In Now That’s What I Call Music! terms – the Nowverse, if you will – this week is the big one as Now! 100 is released tomorrow (Friday 20th) Their celebratory idea is one CD/half a download/half a stream of new hits – M.O., Banx & Ranx, M-22, all your favourites – and one of self-selected classics from the previous 99. But looking at their selections, at least from the period we’ve covered so far – Red Red Wine, Against All Odds, Livin’ On A Prayer, Love Is All Around – it’s clear Now! Music really don’t know what the people want, which is why we’re now into week nine of telling them. As ever we’ve picked three from this week’s range of five Now! albums, a guest has chosen another and it’s up to you to tell us via Twitter poll which of those tracks you’d put forward for our ultimate best of the first fifty of the hits factory. First of all let’s wrap up week eight with the tracks triumphant from last week’s five polls:
Now! 36: White Town – Your Woman
Now! 37: The Cardigans – Lovefool
Now! 38: Radiohead – Karma Police
Now! 39: Cornershop – Brimful Of Asha
Now! 40: Massive Attack – Teardrop
Logically we’re now going on to volumes 41 to 45, and helping to get us there is writer, podcaster and someone who once got called a smartarse by Mark Goodier live on Radio 1, Seb Patrick.
Now That’s What I Call Music! 41 (released November 1998)
Baubles! You can already see pop’s gears shifting as we enter what we might call the CD:UK age, as already straight-up guitar bands are limited to Space’s forgotten cover of We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, Embrace with full strings and another remix of Sit Down. Jobsworth hat for this week goes whoever decided Steps’ Heartbeat should appear here but Tragedy, the song it was a double A side with, have to wait until 44. Robbie Williams does appear twice, as technically does Melanie B, who finds the Spice Girls’ Too Much coming only three tracks after her solo debut I Want You Back. At least Robbie’s double representation was spread across both CDs.
Aqua – Turn Back Time
Despite what we may think about their efforts, artists can achieve “maturity” whenever and however they like. It was still jarring though when the follow-up to Barbie Girl and Doctor Jones, giving them three number ones off the bat, was nothing like the formula they’d already set up. Instead it sounds a little like the Pet Shop Boys – and allegedly Heart is actually in there somewhere – or latterly compatriot Robyn, a moody synth ballad about regret that demonstrated Lene Nystrom was good for more than upward pitched kid appeal vocals. They never made anything like it again, obviously.
The Cardigans – My Favourite Game
Fair to say Nina and the rest of them had quite the ride around the fringes of pop, firstly attracting night-time Radio 1 by making perfectly fine lounge indiepop made out of crepe paper, then the film soundtracked bubblegum of Lovefool briefly made them big, to which they reacted with a two-note electro-rock behemoth. Then again, this is a band who even at their most gossamer made a point of covering Black Sabbath on their first three albums – up until the one this was taken from, in fact.
Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You
Apparently Stardust or their label don’t want even a rip of the song on YouTube. Curious. It took Daft Punk and their friends to reintroduce the pure joy of disco to the club settings of the day, but before he and the other one could adopt the postmodern robot suits of retro joy Thomas Bangalter, along with DJ Alan Braxe and singer Benjamin Diamond, made this one-off – sampling a Chaka Khan track written by the same people who gave Paul Nicholas Reggae Like It Used To Be – that was such a rapid success that the label couldn’t get a video together in time for its reaching number one, which turned out to be quite awkward when it was topped the chart on the final ITV Chart Show.
SEB’S CHOICE: Fatboy Slim – Gangster Trippin’
“For those of us not inclined to like Big Beat or dance music generally, Norman Cook was our friendly, non-threatening way into that sort of thing. And yes, this has been overplayed a bajillion times since and I for one certainly can’t remember the last time I sat down and listened to the whole album (it was probably in early 1999), but it still has that uncanny knack of burrowing its way into your brain and just refusing to go away.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 42 (released March 1999)
The Abba Medley was a big deal at the time, Steps, Billie, B*Witched, Cleopatra and perennial pop B-lister Tina Cousins at the Brits in headbands, flares and glitter for no real reason other than POP and ABBA, although at time of release Mamma Mia was a month away from opening. They didn’t include Under Attack. Ladysmith Black Mambazo make their second Now! appearance, Dusty Springfield her first (she died four weeks before release, which if this was Ashley Abram’s tribute may well be a one-off), between them all 7:39 of Blur’s Tender. Not a classic volume, but they all count. Gay Dad are not present.
Billie – Honey To The Bee
When Chris Moyles decided to game the new download chart rules this was the track he chose, presumably for ROSELOL reasons, but you’d hope he just reminded people what a forgotten great song this is. True, having made her name with unashamedly youthful exuberance this may have been a bit early to reach for the R&B production and gospel backing singers, but she does her job, the lyrics smuggle all kinds of honey-related filth just under the radar and the production is exquisite.
