Now That's What I Call A Music Blog

NOW 12 – the compilation they forgot to bomb, come, nuclear bombs

Now_12So what does summer sound like to you? Maybe it’s some Hi-NRG dance track imported from the med by swathes of hormonal twenty-somethings. Perhaps it’s some cool, magic-hour ballad sung as the sun sets on another fleeting August romance. It may even be, at a stretch, the sound of Daleks screeching “loadsamoney” over a Gary Glitter sample. As dreadful as all those may sound, they are all present and correct on NOW 12, given a summer theme on its cover, and ALL are preferable to the dirge that opens the album.

It’s always difficult to criticise charity records, particularly ones put together for a fledgling charity, with the best intentions, and which did amazing work in raising the charity’s profile. Sadly Wet Wet Wet’s awful version of The Beatles’ With a Little help From My Friends is pretty much indicative of how lazy and dreary the 80’s pop scene was becoming. The song was part of a re-recording of the entire Sgt Pepper album, as Sgt Pepper Knew My Father, by contemporary artists, organised by the NME to raise money for the then upstart ChildLine charity. Among the other artists involved were the more NME-friendly Wedding Present, Sonic Youth, Frank Sidebottom (!) and The Fall’s amazing cover of A Day In The Life. Also included, and backing up the Wet’s single, was a heart-breaking version of She’s Leaving Home by Billy Bragg. It’s emotional, moving, relates to the cause at hand in a much more human way than the Wet’s “let’s record the song right here”, slapped together atrocity. For a number one record, and one deemed worthy of opening a NOW album, it’s probably been all but forgotten now, and good thing too. Bragg’s song would have made a nice closer to NOW 12, to bookend the whole album. Lest we forget, the single was a double-A-side, so Bragg did technically get to number one also. Good fact to remember for pub quizzes, if you are ever asked what was Billy Bragg’s only chart topper.

Smash Hits used this joke at least twice per issue in 1988

Smash Hits used this joke at least twice per issue in 1988

After this false start, NOW 12 settles into a summer groove which probably seemed very appealing and astonishingly up to date in July 1988, but now looks awfully dated and has one reaching for the ffwd button (or skip, you modern thing you) rather than the volume up. Belinda Carlisle’s Circle in the Sand has not aged well and what seemed impossibly exotic and sensual now sounds cryptic and downright odd, even if it does a good job of conjuring images of Californian beaches at dusk. A good thing too when you grew up in the mud hole of Weston-super-Mare. Maxi Priest’s Wild World has fared slightly better, probably because it’s a cover of a song from the 60s, and they generally do. It’s definitely chart friendly pop reggae, which was the turn also taken by former purveyors of the ‘real thing’, Aswad. They no doubt jumped the bandwagon on the back of the surprise success of their former single, Don’t Turn Around. The follow-up, Give A Little Love, on show here, is the kind of reggae that gives reggae a bad name.

Four tracks in, and you are already beginning to fear for the integrity of the NOW series… Has the 80s finally got so bad, that even a NOW album can’t collect together a listenable collection of Top Chart Hits? Just when you think things can’t get any worse, pop comes flying to save the day in the nick of time. Climie Fisher’s Love Changes Everything is probably the best pop song on the whole album. I never liked it as a kid (thinking it soppy and girly) but now, as far as pure pop goes, I think it’s an amazing song. And like all the best pop, you can’t really explain or define why it works so well. It’s just perfect. The fact that Climie Fisher didn’t fully capitalize on its success (cruelly kept at number two by The Pet Shop Boys’ Heart) is truly baffling. Maybe the Stock, Aitken, Waterman pop puppet conveyor belt did for them. The fact is they were better song writers and producers than SAW, but like KFC, SAW knew the secret formula (possibly heroin) which kept the kids hooked and coming back for more. We’ll come back to SAW shortly.

In a similar Adult-Orientated vein Elton John is back with, what I think is his best song of the 1980s. So of course, I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That was ridiculously unsuccessful, reaching only number 30. A stomping pop song with a wonderfully odd hydraulic hissing drum noise and a brilliantly camp video, I have a theory its chart chances were scuppered in its first week when on the top 40 show the CD stopped and the DJ (possibly Bruno Brookes) skipped to the next song in the charts. Given that the countdown was the only chance a of record buyers heard songs, I wonder if this had an impact on its sales the following week. Or maybe I’ve been reading too many 9/11 conspiracy theories.

