Now That's What I Call A Music Blog

Now That’s What I Call Music 10 – Designed to satisfy your soul

Now_10Like your first kiss, the first time you got drunk, or the first 18-rated film you see (or X-rated if you’re a tad older than me), your first NOW album is special, and never forgotten. It may not be the best one (unless you’re very lucky) but it’s yours, and that makes it special. Of course the fact that probably around 50,000 also think it’s special is by the by. Since I’ve been writing this blog I’ve spoken to a few people about the NOW series and the one thing people always want to tell you about is the first NOW album they owned. They will then go to talk about the best ones (and sometimes the worst), but they always start with the first one, the important one. Mine was, you may have already guessed, NOW 10. Trouble is, I’ve got no idea why.

I’d been a music fan for years building a steady collection of LPs and singles procured as presents or when big brother forgot to send back the recommendation of the month to Britannia Music (one of the least lamented casualties of the record buying slump), but never a NOW album. My other other brother, who has far too many Simply Red CDs to have any taste in music, was always bringing home Hits Albums that he’d borrowed off schoolmates for home taping (which killed music, kids), but even as a pre-teen, I could tell they were an inferior product. Honest. To be fair this was probably down the fact that they didn’t have Duran Duran or Culture Club on them, and little else.

So, it’s odd that around Christmas 1987, a TV ad for NOW 10 suddenly got me excited…

Why this particular ad piqued my interest I’m not sure. MARRS and The Communards were definitely draws, but maybe, at the delicate age of 12, it was Carol Decker. Now, I should add Ms Decker never held a position in my affections like Debbie Harry, and later Belinda Carlisle did, but at the time I liked China in Your Hand. So a few nudges when the ad came on (as they did relentlessly in the run-up to Christmas) and that cold, and no doubt very damp, Yuletide morn, I was the owner of my first NOW album. Or rather, NOW tape… Records were still the order of the day for me and my brothers, though the parents had long since abandoned them for the magnetic strip, all the better to terrorise us with endless Kenny Rogers and Crystal Gayle in the car. But this was also the year of my first Walkman. Well, unbranded personal stereo at any rate. But unlike today’s youth who go bawling to Twitter on Christmas morning declaring their life ruined because their latest piece of £500 technological wonder is the wrong colour, I disappeared to my bedroom to absorb the wonders within, and my dad wouldn’t even have to tell me to turn that racket down… (The bloody thing did, however, require six (6!) batteries, which were quickly worn out by tea time.) Ironically, NOW 10 was the first to be released as a double CD, containing all the same tracks as on the album and tape. It was released in what is now referred to as a ‘fatbox’, rather than the double folded CD cases of today.

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NOW 10 is a curious beast, and as you’ve already seen by me prattling on for three paragraphs and barely mentioning it, it’s very difficult for me to review. There’s a lot of nostalgia wrapped up in every track, so even some of the awful songs (and there are a few) still generate that giddy excitement from back in the day. Others still sound amazing, while others still must have been skipped to the point of breaking the tape, so unmemorable that they are.

Fabulous was the first word that sprang to mind listening to side one again for the first time in what must be two decades. Freddie Mercury, The Pet Shop Boys and The Communards carry on camping for an opening salvo of brazen bravado. All three still sound wonderful; Barcelona particularly has an amazing timeless quality that makes it sound like it could have come from any time in the past 60 years. That horrid 80s production of The Great Pretender is successfully ditched in favour of sweeping, Cinemascope strings and a couple of truly lung-busting performances.

Rent is not one of the Pet Shop Boys better remembered tracks, and it’s surprisingly seedy for them, at least as a single (although that fits in with the very odd,  sleazy backwater motel sign design used for the cover). This was of course all lost on a young me who was just confused as to why it had been included over It’s A Sin, or the then chart-topping Always On My Mind. I’ve already mentioned my preference for The Communards version of Never Can Say Goodbye over Don’t Leave Me This Way, when discussing NOW 8, and that still remains.

