Welcome back, pop pickers and pop pirates alike. We’re into the second half of our commemorative Now That’s What I Call Music! trawl, choosing the music that matters from the only chart (compilation) that counts. Before we get there, though, here’s what you voted into our grand round-up of the best of the best last week:
Now! 21: The KLF – America: What Time Is Love?
Now! 22: Utah Saints – Something Good
Now! 23: Tasmin Archer – Sleeping Satellite
Now! 24: 2 Unlimited – No Limit
Now! 25: New Order – Regret
So this week it’s volumes 26 to 30 – as usual our panel have picked three tracks from each record, a guest has chipped in with a fourth, and from about 9.30am on Friday our Twitter followers at @tvcream will be invited to choose their favourite. This week our guest judge is writer and podcaster Ben Baker.
Now That’s What I Call Music! 26 (released November 1993)
Really selling it with two straight ballads to start the advert, Mark. At least the pace picks up as Now! starts to emerge from its mid-20s crisis, even if it does start with two covers and a re-release. The first Now! to reach the 40 track mark, I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That) is in fact relegated to the end of side 2/CD 1 after an indie sequence that sees Radiohead make their Now! debut, as side 3 is pretty much a dance suite if you consider Culture Beat and Apache Indian as two sides of the same coin. You can tell it’s a strong one as there was plenty of debate about what to include, so sorry Stakka Bo, REM and Jazzy Jeff plus friend, you were close to being picked out but…
M People – One Night In Heaven
There was a time when M People were a byword for a kind of national scorn. Sometimes there was a case for defending it, not least when percussionist Shovell was a cloying presence on every programme that would have him around 1999, but main member Mike Pickering had Factory Records/Hacienda credentials, Heather Small had a belting voice and had been the actual uncredited vocalist on the copyright-dodging re-recording of Ride On Time, and this brought together all Pickering’s studio nous for house, retro soul and disco-pop into its most effective package. Shame about the Itychoo Park cover later, but what can you do.
Pet Shop Boys – Go West
This is quite house-cartoonish too in a completely different way. In the middle of their computer-generated rulers of their fractal domain phase came a Village People song rearranged as Broadway perestroika, touching on Pachelbel’s Canon and the Soviet national anthem in turning a call for gay men to flock to San Francisco into the rush for post-Cold War Russians towards capitalist freedoms. Or something. Anyway, Neil and Chris got to debut the colour-coded domed headgear for this one and it became the most oblique of anthems.
SWV – Right Here
Sisters With Voices, since you ask, Coko, Taj and Leelee by name. Strictly this is the Human Nature Remix that was the hit, sampling the titular Michael Jackson song as kingmaker producer Teddy Riley emphasises the sunlit swoon and restraint from vocal pyrotechnics in favour of classic soul girl group harmonies, shifting from what we then weirdly called New Jack Swing into inventing most of the R&B form as it would progress over the rest of the decade with absolute coolness. Oh, and the misleading spelling of the “S! Double! U! Double V!” bit? A teenage Pharrell Williams.
BEN’S CHOICE: Björk & David Arnold – Play Dead
“This haunting and beautiful use of Bjork’s ‘thousand spurned lovers’ vocal with Arnold’s huge, swaggering orchestration early in both artists’ careers is the only memorable thing from Danny Cannon’s stepping stone to Mega City One, The Young Americans, which had slumped into UK cinemas briefly in all its The Actor Keith Allen-appearing glory that October 1993. To a wider audience however it’s simply the always-welcome theme from a million increasingly desperate chill-out albums. Dead good.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 27 (released March 1994)
1994, The Year Of The Family, and though the expansion in numbers means this becomes a little weaker by the time we get to the morass of lesser singles by soul and disco singers that take up most of side 4 – and that’s without Right Said Fred’s Wonderman, their #55 smash collaboration with Sonic The Hedgehog, getting track 2 on CD 2 – the better times are coming.
Primal Scream – Rocks
It’s all very well being all acid house psychedelic and floatily transcendent, but sometimes a rock band wants to put its big boots on, get its Stones albums out and make dumb riffy classic rock.
Reel 2 Real featuring The Mad Stuntman – I Like To Move It
Reel 2 Reel is what Erick Morillo did before, in his works, reassessing his credibility and becoming a big name house DJ. Should he be ashamed? Yeah, it’s a big dumb repetitive house record at a time when house was comfortably assimilated into making big dumb pop hits that everyone could understand – nobody remembers the verses of No Limit either – but it passes the dark club record test, the Stuntmeister’s ragga toasting is something new to the form, and as MTV Europe liked to point out at the time the Mad Stuntman *does* sound like the former of Zig & Zag.
Tori Amos – Cornflake Girl
Being a Tori Amos song there’s a million and one in-depth analyses of the lyrics around – it’s an extended metaphor for parts of cereal standing for toxic relations between women, apparently, and the first line is “never was a cornflake girl” as if to bait the next 25 years of easy headlines. Beyond that it just sounds majestic, a waltz time dramatic tension built piano jauntiness with a weird unsettling whistle in the background. Two years later she’d be covering Chas & Dave on a B-side. Twice.
