Week five of Pig Hits! and our public vote compilation of the best of the first half of Now That’s What I Call Music!’s century is building nicely. Here’s what you decided to include from last week’s nominations:
Now! 16: Belinda Carlisle – Leave A Light On
Now! 17: Depeche Mode – Enjoy The Silence
Now! 18: The La’s – There She Goes
Now! 19: The KLF – 3am Eternal
Now! 20: Vic Reeves & the Wonder Stuff – Dizzy
As a reminder, we’re going through the Now! volumes one by one, picking three tracks ourselves, bringing in a guest judge every week to make the case for another, and then using @tvcream to put the final word to our readership. We’re very pleased to be joined this week by a man who has appeared on a Now! himself, volume 44 as point of fact as a member of top five act the Cuban Boys. Since then he’s co-written a UK Eurovision entry and recorded a hit single with Glen Campbell; now half of Spray and keyboard player for Helen Love, welcome Ricardo Autobahn…
Now That’s What I Call Music! 21 (released April 1992)
And so, finally, we reach The Goodier Age of the series. The competition in the form of Hits, or at least the original iteration of that series, died off in 1991, and given the state of pop at the time it’s hardly surprising – three of the first seven tracks on volume 21 are re-releases (Bohemian Rhapsody, the Temptations’ My Girl and It Must Be Love) No Smells Like Teen Spirit, which had been a hit just as 20 came out.
Genesis – I Can’t Dance
There had been moments before when Phil Collins’ finely tuned sense of humour had broken through – the band’s representation in the Land Of Confusion video, his self-effacing turn on Gone Live! – but without warning his band went and made something entirely different from the AOR monolith we’d come to know them for and were all the better for it. A blues riff, some wryness partially taking off Levi’s adverts, the odd bit of keyboard, and something that works purely because it’s so unlikely.
Opus III – It’s A Fine Day
Usually Edward Barton could be found doing this sort of thinghttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hf0YCvsXxZc, but in 1983 he had a minor indie hit writing an acapella song for his girlfriend Jane. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vgcYBwyw28 Nine years later three members of infamous rave sound system Spiral Tribe and Kirsty Hawkshaw – daughter of Alan, of Grange Hill/Countdown/Dave Allen At Large theme fame – gave it a breakbeat reworking for a rave-lullaby air that suggests all that time spent in fields being longingly wide-eyed could be made into music. Hawkshaw’s shaven headed apart from a bit at the front look briefly made her an in-demand face, which she responded to by disappearing back into Featured Singer status on ambient house records.
Shanice – I Love Your Smile
Shanice’s sole hit could in no way be called a reassuring breakbeat lullaby and, being a Motown artist from LA, she almost certainly wasn’t at Castlemorton. That said, in the laidback, loved-up vibe (as we’d have called it in 1992) there’s some surface level similarities in her sole hit, produced by Narada Michael Walden. Sumptuous modern soul like a less showy Mariah daydreaming for the summer. That’s Janet Jackson’s giggle at the end, by the way.
RICARDO’S CHOICE: The KLF – America: What Time Is Love?
“As a borderline obsessive KLF fan I was reasonably disappointed the next single was going to be *another* retooling of their “three note warhorse of a signature tune”, but even by Bill and Jimmy’s standards this was a glorious swansong – every idea in their already overstocked arsenal powering along at 200mph. In my opinion it signified the end of an imperial phase of pop that began with house, techno and S/A/W in 1987 and may have technically died with the KLF machine gunning the Brits before retiring from music. Or when they banned miming on Top Of The Pops. I haven’t thought this through, but I will do when I get my BBC4 documentary commissioned.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 22 (released July 1992)
The summer Now! returned to the cycle, but if anything the actual frontloading got worse. From the top: a cover (Take A Chance On Me – this release precedes Abba Gold by two months), a dance remix of a record that had been a hit five months earlier (Finally), a soundalike dance cover recorded because a label couldn’t get UK distribution for an Italian version so redid it note for note (Please Don’t Go), a boy band cover (It Only Takes A Minute), a TV cover (Heartbeat). Putting Jimmy Nail between Roy Orbison and Joe Cocker must have been Ashley Abram’s idea of pressing home a point about the kind of voices record buyers were sending to the top in those days. The Orb’s Blue Room caps off side 2/disc 1, sadly not the 39:57 long version.
Crowded House – Four Seasons In One Day
The 84th best New Zealand song of the 20th century as voted by APRA members – official! Far from the beery You’ve-Been-Framed-backing-music anthemry of Weather With You or the Q leanings the Finn brothers were occasionally prone to, all done in comfortably less than three minutes of Beatlesy finely harmonised and crafted writing on introspective hope. This said, for all the apparent easygoing nature of the hits from Woodface, had Chocolate Cake made it to a Now! album the TVC panel would have ended in a fistfight over its qualities.
