NOW 22 – Something good is gonna happen
I suppose it’s typical of this endeavour that just as I was starting to feel that the NOW series was showing signs of having nothing left of any worth to offer, along with 1992 being, in hindsight, a pretty lousy year, NOW 22 arrives and blows those misconceptions from the water like Roy Scheider and so many rubber sharks. NOW 22 is easily the best NOW album since NOW 11. What is it with the repeated digit editions? Will NOW 33 equally deliver? I have no idea and frankly I’ll be amazed if I make it that far. For now I can say NOW 22 has revitalised my interest and it will make you smile, you sonofabitch.
Any pretensions of game-changing genres, era-defining trends and left-field inclusions can be pretty much put to bed now. NOW 22 has no time for such fancies, preferring to focus on pop, pure and simple. This is quite understandable given its window covered the summer of ’92 when nothing of any great worth happened bar me getting spectacularly drunk on my brothers stag do, and failing to follow it up at the wedding when one of the barmaids recognised me from school and refused to serve me as I was underage. Spoil sport. Nevertheless, the music was pretty good by all accounts.
Erasure reclaim top billing, scoring their first number one with their ABBA-Esque EP. Take A Chance on Me was by far the most played of the four tracks, though as Voulez-Vous is my favourite ABBA track, I always preferred Andy and Vince’s take on that. I feel a little sad that the boys had to resort to (almost) novelty tracks to bag a number one, but I suppose whatever works.
Ce Ce Peniston’s Finally, er, finally became the hit it deserved in a (ever so slightly) remixed version after failing to breach the top 20 the previous year. While its ubiquity may have made it slightly unpopular in the intervening years, I still rate this very highly. KWS’ Please Don’t Go sounds much better than I thought it would, but was part of an unnerving trend over the year for ‘bands’ (i.e. dance producers) to make lucrative careers out of cover versions. Chart rivals Undercover were even more blatant about it, but their version of Baker Street (which, like the original, did not feature Bob Holness) didn’t hit the top like KWS did. It’s massively repetitive, and adds nothing to the original bar a fairly heavy bass line, but the singer is enthusiastic and has the knack of making you tap along, however begrudgingly.
Take That (including the NOW record holder for most appearances, Robbie Williams) make their debut with It Only Takes a Minute, and they’re followed by the return of the never-popular Nick Berry, somehow snagging another number one off another god-awful song from another god-awful TV show. Seriously, the UK, what is wrong with you? This man has more number ones than Bananarama, Depeche Mode and The Clash COMBINED. That’s inhuman. (EDIT: Thanks to Feel the Quality in the comments for putting me straight that Heartbeat didn’t actually reached number one. It got to number two.) It’s rather hilarious for a jangly 60s guitar to segue way into Rhythm is a Dancer though. A song now more famous for a poor choice of simile than for the song itself, it’s easy to forget how massive this was, topping the charts for weeks. It’s not as good as The Power though, though B&Q are currently doing their best to make everyone hate that one.
Things then take a very odd turn. Whilst Utah Saints continue the dance groove from Snap, they are a very different beast, and by god is Something Good fantastic. In fact it compelled me to revisit their back catalogue and I suggest you do too. Rumours of them snaffling the Kate Bush without permission are not true; Ms Bush loved it. For me, disillusioned with acid house and gangster rap, THIS was the sound of the future, picking up where KLF left off, combining hard dance with rock riffs and heavy bass, to be listened to loud.
The Cure’s Friday I’m Love doesn’t merit much time here since every knows it and you know if you like it, hate it because it’s popular, or just hate it because you think it’s a bit shit, like I do. It’s their Shiny Happy People as far as I’m concerned; it may be frightfully witty and ironic, but it’s also irritating and crap. Unlike Marc Almond’s Days of Pearly Spencer. I was frankly gobsmacked to see that on NOW 22, but even more staggered to discover it reached number 4! Personally, I think his cover version of Jackie from the same release window is much better, but it’s very welcome if only for the wonderfully wilful slow down ending. Bet this one got a fair few skips by the listeners. They may have also avoided the Beautiful South’s Bell Bottomed Tear, another of their so-ironic, lovely tunes about what bastards men are. They seemed to be on the slide commercially, and would continue to be for the next two years before their renaissance with their ‘every home should have one’ greatest hits, Carry On Up The Charts.
