Welcome to the second week of our important survey where we mark the upcoming 100th Now! That’s What I Call Music by inviting you, the TV Cream readership, to vote on our nominees for the greatest hits of the first half-century. Before we start we have week one to clear up with the results of our Twitter vote on numbers one to five. One of the winning tracks polled 61%, another won by a margin of 2%, and there were only two replies complaining about the choices, so we can call that a success. That all means the first five songs to be confirmed as part of TVC’s best of the best are…
Now!: Human League – (Keep Feeling) Fascination
Now! II: Thomas Dolby – Hyperactive!
Now! 3: Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy
Now! 4: Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder – Together In Electric Dreams
Now! 5: Simple Minds – Don’t You (Forget About Me)
Now! That’s What I Call Music Vol. 6 (released November 1985)
For something everyone fondly remembers it’s surprising how little time the Danish pork mascot was around for, dropped already in favour of some kind of unworn leather trouser effect with the logo on a back pocket patch and a pre-No Limits Jenny Powell gamely attempting to match Brian Glover’s levels of excitement. ‘Feel The Quality’ debuts properly on the cover, and still makes no sense. Fine Young Cannibals’ Blue became the first Now! track to bite Ashley Abram’s predictive powers truly on the backside as it fail to make the top 40. It’s no more than he deserved for sequencing three tracks with ‘heart’ in the title together as early as record 1 side 1. The video version featured four tracks that never made an actual regular Now!, including West End Girls and Ian Dury’s Adrian Mole series theme Profoundly In Love With Pandora. The first Now! – The Christmas Album, in the first of its many, many versions, came out two weeks earlier and broke into its number one run.
Arcadia – Election Day
During some Duran Duran downtime the band split into two side projects of varying quality. While Andy and John teamed up with Robert Palmer and Chic’s Tony Thompson for the oversaturated FM rock of the Power Station Simon, Nick and Roger went on an artier version of themselves. Certainly this owes quite something to the Durannies’ View To A Kill but slinkier, funkier, boasting a Grace Jones spoken mid-section and generally sanding away the gloss. It’s possible this is what Nick Rhodes thought the day job always sounded like this.
Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill
A song dulled by being over-covered – no, Placebo, step away – but still in isolation a strange idea of what mid-80s pop should sound like, marinaded in Fairlight and those hexagonal electronic drums while still singularly bewitching and semi-cryptic, plus choreography in the video so developed that not even Eddie Large could successfully impersonate it. Also theme to the difficult 5.10pm Children’s BBC drama Running Scared.
Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Lost Weekend
Knowingly earnest Derbyshire-born student pin-up meets bouncy Scottish second wave indie-pop band and live together almost harmoniously. Upbeat sound, self-abasement lyrics, obviously. For extra points Langer and Winstanley, maybe the most quintessential of all 1980s British guitar pop producers, are at the mixing desk.
TIM’S CHOICE: The Communards – You Are My World
“The early Now! albums are full of debut singles by hotly tipped acts that went on to do nothing, as well as slightly more subtly tipped acts that went on to do very well indeed. This was the best example of the latter, and way better than the remix that later became a hit. In classic Now! Mystery style, though, this is different from the ‘normal’ version, and even The Reverend Richard Coles can’t remember why.”
Now! That’s What I Call Music Vol. 7 (released August 1986)
So a pair of cream trousers falls into a self-fastening velcro dressing gown that becomes a cream handbag/tote bag… OK, maybe the design teams should talk to each other occasionally. The bit in the advert leading into Sledgehammer is quite clever for a throwaway couple of seconds in a short run commercial, though. Weirdly this had a secret track, Queen’s A Kind Of Magic at the end of side 3 (or side one of record 2) without a mention on the sleeve. There was a longstanding story that they would only agree to appear if they were LP1 side 1, so maybe that was a compromise. But then the whole sequencing is off, with the modish doodling of Art Of Noise and Max Headroom’s Paranoimia on LP1 side 1 while Spirit In the Sky and Venus were relegated to halfway through that mysteriously extended side. The modern fad of rap music is starting to creep in on the last side, though currently only as semi-novelty through Lovebug Starski and The Real Roxanne with Hitman Howie Tee. Don’t know about you, but we were always team Shanté in the Roxanne Wars.
Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer
Yes, yes, the video with all its animated fruit, stopmotion, ‘lying under glass for a day’ anecdotes and launching Nick Park’s career, but let’s not overlook the song, Memphis soul given a rocket up the backside and a room full of Emulators. A song so irresistable it allowed him to invent world music as much as he wanted.