Electronic – Disappointed
Both Getting Away With It and Get The Message fell between the Now! cracks (and nobody cared about Feel Every Beat) but that first set of singles from the Sumner/Marr/occasionally Tennant supergroup are all too good not to be represented. This is the one that in its house piano and Marr finally being the Nile Rodgers he always wanted to be most sounds like New Order and the Pet Shop Boys coming together, more the latter in truth right down to the Science Is Fun! video effects.
En Vogue – My Lovin’
Honestly, especially notable for a track built around the most funky and insistent of James Brown samples, if it was just the acapella breakdown we might still have put this in.
RICARDO’S CHOICE: Utah Saints – Something Good
“CD2 of Now 22 is without question the absolute worst “side” in the entire history of the compilations. Unlistenable to the extent it’s almost impossible to even *read* the tracklist. The supposedly “edgier” CD1 is pretty banal as well. But although the charts of ‘92 were now framed around Simon Bates-endorsed CD singles there *was* some hope – Something Good really captured the brash imagination and amateur thrills of underground dance hits and melded it with pop production slickness. With their perfect Smash Hits/NME crossover image the Saints had a foot in the future and a foot in the past and balanced it brilliantly.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 23 (released November 1992)
Ooh, chrome effect. It’s like the future is here already, and the silver effect on the logo will continue in varying shades for a while after this. Unfortunately this is a future where a Now! album can, in order on CD 2, feature Eurodance cash-in records based on Tetris and Super Mario Land. Even on a tracklisting in which Abba (Dancing Queen) are followed by Bjorn Again (A Little Respect, from their Erasure-ish EP) the consecutive sequencing of Too Much Love Will Kill You, Alive And Kicking, Boom Boom and Achy Breaky Heart may represent Abram’s greatest injoke to date, even though Simple Minds’ entry had already appeared on Now! 6. Ebeneezer Goode is on this volume but a) the version on the album is ripped straight from Now Dance 92 with a second of the mix out from the preceding track left on and b) Jerry Sadowitz has entered a copyright claim to prevent us from mentioning it, so…
Arrested Development – People Everyday
We’ve talked about it already when PM Dawn got the nod as a Now! 20 nominee, but it seems a shame that this post-De La Soul era of laidback conscious hip-hop has been almost written out of its history, even a band who were as successful as Arrested Development were. Maybe they were too earnest, and given the way things were going Speech’s triumphant story of overcoming a gangsta rap wannabe is the wrong side of history. They also had a much older member with the official role of ‘Spiritual Elder’. That kind of thing doesn’t help. Still, as summertime Sly & The Family Stone-referencing pacifism and community paens go, this is ace.
George Michael – Too Funky
A return to the reliable on-off George tropes of requiring exciting (but safe) sex and a video proving he knows lots of supermodels. Made for the never completed for Sony legal reasons Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 2, it’s also as good as its titular word, funk bass, club synths and sampling the natural (and virtually literal here) bedfellows of Jocelyn Brown and the radio Hancock.
Tasmin Archer – Sleeping Satellite
She came from nowhere and almost went straight back there. Actually the badger parade-ennobled Archer is from Bradford, has released three albums since the debut this came from and since 2006 has concentrated on soundtrack work. And yet the hit endures maybe because it sounds a little like a lot of things – earnest flowery delivery of existential lyrics a little like a female Seal, strummy acoustic guitar basis, almost baggy backing, surprise solos – but not generally put together like this.
RICARDO’S CHOICE: Was (Not Was) – Shake Your Head
“1992 was a dirge of a year popwise and track after track after track on Now 23 is machine-honed for the cheap-suited executive. The compilation-plugging summer update of Shake Your Head, mind, is so remarkable I’m going to have to check I didn’t dream it. Ozzy Osbourne and Kim Basinger, doing David Was’s customary avant-garde lyrics over a genuinely credible club track *and* appealing to the pop crowd. A Radio 1 top 5 chart smasheroonie against every odd.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 24 (released April 1993)
And so pop continued to eat itself. Young At Heart, LP 2 side 1 track 3 on Now! 3, is now CD 1/LP1 side 1 track 1, one of three tracks that had already appeared in the series. Apart from the Informer/Mr Loverman/Oh Carolina dancehall trio back to back there’s something a little stale around this one, a lot of edits and mixes going on. Is it by accident or design that tracks 3 to 8 are all by artists whose names start with S?
East 17 – Deep
“I butter the toast if you lick the knife” is no sexual metaphor that anyone really wants to engage with. It is at least more appreciative of the form than Steam, and a surprisingly subtle Walthamstow variant of the west coast R&B ballad from the baggily attired inner city accidental boy band.