A couple of big hitters are up next, breaking up the dance groove, with Prince’s ludicrous Thunder appearing in its full album version, rather than the slimmed down single version, and U2’s Even Better Than The Real Thing. Whilst U2’s track is one of the best they ever released (even better in the similarly chart bothering Perfecto Mix), Thunder is diabolical. No one really remembers this beyond the chorus surely? Rumour has it Prince wrote it after a particularly troublesome acid trip. If that’s the case, he really should just say no.
The decision to include a full fat Thunder is intriguing, but more so was the decision to include The Shamen’s L.S.I. in a version which wasn’t even commercially available in the UK. Admirable as that may be, it may have been a good idea to promote that fact somewhere on the track listing. It certainly isn’t the version anyone who remembers it will recognise. Some hunting in the dark passages of online second hand record shops suggests this may be the ‘Shamen 7”’ version, only available in the USA. This is certainly the only version I can find with the same running time of 3’ 52” (ish) but can’t find an online version of that particular remix to verify.
Electronic’s Disappointed certainly did leave me feeling so, after the tremendous first album, even with the return of Neil Tennant on vocals. It’s no Getting Away With It. Much better is Shakespeare’s Sister’s I Don’t Care, a truly great forgotten tune. A great tune to follow Stay, it rode the coat tails of that massive success to score a top 10 hit it probably wouldn’t have been otherwise. This small section of quirky tunes continues with one of Carter USM’s worst tracks, Do Re Me So Far, So Good. It’s not a patch on their other 1992 tracks and seems a bizarre choice for inclusion. Less bizarre is the inclusion of the ridiculously popular Everything About You by Ugly Kid Joe. Hated everything about it then, hate everything about it now.
To polish off the first CD, we get two very contrasting dance tunes from opposite ends of the turntable. SL2’s On A Ragga Tip is not my thing at all. It sounds like a watered down version of whatever was the noisy reggae influenced variant of the day (there’s always a new one, I can’t keep up). Much more appealing, and the genuine shock inclusion on NOW 22, is The Orb’s Blue Room. Now the stuff of legend thanks to their Top Of The Pops appearance, this is wonderful after dinner mint of a track, cleansing the palate and drifting you off into the centre of the record. They definitely didn’t include the album version of this one though.
Anyone not convinced by the brilliance of NOW 22 will no doubt use CD 2 as their case for the prosecution. We’re very much in Dad country here, with a twist of dance at the end. But while, for the most part, there’s nothing particularly dreadful, there’s no stand out classics either. Things start badly with Richard Marx’s homage to the wonderful TV chiller Dark Knight of the Scarecrow, as the poor victim of a lynch mob baying for blood over the disappearance of a little girl. It’s a truly odd song since it never explains why everyone in town hates Marx and what, exactly, his relationship with the girl consisted of (he says she was the first person who looked at him with prejudice so of course they fall in love) but with so little extra detail, it can’t help but be construed as suspect. This isn’t a film of course, but if your song tells the story of the (implied) murder of a girl, and the subsequent man hunt, that’s pretty hefty stuff for a simple pop song. We need details, Dick. Like, did you do it? Go on, you can tell us. Your secret’s safe with us.
