Now! That’s What I Call Music 3 – Can U Pig It?
NOW! continued its first full year in the summer of 1984, with the release of NOW 3. And it’s a porker! It’s the pig one! Compilations don’t get much pigger than this! It’s so big I may need a ham with this review.
Sorry, I’ll stop being silly now.
It’s just that the pig made his triumphant debut as a cover star, advert leading man (voiced, of course, by Brian Glover) and general ‘face’ of NOW! As we’ve already seen, the pig has an important role to play in the glorious history of NOW!, but it’s still a bit… odd. There’s no obvious connection between a walking bacon sandwich and pop music. Maybe someone at the design agency thought it was a nice way to honour the origins of the name (see here). Maybe someone over a lunchtime beer thought it was hilarious to put sunglasses on a pig. Google “pig sunglasses” and you’ll see a great number of the world’s population think it still is. For whatever reason, the pig was here, and for a while, he would remain. Though he would remain in the subconcious of a great many pop fans for a lot longer.
Definitely not odd is the first appearance of the ‘classic’ NOW! logo. I say classic in inverted commas deliberately because it’s really only classic for anyone who remembers the albums from 3 to 17 in the series. To be fair, 15 albums using the same logo not only shows tremendous faith in the brand, but also the ingenuity of the various designers who would work on the series.
After the legendary balls logo (and an almost suicidal rebrand at NOW 18, which we’ll come to in due course) NOW! has relied on the other classic design of bloody big blocky text in some abstract landscape. It works, otherwise they wouldn’t have continued with it for over 20 years. But back in the 80s, bright colours and lightning bolts were where it was at.
Red, blue, green balls, Impact font (a design classic, if one that’s sadly overused) and a yellow lightning bolt. For my generation it’s as iconic as the Coke ribbon, the Nike swoosh or the Apple…er…apple. Within the design, ‘NOW’ remains the focus, with ‘Music’ secondary but still important. I think it’s clear, and the spines of the albums back this up, that at this point, the marketers were happy for us to approximate the unwieldy full title to the more compact ‘Now Music’. The public, of course, would soon have their own ideas in due course.
Released at the end of July, just as the school summer holidays kicked off, natch, NOW 3 would have an extra month of chart hits to plunder over its sadly disappointing predecessor. Although only containing 3 number ones, it’s a significantly stronger line-up, and don’t forget, had Two Tribes not dominated the top spot for an astonishing nine weeks (!), there could have been a few more chart toppers to choose from (though as many of the number two’s from the period later turned up on the first Hits Album later in the year, maybe the rival record companies were a bit more reluctant to license their hits to the NOW! boys, despite appearances here for some of those same labels’ hottest artists like Wham and Howard Jones).
Even given that, the track listing, at least for the first half is top drawer, and chock-a-block with winners, kicking off with the biggest players in town at the time, Duran Duran. Amazingly, in hindsight, The Reflex was only the Durans 2nd number one, and it would be their last too. Sales were no doubt helped by the fact the single version was massively re-worked from the version on their album, Seven and the Ragged Tiger, from which this was the third single. It is brilliant though. Also benefitting from new versions was Frankie Goes to Hollywood, with Two Tribes being released in about 4,675 different formats and remixes, which no doubt helped it squat in the top spot for so long (its predecessor, Relax, would later join it by returning up the charts to number two). The third number one, and along with the Durans and Frankie, vying for the title of chart kings at the time, was Wham’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, kicking off Side Four. When you factor in seminal tracks from Queen, Bananarama, Nik Kershaw and Tina Turner, this is getting on for one of the strongest line-ups in the series. And Ashley Abram does a brilliant job compiling it too, keeping the mood up for the first half of each side, before slowly mellowing out towards the end. Look at the track listing at the end and you’ll see, only a master of his craft could get you seamlessly from The Reflex to Against All Odds before you’ve even noticed. This is textbook stuff, and this style would continue through the series.
Added to this is the fact that there’s no attempt at a themed side this time out. Everything is in the mix, but perfectly pieced together: who would have thought Sister Sledge would sit so comfortably between the synth noodlings of Nik Kershaw and OMD, or that The Weather Girls would be so cosy next to (whisper it) Gary Glitter. Or that the frankly bizarre (in NOW! terms) Dr Mabuse by Propaganda would be included at all.
