Entertainment Music

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Now that's what I call a phenomenon!

Now That's What I Call Music 95
Now That's What I Call Music 95
Now That's What I Call Music 2
Now That's What I Call Music 27
Now That's What I Call Music 12
Now That's What I Call Music 33
Now That's What I Call Music 44
Now That's What I Call Music 55
Now That's What I Call Music 8
Now That's What I Call Music 72
Now That's What I Call Music
Now That's What I Call Music 20
Now That's What I Call Music record
John Meagher

John Meagher

The pop landscape of 1983 looked very different to today and for the record industry it was a time of untold riches. Albums and singles sold in such enormous quantities that it looked as though the good times would continue forever.

To give a sense of how much money was sloshing around in the industry then, consider this: the UK's most successful song that year, Culture Club's 'Karma Chameleon', sold almost 1.5 million copies there (and a further 3.5 million globally). Since 2011, 100,000 sales have often been enough to guarantee top spot in the UK singles chart.

In 1983, EMI - then one of the giants in the business - in partnership with Virgin Records brought out a new compilation of hit singles called Now That's What I Call Music! It was named after a vintage poster for Danish bacon, of all things, and it sold exceptionally well. Within a few months, Now That's What I Call Music 2 was unveiled and so the releases continued right throughout the 1980s - and beyond. Remarkably, the Now series is still with us and shifting the sort of units that have largely been consigned to history.

Now 95, which features the likes of Drake's 'One Dance' and James Arthur's 'Say You Won't Let Go', is the latest instalment and is among the biggest selling albums in both the UK and Ireland in any category. It shifted 230,000 copies in its first week in Britain and sales are projected to remain buoyant until Christmas. Intriguingly, Drake declined to licence his once never-ending chart-topper for Now 94 this summer, but clearly had a change of heart.

But to truly get a sense of what an anomaly the Now series is today, you've to go back to March of this year and the release of Now 93. It may not have made much impact on you - it certainly didn't come across my radar, despite probably being exposed to those garish TV ads voiced by the BBC DJ Mark Goodier - and yet it's shifted a phenomenal 770,000 copies to date in the UK. If you remove sales figures for Adele's third album, 25, Now 93 is the biggest selling album in Britain - in any category - this year. Figures compiled by the British Phonographic Industry seem to indicate that women are the primary drivers of the Now success story, with two groups - those aged 35 to 44 and the 45 to 54 demographic - greatly outspending men on compilation albums. Supermarket sales accounted for 44pc of the total.

Unlike the remainder of the CD album market, which fell from 163 million in the UK in 2004 to 54 million last year, compilation sales have been increasing: 20.4 million were bought there last year compared to 19.2 million in 2011.

And the Now phenomenon looks like it won't be slowing down any time soon. A number of live events have been planned for London in the summer of 2018 when the 100th edition is released. And I'm talking about what's known as the 'Original Series' designed just for the UK and Ireland markets. Now is already at number 60 for its US-specific series and there have been all manner of spin-offs. It's estimated that, to date, Now is responsible for more than 100 million album sales.

In the UK, album sales have shrunk to a third of where they were at just 12 years ago, so it's hardly a surprise that Now Music - the company behind the franchise - feels so bullish about the future now that it has well and truly bucked the trend.

Could anyone have predicted its longevity that November, 33 years ago? You would have wagered on both Top of the Pops and Culture Club far outliving it, not least because rival compilations didn't last very long at all.

But what's most remarkable of all is not just how Now has survived in the streaming era, but actually thrived. Clearly there are a lot of people who feel loyalty to the brand and will happily buy the double-CD version or opt to purchase it as a download.

With three released every year, each boasting 40 to 45 tracks, it's a solid, if slightly old-fashioned way to keep abreast of what's universally popular in any one year. Yes, Spotify or any of the steaming services can do that, but there's something wonderfully simple and no-nonsense about the Now model - here are a bunch of number ones (six of them on Now 95), plus a glut of curated singles that were part of the zeitgeist this year.

Not every one wants to trawl through the endless choice offered by streaming services or browse the 'expert curated' lists from Deezer, Tidal et al. Sometimes there's little appeal in listening to a remixed or alternate version, and Now has always dispensed with such fripperies.

The snobbish music critic in me might sneer about the presence of dismal tunes from Little Mix and Olly Murs in Now 95, but those hits - 'Shout Out to My Ex' and 'You Don't Know Love' - form part of the soundtrack of 2016, whether you like it or not.

Take a listen to Nows 14, 15 and 16 for a glimpse of what the pop landscape looked like in 1989, or how about 45, 46 and 47 for a snapshot of the chart music world of 2000? There's hardly a better way to establish what we were listening to in our droves in those particular years - and to argue that chart music is as wonderful, maddening and infuriating as it always was.

n Teenage Fanclub were in exemplary form at Dublin's Academy last weekend. The Glaswegians' career-spanning set had the sold-out crowd pogoing from the off, and songs from fine new album Here were greeted almost as enthusiastically as old favourites like 'I Need Direction' and 'The Concept'.

There was quite a connection between the Norman Blake-led outfit and their audience, and I can't have been the only one to notice the lack of smartphones being held aloft. In this selfie age, it was a reminder of the joys of living in the moment, especially when at a gig that special.

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