BEN’S CHOICE: Credit To The Nation – Teenage Sensation
“Having made a bungalow-shaped impact with their debut release Call It What You Want in part due to the marrying of a Public Enemy beat to a smart Smells Like Teen Spirit sample, Credit To The Nation and frontman MC Fusion – or Matty to his mam – were quickly clasped to the bosom by the more outspoken sector of the British indie rock community and touted as the next big thing for a number of years by the music press. Sadly this was to be their only top 40 hit although it still sounds as fresh as it must have blasting through the nation’s Walkmans in early 1994. It makes whistling thoroughly cool for the first time since Jack Smith reminded us of his relationship with Kaiser Bill and even manages to get ahead of the curve by sampling the Incredible Bongo Band before half of the planet did bleedin’ similar.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 28 (released August 1994)
Bit rum of the advert to open with the Inside riff only to lurch into Love Is All Around. While it couldn’t exactly leave that chart-eating record off – and oh good god, the BC52s – it serves to disguise an interesting mix as pop sorts itself out on CD 1 and then goes clubbing for most of CD 2, whether that be the Prodigy or second hand house covers of What’s Up and Light My Fire. Don’t know what the bubble effect is for, though. This is the last Now! CD to be released in a big double box; from here on in the slimline hinged jewel cases for extra breakability are the norm.
Blur – Girls And Boys
Don’t look down, Britpop’s coming! For now this found itself standing between Stiltskin and M People as the volume’s only vaguely indie track (despite Oasis’ Shakermaker, which only just missed the top ten, surely qualifying in time for this album) And then of course it’s only really that in spirit, a kind of tribute to Essex 18-30 hedonistic holidaymakers in Magaluf in a very Alex James-friendly disco setting that doesn’t feature Dave Rowntree at all bar his drum machine programming. It was meant to sound like faux-trash party dance-pop – the Pet Shop Boys remixed it as if finding briefly kindred spirits – but, thus setting the scene for the next quarter century, it couldn’t help sounding like Albarn’s work whatever cues it took.
Dawn Penn – You Don’t Love Me (No No No)
We’ve already talked about the almost forgotten near-annual reggae revivals that were a big part of the first half of the 1990s. Just on this volume we have Ace Of Base covering Aswad followed by, um, Aswad, this track is the filling between China Black and Chaka Demus & Pliers, and Now! 29 will introduce Pato Banton, Big Mountain and Red Dragon to the roster. The original form of this song goes back to 1960 and it pretty much lives on to this day – Beyonce, Rihanna and Lily Allen have reinterpreted it – but this re-recording sounded like authentic sultry dancehall and in a world of increasingly tired crossover represented the real thing.
Salt-N-Pepa with En Vogue – Whatta Man
Wherein two major avatars of female sass cool in turn of the 90s urban music heavily rework a forgotten Stax record. En Vogue, being the singers, do their languid soul thing on the borrowed hook as Salt, Pepa and Spinderella assert that they were never against all men, and in fact should one be respectful to women and their kids, dress well have a voice like Barry White, a body like Schwarzenegger, a face like Denzel Washington, have “heavy conversation for the mind” and “flow on the down low” that would be fine. Try that on OKCupid.
BEN’S CHOICE: Let Loose – Crazy For You
“The second best Crazy For You to hit the British pop charts, a perfect example of a song that would have been a chart smash no matter which shirtless, flop-haired shithouses fronted it. So it comes as somewhat of a surprise to learn that it was actually written by front man Richie Wermerling himself and had taken a re-release and a slow two month climb to hit its no. 2 peak, just behind That Effing Song from That Effing Film. It’s not for everyone and by mid-1994 I’d have sooner listened to the sound of my own spine cracking than have it ooze out of my radio one more time but here in the moon future exists as one of the better non-Barlow boy band hits of the era. Crazy, I know (pun humour).”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 29 (released November 1994)
Now! 29 has gone down in its own folklore as an obtuse one, and despite frontloading heavily you can see why. There’s sequencing gags (three successive tracks with ‘Night’ in the title), acts making their only appearances (Rolling Stones, Sparks), big debuts (Oasis, Michelle Gayle), wild stylistic swings and a sense of pop in all its forms at its most playful and outreaching. Plus Music Relief, a Rwanda-aiding cover of What’s Going On? – CJ Lewis, Larry Adler and Mick Jones, together at last! – that peaked at 70.
Crash Test Dummies – Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
A strange record on practically every level. It’s a Canadian folk-rock song that was a big hit when anyone’s folk-rock was nothing, with a singer in Brad Roberts possessing a meaty baritone. All the verses are self-contained stories about reluctant children being isolated. The title is literally a resigned humming noise as if they couldn’t be bothered to write anything that summed things up better, which might well have been the case. At least you’d never forget the hook.
