Now That’s What I Call Music 7 – Let’s make lots of money
To talk about NOW 7, you have to have a copy to hand. And I don’t mean a digital copy, or a playlist made from the track listing. You have to have an actual physical copy that you can listen to at your disposal. There are two reasons for this, the second I’ll come onto later, but the first is because of a cheeky decision made in the song selection that would be lost if you only had the track listing to hand rather than actually hearing the album.
A friend recently told me that as a kid he had NOW 6 on tape, and when side one started with Queen’s One Vision, he was convinced the tape was being mangled in his cassette player. Well, I’m sure a similar problem occurred in teenage bedrooms across the country with NOW 7 following the unusual, but very welcome, decision to include the album version of Sledgehammer as side one, track one. You see, most people think Sledgehammer starts with that killer, loud, saxophone sting, because that’s how they would normally hear it on the radio, on VH1 or on some 80s compilation (a sting, incidentally, borrowed from John Coltrane’s Chronic Blues). But the song actually starts with around 30 seconds of barely audible synthesised shakuhachi flute, which no doubt prompted many to turn up their stereos, thinking there was nothing on their shiny new record, only to find when the sax did kick in they’d probably buggered their speakers and/or jumped back across the room in fright.
Sledgehammer, somehow, didn’t get to number one, but it’s probably the biggest track here, in terms of longevity. In fact, despite containing four number one’s (one of which, Lady in Red, hadn’t even reached the top when the album went to press) they are among the least well-remembered of the decade. Or in the case of Lady in Red, among the least well-liked. Many of the other tracks here are far more fondly remembered. You have to wonder about a nation which sends Spirit in the Sky to number one rather than Bananarama’s Venus.
Now 7 picks up where NOW 6 left off and is pretty much a carbon copy; for the most part it’s a solid pop compilation with an acceptable number of duffers and a disappointingly bland final, dance-orientated, side. There’s few outright classics but for the most part it’s impressively solid and would have satisfied the contemporary buyer.
Things take an early wobble after Sledgehammer, with the ubiquitous appearance from UB40, this time with the particularly dull, even by their standards, Sing Our Own Song. The light was going out on the Brummie boys, and this would be their last original top ten hit, relying for success for the rest of their careers on collections of karaoke cover versions to keep them out of the dole office. I believe they released Labour of Love Volume 62 last year.
Improvement comes next with Sly Fox’s Let’s Go All The Way. An odd combination of a former Parliament-Funkadelic member (Gary ‘Mud bone’ (eeew!) Cooper) and a Puerto Rican vocalist (Michael Camacho), brought together by a British producer to basically create a prototype boy band, with only two members. The idea of two coke-head New Yorkers singing songs about ‘going all the way’ to wet-knickered teenage girls should have been a licence to print money, but after the success of the first single they never again recaptured the brilliant cross-over potential that made this such a hit. It’s one of those songs that you’ll remember if you were there at the time, but looked at now it has all the hallmarks of an 80s cash-in. Which of course it was, and that’s why it was a hit, it sounds like everything else successful at the time, but all in one song.
Things continue to get better with Level 42 (a sentence I never saw myself writing when I was in my youth) and The Pet Shop Boys wonderful soundtrack to a million 80s documentary montages, Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money). This was their first NOW appearance, but they would become reliable regulars for the next decade and a half. Pete Wiley’s Sinful! is a welcome addition to what is traditionally the pure pop side of a NOW album. His first single without the Mighty Wah, it’s no Story of the Blues, but it’s still a bit of a corker despite the horribly dated 80s production. he’s also got one of those voices I love: not flash, no messing about, just a bloke bellowing from the bottom of his very soul.