The Divine Comedy – National Express
Not Neil Hannon’s only Now! appearance – Everybody Knows (Except You) got crowded out of our thoughts back at 36, but that was from the period he sported an ill-advised beard so doesn’t count. Hannon says the lyrics are purely observational, though some question that given the NHS theme of the video. They’re definitely very parochial, the Carry On brass and ba-ba-ba chorus lending its own music hall flavour.
Emilia – Big Big World
Emilia Rydberg by name, discovered by Abba’s manager, who had a few hits in the mid to late 00s in her native Sweden but was never as big again as a song that takes more than a minute to add the instruments to her hurtful impending springtime heartbreak. A dark horse choice for this Now!, but it rewards going back to. Honest. Try it.
SEB’S CHOICE: Blur – Tender
“Those who have always been inclined to accuse Damon Albarn of self-indulgence will surely consider a seven and a half minute long leadoff single about splitting up with Justine Frischmann, featuring a gospel choir on the chorus, as the moment he truly disappeared up his own fundament. Especially given that they put out a live version as the video. But this is still a phenomenal record, utterly anthemic and with one of Albarn’s best ever vocal performances. By rights should have been number one for half a year instead of sidling awkwardly in at #2 behind Britney.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 43 (released July 1999)
Bit weird to see Madness’ comeback single given that high a billing on an album that before you get to Lovestruck features Lolly (“a super cool funster from the West Midlands who loves shopping, rollerskating, fluffy jumpers and Hollyoaks”) and Cartoons back to back. It’s possible the Now! team themselves were disappointed with how 42 ended up as there’s a lot more eclecticism going on here, whether that means Gomez’s less than obvious pick for a sole appearance or a second appearance for a post-reformation Culture Club.
Blur – Coffee & TV
After the triumphant heartbreak of Tender and the darker, weirder 13, the kids got the very opposite in something as sunny as a Britpop dispatch. That said, it did have Graham Coxon on ultra-casual lead vocals singing about recovering from alcoholism as well as delivering one of those guitar solos where it sounds like he’s being sucked through a space portal at the same time. That old winning combination of misleading haywire sweetness and a dancing sentient milk carton.
The Chemical Brothers – Hey Boy Hey Girl
Tom and Ed, a duo so committed to the musical cause alone their primary image was “one has long hair and yellow tinted glasses”, fell backwards into big beat trying to make weird electro-house and found they could pull it apart from the inside just as readily. One vocal loop courtesy of early Bronx hip-hop collective Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Vv_LwwwpmU later they created something that started with droning menace and proceeded to try and kick its way out of the subwoofer by power of kick drum beat alone. “Tosspot DJs, here we go!”
Phats & Small – Turn Around
And latterly Vanessa Feltz spouse Big Ben, don’t forget him entirely – although it later turned out he’s only in the video, the repeated vocal lines are sampled from US garage house singer Toney Lee. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXfyCPxp7bM Yet more retro leaning house results, something that openly wouldn’t have happened without Music Sounds Better With You and would be a superior form of what everyone would seem to try in the next year or two. Also, they called their album Now Phats What I Small Music.
SEB’S CHOICE: The New Radicals – You Get What You Give
“The New Radicals weren’t really so much a band as a vehicle by which songwriter-producer Gregg ‘He Wrote Ronan Keating’s Life Is A Rollercoaster, You Know’ Alexander could stand at the front for a bit. And it really was a ‘bit’ – he tired of the being-in-a-band process before they even got around to releasing a second single off the album to follow up this catchy, if lyrically somewhat cringeworthy in retrospect, one hit wonder. Incidentally, I’m sure Dermot O’Leary once pretended to be Alexander for a T4 performance of this song when the latter failed to turn up, but the internet has so far failed to turn up footage of this.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 44 (released November 1999)
A moment of history, as the final Now! of the 21st century is to date the biggest of them all, not just of the series but of all multi-artist compilations not tied to a film or cast recording. How many that is is disputed, depending on your source either 1.6 million or 2.3 million, the latter of which would place it only just outside the official list of the sixty best selling UK albums ever. If it isn’t the most eclectic Now! have ever put out it’s definitely full of heavy hitters singles-wise, and it’s nice in its own way to think that many households own Lolly’s needless cover of Mickey. Tragedy appears divorced from its other half as previously mentioned, and there’s two Geri Halliwell tracks too.
