The 30 years of ‘Now’ albums
Now that's what I call a life in music!
As the Now compilation albums reach their 30th anniversary, a keen collector charts the tunes he will always associate with moments in his life
For young, impecunious pop lovers, the launch of the Now That’s What I Call Music! compilation series, 30 years ago this month, was a “hallelujah!” moment.
Previously, when chart-followers had wanted the greatest hits of the day on one LP, we had to wait for the occasional K-tel album or endure those naff Top of the Pops knock-off compilations with mini-skirted lovelies on the front, and filled with mediocre cover versions by anonymous artists.
But then, on November 28 1983, the first Now was released. It put an end to Album Filler Syndrome, that painful experience of wading through an entire (say) Human League album only to realise that Don’t You Want Me is the only decent song on it.
Thirty years later, with 100million albums sold globally, Now is the most successful music franchise ever, with two-disc sets released several times every year. The most collectable fetch extraordinary prices: a copy of Now 10, for instance, is currently for sale on Amazon for £220.
Not bad for an off-the-cuff idea dreamt up by two Virgin Records executives. They recruited a rival label, EMI — thus widening the pool of available music considerably — and used a cartoon pig from a Twenties advertising poster for Danish bacon as the basis for the distinctive Now cover artwork and branding. For those of us of a certain age, the still-successful franchise — Now 86 is released tomorrow — has provided something of a soundtrack to our lives. Here’s how I measure out my own exsistence in Now compilations.
In my early twenties, I buy the first Now That’s What I Call Music! double album on cassette from my local record shop in Sutton, Surrey, and am delighted that: a) it really does contain the original hits by the original artists, b) 11 of the tracks are number ones, and c) I have saved £24 — the cost of buying all 30 tracks as singles. I go home and play Duran Duran’s Is There Something I Should Know? repeatedly.
Who’s that sunburnt, mullet-haired Brit in a Spanish disco, wearing white trousers and a bright orange T-shirt, committing crimes against dancing to I Won’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me (from Now 3)? Oh dear, that’s me.
After years of rejection, I get a job at the BBC. My mum cries at the news, and Queen release One Vision (Now 6), which I play loudly, thus making her emotional again, but in a different way.
I split up with my would-be girlfriend after she refused to chuck her American boyfriend (it was complicated). Don’t Leave Me this Way by The Communards (Now 8) says it all.
My mother dies. I spend much of the year driving back to my childhood home along the M4, with T’Pau’s China In Your Hand (Now 10) on the car stereo: it is grandiose, dramatic and over the top, just like her.
I join Radio 4’s Today programme and report on lots of music stories, most memorably for me one about Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin (Now 13), the first ever a cappella song to reach number one in the United States.
A rather liquid-filled skiing trip to Val d’Isère. I perform terribly on the slopes — and even worse in the karaoke bar, murdering Baby I Don’t Care by Transvision Vamp (Now 15).
Step On by Happy Mondays (Now 17) provides the backing track as I am sent to New York to report on the first Gulf war (“He’s gonna step on you…”).
An ill-fated transatlantic romance, started the previous year and fuelled by PM Dawn’s Set Adrift On Memory Bliss (Now 20), comes to an end.
My best holiday ever: skiing in Utah, gambling in Las Vegas and hanging out in Los Angeles and New Orleans to the oft-repeated strains of The Cure’s Friday I’m In Love (Now 22).
My first ever half-century for my cricket team called for Could It Be Magic by Take That (Now 24).
Work isn’t fun any more. I love radio but it’s gone all Groundhog Day. Speaking of which, can someone pass a law to stop Wet Wet Wet’s Love is All Around (Now 28) being played on the radio — ever again?
I break into television as a reporter on Watchdog, just as Britpop catches fire. My best mate on the show likes Blur, but I prefer Oasis and their hit Some Might Say (Now 31).
TV is fun. I lose my way in Television Centre and stumble upon Oasis, live in the studio, rehearsing Wonderwall (Now 34) for that night’s Later… on BBC Two. Amazing.
The end of a brief romantic affair with a BBC producer. She was into indie music, whereas I liked A Change Would Do You Good by Sheryl Crow (Now 37). It was never going to work.
After 15 years, I leave the BBC for ITV. Millennium by Robbie Williams (Now 41) is everywhere.
The high-water mark of my own musical career. My wedding band, Surf ’N’ Turf, does a rendition of Britney’s Hit Me Baby One More Time (Now 44), which leaves people shaking their heads. In a good way, I think.
My first book is published. It’s a Beautiful Day — by U2 (Now 47) — indeed!
I interview Tony Blair, the prime minister, for ITV and try a little music-based banter beforehand. He seems unaware of The Dandy Warhols’s big hit, Bohemian Like You (Now 50), but “loves” Paul Rogers, the singer in Bad Company.
My TV series about dodgy builders, House of Horrors, is nominated for a Bafta, and Sheryl Crow’s Soak Up The Sun (Now 52) is on heavy rotation in our household.
I propose to my future wife and bond heavily with her two young sons to yet more Oasis — the top-three single Songbird — on Now 54.
I get married. Hey Ya! by Outkast (Now 58), which is the biggest hit played at our reception, proves tellingly unromantic.
To keep in shape post-honeymoon, I spend much of the year at the gym pedalling furiously to U2’s Vertigo (Now 60).
I dismay the customers of a Mayfair karaoke bar at my very belated 40th birthday celebration with my take on the excellent Crazy by Gnarls Barkley (Now 64).
My marriage breaks up. Now That’s What I Call Depression. Nothing too serious, but much moping and self-pity is prompted by The Fray’s How to Save a Life (Now 66).
I adjust to being single again, aided by Duffy’s suitably low-key ballad Warwick Avenue (Now 70).
Hallelujah by Alexandra Burke (Now 72): I have met Helena, a lovely woman who — crucially — agrees with me that said track is a good effort but not a patch on the Jeff Buckley version.
Hallelujah again. Helena is pregnant. We are both irritated and charmed by This Ain’t A Love Song by Scouting for Girls (Now 76).
My son, Manny, is born. Music is temporarily off the menu, bar Chirpy Chirp Cheep Cheep, by Middle of the Road (pre-Now), which he listens to, delightedly, for up to two hours at a time.
Party time: Manny, his mother and I spend much of the summer in the kitchen getting on down to Gangnam Style by Psy (Now 83).
I watch Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke (Now 85) on the new Now music TV channel with Helena, Manny and my two stepsons, explaining why the lyrics are so offensive. Thirty years ago, I was subjecting my mother to Now 1. Circle of life.