Now That's What I Call A Music Blog

Now That’s What I Call Music 6 – Re-election day

now 6Christmas 1985 would see NOW reclaim its crown, in some style. Not only did NOW 6 indicate a return to form, but they also had the trump card of the Now Christmas Album. I’ll discuss the Christmas album (and its various incarnations) elsewhere, but it was a cunning one-two, releasing both within a fortnight of each other, that Hits just didn’t see coming. Released the same day as Hits 3, NOW 6 won out. It had a stronger line-up, better design, and the now all-important brand loyalty. What better way is there is to make people feel all warm and fuzzy about your brand than selling them a lovely, festive collection of classic Christmas hits?

Despite being released earlier, The Christmas Album didn’t hit the top until the week before Christmas, being kept off by NOW 6, but also by another pretender to the throne: Telstar’s Greatest Hits of 1985. Telstar had been set up a few years previously, and specialised in compilation albums, usually accompanied by a heavy TV marketing campaign. The Greatest Hits of… series would continue into the 90s, but were never a serious threat to NOW as with only one release a year, most of the tracks would have already featured on either of the competing series’ offerings, and those that were exclusive to the album would rarely warrant an additional purchase. 1985’s release did feature Paul Hardcastle’s 19, a rare number one which neither NOW or Hits had included; however it also featured several songs from 1984 including Everything She Wants, Ghostbusters and Do They Know It’s Christmas. It managed a solitary week at number one before the big boys moved back in, NOW 6 and NOW The Christmas Album racking up 6 consecutive weeks between them.

Speaking of number 1’s, NOW 6 manages to include four, the most since NOW 2, whereas Hits 3 managed only two, one of which, Frankie, had already appeared on NOW 5. (The other was Jennifer Rush’s The Power of Love. Hits 3 also featured Huey Lewis and The News’ The Power of Love, but not Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power of Love. 1985 was a confusing year for pop fans.)  Things like that don’t go unnoticed. At least not by people like me.

With the pig now sent to the slaughterhouse, a new team brought a more sophisticated look to the album. For this, and the next 10 releases, NOW’s look and feel would be more commonly seen on contemporary cigarette ads than the brash, strutting, look of the Hits series. The NOW! Logo would find itself in various strange locations and scenarios, but never appear out of place. Here it appears as a label inside a leather jacket (this may not be immediately apparent, but the TV ad makes it explicit). It’s a nice idea, and very understated compared to its predecessors. No more Max Headroom-a-like, eye-straining, gut-wrenching, lasers and stripes and whatnot. Simple, clean, efficient. Much like the content, which, after an astonishingly good start, stumbles a bit, before regaining its composure to throw up a few pleasant surprises. As the tagline on the back exclaims: Feel the quality.

You really can’t argue with side one, at least until the final two tracks. Kicking off with Queen’s One Vision, through Nik Kershaw’s first flop single (but also probably his best), the Maria McKee-penned A Good Heart, the absolutely stunning There Must be An Angel (for me, the best song on a NOW album so far) and Simple Minds perennial Alive and Kicking, it’s about as good a start as a NOW Album has ever had. The final two tracks hint at the mood change to come (Empty Rooms and Lavender both being examples of the overwrought balladry far too popular with rock acts of the time; too well-made to be labelled as ‘soft rock’ they don’t particularly warrant multiple listens unless you’ve got a bottle of whiskey and some paracetamol to hand). The Bryan Adams and Tina Turner collaboration which straddles the gap between the good and the dreary, manages to be both at the same time, featuring a cracking opening riff which dissolves into a deathly dull, well, Bryan Adams song, which just happens to have Tina Turner on it. She pops up again on side two, singing about her thunderdomes.

Dreariness continues on side two where Phil Collins, Cliff Richard and Elton John battle it out for the prize of most insipid ballad ever on a NOW album, while Kate Bush valiantly delivers Running Up That Hill amid the gloom. Level 42 seems a welcome respite in the midst of this, and Something About You stands up pretty well.

Side three is a very odd assortment. Whilst it features two number ones (If I Was, and UB40, in collaboration with Chrissie Hynde on I Got You Babe), it’s also possibly, the worst charting side of tracks so far. Of the rest, only one made the top ten. The fact that that one track is Arcadia’s none-more-80s Election Day probably has more to with the fact that they were a side project for Duran Duran than for the fact that it’s a good song. It’s not. It’s stupid, nonsensical, pretentious claptrap which, to make matters worse, features an uncredited cameo from Grace Jones. But, dammit, it’s got something I can’t put my finger on.

