EMI/Virgin felt there was n-n-n-n-no need for three NOWs in 1991.
The first couple of years for any new pop decade tend to see more of a hangover from what went before, than a total switch to all things fresh. At least, that how it unfolded in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. So 1991 had yet to completely jettison the sounds and styles of the previous decade.
It’s a year which, frankly, wasn’t best showcased by either of the official NOWs (19 and 20), nor its fading rival the HITS series (whose 14th volume proved the last in the series to use their own numbering system introduced in 1984). NOW 19 in particular felt too weighed down with remakes, remixes and cover versions. The long gap between NOW 19 and NOW 20 also offers up the chance for another of AFDPJ’s “inbetweener” NOWs.
(There are several more of these imaginary NOWs already in the can, so you have been warned!).
Once the usual due dilligence had been completed, a longlist of about 45 eligible tracks remained. As before, with NOW 4.5 and NOW9.5, we’ll use the traditional release slots of Easter, Summer and Christmas as a guide, so 19.5 will slot in to the Summer window with a cut-off point of August 1991.
We are also into the era of CD dominance over vinyl, and the longer “sides” now (….) possible and no longer limited by the constraints of what could reasonably squeeze onto a record. So, in keeping with the 34 and 35 tracks respectively from the official 1991 NOWs, we’ve got 36. However, just for the craic, a selection of selections have been marked as surplus to requirements for that imaginary LP configuration. You can’t say we don’t take this stuff seriously…
COMPACT DISC 1
Baby Baby [NOW! Edit] Amy Grant 3:31
Word Of Mouth Mike + The Mechanics 3:56
The Whole Of The Moon The Waterboys 5:04
Monsters & Angels Voice Of The Beehive 3:38
Twist and Shout Deacon Blue 3:37
Cold, Cold Heart Midge Ure 4:08
*All This Time [Edit] Sting 4:01
Let There Be Love [7″ Mix] Simple Minds 4:45
*Whenever You Need Me [Single Version] T’Pau 4:19
Cover My Eyes (Pain And Heaven) Marillion 3:55
I Touch Myself Divinyls 3:44
Sexuality Billy Bragg 3:52
Get The Message [Single Remix] Electronic 3:51
Walking Down Madison Kirsty MacColl 4:39
Right Here, Right Now Jesus Jones 3:10
Love Rears Its Ugly Head [Soulpower Hip Hop Mix] Living Colour 4:07
*Kiss Them For Me Siouxsie & The Banshees 4:29
It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over Lenny Kravitz 4:05
18 tracks, a shade under 73 minutes in all. Those with an * next to them are the unfortunate souls who would have to make way in the event of a vinyl countdown.
Proceedings kick off with a UK #2 that deserved to be a #1, and was exactly that in America. Amy Grant’s perfect jaunty pop gem from the perfect adult pop album Heart In Motion. Several mixes are in circulation, but we’ve gone for the one which was compiled on the NOW! Anniversary CDs from 1993-94 which celebrated a decade of the brand by issuing double disc sets of music from each calendar year.
The upbeat vibe continues with Mike + Mechanics’ slightly simplistic Word Of Mouth, and the re-issue of The Waterboys’ sublime 1985 single The Whole Of The Moon. Originally only a #26 hit, it stormed to #2 the second time around (matching its peak on my own personal charts six years earlier). Voice Of The Beehive deserved a Top 10 smash with the addictive Monsters & Angels (but came up 2 places short), while Deacon Blue’s Twist And Shout saw them in the midst of deconstructing the over-produced, slick celtic pop of When The World Knows Your Name with something a bit more ramshackle and frivolous. I suppose it’s their Shiny Happy People.
Midge Ure was, coincidentally, doing something very similar – no overblown theatrics or glassy synths in sight. Just a simple little folksy tune in the shape of Cold Cold Heart. The first of the asterisked tracks is Sting’s minor Top 20 hit about his hometown, from The Soul Cages. A history lesson shoehorned into 3 and a half minutes. It does have a glorious melody in the chorus though. On our vinyl edition, Midge would take us into Simple Minds’ cod-anthemic Let There Be Love, a #6 hit in Britain that signalled their imperial phase was coming to an end. The middle-eight is spectacular; the rest is nice but you can hear how they were working with the scraps left over from previous album Streetfighting Years.
CD listeners are then treated to T’Pau’s final dalliance with the Top 20, from the strangely unloved 1991 album The Promise (in at #10, gone completely within a month…the classic dumper treatment). Yes it does sound quite similar to the Simple Minds track. It was too obvious to ignore.
Launching a “side” with the #34 hit by Marillion may seem a bit of liberty, but I’m in charge and I love Marillion, so there. Interestingly (or not!) it was from the Holidays In Eden album that housed a track (No One Can) which was a UK Top 30 entry on two occasions; firstly as the follow-up to Cover My Eyes, and then again to help extend the promotional campaign for the band’s 1992 retrospective A Collection: Six Of One, Half Dozen Of The Other. The title alluded to the even distribution of singles by both the Fish-led and Hogarth-led line-ups, thus keeping all parties happy. No further questions, your honour.
We slide seamlessly from a paean to fantasising about beautiful females, to a song about…well, you know what (I Touch Myself by Divinyls) and Sir William Of Bragg’s Sexuality. The latter features both Johnny Marr and Kirsty MacColl, so guess which two tracks come next. Electronic’s Get The Message (their best single?), and Walking Down Madison from Kirsty’s Electric Landlady opus. With…yup…Johnny Marr doing his thing on guitar. It’s all very incestuous!