Now, I have nothing against avant-garde German synth acts, but this is perhaps the strangest thing to ever appear on a NOW! album. Looked at from a modern perspective it makes little sense: the track had made the charts months before, so was not included in the anticipation of it being a breakout hit; it was not Propaganda’s biggest hit either, that honour falling to the much-more chart friendly Duel, which oddly didn’t make the cut for NOW 5 a year later .(If there was any justice it would have been a massive hit too, but their label, ZTT, were using their meagre promotional resources for the unexpected success of Frankie Goes to Hollywood.) Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that more esoteric stuff like this did make it onto the albums, and this is probably the best example of a decent tune that didn’t make the grade chart-wise, but was still considered worthy of inclusion. This must have been a personal choice for someone…
Also filed in the ‘Huh?’ category, and conveniently finishing off the final side, we find the aforementioned Mr Gadd, with the dreadful Dance Me Up, sounding like a poppier version of Public Image Limited (his only NOW! appearance beyond a sampled appearance on Doctorin’ the Tardis on NOW 12), some rather painful, Dutch white reggae courtesy of one hit wonders, The Art Company (real name, the slightly more unwieldy, VOF de Kunst, and yes I checked the spelling there). There’s a brief respite with one of Madness’ serious tracks (and therefore one of their least successful), their ode to London’s homeless, One Better Day, before finishing up with Japan lead man David Sylvian’s first solo single (in credit at least), Red Guitar. It’s a lovely, smoky, 80s jazz tune completely out of place with anything else on the album. And like Propaganda, it seems a slightly off-kilter inclusion.
In this respect NOW 3 does a much better job of balancing the massive chart hits with the slightly more left-field choices. It’s also probably the first album in the series to truly know its target market: kids and teenagers. Every self-respecting pop fan is going to welcome Duran Duran, Wham and Nik Kershaw into their record collection. The cooler kids will be happy to proclaim that they’ve also loved the post-Kraftwerk Kraut-Synth (I just made that up, but I think I might stick a copyright label on it) and the jazz stylings of former New Romantics.
Dad rock is kept to a bare minimum, the initial stirrings of rap get a look in, good and bad reggae pop up, and, interestingly, British music dominates. If there’s an over-riding feel it’s of Roland synths and those god-awful electronic drums. It is definitely a snapshot of a moment, but thankfully it was a pretty good moment. And the public agreed, keeping NOW 3 at number for a staggering 8 weeks, long after the summer holidays had given way autumn. This was a record that would never be topped by a NOW! album while they were still permitted on the regular chart (they would be turfed out to a ‘Compilation Top 20’ after NOW 13). They didn’t call it “The Pig One” for nothing…
NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC 3
23rd July 1984
The Reflex – Duran Duran
Two Tribes – Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Wake Me Up before You Go-Go – Wham
It’s Raining Men – The Weather Girls
Don’t Tell Me – Blancmange
Love Wars – Womack & Womack
Dance Me Up – Gary Glitter
The Lebanon – Human League
Absolute – Scritti Politti
|Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Locomotion|
|Simple Minds – Up On the Catwalk*|
|Thompson Twins – You Take Me Up|
|Madness – One Better Day|
|Farmers Boys – In the Country*|
|Helen Terry – Love Lies Lost*|
|Loose Ends – Emergency (Dial 999)*|
|Working Week – Venceremos*|
|Tina Turner – What’s Love Got to Do With It|
|Phil Collins – Against All Odds (Take a Look At Me Now)|
|Talk Talk – Dum Dum Girl*|
|Kajagoogoo – Turn Your Back on Me*|
|Gary Glitter – Dance Me Up|
|The Mighty Wah – Come Back*|
|I-Level – Our Song*|
|Limahl – Too Much Trouble*|
|The Flying Pickets – When You’re Young and In Love|
|Thomas Dolby – I Scare Myself*|
|Blue Nile – Tinseltown In The Rain*|
|David Sylvian – Red Guitar|
Categories: Now Albums Tags: Alison Moyet, Bananarama, Blancmange, Bob Marley, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Brian Glover, Bronski Beat, Cyndi Lauper, David Sylvian, Duran Duran, emi, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Gary Glitter, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Howard Jones, Jimmy Sommerville, Madness, Nik Kershaw, now, Now balls, now that's what I call music, OMD, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Paul Weller, Phil Collins, pig, Propaganda, Queen, Sister Sledge, The Art Company, The Bluebells, The Flying Pickets, The Special AKA, The Style Council, The Thompson Twins, The Weather Girls, Tina Turner, Ultravox, virgin, Wham, Womack & Womack