The NOW brand was at sixes and sevens in 1986…
The sixth volume of Now That’s What I Call Music! had been released in November 1985. Volume 7 didn’t arrive until late the following summer, August 1986. And we know what that means…
It’s time for another in afdpj‘s series of “inbetweener” NOWs.
As usual, we’ve checked all the iTunes folders and cross-referenced the Discogs tracklistings, to make sure there are no inclusions which featured on the rival HITS series between January and May 1986; HITS4 came out that March and gobbled up many of the finest chart gems from this missing period in the NOW universe.
So, there’s no a-ha, Five Star, Wham!, no Manic Monday, no Chain Reaction. No Madonna (as ever, there was no Madonna on a NOW in those days anyway). We do get the Pet Shop Boys (but not West End Girls). Best of all, we have Sigue Sigue Sputnik! What more could anyone ask for?
(Okay, given the headline, I suppose the legendary Claire And Friends would be the one everyone is hoping for)….
RECORD 1 SIDE 1
Rock Me Amadeus Falco
Touch Me (I Want Your Body) Samantha Fox
Peter Gunn Theme The Art Of Noise ft. Duanne Eddy
Love Missile F1-11 Sigue Sigue Sputnik
Love Comes Quickly Pet Shop Boys
Move Away Culture Club
Wrap Her Up Elton John & George Michael
The Honeythief Hipsway
Things kick off with the only UK #1 on this collection, and it can be whatever mix of Rock Me Amadeus you prefer, because there seemed to be so many (UK, US, 7″, Video, and that’s just the main variants). The European pop vibe continues with Self Control….oops, I mean Touch Me, the opening salvo in the remarkably resilient pop career of Samantha Fox (who, in her former incarnation as Britain’s most recognisable Page 3 model, is referenced on another song from Side 1).
The only logical way to follow that is obviously with the TWANG of Duane Eddy, resurrected by The Art Of Noise; post-ZTT and no longer quite so post-modern, it’s brilliant (I hammered the 12″ mix throughout that Spring). Then from Peter Gunn to “shoot it up”, the ridiculously over-hyped Love Missle F1-11 by the then-future of rock’n’roll (apparently) Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Imagine a budget Big Audio Dynamite covering Billy Idol and you’re getting very warm. They knew how to Flaunt It.
Two classic British pop bands of the 80s, travelling in opposite directions, provide us with the next pair of tracks. Love Comes Quickly didn’t climb too quickly and a peak of #19 was rather modest in the afterglow of West End Girls’ chart-topping exploits. Further opportunities would arise in due course. Move Away is the sort of single that Culture Club should have made instead of the feeble Waking Up With The House On Fire fiasco, if they’d waited just a little longer and not rushed into the studio in 1984 without any decent material. The comeback was short-lived, however, and their next single only made #31 and it was back to the dumper (and a parting of the ways until 1998).
Wrap Her Up rarely features on any retrospective or compilation, and would surely be a “Pointless” answer if you had to name a UK/US Top 20 hit that features either Elton John or George Michael. Looking back, the concept of two gay men (one openly, one not-so-openly at the time) spending 4 minutes (and over six on the full album version) reeling off a list of the world’s sexiest women (both past and present, hence Sam Fox’s name popping up) and then demanding they be given to them all wrapped up is problematic on many fronts. But hey, this was the 80s and it doesn’t seem to take itself very seriously!
On an opening side characterised by some unlikely US successes, Hipsway – who made the Billboard Top 20 with The Honeythief – is probably an appropriate closer. It’s a single which deserved to be massive here in Britain, from a debut album which deserved much better.