The young, impressionable me that didn’t care much for Climie Fisher did, for some odd reason, adore Scritti Politti’s Oh Patti, but I’ve no idea why. Listened to now, it’s got that familiar ‘plinky plonky’ artificial sound so abundant in a multitude of bland tunes around at the same time (some present on NOW 12), so I can only suppose what raises it out of the beige, for me, is the impression I always get from Scritti Politti that they are not taking themselves terribly seriously. There is always some witty word play, and a wry grin on Green Gartside’s face in every video. You get the impression he knows exactly how ludicrous this all sounds. It’s probably not a valid excuse for blandness to admit that you know it’s bland, and that’s sort of the point, but it does make you listen with slightly different ears. Someone who needs different ears was the person who edited the NOW 12 page on Wikipedia which (until recently) stated that the version of Phil Collin’s In The Air Tonight included was listed as the ’88 remix, but was actually the original recording. Sorry, but it is most certainly the remix, featuring as it does, a pointless, and barely audible, extra drum track from the start of the track, whereas the original, as we all know from our ‘oh so witty’ chocolate ads, features no drums until the gorilla starts playing them halfway through. This song will appear later on our journey on the back of said advert.

Wrote a song about someone drowning after seeing someone drown. And is a gorilla.

Wrote a song about watching someone drown after watching someone drown. And is a gorilla.

After all that depression, side two puts us briefly back in the mood for a summer party promised by the cover, with the still wonderful Don’t Go, from Hothouse Flowers. Of course, the song is so impossibly upbeat it must actually be about something really sad, which it is, being about the death of a loved one. But, hey!, it’s still wonderfully jolly and its mix of harmonica, glockenspiel, accordion, Hammond organ and even bagpipes, can’t fail to put a smile on your face. Such jollity is short-lived, however, with Moz arriving to remind us that Everyday is Like Sunday. Growing up in a seaside town that they forgot to bomb, this song has always had an extra frisson for me and I still think it’s his best solo single. It doesn’t suffer from a too contemporary production that befell too much of his solo stuff (and some Smiths’ tracks too).

From the tunefully downbeat we move to the dreamy pop balladry of Danny Wilson’s Mary’s Prayer…which I hate.  I know I’m invoking some pop fatwa here, but I really dislike this song. Maybe it’s the fact it rhymes “careless” with “care less” in the first verse. After that I’m done. You can’t come back from such a crass piece of song writing as that. And if it’s so great why did it have to be released three times before it was a hit? This wasn’t a song failing to find an audience; this was the record company hitting the public over the head with the record until we bought it. Which we (by which I mean you) did in our (your) droves. And, the minor success of The Second Summer of Love aside, Danny Wilson were never to trouble the charts again. Go back to football management, Danny.

Also rubbish is yet another appearance for Johnny Hates Jazz (another act that the record companies loved to batter the public into submission with), with Heart of Gold, one of the few upbeat, jazz-influenced pop songs about the sex industry. Much better is Voice of the Beehive’s Don’t Call Me Baby. Good solid pop and a track that rarely gets an airing these days. You may be surprised to discover this was not their only NOW appearance, but we’ll get to their second in due course. Hair rock finds itself demoted from a whole side to just three tracks at the end of side two, with Iron Maiden making their only NOW appearance with Can I Play with Madness?, Heart’s turgid In Dreams, and T’Pau’s I Will Be With You, again a better song than China in Your Hand.

I've been slagging them off for three albums, I could at least show a photo of them

I’ve been slagging them off for three albums, I could at least show a photo of them

Side two’s mix of and match of styles is probably a reflection of the fact that three and four are where the real party is at, and the first sign that NOW were starting to sequence the albums with CD’s in mind as well as the four-sided LPs and tapes. What follows is a huge dance fest of rap, soul, house, samples, Hi-NRG and enough Rolands to keep Grange Hill running for four more series  (If you’re younger than about 30 that will mean nothing to you). There’s also four further number ones, the first of which is now probably one of the rarest tracks to appear on a NOW album, as it never appeared on any other album and the single was deleted.

The Timelords’ Doctorin’ the Tardis was, of course, the work of pop pranksters The KLF, before they became rich and famous under that name. Part of their attempt to completely subvert the music industry from within and bring it crashing to its knees, they created a massive number one record, made a fortune (which they allegedly set fire to in the name of art), used the song as the basis for a bestselling book, and got Gary Glitter back on Top of the Pops when such an act was just irritating rather than deeply subversive. Doctorin’ The Tardis is dreadful, but that’s not really the point. It demonstrated that the public will buy any old crap, which WAS the point. I’d forgotten that the Daleks said “Bosh, bosh, loadsamoney” though. That made me chuckle.