Sub Sub feat. Melanie Williams – Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)
The full integration of club culture into the chart mainstream meant it could start taking more overt inspiration from the rest of dance culture, hence this sub-three minute flash of synth-bubbling retro-contemporary disco house brilliance fronted by the sporter of a huge zebra print hat on TOTP, like a Madchester Groove Is In The Heart. Williams had a couple of minor hits over the next three years, while Sub Sub failed to get their album released while people were still interest, lost all their equipment in a fire, then regrouped and re-emerged as Doves to different but successful effect.
World Party – Is It Like Today?
The whole history of Western philosophy, in the format of a four minute Kinks/George Harrison-inspired bittersweet acoustic pop song backed by the original Bootleg Beatle Paul and Oasis’ last drummer. Just the right side of earnest, for all main/pretty much only World Party member Karl Wallinger’s prosthelytising at the altar of Quality Contemporary Adult Oriented Rock Here On Virgin 1215 And Read About It Only In This Month’s Q this remains a cracking compact adult pop song with spectacular ambition.
RICARDO’S CHOICE: 2 Unlimited – No Limit
“Nearly a third of Now 24 consisted of re-releases or cover versions. These were truly terrible times. No Limit came pounding out of the radio like a steamhammer. It’s very easy – rightly – to mock the ‘techno, techno, techno (techno)’ refrain but it’s equally easy to forget just how energetic, euphoric and *different* this sounded amidst (checks tracklisting) Young At Heart, We Are Family, Labour Of Love, Invisible Touch and Vienna. ‘We’ll reach for the sky… Douglas'”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 25 (released August 1993)
Now! was now eating its own spinoffs, five tracks on volume 25 having appeared on Now Dance ’93. While there’s a few ideas of things happening – a Gabrielle debut here, a strong club crossover hit there, Paul Weller and Kingmaker giving signs of guitar things to come – it’s still much of an underachieving mish-mash. In more ways than one, too – Lena Fiagbe’s comeback single had a prestige place of track 6 and was released on U2’s label but stalled at 69, but for the first time there’s a track featured which not only never made the top 40 but neither did the artist. Efua was part of Soul II Soul’s entourage and was an attempt to show their small business ethic could make stars but Somewhere stalled at #42 and that was that, Efua eventually marrying Jazzie B and re-emerging in recent years as a celebrity fitness trainer. “Coming soon… the Now 10th anniversary” promised the inlay. A corner was about to be turned.
Ace Of Base – All That She Wants
Swedish reggae! Not the most irie of records but given the on-off reggae revivals we had around the first half of the decade – Chaka Demus, Big Mountain, Suggs’ solo career – it fits. Also it not actually being reggae unless it was really pressed to admit it allows the Abba visual-recalling act to be something else, namely the sound of a summer that has room for both heatwave vibes and a cold personal attitude, not to mention the synths imitating pan pipes. The weirdly relaxing event means you don’t ask why the “she” is waking up late but “the day has just begun” in the very first line.
Duran Duran – Come Undone
The Durannies were supposed to be down the dumper by 1993; in fact they had their best charting album since Seven And The Ragged Tiger. Nick Rhodes says this was originally intended for a side project but Simon loved it too much to leave alone. You can see why, the moody sensuousness bears only slight resemblance to what they’d been failing to have hits with over the previous years, and they’d pretty much never match it again. Particularly as the next album was the one with their cover of White Lines on.
Oui 3 – Break From The Old Routine
A London rapper, a Swiss programmer and an American singer and songwriter who’d been in Terry Hall’s forgotten band Terry, Blair & Anouchka, there was a lot of this kind of rap-aided chilled homely hip-pop going around at the time, whether Stereo MCs or Stakka Bo. The unifying factor of that kind of sound that nobody ever bothered thinking of a catch-all term for is it sounded great coming out of car stereos from afternoon radio, as this perfectly illustrates.
RICARDO’S CHOICE: New Order – Regret
“A perfect return from the North West’s most miserable pop combo – classy, understated and almost unnecessarily catchy. And with That Top Of The Pops Performancehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfI8pJQbcZQ some relief that the 90s had finally settled down and become properly interesting and entertaining. That faux-corporate imagery looks tired now but was genuinely cleverly done at the time and a huge breath of fresh air.”
So there’s what we’ve picked out for the 1992-93 period of Now! history. Tomorrow on @tvcream at 9.30am we’ll put up the public vote and you’ll have until Monday morning to cast your vote. We’ll confirm the winning songs next Thursday on the site and in Creamguide, when we’ll also be unveiling our selections from Now!s 26 to 30. Pig Hits – 50 massive hits! Eventually.