RECORD 1 SIDE 2
1. Don’t Look Down – The Sequel Go West
2. Sanctify Yourself Simple Minds
3. Life’s What You Make It Talk Talk
4. The Sweetest Girl Madness
5. Driving Away From Home (Jim’s Tune) It’s Immaterial
6. Marlene On The Wall Suzanne Vega
7. And She Was Talking Heads
Stats-wise, this might be a weaker NOW side, with the #10 peak of the Simple Minds track the highest any of these singles made in on the UK Top 40. Look beyond the numbers, and you have Go West at the tail-end of their initial golden run of hits from their eponymous debut LP, the Talk Talk song is now rightly considered an 80s classic (and returned to the chart in 1990), while both Suzanne Vega and Talking Heads are anything but obscure or unloved. The latter pair were taken from albums that spent over a year on the chart.
Madness, kings of the singles chart for more than half a decade at this point, were one 45 away from waltzing off into the sunset (for a few years at least) and The Sweetest Girl was their lowest-charting release, scraping to #35.
RECORD 2 SIDE 1
1. Living In America James Brown
2. Pull Up To The Bumper Grace Jones
3. If I Ruled The World Kurtis Blow
4. Dare To Dream Viola Wills
5. Wonderful World Sam Cooke
6. Have You Ever Had It Blue? The Style Council
7. Is Your Love Strong Enough? Bryan Ferry
8. Leaving Me Now Level 42
Side Three was traditionally where the funkier stuff resided, but HITS4 took most of the prime contenders (Paul Hardcastle, Whistle, Full Force, Alexander O’Neal). Saturday Love (Cherrelle featuring Alexander O’Neal) and the SOS Band’s The Finest were available although being on CBS technically disqualifies them.
Pull Up To The Bumper was part of Island Records’ very successful Grace Jones compilation Island Life, released on the back of her ZTT-aided smash Slave To The Rhythm. The identically-titled new album didn’t provide any further singles (as it was effectively one track stretched and reworked for half an hour), so the label delved back into her catalogue and kept the campaign alive with a succession of re-releases, of which …Bumper was by far the most popular.
The Levi’s 501 series of commercials, using soul classics for that authentically retro effect, began in early 1986 with Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World the accompaniment. It started a trend which reached its apex a year later when the top 2 singles on the chart were Stand By Me and When A Man Loves A Woman.
James Brown had two decent-sized hits with new material in the second half of the 80s (of which Living In America, from the Rocky IV film, was easily the biggest) but often he was competing against his younger self as the craze for old gold started to take hold of pop culture and reissues of his iconic 60s tracks would end up performing better on the Top 40!
More soundtrack action follows, from The Style Council (“Absolute Beginners”) and Bryan Ferry (“Legend”). Level 42 knew that we’d be leaving them for this NOW, a slow-burning Top 20 hit from late 1985 that was still peaking in early 1986.
RECORD 2 SIDE 2
1. If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me) Ruby Turner ft. Jonathan Butler
2. Walk Of Life Dire Straits
3. Spies Like Us Paul McCartney
4. The Phantom Of The Opera Steve Harley & Sarah Brightman
5. Russians Sting
6. In A Lifetime Clannad ft. Bono
7. Only Love Nana Mouskouri
Ah, time for Record 2, Side 2….usually the home of waifs and strays, the oddities, the things that wouldn’t quite fit in anywhere else. The rag-bag section!
On this occasion, we have a veritable star-studded assortment (and that’s just Nana Mouskouri). Dire Straits (the January 1986 #2 smash from Brothers In Arms, Walk Of Life), Sting, Sir Paul McCartney (a throwaway soundtrack effort that’s unlikely to trouble any “Best of Macca” lists), even a pre-Joshua Tree guest appearance by Bono on Clannad’s best-known track (courtesy of a subsequent re-issue and chart return in 1989). There are a trio of duos, in fact, with the Steve Harley/Sarah Brightman single version of The Phantom Of The Opera debuting some months before the stage show hit the West End, and Michael Crawford was picked for the leading male role.
All told, this “inbetweener” NOW, covering the first third of 1986, has just the solitary UK chart-topper (Falco) yet stands up surprisingly well against HITS4 from the same time-frame. 25 of the 30 tracks made the Top 20, and even the five that didn’t are either by well-known acts or received a lot of airplay.