Chuckles of a very different kind are supplied by Sabrina’s Boys, mainly as a result of the fact the over-endowed chanteuse can’t sing for toffee. The song is now only remembered for (and was possibly only ever bought as a result of) the video which featured Sabrina “accidentally” falling out of her bikini top for a split second. No chance of such shenanigans from Bananarama, sadly. I Want You Back was the first single featuring the long forgotten Jacquie O’Sullivan. Given the shameless candy floss sound it’s a surprise to find it had actually been recorded when Siobhan Fahey was still in the group, and her vocals re-done by O’Sullivan But it’s far removed from Venus or Cruel Summer, and sounds like a rejected Kylie b-side. So of course it was their biggest hit in years.

One of the biggest hits of the year (the 5th biggest to be precise) was, of course, Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now. Not much I can say about this that you probably don’t already know except it’s a brilliant pop tune (obviously, because it’s a cover of an old 60s song) but I always prefered Debbie Gibson, who, being signed to Atlantic (a subsidiary of Warner Brothers/WEA) only appeared on Hits albums. Boo.

Tiffany, yesterday

Tiffany, yesterday

SAW return with Hazell Dean’s Who’s Leaving Who, which is far better than the Banana-fluff from earlier. Dean could never be a big chart star today, sadly, with her fuller figure, butch looks and songs that sound like an Essex Gloria Gaynor. She’d probably (and in fact does) have a cult following, but top ten hits? Unlikely I’m afraid, which is a shame. Who’s Leaving Who is a great hi-NRG tune hampered by unimaginative and repetitive lyrics. Very much of its time. That vibe continues with the Communards There’s More To Love, a track I was convinced was Jimmy Somerville’s first solo release. A plea for sexual tolerance, its sentiment is laudable, but musically it’s cheap and muted, reminiscent of, and far too similar too, the then re-vamped Grange Hill theme.

Much better, and the absolute diamond in the rough of NOW 12, is Jermaine Stewart’s Get Lucky. Another one of those songs that managed to slip the net of my memory, maybe it just needed more mature ears. This is brilliant, frankly, a bit dark, with a sprinkle of the Will Youngs about it, so much so that with just a few knob twiddles to beef up the tinny production, this could possibly have been a hit for Mr Pop Idol himself in the past decade. Worth a listen.

Such quality cannot last and sadly that means the anti-music provided by Glenn Medeiros must be tackled. Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You was one of the most incomprehensibly popular songs of the 80s; a trite ballad, with added sleazy saxophone, a boring melody, cheesy lyrics and a soft focus video on a beach. Of course the reason it was popular was because it appealed to the wet-knickered fantasies of the more impressionable 13 year old girls of 1988 (some of whom may well be reading this now, and if so, I don’t apologise for that potentially disgusting image because you bought the thing and made it popular). No doubt the class of 2013 require a bit more raunch from their surrogate boyfs, or maybe not. It’s not like I know a bloody thing about what teenage girls think. I certainly know a damn sight less now than I did when I was surrounded by them at school. Though reading some of the stuff they tweet to Harry from One Direction they are maybe a tad more insane than back in my day. But sadly, I now hate NOW 12 for the simple fact that it made me listen to this bloody song again for the first time in 25 years. Thanks a bunch.

Really?

Really, girls?

Even the fleeting glimpse back at greatness that Side four threatens to offer is short-lived.  The Theme from S-Express and Salt n’ Pepa’s Push It are, rightly, considered classics of their form, though I feel Push It’s star has faded slightly and what was once naughty and exciting to a teenager now seems a tad sleazy and unpleasant. Jesus, what has happened to me? Sleazy and unpleasant are two words that could also apply to Derek B’s Get Down, a wonderful track blighted by a final verse documenting a woman’s breasts “like basketballs” and how her downstairs lady parts were like “Niagara Falls”. Thankfully, there’s no such vulgarity on the rather wonderful Bad Young Brother which is the track that appears here. I’d forgotten how great this was, and there are little of the Americanisms that Mr Boland was accused of early in his career. This is (almost) proper London rap, and was instrumental in my teenage self’s fondness for the genre. It uses samples sparingly (the drum beat for Led Zep’s When The Levee Breaks and an “oh yeah” from prince’s Sign O’ The Times), unlike most hip hop of the time stole freely, often from the godfather of Soul, James Brown. To level the playing field somewhat (and no doubt to claw back some royalties) we get the Payback Mix. Put together by Coldcut it stitches together 23(!) different  James Brown classics, most of which were being sampled left right and centre at the time, to create one, bold statement that you can steal from the best, but the best will still be the best. It’s epic.

Rose Royce gets the remix treatment too, for similar reasons no doubt, as it’s been estimated Car Wash is the single most sampled track of all time, as a result of its famous clapping intro. I doubt if many could tell this was a remix, to be frank. After such a classic, the rest of the album can only disappoint, and it drifts away on a tide of forgettable dance pop: Natalie Cole’s Pink Cadillac (a bit hit in the day, but not well-remembered now); flipping Jellybean again (Just a Mirage is actually the best of his NOW appearances, but that’s saying nowt); finally there’s Will Downing’s A Love Supreme. Meh.

