EMI/Virgin took their time bringing home the bacon in 1985….
Previously, AFDPJ imagined a world where the gap between volumes 9 and 10 of Now! That’s What I Call Music hadn’t been so long. Now (‘scuse the pun) we are at it again, poking our nose in the proverbial pop trough of the past and fiddling around with things.
NOW! 4 had been issued just before Christmas 1984, but found itself outflanked by the brash new effort from CBS/WEA, amazingly titled THE HITS ALBUM (see what they did there?). Despite a total lack of effort in the design department, and no previous chart pedigree unlike NOW!, it kept the more experienced rival off the #1 spot.
It would be the following August before the trusty pig appeared again. Band Aid had happened. Live Aid had happened too. Pop moves swiftly, and in nine months all kinds of changes can take place. Top 10 regulars slip down the dumper. Pop royalty end up paupers. Some bands even break up. Solo “careers” replace them. It’s a mad lark.
And that is more or less where we found ourselves by the summer of 1985. Duran Duran were exploring their rockier (Power Station) and artier (Arcadia) sides, having signed off with an ace James Bond theme to probably the worst Bond film ever. Frankie Goes To Hollywood may have had a trio of Number 1s straight out of the blocks, but come the time of NOW! 5, not many were still interested. Certainly not the compilers of NOW! 5.
Tears For Fears had become one of the biggest pop bands around the world, with back-to-back American chart toppers and an album that couldn’t stop putting itself into people’s shopping baskets (yes, I know most music shops didn’t have baskets to put vinyl LPs in, because they would have been very big and awkward shaped baskets, but…um, let’s move on shall we?). Yet were they on NOW! 5? Were they heck.
The list goes on. Mega hits that missed the NOW! 4 boat due to timing, and were then either hoovered up by those rascals doing THE HITS ALBUM 2 (see what they did there again?) or even another brazen act of opportunism at Chrysalis/MCA who launched OUT NOW! in the Spring of 1985, would never grace a Now! That’s What I Call Music that year.
‘Tis a pity. But fear not, because with a little bit of magic (and excel sheets, iTunes playlists and way too much cross-checking) we can proudly bring you another “inbetweener” volume….Now! 4-and-a-half.
(Special thanks to Deborah X on the Popjustice forum for figuring out/knowing that the classic NOW! font is something called Antique Olive. Not very rock’n’roll, maybe they could have renamed it Whole Hog or something).
You know the drill. 30 tracks, thereabouts, split into four sides. Let’s say this Now! was released at Easter 1985, perhaps early May (during the school holidays, anyhow). Nothing from a previous Now! is allowed, nor anything from HITS 2 or OUT NOW*. So, the range of potential inclusions is late 1984 up until the end of April 1985.
While that sounds like plenty of scope, in fact after some iTunes/spreadsheet/cross-checking wizardry, I found myself with only about 36 genuine candidates. The likes of Go West, Nik Kershaw, Thompson Twins, Dead Or Alive, Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy…all off-limits. Paul Hardcastle’s zeitgeist-defining 19….another no-go. Where on earth are we going to find some smash hits for this edition?
As the mocked-up tracklisting above demonstrates, all was not lost. Plenty of big hits, if not actual chart-toppers, were still available. Record 1 Side 1 may not begin with a #1 single, but Shout isn’t a terrible way to start off (and it was a US #1, of course).
Duran and Frankie take their place near the top of the table, while more “big in America” choices such as Murray Head and Billy Ocean make for a surprisingly oomph-tastic first salvo. Love’s Great Adventure predates Now! 4 by a month – and could easily have been included then – but Midge had been a big part of Band Aid, and the Ultravox compilation it had promoted went on to sell a million copies….plus it sounds right at home here.
Highly Strung also benefits from the need to dig further back for eligible singles, completing a Human League > ABC > Spandau Ballet sequence that is none more 80s, even if the actual songs in this case wouldn’t be uppermost in the average chartwatcher’s memory (though Louise did make #13, while Be Near Me went top 10 in the States).
Record 1 Side 2 ends up “a bit Rock”, but the quirk factor – one of the enduring features of any self-respecting Now! – is partly taken care of by Big Daddy and their radical version of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark. I think they’d call its style Bluegrass these days.
Onto the second half of the compilation, which means time to dance around your handbags. Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five had seen off their erstwhile leader Grandmaster Flash, and despite the resulting aggro somehow managed to reach the Top 10 with Step Off just a few months after the seminal, chart-hogging White Lines (Don’t Do It) had done likewise. Quite where Eddy & The Soulband emerged from (aside from being located in The Netherlands, apparently), or if there had been an earlier Eddy who left less than amicably, nobody knows. Judging from their Art Of Noise-inspired take on the Theme From Shaft, they were close to the edit. Suspiciously close.
Hangin’ On A String remains one of the finest examples of 80s soul/pop, slinky and edgy, jittery and elegant at the same time. Other club classics of early 1985 helpfully lend themselves perfectly to this segment; Skipworth & Turner, DeBarge, The Limit and Clouds Across The Moon by The RAH Band (which I rushed out to buy on 7″, before seeing their infamously naff performance on Top Of The Pops a week or so later).
Record 2 Side 2 is notorious for housing the waifs and strays, the things that didn’t fit in anywhere else, or weren’t successful enough to be in a more prime position, or simply the location for the more offbeat choices. Well, we go from Stiff Records’ Ska revivalists The Untouchables to Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson in six tracks, via the brassy fluff of Phil Collins channelling 1999 by Prince, The Power Station, and Duran/Roxy wannabe Belouis Some’s superbly sleazy Imagination. It works though (and I know I would say that, having sequenced it myself, but honestly it does).
I Know Him So Well is in fact the sole UK chart-topper on Now! 4-and-a-half, tucked away as the penultimate track on the final side. It enables us to conclude with Pie Jesu, the single from Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s new-at-the-time musical Requiem (which fans of Elvis Costello’s Spike will know as the album The Man Upstairs is listening to on his waterbed when God’s Comic arrives to see him in the Afterlife).
*Did you spot the one mistake I made? For all my determination to get it right, The Heat Is On slipped through the net. Glenn Frey’s classic from Beverley Hills Cop was on OUT NOW. Drat, drat and double drat.
Antique Olive 🙂
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