Then before we get to the odd but enjoyable Paranoimia (Art of Noise featuring Max Headroom!), there’s a problem, by the name of Stan Ridgeway. Well, I say he’s the problem, that may not be entirely fair, as he sounds like a genuinely talented and interesting guy. He’s worked with people like Stewart Copeland, Roger McGuinn, and even Frank Black, so he can’t be all bad. But, he sadly also wrote and recorded Camouflage. And it’s bloody awful. I hated it when I was kid (just as nobody’s Dad did) and I hate it even more in adulthood. I never understood (and still don’t) the 80s obsession with all things ‘Nam. There were the endless films, the songs (19, I Wanna be Your Drill Instructor), even a bloody magazine, Nam!, which built weekly into your own personal journal of the ‘Nam experience. It was inescapable. It’s been suggested that some people didn’t take kindly to Paul Hardcastle cut-and-pasting genuine Vietnam veteran interviews into a trendy dance track for 19, but to fair, for a lot of kids it was the first they’d ever heard about Vietnam (bar the introduction to The A Team, obviously) and they may have learnt more from it than any history lesson on the subject. But somehow, Camouflage gets away scot-free, and I’m not sure why.
Camouflage is the tale of a ghost (or zombie) soldier rescuing another who has been mortally wounded in battle in Vietnam. Chuck in a few racial references as well, and you’ve got yourself an honest to goodness flag-waving, patriotic winner. OK, so big hit in the States, I can accept, despite what my overturning stomach says, but top 5 in the UK? That’s just a bit odd.
Amazingly though, Camouflage isn’t the song I dislike the most on NOW 7. That accolade is reserved for Chris de Burgh, kicking off side two with the thoroughly unlikeable, and downright creepy, Lady in Red. “Unbelievably,” goes the blurb “this is Chris de Burgh’s first top 40 single”. Why was it unbelievable? He writes insipid, dull and creepy songs which no one likes. People pretend to like them, or buy them for people they think like his music. No one buys Chris de Burgh for themselves. The same goes for all those tedious ballads that hang around the charts like bad smells (Everything I Do, Love is All Around, My heart Will Go On), they are always bought for other people, who no doubt send them to the nearest charity shop when they split up with that person. No one chooses to listen to songs like that… ever.
Anyway, once he’s whispered his last, in one of the most unnerving fade outs in recorded history, side two gets good. Bowie’s Absolute Beginners is one of his all-time best (and another song you can’t believe wasn’t a number one), whilst Invisible Touch and All The Things She Said are listenable enough tracks from bands capable of better. Happy Hour is still brilliant (though The Housemartins best stuff was always less successful) and I amazed myself by enjoying Big Country’s Look Away. I never got Big Country as a young ‘un, but they’re attempt to create a truly unique, Scottish kind of rock is really interesting and it’s easy to see why they were so successful during this period.
One band who were very far from successful during this period was Furniture, who fill the “token left of centre slightly alternative track” slot. I’ll admit I knew very little about Furniture beyond this song. turns out they were the victim of record company shenanigans, and ultimately bankruptcy, internal differences and general bad luck. Brilliant Mind remains their only hit single (not another single or even an album made the top 75 despite gathering popularity) before they eventually split in 1990. Several members went on to form the more successful Transglobal Underground.
Call of the Wild closes out side two, one of the most forgettable tracks on any NOW album. Who was that by again?
The big guns are out for side three, with NOW licensing tracks from three of the Hits album’s stable, Wham, a-ha and Simply Red. Wham in particular was bit of a coup being as it was Wham’s farewell single (no concurrent Hits album was out at the time to snag the track for itself).To be fair, Edge of Heaven is a bit bland for a much-promoted final single; the previous release, I’m Your Man, is much better, and much better remembered. It’s certainly better remembered than Owen Paul, whose My Favourite Waste of Time may have been a massive top three hit, but it would prove to be his only hit. Apparently he gave up a promising football career (he was on Celtic’s books) after seeing the Sex Pistols, and decided to become a singer. He’s probably best known now for an embarrassing appearance on TV where he (and, to be fair, his band) completely failed to mime along to the track. Things like that can completely damage someone’s career, and so it was for Paul, who was seen performing backing vocals for Mike and the Mechanics.
Amazulu’s fun cover version Too Good To Be Forgotten still sounds good, and it makes a nice change to hear pop reggae sound by someone black for a change, rather than a nice middle-class boy.
And then we come to Spirit in the Sky. What is it about this bloody song, that whoever records it, it goes to number one? Three times by three different artists: Norman Greenbaum, Dr and the Medics and Gareth bloody Gates and the bloody Kumars. George Osborne could probably record it and hit the top. It seems the only version which didn’t get to number one was the best one, by Fuzzbox, which unfortunately was released around the same time as The Medics’ version. It never stood a chance.