Almost certainly not a serial killer, Baldy Reg offers one of his lesser known, but most over blown, tracks with The One. Full of seaside sound effects (and dolphins, natch) for no apparent reason, it’s a pretty good number, reminiscent of a slowed down version of Healing Hands. Though lines about “drunken nights in dark hotels” and “when sex and love no longer gel” conjures images in my head that big stadium ballads probably shouldn’t summon and leave a very icky taste. Reg is back later on using the sheer force of will to implant himself on George Michael’s arena destroying version of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, a cover so ubiquitous and successful that karaoke singers ALWAYS say “ladies and gentlemen, Mr Elton John” when they do it now.
Roy Orbison’s take on I Drove All Night may have been better being sequenced after did-he-or-didn’t-he Marx, as it too creates a rather creepy atmosphere that maybe pop should leave alone. Far better than the Cyndi Lauper original, being sung by a man it does rather sound a bit more sinister than probably intended. Released four years after his death it was originally recorded BEFORE Lauper’s version, but was eventually released after being picked up by Jeff Lynne for production fairy dust duties on an album of unreleased material. Jennifer Connelly and (slightly less excitingly) Jason Priestly appear in the video.
Some would argue the real crime on show here, as opposed to the ones I’m dreaming up when listening to these innocuous songs, was that Jimmy Nail’s Ain’t No Doubt was such a big hit. Those people are idiots. Ain’t No Doubt, which to be fair is rarely heard these days, except perhaps ironically (ffs!) is a brilliant song. Nail does sing, and sings well. It’s far better than his horrible Crocodile Shoes nonsense which would fill the charts in the subsequent years, and it’s certainly original. Dad-friendly chart bothering continues with Joe Cocker’s “90s version” of Unchain My Heart (a Ray Charles standard) which sounds suspiciously similar to the version from 1987, but was re-released to plug a greatest hits album. It’s a cracker.
Less of a cracker is the only other Curtis Stigers song anyone remembers after I Wonder Why appeared on NOW 21. You’re All That Matter To Me is much better but still has a whiff of someone who’s been caught doing the do where he shouldn’t and a bunch of flowers just won’t cut it. I’m just suspicious of any man with more hair than a lion’s mane. While Stigers is pretty much forgotten now, I’m sure he’s still better remembered than Wilson Phillips’ You Won’t See Me Cry. Amazingly this was their second biggest UK hit after Hold On, but Christ knows why. The usual faultless harmonies are present and correct but it’s so bland to the point of sleepwalking. Structurally it’s identical to the more famous song, but done at a snail’s pace. I could well imagine this being popular with those American shows that have end of episode montages. It’s got a touch of the three-bottles-of-wine-down-air-punch about it, but is ultimately as cheesy as the sax solo I’d forgotten was there until I listened again just now.
This brings us to the most depressing sequence of songs on a NOW album so far, as Californian pop royalty’s long forgotten lament to lost love gives way to Crowded House’s Four Seasons In One Day and Annie Lennox’s Why. The New Zealanders’ track is one of their best, demonstrating their Rutles-like ability to craft songs which sound like White Album-era Beatles rip-offs but still retain their own unique identity (a trick shared by their near neighbours, the not-at-all-lamented Jellyfish). Lennox’s first solo track maybe caught people a bit unawares as it’s so different to her Eurythmics stuff. It’s a straight out tear-jerker, which is sadly lacking Dave Stewart’s knob twiddling and now sounds rather dated.
Following George and Reg’s duet, we get another horrendous Diana Ross track plugging the DOA album, the Force Behind the Power. Whilst When You Tell Me That You Love Me’s chart success warranted its inclusion on NOW 21, there are no such excuses for the drivel that is One Shining Moment. It may have scrambled its way to number 10, but it was the SEVENTH single from the album and there can’t have been too many casual listeners who would have complained had this not been included. Vanessa William’s gravy-flogging Save the Best Til Last demonstrates how bland pop could be at the time, and many fans of Desperate Housewives (or even the Arnie movie, Eraser) may be surprised that she had a successful career knocking out this kind of cotton wool before Hollywood beckoned.