David Bowie – Absolute Beginners
Dame David’s 1980s are now summed up as ‘Ashes To Ashes, Let’s Dance, that greatest hits tour where he nearly had to play The Laughing Gnome, let’s kindly overlook the rest’. It’s as if he shouldn’t have bothered with this grand statement – romantic, punch the air effusive, Rick Wakeman on heroic piano flourishes for the first time since Life On Mars, a genuinely great sax solo, generally a song that befitted the massive typewriter Bowie bestrides in the movie. Which remains a complete dog, of course, let’s not go revisiting that while we’re here.
Furniture – Brilliant Mind
Only peaked at 21, the lowest on this album, but hugely fondly remembered. Near enough the last stand for comfortably the Creamiest independent label Stiff Records, its low-key melodramatics, mid-tempo new wave synthesis, indie yearning and prime time sax solo means it doesn’t really have a lot of peers. Of its three writers two formed world fusion outfit Transglobal Underground and the other became editor of Mojo, which sounds about right.
TIM’S CHOICE: Amazulu – Too Good To Be Forgotten
“Amazulu’s descent from hardcore feminist World Music-tinged indiepop with about seventeen million members to Wacaday-friendly Bubblegum Pop-toting Belle Stars It’s OK To Like In 1986 is the cause of much wailing and gnashing of teeth from people whose musical knowledge derives exclusively from The Young Ones. Which is nonsense as this is one of the most bright and fun offerings from the brightest and most fun Now! album, and always brings back memories of Annie and her tattooed arm on TOTP. Sorry, you were saying?”
Now! That’s What I Call Music Vol. 8 (released November 1986)
The advert voiceover is back in safer hands with Jensen but despite being in the middle of a great emerging pop age an underwhelming tracklist where the big kickoff track is Duran Duran’s Notorious, which peaked only at 7 as they slid slowly downwards. Cover depicts some kind of silver oil slick, the logo subtly changed to blend in as if emerging from the depths. Not just three non-top 40 singles, including Doctor and The Medics’ Roy Wood-aided will-this-do? cover of Waterloo, but two that failed to reach even the top 50. The suspicion lingers that a year that also saw Now! – The Summer Album (the only Now! product on which Apple allowed the Beatles to appear), a second Now! Dance collection (“OVER 2 HOURS OF SMASH DANCE HITS”) and a branded sweatshirt may have seen them stretch the product a little too far.
Cameo – Word Up
Larry Blackmon’s Comic Relief car nose codpiece, the resultant Points Of View correspondent ire, no less than three terrible hit cover versions *and* a Money Supermarket advert have all only served to obscure what a bulwark of a record this synth-funk workout is, loads going on from a The Good, The Bad And The Ugly theme reference to the rare example of a well used keytar. Summarily, sucker DJs who think they’re fly were never the same again.
Mel & Kim – Showing Out (Get Fresh At The Weekend)
Charlotte Hindle Pop! Alright, the title is likely coincidental – the Millennium Dustbin had been active for only four months before the single release – but it feels like something made for a go-ahead Saturday morning show. Mike, Matt and Pete fire up the Fairlight and dig through their Chicago house records, while the Applebys donned the black and red hats and imbued it with the scrappy bedroom dance routine-powered charm that marks out all of PWL’s best output.
Pet Shop Boys – Suburbia
The difficult second English rap PSBs single is a tense standoff between luxuriance and inner city violence, the sounds of angry dogs and smashed glass from a distant street to Chris’ sprawling synths and Neil’s shortlived cowboy hat phase. Also, much as this shouldn’t count towards your votes, it bears mentioning that the B-side was the original version of Paninaro. ARMANI ARMANI A-A-ARMANI.
TIM’S CHOICE: Swing Out Sister – Breakout
“The eighties were an odd time for what were basically ‘special interest’ acts being marketed as Your New Favourite Pop Stars, only to disappear back into evenings on Radio 1 the second that their follow-up single proved unpalatable to those kids in school who liked a different new band every week. The brief chart superstardom of Corinne and Andy and their Mary Quant-toned antics landing them in the middle of Side 1 of a peak-period Now album is still the most tuneful example of this you’re going to find.”
Now! That’s What I Call Music Vol. 9 (released March 1987)
“Your own personal hits file” quoth Kid, explaining the Filofax/ring binder theme to both advert and cover. According to the sleevenotes Stand By Me “501-ed its way to the top”. We haven’t put the call into the OED to check just yet, but…
Curiosity Killed The Cat – Down To Earth
Neither fish nor flesh, ironically for Ben Vol-Au-Vent Parrot, CKTC were a blue-eyed soul band who got Andy Warhol to appear in their video and were reworked by De La Soul but only actually succeeded when promoted to teenage girls. Accordingly their prime hits don’t have the oiliness or eagerness to please as some within the genre while possessing the charisma and liveliness to have the beret and Mike Read’s Pop Quiz cover boy fit in with the white shoes and XR3i set. Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot wasn’t his real name, by the way. It was Martin Volpeliere-Pierrot.
