Twenty massive hits, five eventually turning out to be more massive than the others! It’s Pig Hits!, our trawl through the first half of Now That’s What I Call Music!’s impending century, and week six ended up like this:
Now! 26: Pet Shop Boys – Go West
Now! 27: Tori Amos – Cornflake Girl
Now! 28: Blur – Girls And Boys
Now! 29: Kylie Minogue – Confide In Me
Now! 30: Portishead – Glory Box
Onto 31 to 35, now well into the mid-90s of Britpop, superclubs and the Outhere Brothers (not pictured). As a reminder, we’re progressing through the Now! catalogue five per week, choosing three of our own favourites from each and having a different guest with specialist knowledge add one more, then putting them all to our followers at @tvcream from Friday morning to pick one to go forward to our fantasy fifty-track compilation of compilations. This week’s judge is the writer of Now! review blog Now That’s What I Call A Challenge, Chris Brown:
Now That’s What I Call Music! 31 (released July 1995)
The way the advert emphasises Wet Wet Wet over Oasis suggests something about despite what received memory says about summer 1995 mainstream music was still very tentative about Britpop; that number seven smash Don’t Want to Forgive Me Now was the first track and Some Might Say is down at track 15, coming after an advert-driven reissue of Kirsty Maccoll’s Days that stalled at 42, confirms it. At least the use of the logo has some invention about it for really the first time in the 3D era, and the other big sound of the day, the harder edge of what was coming out of the clubs, is represented well by a cracking closing stretch that weirdly starts almost right after Ladysmith Black Mambazo doing Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Hot take: placed next to each other at the end of CD 1/side 2, Vic, Bob and EMF’s I’m A Believer has aged far worse than Duran Duran’s often scorned White Lines.
Edwyn Collins – A Girl Like You
It isn’t really a feelgood story (though of course Collins’ later battle back from two brain haemorrhages very much is) but A Girl Like You being a major international hit had so much goodwill towards it from someone who’d been plugging away ploughing a smart, vaguely retro, fairly sardonic furrow of his own through Orange Juice and a number of fans-only solo albums before a spark of Northern Soul-influenced melodic greatness that somehow wasn’t a hit until being reissued a year later. Related: writing this has made us realise that the Shirehorses albums aren’t on YouTube, never mind iTunes.
Pulp – Common People
…what can you add? Kept off number one by Robson & Jerome, who interestingly never appeared on a Now!, class tourism diary Common People more than most feels like a song that’s been around forever and had its factual bones picked dry, so much so that BBC Three made an hour long documentary about it. The inspiration might be the now wife of the former Greek Finance minister? Yep, dealt with at length. First performed at Reading festival in 1994 before Jarvis had finished writing it? All documented. Suspiciously similar to a 1988 record by Spanish group Mecano? Not so well known, but Mark Radcliffe was all over it at the time. The William Shatner version? Really no need.
Weezer – Buddy Holly
Post-modern power-pop from LA nerds done good whose bubblegum hooks – produced by Ric Ocasek, who as frontman of the Cars knew the form – found a route out of grunge’s dying embers, accompanied by a Happy Days reconstruction video that made Spike Jonze’s career. What a shame Rivers Cuomo went to Harvard after their second album and they never reformed. I SAID, WHAT A SHAME WEEZER NEVER RELEASED ANY ALBUMS AFTER THEIR FIRST TWO.
CHRIS’ CHOICE: Billie Ray Martin – Your Loving Arms
“Resisting the temptation to pick Del Amitri so I can wheel out the old anecdote about them watching their first video in my granny’s living room in 1985, I’ve selected this largely because it was so unusual for me to like a dance record in 1995. Back when I was only aware that Electribe 101 had existed because I remembered a DJ saying their name in a silly voice once. There’s nothing silly about their ex-lead singer’s voice on this though, lol amirite?!! Bonus fact: the CD version of Now 31 is the first with a clear disc tray”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 32 (released November 1995)
As if to press the point home, Blur and Oasis – yes, those Blur and Oasis songs – are mentioned by Goodybags in passing before he can get onto the really popular stuff like N-Trance’s cover of Stayin’ Alive (with a rap by Ricardo da Force – what a varied career he had) Notably the BBC Six-featured ‘British Heavyweight Championship’ isn’t mentioned in the sleevenotes and Cast’s Alright is placed between the two as if to play things down. Britpop is at least a thing in Now! world, and credit to Ashley Abram for going with Sorted For E’s And Wizz as the Pulp representative rather than the obviously far more played on radio and TV Mis-Shapes. Queen resume their freehold on track one and the sleevenotes refer to Goldie as a former “graffiti writer”, which is a little too close to ‘rap singer’.
Everything But The Girl – Missing
As its presence on the advert suggests the Todd Terry remix was already huge by the time this Now! came out – it’s reputedly the biggest selling single ever to peak at number three – but the inclusion of its release date in the sleevenote and its burial halfway through CD 2 suggests that wasn’t a guaranteed case when it was being mastered. You can see why, a studenty gossamer folk-pop duo who hadn’t had a top 40 single for two and a half years slinging out a remix of a downcast track that if already more dance-attuned than before wasn’t exactly an Ibiza banger. Yet the sympathetic remake relaunched Tracey and Ben’s career(s) in a new direction they’ve mined ever since.