From there, the sheer brilliance of NOW 10 continues with the first of its three number ones, the simply amazing Pump Up the Volume. I think this could be released today, in exactly the same format, and it would still be a massive hit, even if, at the time, it was simply a chart friendlier version of what other people (notably Cold Cut) were doing. It still sounds incredibly fresh today, maybe because this kind of cut and paste sampling has died out, in favour of stealing one hook and building a song around it. Whereas, say, Jack Your Body from NOW 9 sounded like it had been beamed in from the future, Pump Up The Volume sounds like it’s ALWAYS been here, no matter when ‘here’ might be, or when you first hear it, similar to I Saw Her Standing There, or Groove Is In The Heart. These songs were new once, but they sound like they’ve always been with us, and everybody knows and loves them.

Pop perfection continues with another of my all time favourites, Labour of Love. Hue and Cry never achieved massive success (despite the record company’s efforts to plug them on every NOW album, as we’ll see in due course) and this always baffled me. Now, I see it may have simply been bad timing: the image of soulful, jazzy pop groups was being tarnished by fly-by-night pretty boys and the ‘alternative scene’ that rejected people like Level 42 or The Blow Monkeys. So to be a new act in that milieu (no matter how good) was always going to be a tough challenge.

For a NOW album to begin strongly and then tail off is nothing unusual, but NOW 10 struggles to recover for the next 20 odd tracks.  Once Hue and Cry were out of the way, I would generally be done with side one, and fast forward to the end to indulge in the hair rock on side two. Unfortunately I can’t do that now, and instead I have to talk about how bland and forgettable Jellybean (who?), Johnny Hates Jazz and The Style Council are.

For the record, Jellybean was a producer for the likes of Madonna and Whitney who somehow snagged himself a record deal, where he brought in guest vocalists to perform his turgid, appallingly bland New York disco soul tunes, all of which have that weird ‘bubble’ sound and synthesised hand claps all over them. I think the arrogance of producers crediting themselves as the main artist, with a “featuring” credit for the singer is appalling. It’s like Never Gonna Give You Up being billed as Stock, Aitken and Waterman featuring Rick Astley. But then I suppose sleeping with Madonna does tend to give people an inflated sense of self-worth. Well, it would, wouldn’t it? He appears on the next two NOW albums too, but I may not mention them as they are sooo tedious, you won’t even notice. And he’s got crap hair.

Jellybean... insert your own joke here

Jellybean… insert your own joke here

Johnny Hates Jazz next (representing everything bad I was talking about in relation to Hue and Cry) singing some weak soul-jazz pop tune about Vietnam, two years after everyone else had got bored of the whole thing. And speaking of boring, there’s The Style Council, with their most tedious tune ever. It’s actually so tiresome, I’d forgotten it was on the album. As a kid I hated The Style Council for the simple reason that they weren’t The Jam, but listening to Wanted in adulthood, I feel I was perfectly justified (with the exception of Walls Come Tumbling Down). Maybe out of sympathy, NOW 10 omits the tracks’ subtitle Waiter, There’s a Soup In My Fly… this is the man who wrote Town Called Malice for Christ’s sake.

The imposter, left, who stood in for Paul Weller for several years in the 1980s

The imposter, left, who stood in for Paul Weller for several years in the 1980s

Side two takes us into the Soft Metal arena. Soft Metal was all the rage in the late 80s, even acquiring their own compilation series, but it seems oddly alien now being one of the few genres that hasn’t been revived over the past decade or so. Or has it? Thinking more about it I think Soft Metal lives on, but not in the obvious places. Surely the children of T’Pau and Heart are the X Factor winners and, even more disturbingly, the so-called alternative acts who regularly fill Wembley Stadium (Clodplay (sic), Snow Patrol and their sordid, twisted demented inspirations)?

China In Your Hand is clearly the titan of side two, a massive hit, and still loved by drunken women, and a few men, country-wide. I have a preference for the earlier hit, Heart and Soul, but as we’ve previously seen, that’s probably just because I’m awkward. Heart’s Alone is also a skyscraper of a song, which can still generate fist-pumping impressions given the right amount of alcohol. When watching this on The Chart Show, I had no idea they had been successful in the USA for a full decade before their break in the UK, and the same goes for Kiss. Crazy Crazy Nights was their biggest ever UK hit (equalled by God Gave Rock n Roll To You a few years later) and listened to now, it’s got a wonderful touch of nostalgia to it, far removed from where heavy metal was going at the time. Kiss had been the wild men in the 70s, but by the late 80s that crown had well and truly passed onto to the likes of Megadeth or our own Iron Maiden. Lyrically, Crazy Crazy Nights is pretty good, but musically there’s more than a whiff of fromage about it. They’re not even wearing the make up on the publicity shot on the album!

