Every Day I Love You less and Less – falling out of love with pop
I fell out of love with pop long ago. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it was, but it was fell somewhere between the discovery of the Indie Chart on The Chart Show, my big brother moving out and the realisation that admitting liking Stock, Aitken and Waterman songs wasn’t going to help me with the girls in the fourth year (that’s Year 10 for you young pups).
The last NOW! album I owned was Now 16, and looking back now at that album now it feels very much an end-of-the-decade house clearance, much more than any other album in the series. But, of course, I would say that, because it was one of my NOW! albums. And that’s what makes the NOW! albums so special and so fascinating, and why I wanted to take a journey through the whole series from Limahl to Psy, from Duran Duran to One Direction. The NOW! albums have touched every generation since the one before mine and most people have owned at least one. But how have they managed to stay so popular when other competing series floundered? And in an age when “the kids” are only interested in the latest, instant, gratification, how can a collection of Top Chart Hits still be one of the biggest selling albums of the year, three times a year, every year?
In one way, the answer to the second question is ridiculously simple, and the title tells you everything you need to know: NOW!
In a sense, the concept of the NOW! album (in fact any compilation of contemporary hits) foreshadows the music-buying habits of a lot of people nowadays. They just want the hits. NOW! gives them that, and at a fraction of the cost of buying them individually.
Here’s the quick science bit: In my youth, a single was around £1.50 (a week’s pocket money for me). Although you got two songs for that price, you were essentially only buying the one, the A-side. A NOW! album would have been around £8.99 for the record or tape (my chosen format) or a staggering £14.99 for the double CD. If these figures seem ridiculously high for 25 years ago compared to today’s prices, well go and check for yourself, I swear these are accurate prices.)
So, for less than the price of six singles, I could own between 30 and 35. Even today, you’re looking at £13 for 43 tracks on the CD, or 79p each for the downloads? You, as they say, do the math(s).
Having said that, buying music today is probably as cheap as it has ever been. Teenagers will think nothing of parting with less than a quid for that song they like. We’ve got at least one generation who will never use the phrase ‘B-side’ and would probably struggle to understand the concept if you explained it to them. Many will never own a physical album, or even a download of a whole album.
Yet NOW!, with its multitude of Top Chart Hits will always have something you missed, something to try again, and about half of it you’ll still hate. After all, what is a NOW! album except the last four months of the charts on shuffle? Only the most precious (or self-conscious) kid is going to resist that.
In revisiting NOW! I hope to reconnect with that. I’ve forgone pop for too long. As a kid pop sat quite happily in my affections alongside a burgeoning appreciation for my big brother’s alternative stuff (the louder the better) starting with the Sex Pistols and The Clash, later The Smiths and The Pixies, before he moved out and I had to abandon Smash Hits and start buying my own copy of the NME.
And this is the point, June 1990, where I finally let pop down easy (if I had to let it down at all). I was now a misunderstood indie kid and that would remain through the teenage years, university and into proper grown up stuff like mortgages and pensions, until this point now, where I’m probably old enough not to give a toss what other people think of my music collection anymore.
It was the modern wonder that is Spotify that drove me back to NOW! I’d been back listening to pop for a bit, partly because ‘alternative’ now just means ‘not dance music’ and because everyone listens to old stuff when they’re drunk. I figured pop of all ages is dismissed by the generations it’s not designed for. Whether it’s rock n’ roll, the Mersey Sound, Motown, Phil Spector, Glam, Disco, New Romantic, Stock, Aitken and waterman… all these periods are as relevant as the other, and there is good and bad in all of them. I realised I could no longer claim to love the Detroit Hit Making battery farm that was Motown, while dismissing SAW on some misguided moral ground (as many did at the time) for doing exactly the same thing. You can argue over the merits of the music all you like, but there’s equal parts gold and crap in both of them, and I’ll take “I Should Be So Lucky” over “The Onion Song” any day of the week.
Spotify has a lovely NOW! app, chronicling every NOW! album since the first, way back in 1983. Due the licensing vagaries of Spotify, it’s only about 95% complete, and some tracks appear in different versions to how they originally appeared on the NOW! album, but without having every single album at your disposal, it’s as close as you are going to get to a full set.
Working my way through the first album I realised, these songs are pretty much exactly how I remembered them: there’s absolute classics here and there’s stuff I hate. But there’s very few I liked then that I don’t still like now, but there’s a fair few I didn’t like that now appeal, and perhaps best of all, great songs I don’t remember. This last point is interesting for me, as I was an avid pop eater as a child, with one of those sponge-like brains that absorbs useless trivia. So to see top 10 hits from the 80s that I don’t remember, infuriated, and pleased me in equal measure. What else had I missed?
Maybe in the intervening 23 years between Now 16 and the upcoming Now 84, there was pure pop gold waiting to be uncovered. How would those favourite pop nuggets of my youth stand up to the cold, hard, cynical scrutiny of my thirtysomething ears? I think it’s worth prospecting for something on the intervening 68 albums to make me want to love pop again, but in dangling that carat there will probably be as much to make me want to plug my ears and dive into a box set of Wedding Present demos for solace. (ok, enough gold puns now)
So, I’m going to take a journey through every NOW! album, from 1 to 84 (maybe even more if this takes as long as I think it might!) and hopefully build up the definitive look at the series in time to celebrate its 30th anniversary in November 2013.
Along the way, I may take slight detours, just as the NOW! series itself did. Do you remember Now Smash Hits? Or Now: The Summer Album? Then there’s the almost-but-not-quite-as-successful Hits Album series. And pop itself will get a look in to. After all, if you’re taking a journey through 30 years of the stuff, you’re going to notice a lot of changes, so I hope to comment on these too.
In the words of the glorious XTC, who sadly never made it onto a NOW! album: This is pop!