Radiohead – Lucky
If nothing else the Navajo new age of Sacred Spirit into this one of two tracks filched from the War Child-aiding Help Album https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Help_Album may be the most jarring segue in Now! history, as well as being a number 37 followed by (in Help EP form) a number 51. It may not have helped the charitable cause much but nearly two years later this same version would appear on OK Computer, a natural fit for its high-wire desolation. How did they come up with something that sounds like this in five hours?
Simply Red – Fairground
Hucknall and the rest’s first UK number one, by which time they’d had two Stateside. By contrast this was their Billboard down-the-dumper moment, not unsurprisingly given how attuned to the club sound they became pretty much for this one single – not the disco pastiches and third rate Nightcrawlers-style beats overwhelming everything else but drivingly Latino percussive, originally sampled from Fanfarra by Sergio Mendes by way of Give It Up by the Goodmen. Mick is surprisingly subtle too, in all senses of how Mick would normally eschew subtlety.
CHRIS’ CHOICE: McAlmont & Butler – Yes
“In which Bernard Butler becomes the first member of Suede to appear in the series, although as a newcomer to contemporary music in 1995 I had no idea who McAlmont or Butler were when I heard this on the radio while waiting for the bus to school. Now 32 is my favourite in the series because it includes brilliant tracks over multiple genres, so it seems only fitting to plump for what you might consider a soul/Britpop crossover. From Side 2 of the album which would all be Britpop-related except that it starts with Sacred Spirit, surely the most mid-90s record nobody talks about.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 33 (released March 1996)
Nice reflection work. Well into the swing of the zetigeist by now, two Oasis tracks nearly top and tail CD 1 and we’re probably lucky Mike Flowers Pops didn’t follow them, though weirdly Wonderwall itself appears on 34. The inclusion of Status Quo’s cover of Fun Fun Fun with sundry Beach Boys on backing vocals at least stopped Virgin/EMI from following Radio 1 into the courts. Track 1: Queen. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.
Lush – Ladykillers
By 1996, like so many others, Lush had fallen into Britpop jangle for fun and profit, having been among the original class of shoegazers – ethereal walls of guitar noise, harmonic half-hidden vocals, produced by one of the Cocteau Twins, the works. What replaced it was fortunately just as effective – compact new wave, a gleeful – and necessarily for their era and surroundings feminist skewering of charming men on the pull and Melody Maker generational pin-up Miki Berenyi’s rarely utilised sarcastic snarl. Drummer Chris Acland’s suicide that October brought a premature end (though of course they reformed for a while in the mid-10s) to their righteous distaff approach.
Pulp – Disco 2000
It’s not a song about the year 2000, of course, which may be why the band removed its synchronisation licence in 1999, but Jarvis musing on the passing of time and friendships that become unrequited love in a way so so specific that it later turned out “Deborah” was a real person. http://www.thecomet.net/news/tributes-paid-to-letchworth-mental-health-nurse-who-inspired-pulp-song-after-recognition-in-new-year-s-honours-list-1-3901598 Britpop scene setting heads to the dancefloor with a significant assist from Laura Branigan’s Gloria, and for extra Cream points Alan Tarmey did the single remix.
Saint Etienne – He’s On The Phone
Dubstar’s Not So Manic Now is also on Now! 33, but if there’s only room for one two-production-men-one-female-singer-called-Sarah dreamy, dancey, secretly downbeat band… this is the great lost Blue Peter team’s only Now! appearance, which doubtless they held as a badge of honour. This went the long way round to being a single, a Motiv-8 remix of a track from a collaborative EP with Etienne Daho which turns it into gloriously technicolour piano handbag house complete with Sarah Cracknell’s affirmative hands-in-the-air chorus. We like to think that the proceeds of this went towards making all their later paens to the forgotten areas of east London soon to be demolished and replaced by the thousands of upmarket storage units required to hold Bob Stanley’s collection of glam and Italo-house 7″s.
CHRIS’ CHOICE: The Connells – ’74-’75
“The easiest choice of the bunch, though I’m lucky to have the chance since Top 20 success in summer 1995 failed to get it onto Now 32. An early 1996 repromotion was less fruitful but did get them onto here. Even without the video that was on VH1 all the time back then we can enjoy the beautifully-engineered acoustic guitars, the fascinating vocal harmonies and that fascinatingly unexplained atmosphere of regret that makes this such a perfect record you almost don’t want to hear anything else by them. I believe it’s compulsory on these occasions to mention that 1996 is as long ago now as 1974 was back then, so consider it done.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 34 (released August 1996)
42 tracks, the highest number to this point, and some tracklisting curios. Josh Wink’s Higher State Of Consciousness appears in a different mix having been on Now! 32, Macarena’s inclusion is in the later, 43-peaking Los Del Mar version rather than the Los Del Rio hit, CD 2 begins with all nearly seven minutes of George Michael’s comeback Jesus To A Child which came out well before 33, and OMC are followed by OMD.