Billy Idol’s Mony Mony was, I should confess, a favourite of mine in my youth, and was the only track on side two I’d regularly listen to. The version here is the live version, which was a re-release in 1987. He’d originally recorded it in 1981 in an attempt to break America, but it didn’t fare very well. That version is now more common, but is incredibly insipid compared to the live version on offer on NOW 10. Incredibly insipid in ANY version is Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again, another track re-recorded after an initial airing  earlier in the decade. Whitesnake’s brand of leather-trousered, big-haired (not to mention big-shouldered) rock has never appealed to me. They are the kind of band that should have disbanded in shame, once Spinal Tap had come out. At least with Def Leppard you never felt they were taking themselves too seriously. Whitesnake take themselves VERY seriously. And when you release albums called things like Slide It In, Slip of the Tongue and Lick My Love Pump, you really shouldn’t.

The cast of Dynasty, circa 1987

The cast of Dynasty, circa 1987

(Lick My Love Pump is, of course a Spinal Tap album, but I bet you didn’t notice straight away…)

The surprise, for me at least, on side two is The Alarm’s Rain In The Summertime. Often dismissed, by lazy bloggers like me, as the Welsh U2, The Alarm are remembered now pretty much as one-hit wonders, with the floor stomping, and still great, drunken shouty classic, 68 Guns. Rain In The Summertime is much mellower than that, but it’s also really good. Even the blurb on the album expresses surprise that it only reached number 18. It does sound like good U2 though.

I don’t know why NOW persisted with Marillion, but they did. Here Fish talks his way through something called Sugar Mice. We’re all just sugar mice in the rain, apparently. What are sugar mice anyway? Does he mean chocolate mice that you used to get in 10p mix ups? Who knows what goes on in his poisson brain?

We’re back in the pop zone on side three, and that’s pretty much where we will stay for the duration, as the collection ends on a surprisingly upbeat note compared to the usual slow crawl to the end of side four.

Wet Wet Wet’s legacy, sadly, will be that bloody Four Weddings song, but they were always better than that. Sweet Little Mystery is a great pop tune, though they would end up doing better. Curiosity Killed The Cat continue to disappoint me though. I thought I loved this tune, but it is in fact only slightly less boring than Down To Earth, even if that keyboard riff is a killer. And all I can see when I hear it is a smug bloke in a beret in an alleyway. Try that round my way mate and you’ll end up in a wheelie bin being identified by dental records.

frank_spencer

“Misfit, freak out on the street. I can see sorrow in your eyes…”

If you’ve seen the track listing before reading this, have you guessed what the third number one is, after Pump Up The Volume and China In Your Hand? Well if you saw the track listing but couldn’t work it out, it should surprise you not one iota that it’s the next track on side three. Yes, long forgotten now, but Los Locos’ La Bamba hit number one for a fortnight in that long hot summer of 1987 (was it a long, hot summer, or do people just say that about summer’s when they were a kid?). Even less remembered now than the track itself, is the fact that it was from a film version of Richie Valens’ life, who had the original hit with hit. Lou Diamond Philips did a good job as Valens, but the film is a TV movie with added boobs and swearing. The tune is  like all those horror film remakes littering up cinemas for the past few years: efficient, well-done, pointless.

I thought I’d hate Wipeout, the Fat Boys’ first UK hit (yes, they had more than one). I don’t get on with comedy records at the best of times, so the idea of a comedy rap record, and one featuring the Beach Boys no less, adding lyrics to one of the finest instrumental surf epics of all time… let’s just say, it’s not as bad as that sounds. The Fat Boys can clearly rap (though I’m no expert) and it’s got the same raucous energy that The Beastie Boys were currently sending shockwaves round Middle England with, but much more friendly. Teaming with a Brian Wilson-less Beach Boys obviously helped their credibility somewhat and probably did the Beach Boys’ credibility no harm either. It’s fun. Pop is supposed to be fun. Also fun is Bananarama’s Love In The First Degree, but it’s an absolute pop puff that vanishes as soon as it’s finished.