Bananarama’s Venus is just pop genius, I don’t need to add anything about that. a-ha’s remix of Hunting High and Low is infinitely better than the version which appeared on the album of the same name, but it’s still a bit dreary, enlivened somewhat by some over-dramatic production on this single version. They were huge enough at the time to warrant inclusion if they just released a version of the alphabet, but this doesn’t show them in their best light. Holding Back the Years continued Simply Red’s run of hits, but it would be another five years before they had a top ten single with an original hit despite massive album success. I’m not a fan.
Which leaves one track on side three to discuss, and it’s a doozy. New Beginning by Bucks Fizz does not immediately get the blood pumping. Yes, for a year or two at the start of the decade, they were pop royalty, with a string of fun, pure pop hits, and a couple of number ones along the way. If you only know Making Your Mind Up or Land of Make Believe, you literally will not know what hits you when you hear New Beginning. It’s not perfect, but as one of those songs by a band desperate to change its image it’s right up there with U2’s The Fly or Duran Duran’s Notorious. Reportedly it took months to record, and cost quite a bit too, but the band were determined to try something grown up, as they saw it. It’s got a lush, rich production sound to it, rather than the then-omnipotent 80s synth sounds; whereas everyone seemed to be using drum machines, this sounds like it’s got proper drums on it. And not just one set either, a whole town full of drums. It also uses African influences, of a kind that would become de rigueur after Paul Simon made them commercial. It reached a very respectable number eight, their biggest hit for four years. Sadly, the accompanying album flopped (as did the subsequent singles) and the band fell into a spiral of holiday camps, coach crashes, splits, lawsuits and endorsing diet plans.
But wait! There is actually one more song to discuss on side three, though you wouldn’t know it from the track listing, which finishes with Simply Red. It’s also the other reason why you have to have a physical copy of NOW 7 lying around to properly review it. Curiously, the front cover of NOW 7, at least in its original release, featured a sticker on the front proclaiming that it contained a bonus track, one A Kind of Magic by Queen. Why they would keep a top three hit, one of the most popular songs of the year so far, as a bonus track is unclear. It features prominently in the TV ad as being on the album, but it is not listed anywhere. Many sources say it was a bonus track on ‘some’ copies of the album, but those same sources list it as being the final track on side three, so what constitutes it being a ‘bonus’? That normally suggests it was only on certain copies, or on a certain format, but it seems to have been on the cassette as well. It’s all a bit baffling, and maybe, dare I say it, suggests a last minute cock-up on someone’s part, that the song was never listed, but was always meant to be there?
Anyway, shall we dance?
When the Going Gets Tough is the oldest track on here, having been released in January (NOW 7 itself came out in August) but was bound to be included as it was number one for four weeks and one of the year’s biggest sellers. Today it’s considered something of an 80s classic despite being horrifically dated, but it’s not for me. I much prefer Get Out of My Dreams, but we’ll have to wait for NOW 11 for that one. Jaki Graham makes her third consecutive appearance, this time with the track she’s probably best known for, Set Me Free. It’s pretty good too, easily the best of her NOW appearances.
We then to three tracks so of their time, the only people who will have heard of them, let alone like them, would have had to have been avid chart listeners in 1986. Nu Shooz I Can’t Wait somehow managed to get to number two, though I’ve no idea how. It’s the sound of a wine bar distilled through a Roland 808 and onto vinyl. It’s dull, goes on forever and is thoroughly annoying.
The complete opposite is (Bang Zoom) Let’s Go Go. Now, I’m no scholar of rap music, and I’m sure there are those out there who will dismiss this as chart-friendly pop trash compared to what Run DMC and the like were doing in 1986, but as far as introducing rap to the masses this is near perfect (horrible synth Fred Astaire breakdown accepted). The Real Roxanne was a respected New York hip-hop MC, who was involved in some nonsense over answer records (like all that Fuck You business at the start of the 2000s) which I’ve got no idea about. It’s on the internet if you need to know more.
I’m sure you don’t want to know more about the incredibly ugly Lovebug Starski who for some reason thought the path to stardom involved recording a rap record based on a horror film released a decade before, and include loads of unfunny impressions of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Maybe it was the legacy left by Ghostbusters and Thriller, but forgetting that those songs were actually good.