The Bluetones – Slight Return
“Where’s he gone?” A lot of Britpop was spent trying to pin down which band sounded like who, and Hounslow’s own were tagged early on with a Stone Roses-shaped brush, mostly due to Adam Devlin’s guitar playing style and a lightly psychedelic if tellingly baggy-free form of charming retro guitar pop. That meant it became a little harder to justify their place once the actual Roses returned, and then people heard The Second Coming and realised maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. There seemed little to dislike about the band themselves as the company’s hail-fellow-well-met types and Slight Return, which had actually been a hit back in February, was their melodic centrepiece. They’ve recently reformed. Obviously.
Spice Girls – Wannabe
THEY’RE HEEEE-RE. Starting with footsteps (the ambient recording of Mel B running to the microphone, apparently) and a laugh (ditto) it drove a coach and horses through a moribund pure pop scene. Like Common People it’s a record the notoreity of which makes it feel like it’s just been around in the air for as long as we can all remember, but going back to it now compared to its evident R&B smooth girl group influences it’s a complete mess, everyone singing and shouting over each other’s lines and the big rap break being a jumble of injokes and confusing phrases. That lack of calculation works heavily in its favour because it sounds like something new and, just like how Em In The Place likes it, IN YER FACE. They were, understandably, never quite the same again.
Suede – Trash
Their belated Now! debut (and penultimate appearance), meaning they arrived to the canon after their former guitarist, this being their first single without him. Roundly mocked for replacing Butler with an unknown teenager, Trash is pretty much the alpha of what a Suede record sounds like to common consent, a darkly glamorous, likely sexually/morally deviant glam stomp for the underclass with an efficient chorus and a heroically squealing guitar riff.
CHRIS’ CHOICE: Blur – Charmless Man
“I’ve resisted an all-Britpop selection here but I have to represent the fact that Blur were my favourite band in 1995-96 and whilst this might not be my absolute favourite of their songs I like it a lot more than they claim to. They might be ashamed of their attempts to make a radio-friendly pop song, but I’m not in the slightest; note how well-structured it is and how Graham Coxon’s guitars protect it from blandness. This would comfortably fit on a Kinks, Madness or Squeeze album and nobody thinks there’s anything wrong with liking those. And not to go all Buzzfeed here, but today’s kids will never understand how exciting it was using dial-up in my brother’s friend Thomas’s kitchen, waiting five minutes to buffer a 30-second RealAudio clip of this track that I had three copies of on CD at home.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 35 (released November 1996)
The final Now! to be released on vinyl (although who knows in future, eh, poptimists), apparently the rarest and most sought after in the series partly due to that, though maybe people also saw that disc 2 side 1 may be the mean average slowest in its history.
Babybird – You’re Gorgeous
Millstone upon millstone being dragged round here. Some of it is on the song itself, a first dance chorus allied to verses about exploitation of glamour models, and some on head ‘Bird Stephen Jones, who’d been doing fine as a heavily underground oddball singer-songwriter when, like the Boo Radleys, he made a grab at commercial success just to see if he could in the prevailing climate and found he could far more spectacularly than he must have imagined. The retreat was sharp and now he’s back to being a one-man cottage industry, but for a moment there Jones was a mischievous blip on the radar that became a permanent mark.
George Michael – Fastlove
Strangely represented on the compilation by the lesser heard Forthright edit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqEUYkdfl3o, as practically all his singles for the next while will be. All that serves to do is flatten into undistinguished club house an itchy record, a seductive lightly funky Patrice Rushen-enhanced groove backing a kind of empty hedonism the true reason behind which we likely wouldn’t be able to fully decipher the reason behind for another sixteen months.
Pet Shop Boys – Se A Vida é (That’s The Way Life Is)
We pick up the PSB story at Bilingual, their journey across the world to find out how the other half dance. In this case it’s the influence of insistent Latin American syncopated rhytms, as if the Portuguese part of the, um, bilingual title hadn’t suggested that itself – although a literal translation would be ‘If Life Is’. See, Tennant, you don’t sound so smart now. But because he and Chris are smart it’s not just synths over lots of drumming but nuanced, brassy and ultimately joyful.
CHRIS’ CHOICE: Spice Girls – Say You’ll Be There
“Tough choice here, but not only do the Spices become the second act to open two consecutive Now albums immediately after Queen (who else) became the first, but I can’t resist the fact that the last normal Now album released on vinyl starts with a sound effect of a needle hitting the groove. Of course Wannabe is the more important record etc but I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the electric piano and pseudo-Stevie harmonica on this one. And by the end of their second single you can hear Mel C already emerging as the standout singer of the group, doing the adlibs over the fadeout.”
That’s another five Now!s thoroughly picked through, and now it’s your turn to pare it down to the best of each. The Twitter polls open at around 9.30am Friday morning for 72 hours and we’ll confirm those making the only democratic Best Of Now! here next Thursday alongside our inexorable march onwards into volumes 36 to 40.