I wish I could say the same for Cliff Richard. The man is like the Terminator: it can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with, and it absolutely will not stop… ever. My Pretty One has probably been forgotten by everyone except Cliff and his accountant, and just as well, despite Cliff briefly showing the kind of emotion not seen since Carrie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.

Words cannot express how this picture is making me feel. You can feel it to, can't you?

Words cannot express how this picture is making me feel. You can feel it too, can’t you?

Also probably long forgotten is Karel Fialka. His Hey Matthew is the curveball of NOW 10, a truly odd sonnet to his young son, featuring his young son, about what his son sees on TV, and what he wants to do. I’m not sure what the purpose is, beyond showcasing his son, but it’s not unpleasant. Just odd. Hearing a kid repeating “I see the A Team” is an experience never forgotten. Thanks to my boyhood experiences of NOW 10, Hey Matthew will forever be associated with Crockett’s Theme. usually played in Miami Vice when Don Johnson was speeding his Ferrari round Miami after seeing another girlfriend gunned down by bad guys. It’s a marvellous piece, and did even better in the charts than the Miami Vice Theme. For future generations after mine, it’s after the music from them bank adverts, or the best song to just drive around to in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

For the first time since Ghostbusters, NOW 10 found itself sharing a song with a rival Hits album, as Nina Simone’s rereleased My Baby Just Cares For Me appears here and on Hits 7. I had to check why this had been released, and it turns out it had been used in a perfume advert. This completely passed me by as a kid, being more enamoured with the Aardman-directed stop motion video of a stray cat nightclub. Of course, the song is brilliant. Also brilliant is Erasure’s The Circus, which gives me the sense of being one of their few overtly political songs, a feeling I get with the Housemartins’ Build as well. Maybe it’s the timing of this review (Thatcher has just been buried) but I feel there were a lot more sly songs about the times than outright protest songs, and I’d put both these songs in that bracket.

Level 42’s It’s Over is in no way political, but what it shares with the 80s is its cold, hard cynicism and downright callousness. I’m not a huge fan of Level 42, but I like them. But this… this is unbelievable stuff. From the first line of “I won’t be here when you come home…” it’s intended to be an 80s version of By the Time I Get To Phoenix, but this is on another level entirely. “I would never leave if I thought you couldn’t stand the pain” sings bass thumper Mark King. Well, if that’s the case sunshine, why then admit that not only are you breaking her heart, you are also tearing her world apart? This is really harsh stuff, and frankly, it’s not a pleasant listen, particularly as King’s co-conspirator, Mike Lindup, is the son of David Lindup who wrote some of the most glorious library music of all time, including this. And don’t give me any of this “I can feel the tears” bollocks either. It just isn’t gonna wash now.

Thankfully, ABC make a triumphant return to the charts with When Smokey Sings, which, shockingly, failed to make the top ten. For shame. A glorious tribute to Smokey Robinson, even cheekily nicking a few riffs from his hits, this is the kind of pop pomp that Martin Fry can pull off in his sleep, and it’s amazing to me it didn’t happen more often. The version here is the single version, now rare, with a different instrumental break, and no shout outs to other artists found on the version on the album, Alphabet City, and their various greatest hits compilations. Similar great pop is provided by Squeeze’s Hourglass. It’s unusual for a NOW album to sequence tracks like this so close to the end of the album, preferring to slow things down, or include some lesser known, or less successful tracks. Not here.

They do finish the album with, simply, one of the greatest songs ever included on a NOW album, if not one of the finest songs ever, Fairytale of New York. Released the very same day as NOW 10, they couldn’t possibly have known how well the single was going to do, or the legacy it would have. Neither The Pogues or Kirsty MacColl were regular chart botherers, and Christmas songs were never included on NOW albums, at least not up to this point. As I discussed with reference to the Hits albums, including Christmas songs on a NOW album, could potentially impact on the single’s sales, as people plump for the value for money option. It’s easy to speculate that maybe Fairytale…  (or A Fairy Tale… as it’s incorrectly named here) may have done better than a very respectable number three had it not been included on NOW 10, so I will. Including it on NOW 10 buggered up its chances of Christmas number one. Yes, it was beaten by a better song (Pet Shop Boys’ brilliant cover of Always On My Mind) but it’s the better Christmas song, as countless polls annually tell us.