Headlines and You and Me Tonight and just wisps of songs, stuck in the middle ground between the death of disco and the new emerging dance scene, which, to be fair, had yet to find a proper sound. Both are completely forgettable, by completely forgotten artists. We finish off with On My Own, a sugary ballad, that of course was a huge hit, lifted by Patti La Belle’s lovely voice, and Michael McDonald, an artist I can never listen to a straight face anymore since his contribution to the soundtrack for South Park: The Movie
And so, yet again, the album kind of dissipates in a puff of undistinguished guff. But at least you now know what a synthesised shakuhachi flute sounds like. It wasn’t what the advert had promised.
That does, however, answer my query for years about what the hell that was supposed to be on the cover. Obviously the influence of the Clothes Show, and fashion culture in general, was being felt even in the hallowed halls of NOW Towers. The ‘Feel the Quality’ tagline would be dropped after NOW 7 as would the design team who created it. But that wouldn’t be the only change for the NOW series. Christmas 1986 would see them renew their battle with Hits, and this time it would take place in the future! And the future was NOW.
NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC 7
11th August 1986
A Kind of Magic – Queen
Sledgehammer – Peter Gabriel
Venus – Bananarama
Lady in Red – Chris de Burgh
New Beginning (Mamba Seyra) – Bucks Fizz (sadly, this video will do nothing to convince you it’s a good song)
Call of the Wild – Midge Ure
Headlines – Midnight Star
You and me Tonight – Aurra
Rock Me Amadeus – Falco
I Heard it Through the Grapevine – Marvin Gaye
The Chicken Song – Spitting Image
|Sing Our Own Song||UB40|
|Let’s Go All The Way (Short Blix Mix)||Sly Fox|
|Lessons In Love||Level 42|
|Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)||Pet Shop Boys|
|Paranoimia||The Art Of Noise And Max Headroom|
|The Lady In Red||Chris De Burgh|
|Absolute Beginners||David Bowie|
|All The Things She Said||Simple Minds|
|Happy Hour||The Housemartins|
|Look Away||Big Country|
|Call Of The Wild||Midge Ure|
|The Edge Of Heaven||Wham|
|My Favourite Waste Of Time||Owen Paul|
|Too Good To Be Forgotten||Amazulu|
|Spirit In The Sky||Doctor & The Medics|
|New Beginning (Mamba Seyra)||Bucks Fizz|
|Hunting High And Low||A-Ha|
|Holding Back The Years||Simply Red|
|A Kind Of Magic||Queen (Bonus Track)|
|When The Going Gets Tough||Billy Ocean|
|Set Me Free||Jaki Graham|
|I Can’t Wait||Nu Shooz|
|Bang Zoom (Let’s Go Go)||The Real Roxanne With Hitman Howie Tee|
|Amityville (The House On The Hill)||Lovebug Starski|
|You And Me Tonight||Aurra|
|On My Own||Patti Labelle And Michael McDonald|
The video version contained three tracks not featured on any NOW album (marked with #). Interesting that one of those tracks was by Culture Club, who just two years previously were one of Virgin records cash cows. They were obviously feeling they were not warranting the same kind of profile and promotion as before, or it was felt including them on NOW 7 would damage the sales of their current album.
Two further tracks (marked with *) would later appear on NOW 8.
|Queen – A Kind of Magic|
|UB40 – Sing Our Own Song|
|Sly Fox – Let’s Go All the Way|
|Level 42 – Lessons in Love|
|Pet Shop Boys – Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)|
|Pete Wylie – Sinful!|
|Stan Ridgway – Camouflage|
|Art of Noise with Max Headroom – Paranoimia|
|Jermaine Stewart – We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off*|
|Culture Club – Move Away#|
|Simple Minds – All the Things She Said|
|The Housemartins – Happy Hour|
|Big Country – Look Away|
|Midge Ure – Call of the Wild|
|Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Love Missile F1-11#|
|Doctor and the Medics – Spirit in the Sky|
|Jaki Graham – Set Me Free|
|Samantha Fox – Do Ya Do Ya (Wanna Please Me)#|
|Genesis – Invisible Touch|