Erasure – Sometimes
For a reliably huge hitmaking electro duo with a proven quality in the ‘stone-faced synth botherer’ department Erasure get overlooked a lot these days, maybe because Vince Clarke had already been in a duo with a more striking vocalist and before that drove the early hits of the actual trailblazers, but Erasure very much had their moments. Andy Bell deliberately undersings the hook, a trumpet and underscored guitar bring the humanity, and once more the Chart Show Indie Chart is colonised.
Mental As Anything – Live It Up
“In the late 1980s the US experienced a short-lived infatuation with Australian culture. For some bizarre reason, the Aussies thought this would be a permanent thing. Of course, it wasn’t.” A near two year old song given the push for outback-covering knife-having Hogan-quipping reasons, a band with a self-regarding “wacky” sense of humour – singer called Greedy Smith, early single entitled The Nips Are Getting Bigger – found a streak of pop gold and redeemable chorus which transcends its of-its-time production and sparkles.
TIM’S CHOICE: Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley – Jack Your Body
“Shouts, firework noises, and an appeal on John Craven’s Newsround for the errant chart-topping DJ to get in touch with his record label so they could actually promote it instead of using that weird video with old newsreel footage and clips of animated stick men in hats. The music and the visuals of the ‘future’ started here, and if that still pisses off the KEEP MUSIC LIVE contingent to this day, then let’s keep jackin’ it up out there!”
Now! That’s What I Call Music Vol. 10 (released November 1987)
The modern age really is creeping in now, whether it be the not entirely clear from just the cover neon lights effect to it being the first Now! to be issued in full on CD (previous volumes had been cut down to single disc length) Maybe as a result, for a long time this was supposedly the biggest selling Now! ever. The story has been enshrined into album chart folklore that it was this, which included ex-beau Jellybean’s The Real Thing, keeping Now! refusenik Madonna off the top spot that led to the private island of the compilations chart just over a year later, but had it (and Hits 7, which entered in the same week) not counted she would only have been at number six, and it was only You Can Dance anyway. A month before its release came Now Smash Hits, a best of the decade so far promising “32 Swingorilliant Hits of the 80s” that bucked the trend and stalled at number 5.
M/A/R/R/S – Pump Up The Volume
The drumbeats go like this! Coldcut might disagree, not least on the sourcing of some of the samples, but it’s one of those rare and unusual records about which you can genuinely say all bets were off. Psychedelic proto-shoegazers AR Kane and eclectic electro outfit Colourbox hated each other and the 4AD label that brought them together, DJs Dave Dorrell and CJ Macintosh’s scratching ended up doing most of the heavy lifting – not least when The Roxy demanded a performance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYEipVyMGpU – and Pete Waterman then took them all to court over a tiny distorted sample, but its inventiveness made the BBC news and it gave Star Turn On 45 (Pints) a hit.
Bananarama – Love In The First Degree
Virtually Siobhan’s last stand – in fact their performance of it at the 1988 Brits was her last with Sara and Keren until the reformation tour – and the “guilty as a girl can be” lyrical concept is icky but this may be among the most underrated of the PWL back catalogue, the mocking/triumphant horn hook allied to the most casually delightful the ‘Nanas had sounded since they were working out harmonies in their bedrooms. Sara plays bass on the track, by the way. Not very expertly, but it’s there.
Squeeze – Hourglass
Possible more remembered for Adrian Edmondson’s Hats Off To Forced Perspective video concept, Difford and Tilbrook had just got back together after a bitter split, something they try out every few years, and while held hostage to the style at the time – still can’t work out if that saxophone is real or Yamaha DX7 – their way with a glorious melody forces its way through and the rapidfire monotone chorus chant did for the rest. It sounds like something you should be able to sing along to. You can’t.
TIM’S CHOICE: ABC – When Smokey Sings
“Many Now! albums chart the sad decline of a brief but promising career, but here’s an occasion when they charted a comeback too. Possibly the only ‘Motown Inspired’ eighties hit – and there were bloody millions of them – that actually sounded anything like anything ever issued by Motown, and which we’re not going to allege was pinched for either Loco In Acapulco or Walking On Broken Glass. No, definitely not.”
So there’s your choices for the next five volumes – tomorrow morning we’ll open the voting lines for the weekend on twitter, and next Thursday we’ll induct the five most popular tracks and reveal our choices from Now!s 11 to 15. And remember, your vote counts.