Legend

Legend

For once the final track doesn’t send you to sleep, it instead makes you realise how odd it is to listen to Christmas songs in April. And why including Christmas songs on NOW albums is a bad idea. I’ve spotted a couple more on a brief recce of the first fifty albums, but they are still very rare. It’s a fine send off for the album too. For half a side at either end it’s absolutely spot on. There’s few actual duffers (except maybe Marillion and Cliff) but the good stuff just goes to highlight how bland and slightly embarrassing most of the rest is.

But it’s mine, dammit, and you can’t take that away from me.

 

NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC 10

Release date

23rd November 1987

Biggest tracks

China In Your Hand – T’Pau

Pump Up The Volume – MARRS

The Final Countdown – Europe

Lost gems

Rain in the Summertime – The Alarm

Hey Matthew – Karel Fialka

Forgotten tracks

Wanted – The Style Council

Sugar Mice – Marillion

What’s missing

True Faith  – New Order

What Have I Done To Deserve This? -Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield

It’s A Sin – Pet Shop Boys

 

Track listing

Side one
Barcelona Freddie Mercury And Montserrat Caballe
Rent Pet Shop Boys
Never Can Say Goodbye The Communards
Pump Up The Volume M/A/R/R/S
Labour Of Love Hue And Cry
The Real Thing Jellybean Featuring Steven Dante
I Don’t Want To Be A Hero Johnny Hates Jazz
Wanted The Style Council
Side two
China In Your Hand T’Pau
Alone Heart
Crazy Crazy Nights Kiss
Mony Mony Billy Idol
Here I Go Again (USA Remix) Whitesnake
Rain In The Summertime The Alarm
Sugar Mice Marillion
Side three
Sweet Little Mystery Wet Wet Wet
Misfit Curiosity Killed The Cat
La Bamba Los Lobos
Wipe Out The Beach Boys & The Fat Boys
Love In The First Degree Bananarama
My Pretty One Cliff Richard
Hey Matthew Karel Fialka
Crockett’s Theme Jan Hammer
Side four
My Baby Just Cares For Me Nina Simone
The Circus Erasure
Build The Housemartins
It’s Over Level 42
When Smokey Sings ABC
Hourglass Squeeze
Fairytale Of New York The Pogues Featuring Kirsty MacColl

  

Video version

This is the first NOW video edition where every track is from the accompanying album.

Barcelona Freddie Mercury And Montserrat Caballe
Rent Pet Shop Boys
Never Can Say Goodbye The Communards
Pump Up The Volume M/A/R/R/S
China In Your Hand T’Pau
Here I Go Again (USA Remix) Whitesnake
Sweet Little Mystery Wet Wet Wet
Alone Heart
Misfit Curiosity Killed The Cat
La Bamba Los Lobos
Love In The First Degree Bananarama
My Pretty One Cliff Richard
My Baby Just Cares For Me Nina Simone
The Circus Erasure
It’s Over Level 42

 

2 Responses to Now That’s What I Call Music 10 – Designed to satisfy your soul

  1. Pingback: Now That's What I Call A Music Blog | 30 Years of NOW – The Christmas Album Part 1 (1985-2000)

  2. grayejectbutton says:

    This was my first ever Now album. Christmas 1987. My grandparents’ house. Great stuff. Actually, this and Now 11 were the only Now’s I had on vinyl. I moved on to cassette with Now 14 (skipping Now 12, which I would buy a pre-owned copy of later, and Now 13 which failed to win me over so I went with Hits 9 that year).

    I always felt Now 10 was one of the better entries in the series. Now 9 was great and contained far more number 1 hits but a lot of those were cover versions, something that was toned down a lot in Now 10. I also always liked Now 10’s design, very minimalist with a simple stage light shining on the logo.

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