and co dealt in has almost been forgotten. That’s not a Gangsta Rap Ruined Everything statement either, ethereality and remorse weren’t common touchstones in hip-hop even then, let alone Be murmuring his way inscrutably throughout and dropping in a combined A Tribe Called Quest/Married With Children reference.
Vic Reeves and the Wonder Stuff – Dizzy
Again, putting in a cover feels like a cheat’s way out but a) surely a lot of you went to student discos so you’re inoculated to this and b) you rarely hear people so excited to be doing this, here, together, in a studio, for pop’s purposes. And if you wan more Vic & Bob singing out of place but without seeming jokes, they were invited to open the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party four years later and did so with that classic mid-90s screaming teenager-pleasing move, a Hawkwind cover.
Zoë – Sunshine On A Rainy Day
Zoë Pollock, if you must know, with the kind of one hit wonder that so defines a specific sound of this period that there basically seemed no point in investigating the rest of their work, so perfectly was their mid-tempo dance-aware endlessly poppy stall set out within this 3-4 minutes (see also: the Divinyls, Ten Sharp, a couple of tracks coming up in the very near future of this feature; don’t see also Sophie B Hawkins, who would have fitted perfectly had she not had two top 20 singles and ruined the theory for us all)
PAUL’S CHOICE: Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu – It’s Grim Up North
“The KLF had reverted to their original moniker – the JAMMs. A simple formula: a recited list of towns and cities in the north of England set to a pounding industrial techno beat and percussion that sounds like steam whistles. Segue it all into an orchestral instrumental of Jerusalem. Now 20 includes the 7″ mix also known as Part 1; you need the full horror of the 12” version. Altogether now: ‘Bolton, Barnsley, Nelson, Colne, Burnley…’
As usual, keep an eye on our Twitter account at about 9.30am on Friday, from when you’ll have 72 hours to vote for your favourite from each of the Now!s covered. We’ll confirm the winners here next week when we’ll also be going through volumes 21 to 25 with a fine tooth comb, with the aid of – roll out the red carpet, please – a guest who’s been on a Now! album themselves. Remember to vote, and to feel the quality.