NOW 12 is a massive disappointment, particularly after NOW 11 had been so great. There are few outright classics, but there’s a lot of very skippable, mediocre, bland, forgettable ‘product’. And it’s this sense of churning out crap for the kids that permeates throughout the whole affair. There’s little innovative, game-changing tunes here, just a by-the-numbers, this’ll do attitude. Maybe as NOW was going back to three albums a year this is inevitable. We saw earlier in the series that the initial decision to produce three albums a year resulted in a severe drop in quality, so the same could be true here. But also, the industry seemed to be in the wrong mind set. The record industry didn’t know what to do about sampling (from a legal point of view) or the rise in house and hip-hop (from a financial point of view), so they just tried to rip off both, badly, and shovel more mass-produced plastic pop to keep the little ‘uns quiet.

These men are not MPs. They were far more powerful than that...

Ed Balls, Danny Baker and Rodney Marsh celebrate another hit record

NOW 12 is certainly NOT the coolest album around, David “the Kid” Jensen…

Take Climie Fisher, S-Express and Tiffany out of the equation and all the great pop tunes are gone. Further take out the hidden gems (Don’t Go, Get Lucky, Bad Young Brother) and you’re left with a very sorry representation of the charts circa summer 1988. Going head to head with Hits 8 couldn’t have helped. The Hits albums were always a poor relation, but Hits 8 featured Aztec Camera (Somewhere in My Heart), Fairground Attraction (Perfect), Bros (I Owe You Nothing) and the wonderful Crash by The Primitives. It’s a far better collection.

NOW 12 is probably the first album in the series that I would gladly never listen to again. I’m a cynical, heart-like-a-piece-of-flint kind of guy at the best of times, not an easily swayed teenager lost in the wealth of good feeling that the onset of the school summer holidays can bring. I need more than this. I need something out of this world…

 

NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC 12

Release date

11th July 1988

Biggest tracks

I Think We’re Alone Now – Tiffany

Theme From S-Express – S-Express

Love Changes Everything – Climie Fisher

Lost gems

Get Lucky – Jermaine Stewart

Bad Young Brother – Derek B

Forgotten tracks

Don’t Go – Hothouse Flowers

With a Little Help From My Friends – Wet Wet Wet

I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That – Elton John

Worst Track

Nothings Gonna Change My Love For You – Glenn Medeiros

What’s missing

Heart  -The Pet Shop Boys

Got To Be Certain – Kylie Minogue

Loadsamoney (Doin’ Up The House) – Harry Enfield

 

Track listing

Side one
With A Little Help From My Friends Wet Wet Wet
Circle In The Sand Belinda Carlisle
Wild World Maxi Priest
Give A Little Love Aswad
Love Changes (Everything) Climie Fisher
I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That Elton John
Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry For Loverboy) Scritti Politti
In The Air Tonight Phil Collins
Side two
Don’t Go The Hothouse Flowers
Everyday Is Like Sunday Morrissey
Mary’s Prayer Danny Wilson
Heart Of Gold Johnny Hates Jazz
Don’t Call Me Baby Voice Of The Beehive
Can I Play With Madness Iron Maiden
These Dreams Heart
I Will Be With You T’Pau
Side three
Doctorin’ The Tardis The Timelords
Boys (Summertime Love) Sabrina
I Want You Back Bananarama
I Think We’re Alone Now Tiffany
Who’s Leaving Who Hazell Dean
There’s More To Love The Communards
Get Lucky Jermaine Stewart
Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You Glenn Medeiros
Side four
Theme From S-Express S-Express
Push It Salt ‘N’ Pepa
Bad Young Brother Derek B
The Payback Mix (Part One) (Medley) James Brown
Carwash Rose Royce
Pink Cadillac Natalie Cole
Just A Mirage Jellybean Featuring Adele Bertei
A Love Supreme Will Downing

 

One Response to NOW 12 – the compilation they forgot to bomb, come, nuclear bombs

  1. James says:

    Ah… Now 12, the first I owned on CD. Got it as a Chrimbo present in ’88 along with a ‘top of the range’ from Dixons Sanyo CD Stereo system!! Amazingly the system only got chucked out a couple of years back, but my copy of Now 12 is still going strong – complete with foam inner!

    A brilliant series only ruined by the god awful generic covers that have been prevalent since Now 20, wish they would sort that out and be a bit more inventive again. Would love to see the “Nows” that weren’t released on CD given the Now 1 treatment too.

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