Eighties, by day we run, by night we dance!

Eighties; by day we run, by night we dance!

Of the remaining 5 tracks, Lost Weekend was the only one to make the top 20; Uncle Sam and Cities in Dust both stalled at 21, The Communards rather lovely, and under-valued, You Are My World only hit 30 (though their time would come soon enough), and the Fine Young Cannibals make history as Blue is he first single to feature on a NOW Album not to make the top 40. The anti-Tory declamation is no Ghost Town, but it’s a pretty good tune, to be fair, and puzzling that it did so poorly after the top ten success of Johnny Come Home (this may be explained by it appearing, in a different version, on the b-side of that single). The inclusion of Lloyd Cole and a rare appearance for Siouxsie suggests the compilers were still keen to get some exposure for less mainstream acts, but it always feels more like tokenism than because the artists warrant inclusion on the basis on chart performance.

Incidentally, going back to UB40, as on NOW 1, they make two appearances, with the dreary, repetitive Don’t Break My Heart fitting in right at home on side two. And is just me, or does Ali Campbell sound just like Jim Davidson doing his horrible Chalky voice on I Got You Babe?

Even just using a picture of Jim Davidson for witty illustrative purposes made me sick a little in my mouth, so here's a kitten instead.

Even just using a picture of Jim Davidson for witty illustrative purposes made me sick a little in my mouth, so here’s a kitten instead.

The ghettoised dance side finds itself closing out the album this time, instead of the more usual maudlin closing numbers, and things start off with Paul Hardcastle’s ridiculous For the Money. This was one of the tunes that I had no recollection of until I heard it again, and suddenly it all came flooding back. A truly ‘of its day’ affair, it combines sub-Herbie Hancock synth twiddling with Laurence Olivier talking about ‘money being the root of all evil’, while Bob Hoskins tries to convince another cock-er-nee geezah (Hardcastle himself!) to pull a blag with him, with the persuasive line “Just fink abaht the moneee!” and “it’s the life o’ luxury!” over and over and over again. It’s a bit like an 80s version of Sexy Beast, with Hoskins in the Ben Kingsley role, but slightly less frightening, particularly with his clichéd “just don’t mess it up or the only place you’ll be gahn is dahn the Scrubs!”. All this, plus two badly accented bit part actors pretending to be 1920’s Chicago gangsters (one of whom turned out to be Hollywood bit part actor Ed O’Ross; he dies in nearly every 80s action movie), and some swooning backing singers making the whole thing sound more like one of the song parodies from Alexei Sayle’s Stuff.  Though it’s worth it for the sound of Lord Larry having his voice scratched.

Jan Hammer’s Miami Vice Theme is the perfect antidote to all that nonsense, being a brilliant example of how electronic music (still sniffed at in most quarters even in 1985) can be evocative, exciting and somehow timeless too. Three things that most certainly DON’T apply to Maria Vidal’s Body Rock, a shameless rip-off of Madonna’s Borderline (though also oddly sounding like Open Your Heart, six months before its release), or Baltimora’s horrible Tarzan Boy.

The long-forgotten Mai Tai make a return with another nice, fun, dance track. Heart and Soul is another of those songs that you know you’ve heard countless times before but can never remember its title or who it’s by.  It seems odd they only had the two hits (this and History, which featured on NOW 5), as they were certainly no worse than some comparable acts who achieved more success at the time. Like Cameo. Now I like Word Up as much as the next person, but there’s something extremely icky about Single Life. From the opening, which is EXACTLY the same as Word Up, this tells the story of some guy, who you know has a penthouse apartment with black chrome shelves, metal chairs and a Playboy bunny quilt cover. Hearing the giant codpiece singing about the single life just creeps me out, and like the aural equivalent of rohypnol, it’s liable to send you to sleep and when you wake up you’ll feel utterly violated.

tom-savini

Word up

This brings us disgustingly onto Mated, a second duet betweenJaki Graham and David Grant. Even as a ten-year old, this title seemed wrong, just a bit too animalistic for what sounds like a sickly, sweet love song about finding your soul-mate. It’s not my cup of tea at all, and hearing them croon “We are mated” at each other just turns my stomach. I’d argue it’s one of the least romantic romantic songs ever, and a disappointing end to the album.

nowmastermindAn interesting design choice was taken on the inside this time, in a rare case of NOW taking a nod from Hits. On the gatefold, the blurbs are now accompanied by album covers rather than the standard star photos, at least in most cases. Level 42 miss out, presumably, because the artwork for World Machine wasn’t ready, though the album is mentioned, but poor old Mai tai’s album had been out since June, and since it only got to number 91 they probably could have done with having it plugged better than it is here!