Shampoo – Trouble
They started out writing a Manic Street Preachers fanzine (and made a cameo in the video for Little Baby Nothing), their first two singles came out on a label run by the male 66.67% of Saint Etienne and Lawrence from Felt/Denim/Go-Kart Mozart is said to have ghostwritten for them. None of this matters in context. Bratty, utterly unashamed shouty self-mythologising and crucially unvarnished teen cartoonish pop doesn’t exist at this level very often if at all outside this. True to pre-internet form they convinced everyone they were Take That-sized in Japan (actually they had an album peak of number 6), and then after a handful more singles they both completely and utterly vanished, just as eyerolling bubblegum tearaways who existed entirely in a pop moment should.
Whigfield – Saturday Night
“Dee dee na na na!” Stuart Maconie’s second favourite record of 1994, there. And she refused to do the dance, mostly because she was already promoting it on TV when she found out there was one.
BEN’S CHOICE: Kylie Minogue – Confide In Me
“Much like Bjork and David Arnold a few releases back, another track drenched in strings and a sultry, almost-whispered vocal that still sounds like few other pieces of music before or since. Very nearly the song to finally end the Wets’ appalling grip of the top spot (the honour would go the following week to Whigfield’s Saturday Night), this is the one that send headline writers into a frenzy as Kylie was reinvented and apparently now was smart and even had a sense of humour. Of course she’d always maintained those abilities but, free of Pete Waterman and pals, we were getting the Kylie we wanted and felt we always deserved. It didn’t last and after the unfairly maligned (and Diana-dented) Impossible Princess era Minogue was quickly back in the arms of Classic Pop Classics for a third, incredibly successful chapter full of great material but would never unearth another track as breath-taking, exciting and unusual as Confide In Me.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 30 (released April 1995)
That advert soundtrack is heavy going at first, again not really indicative of the direction of the album. Christmas number one Stay Another Day – which, lest we forget, isn’t a Christmas song, and that video with the furry hoods wasn’t shown much on TV at the time as the band preferred an in-the-studio version – makes a delayed appearance in the midst of a syrupy start, but after that it’s more pop expansionism as the themes of a big chart year emerge early – Eternal next to Massive Attack, CD 2’s now familiar long run of shapeshifting dance music most of which had appeared the previous month on Now Dance ’95, six minutes of Whatever closing CD 1/side 2 even with the applause at the end excised. No Let Me Be Your Fantasy, though, which had just missed the cut-off for 29.
The Boo Radleys – Wake Up Boo!
Boos songwriter and guitarist Martin Carr once said he knew he’d created a rod for his own band’s back when he heard a radio DJ announce “the Boo Radleys have a new single out today called Find The Answer Within. Here’s Wake Up Boo!” This is of course partly his own fault for steering the indie-retro-dreampop-neo-psych-electronic-noise ambitious, acclaimed but hitless Scouse mavens into making a breezy, upbeat, harmony and horn based, seasonally afflictive despite being released in February, radio breakfast show unofficial theme-providing big pop hit.
The Human League – Tell Me When
Hadn’t expected to see you around here. Even when down to Phil and the girls they never actually split up, and yet their revival wasn’t so much down to an 80s revival – nostalgia was still mostly dealing with the 1970s in 1995, after all – as much as the sparkling, thrilling updated Human League sound, twinkly synths and not *too* modern dance beats behind Joanne and Susan actually interplaying with Phil’s vocals for once, all topped by the TOTP performance of the whole band all standing in a line in a foolish endeavour to get people interested in any of the rest of them.
Portishead – Glory Box
If there’s one misunderstood 1990s genre, it’sacid jazz. But if there’s a second it’s trip-hop, consigned to This Life and dinner party cliche, even though there’s quite some distance between Tricky and Morcheeba. Portishead’s Dummy, the uniquely dusty film noir album that won them the Mercury Music Prize and led to a memorable speech featuring Geoff Barrow attempting to dismiss the whole concept before a heavily drunk Beth Gibbons could disrupt him entirely, was held up as its epitome but Glory Box, despite its slo-mo languidity, is too disturbed for chillout zones.
BEN’S CHOICE: Scarlet – Independent Love Song
“And so we enter 1995 and the dawn of something on the horizon clearly happening with an explosion of pie-eyed guitar pop (The Boo Radleys, Oasis, Rednex) nestling comfortably at the bottom of disc one with a number of cool This Life Music Advisor-imminent dance-influenced tracks (Massive Attack, Portishead, The Outhere Brothers). For me however though, I’ve gone with “Independent Love Song” because…well, I just really like it. It is good. Thanks.”
There’s the what and why of this period in the Now! catalogue – from Friday morning until Monday breakfast they’ll be up for the Twitter public vote and we’ll confirm what goes forward to our ultimate selection next Thursday on TVC and in Creamguide, alongside the continuation of our journey into the mid-90s as we cover Now!s 31 to 35. Mark Goodier is warming up his golden tonsils as you read this.