Luckily things improve for a final flurry of dance-related pop which gives some hope for the rest of the year. En Vogue provide one of the best tracks on the compilation with My Lovin’, doing what Salt n’ Pepa should have been doing for the previous couple of years; sassy, sexy and bold without being vulgar. Christ I sound like an old man, but this is a world away from Let’s Talk About Sex. It’s got that New Jack Swing sound down to a tee (before it became the soundtrack for every boy racer cruising the seafront of my home town) and has lasted well. It’s a song of great moments (‘oooo….bop!’, ‘never gonna get it, no you’re never gonna get it’, and that wonderful doo-wop breakdown) but the whole is so well produced it was copied by so many acts over the years, including our own Eternal (of which we’ll hear more from later in the series).
Soul II Soul’s Joy is not as fondly remembered (if at all) as Jazzie B’s 1989 vintage, but it’s passable enough as a summer tune. But the real gem of NOW 22 is the final track. Incognito’s Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing frankly knocked my bloody socks off. Another of those tunes that was embedded in my brain from drunken under-age sessions in the ‘fun’ pubs of my youth (I swear it was played on loops in every bar) I hadn’t realised how good a tune it was. Songs don’t get much more uplifting and joyous as this. It’s got slightly cheap production (I don’t deal well with synthesised brass) and the vocal could pack a bit more of a punch, but this is hands down the best track on CD2, if not the whole album.
Maybe it was the surprise and warm fuzzy feeling that Incognito leaves that led me to so play up NOW 22 as a masterpiece at the start of the review. It’s not a masterpiece, and CD 2 does threaten to turn into a sad sack, drunken nightmare with your Dad standing in the corner tapping his feet asking what you’re listening to. Taken as a whole NOW 22 is the best entry since at least NOW 17, maybe even 11. And that’s without a game changing genre like House, or baggy to provide it with half a side of truly classic tunes. What it’s got is a brilliant selection of great pop tunes; few classics, but mostly these are tunes that have drifted form the public consciousness, or been replaced by other tunes by the same artists. Lose Nick Berry and a few of the tear jerkers from CD 2 and you’ve got a damn good party record here. Though it seems the makers didn’t agree. NOW 22 seems to have been all but abandoned if the TV ad is anything to go by.
Two songs plugged? Both of which had already been bought by anyone who wanted them?
With a third instalment incoming for Christmas, this would be the first time for three years NOW had released three albums in a year. Maybe they were keeping the marketing money for the big Christmas push?
NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC 22
27th July 1992
It Only Takes a Minute – Take That
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me – George Michael and Elton John
The Life of Riley – The Lightening Seeds
Midlife Crisis – Faith No More
|Take A Chance On Me||Erasure|
|Finally||Ce Ce Peniston|
|Please Don’t Go||KWS|
|It Only Takes A Minute||Take That|
|Rhythm Is A Dancer||Snap!|
|Something Good||Utah Saints|
|Friday I’m In Love||The Cure|
|The Days Of Pearly Spencer||Marc Almond|
|Bell Bottomed Tear||The Beautiful South|
|Thunder||Prince & The New Power Generation|
|Even Better Than The Real Thing||U2|
|I Don’t Care||Shakespears Sister|
|Do Re Me So Far So Good||Carter USM|
|Everything About You||Ugly Kid Joe|
|On A Ragga Tip||SL2|
|Blue Room||The Orb|
|The One||Elton John|
|I Drove All Night||Roy Orbison|
|Ain’t No Doubt||Jimmy Nail|
|Unchain My Heart||Joe Cocker|
|You’re All That Matters To Me||Curtis Stigers|
|You Won’t See Me Cry||Wilson Phillips|
|Four Seasons In One Day||Crowded House|
|Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me||George Michael And Elton John|
|One Shining Moment||Diana Ross|
|Save The Best For Last||Vanessa Williams|
|My Lovin’||En Vogue|
|Joy||Soul II Soul|
|Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing||Incognito|