Some bards have all the luck…..Johnny Marr not pictured….maybe he got the message.
For the closing quartet (or trio if listening on that imaginary double vinyl edition), we take in Jesus Jones and the second chart runaround for Right Here Right Now, then the glorious Soulpower remix of Living Colour’s Love Rears Its Ugly Head, before bathing in the pink champagne of Siouxsie & The Banshees’ tribute to Jayne Mansfield, and finishing with the breakthrough UK hit for Leonard Kravitz, It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over. Which is of course very true…this inbetweener NOW! ain’t over for at least another 18 tracks.
COMPACT DISC 2
Love…Thy Will Be Done [Single Version] Martika 4:25
Winter In July [7″ Mix] Bomb The Bass 4:31
Safe From Harm [7″ Version] Massive Attack 4:28
Last Train To Trancentral (Live From The Lost Continent) The KLF 3:52
Insanity Oceanic 4:02
I’m Too Sexy Right Said Fred 2:52
*R.S.V.P. Jason Donovan 3:12
Touch Me (All Night Long) Cathy Dennis 4:02
Summertime DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince 3:57
*Apparently Nothin’ [7″ Edit] Young Disciples 3:59
Wear Your Love Like Heaven Definition of Sound 3:46
There’s No Other Way Blur 3:25
*Which Way Should I Jump? Milltown Brothers 3:55
Size Of A Cow The Wonder Stuff 3:13
Born Free Vic Reeves & The Roman Numerals 4:57
Unforgettable Natalie Cole with Nat ‘King’ Cole 3:32
More Than Words Extreme 3:59
I’ve Got News For You Feargal Sharkey 4:54
You could argue that the opening dozen or so tracks on CD1 wouldn’t have sounded too out of place in the late 1980s; the second half of NOW 19.5, however, places itself firmly in the new decade that Soul II Soul referenced on the title of their second long-player.
What a marvellous opening salvo: Martika channelling Kate Bush via Prince, based on the Cocteau Twins’ Fifty Fifty Clown, followed by Bomb The Bass, Massive Attack and The KLF. None more early Nineties; ethereal, moody and downright bonkers respectively. Mu-Mu!
Speaking of Insanity, there it is as the next track. Not really my drop of E, but it was very popular and wasn’t compiled that year by either of the main brands for some reason. Nor was I’m Too Sexy, the unluckiest #2 of the decade as Bryan Adams held sway at the top for about 487 weeks.
(Sorry, we had to mention that somewhere. The track didn’t make the cut because A&M would have been unlikely to allow any sales to be lost to a NOW or a HITS when it was still selling enough copies – even in August to remain at the summit. So you can thank my determination for keeping it real and authentic for the absence of Everything I Do. You are most welcome).
How do you follow I’m Too Sexy? With a minor Jason Donovan latterday PWL classic, obviously. He was faced with a choice at a difficult age…should he stay with SAW or take to the stage? In the end, any dream would do.
But not just another dream on this occasion for Cathy Dennis, who had yet to trouble the UK chart with said single (its time would arrive in due course). In the early summer of 1991 she wanted you to Touch Me (All Night Long). Huge in America (for a while), but never really appreciated as an artist in her home country despite decent sales for her Move To This album in the second half of the year.
Did someone mention Cathy Dennis? A perfect time to break up the text with an image, donchathink.
Will Smith’s early 90s alter-go The Fresh Prince (in cahoots with DJ Jazzy Jeff) keeps up the getting jiggy mood with Summertime (another smash that bizarrely missed out on a NOW! or HITS in 1991), while Young Disciples conjure up a fantastic retro groove thang and Definition Of Sound fly the flag for post-Daisy Age hip-hop. Just as De La Soul released De La Soul Is Dead.
The finish line is almost in sight, and the closing run of Blur to Feargal Sharkey is brought to you by the wonders of compiling on the fly. Only by listening to the songs “live”, with the long-list of remaining candidates in an iTunes sidebar, could that running order have ever been contemplated.
It works, though (and yes, I always say that)….by virtue of some title punnery (There’s No Other Way, then Which Way Should I Jump?) and a nod to the future 1991 chart-topping combination of The Wonder Stuff and Vic Reeves by putting their two singles side by side. To my genuine surprise, Reeves’ version of Born Free is actually rather good, even if he sings so himself.
That leaves a closing sequence of ballads, one of which seemed more ubiquitous than its modest UK chart placing suggests (Unforgettable), another proved the unlikely smash of the year (More Than Words from the usually hard-rocking Extreme), while Feargal Sharkey notched up another of his occasional big hits with the now barely-remembered I’ve Got News For You. Messrs Dayton, Hislop and Merton were not featured.
All that’s needed is a faithfully reproduced facsimile of a NOW! tracklisting cover in the classic Antique Olive font:
Proof that 1991 was a pretty good year for pop.
This sounds even better in the flesh. A classic reminder of an intense summer.
It’s probably my favourite of all the Inbetweener NOWs I’ve done. I’d almost forgotten just how much I enjoyed the music of 1991. There’s not actually a UK #1 among the 36 tracks, unless I’m mistaken. A few #2s in a Spring/Summer dominated by Cher and then Bryan Adams.