The rear cover also, teasingly, says “You’ve heard the record, now buy the book”… The book? Now That’s What I Call Music Mastermind, a quiz book compiled by Ashley Abram himself, was available at the time for “a steal at £2.99”. A scurry round the interwebs finds there only appears to be two copies left in existence, both going for over £60! I did find a picture of the cover though, which in a rare case of branding inconsistency, still features the pig. It also looks incredibly cheap compared to the albums.

So, NOW was back on top. For the next couple of years, an uneasy cold war between the two compilation behemoths would see them only releasing one album each during the year (Hits at Easter, NOW in the summer) with both going head-to-head at Christmas. It was their biggest, most lucrative, time of the year so neither was willing to yield that, and there was always the possibility that a strong line-up could see Hits go back on top. In a years’ time they would get the chance, but until then NOW had seven months to prepare its next chart attack.

 

NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC 6

Release date

25th November 1985

Biggest tracks

One Vision – Queen

Alive and Kicking – Simple Minds

There Must be An Angel (Playing with my Heart) – Eurythmics

Lost gems

When a Heart Beats – Nik Kershaw

You Are My World – The Communards

Forgotten tracks

Blue – Fine Young Cannibals

She’s So Beautiful – Cliff Richard

Just For Money – Paul Hardcastle

Single Life – Cameo

What’s missing

Money for Nothing  – Dire Straits

White Wedding – Billy Idol

Dancing in the Street – David Bowie and Mick Jagger

(A case could also be made for West End Girls, by The Pet Shop Boys, as it does appear on the accompanying video, but to be fair to the compilers, it only charted at number the week that NOW 6 was released, and, as a first single, there was no indication of what a huge hit it would be, except for the fact that it was brilliant.)

Track listing

Side One
One Vision Queen
When A Heart Beats Nik Kershaw
A Good Heart Feargal Sharkey
There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart) Eurythmics
Alive And Kicking Simple Minds
It’s Only Love (Live) Tina Turner With Bryan Adams
Empty Rooms Gary Moore
Lavender Marillion
Side Two
Nikita Elton John
Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) Kate Bush
Something About You Level 42
We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome) Tina Turner
Don’t Break My Heart UB40
Separate Lives Phil Collins & Marilyn Martin
She’s So Beautiful Cliff Richard
Side Three
Election Day Arcadia
I Got You Babe UB40 Featuring Chrissie Hynde
Blue Fine Young Cannibals
If I Was Midge Ure
Cities In Dust Siouxsie & The Banshees
Uncle Sam Madness
Lost Weekend Lloyd Cole & The Commotions
You Are My World The Communards
Side Four
Just For Money Paul Hardcastle
Miami Vice Theme Jan Hammer
Body Rock Maria Vidal
Tarzan Boy (Original Version) Baltimora
Body And Soul Mai Tai
Single Life Cameo
Mated David Grant & Jaki Graham

 

Video version

The video version contained five tracks not featured on the main album (marked with *)

Queen – One Vision
Fergal Sharkey – A Good Heart
Kate Bush – Running Up that Hill (A Deal With God)
UB40 featuring Chrissie Hynde – I Got You Babe
Madness – Uncle Sam
Marillion – Lavender
Bryan Adams & Tina Turner – It’s Only Love
Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls*
Thompson Twins – King for a Day*
Simple Minds – Alive and Kicking
Depeche Mode – It’s Called A Heart*
David Grant And Jaki Graham – Mated
Gary Moore – Empty Rooms
The Cult – Revolution*
Baltimora – Tarzan Boy
Ian Dury – Profoundly In Love With Pandora*
Cliff Richard – She’s So Beautiful
UB40 – Don’t Break My Heart
Arcadia – Election Day

 

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