Britney Spears – … Baby One More Time
Four words in the official title, not six. This is Britney’s Now! debut but the single had been released in February, which is interesting in itself and makes the idea of this being a deliberate round-up of the year more than a snapshot of a pop moment more apparent. Some dismissed it as the true start of the “manufactured pop” age like that was bad in itself. Some now judge it by what Travis accidentally started when they covered it acoustically on Mark & Lard’s show. No matter, from a distance where the controversy about being able to see her midriff in the video means nothing it’s a ruthlessly effective song that invented the next few years.
Moloko – Sing It Back
Full disclosure, we don’t have this volume to hand right now but we can safely assume this is the Boris Dlugosch hit remix that was included rather than the jazz drumming heavy original. It was the one that set Roisin Murphy (and Mark Brydon by association, but it was Roisin in the video) on a path to stardom in a way the gleefully odd previous singles could never have done, utilising the power of a Nile Rodgers-esque downstroke guitar part with Murphy’s voice to turn it into a kind of disco torch song.
Sixpence None The Richer – Kiss Me
It’s “bearded barley”. Sixpence None The Richer had been a Christian act with gospel leanings but went briefly big as soon as they went secular with a swooning, wispy guitar pop song. You do fear Leigh Nash would blow away in a breeze, and the follow-up choice cover of There She Goes was riding for a fall, but for three minutes or so there they sounded like a universal balm.
SEB’S CHOICE: Supergrass – Moving
“A slightly surprising top 10 hit from Supergrass’ third (and best) album, this flickers between a mournful verse and a bouncy chorus, nicely encapsulating the alternating between tedium and frantic activity the band were experiencing while touring. It’s not even my favourite single off the album (that goes to the rather-lower-charting Mary), but it’s lovely that during the dying embers of Britpop Supergrass were able to have one last hit with a track that sounded this good and even got used in films and stuff.”
Now That’s What I Call Music! 45 (released April 2000)
Into the new century and garage arrives with a vengeance, Craig David here in both solo and Artful Dodger guises – and in fact the latter appear twice within six tracks. The final track is Imagine, despite being more than four months past its usefulness as an anthem for the new millennium.
Daphne & Celeste – Ooh Stick You
“Hi! This is my friend Daphne and I’m Celeste!” What a great, to-the-point way to open a record. Messrs DiConcetto and Cruz went into acting – Daphne appeared in a film produced by Wim Wenders, Celeste had a tiny role on an episode of 30 Rock – before a weirdly hipster comeback earlier this year, typified by a sold out indie venue tour mixing bubble machines and balloon animals with weird pop songs produced by synth experimentalist Max Tundra, who joined in with the dance routines. There was no type to play to in 2000, just two New Jersey teenagers delivering ballsy teen pop that had to be knowing on some level in its schoolyard taunt sugariness but nobody was supposed to know that. Up your butt with a coconut indeed.
Gabrielle – Rise
She’d always been around since Dreams (which appears on Now! 25), of course, but Gabrielle would often end up as the shades wearing or lopsidedly fringed one in the background as another new British female soul voice arrived, hung around for six months and then disappeared. That something to bring her back to the front turned out to be a hefty sample of Dylan’s Knocking On Heaven’s Door, a real life low point to emerge from – the long split from father of her child had been convicted of killing his stepfather – and a sophisticated tale of redemption and personal dignity.
Moloko – The Time Is Now
So where to next once a remix had made Moloko a brand name for poised electronic disco-pop? Edge further down that path without copying themselves, of course, which in practice meant disco strings, almost flamenco acoustic guitar underpinning and the kind of iridescent chorus that years later would be played every thirty seconds, or so it seemed, on Sky Sports’ Premier League coverage, a kind of danceable counterpoint to that one string section bit from Requiem For A Dream. Thankful for small mercies, as its predecessor was Ronan Keating.
SEB’S CHOICE: Robbie Williams – It’s Only Us
“A #1 single only by the technicality of being a double A-side with the rather-better-remembered cover of She’s The One, this is presumably forgotten by basically everybody except those of us who played EA Sports’ FIFA 2000 game, where it served as the opening theme music over footage of a computer-generated Robbie Williams and Sol Campbell. The game’s soundtrack also featured Apollo 440’s Stop The Rock, Reel Big Fish’s Sell Out and Gay Dad’s Joy!, with the latter band’s name also confusingly adorning pitchside advertising hoardings. Anyway, yes, this. Well, it’s a single, and it exists, and it’s fine, and it really shows up the dearth of quality on Now! 45 that it was in contention to be picked.
And that’s another five Now!s gone by – now all we need to know is what you would choose out of all five sets of tracks we’ve just pitched to you. Polls start around 9.30am on @tvcream and will be open for 72 hours, and we’ll reveal the winners here next week alongside our selections and breakdowns of the final five albums in our quest to mark the Now! centenary by celebrating its first half.