Now That's What I Call A Music Blog

Now That’s What I Call Music 8 – Not perfect, but perfect for you

now 8Welcome to the future!

For Christmas 1986, NOW would deliver a lovely shiny package for its fans, because the future is always shiny, isn’t it? NOW 8 is fit to burst with number ones, top ten hits, legendary tracks and a team up between Dr and the Medics and Roy Wood that nobody remembers. It was also bursting with extras too, boasting a competition and the opportunity to purchase official NOW merchandise! NOW was big business and they were going to take you for everything you’ve got.

But it was still better than Hits 5.

NOW 8 was the first of the series in which European music giant Polygram was involved; it was the first to be designed by Quick on the Draw (who still design the albums today) and it was the first to be released on a regular CD (after the false start with NOW 4), even if it only featured half the tracks. The idea of a full, double CD release must surely have been contemplated, but given that the core audience for the albums was still teenagers, the thought of them being able to afford such a thing must have been a key factor in delaying their releases for a further two albums. In the mid-to-late 80s a double CD could set you back anything up to £20, depending on where you bought it. That sounds an obscene amount today, let alone 27 years ago! So, clearly, a single CD selection was deemed the preferred option with which to test the water. So four years after a re-issue of an old Billy Joel album became the first commercially available CD (in Japan, at least) NOW finally decided that the time was right, the public was ready and a CD had to be part of their package.

Not only did they produce artwork to represent this monumental decision, as if the CD had been forged in the artwork itself, the silver, shiny new dawn was also plastered all over the TV ad, featuring, for the first time, the unmistakable tones of David “The now very far from a kid” Jensen.

Ironically, NOW 8 would have been a great choice with which to launch a full CD release, as the line up is a very strong one, including three number ones. They even got lucky anticipating the hit songs they included before they were released (with one very notable exception). It’s perhaps the purest pop selection so far in the series. Side one is wall-to-wall pop goodness from the leaner, funkier Duran Duran, right through to OMD’s bouncy (Forever) Live and Die, not, as I briefly thought at the time, the theme to a Bond movie I’d heard of but not seen.

The Duran’s Notorious is simply brilliant and, maybe surprisingly for a lifelong Duranie, I now think it’s their best single. You’ve got to admire their balls, frankly, for going back to the bear pit of the pop charts, no longer the biggest band in the world, and with their tails between their legs after two satisfying, but hardly earth-shatteringly successful side projects, short two members, one of whom is openly malicious and dismissive about you, and carrying a sound unlike anything you’ve done before. Those screaming teenagers didn’t know what hit them, losing both Wham and Duran in a matter of months. Spandau Ballet and the withering Culture Club just didn’t compare.

Disco king, Nile Rodger’s production adds a whole new level to their sound, sensibly playing up John Taylor’s amazing bass work in the wake of losing a regular lead guitarist. the fact that Notorious made number two in the USA, but struggled to scrape into the top ten here in the UK is a travesty to which, I think, we all should feel a little ashamed.

The Pet Shop Boys continue to produce wonderfully overblown fluff masquerading as social commentary with Suburbia, which is followed by the still toweringly good Walk This Way, which suffers the same fate as it does on the radio – when should it be faded out? Here they settle for around 3 minutes 30, though officially it can go on for almost another two minutes.

While Walk This Way is probably the biggest track on offer, in legacy terms, the ACTUAL biggest track here is in fact the biggest track of 1986, as The Communards finally got the success they deserved as they rework, reinvent and rejuvenate Harold Melvin’s Don’t Leave Me This Way. I recently saw a list of “Songs You Didn’t Know Were Cover Versions”, which featured Soft Cell’s Tainted Love. Well, if that’s on there, then this surely should have been included too. This was the sound of late summer 1986, and it still sounds great today (though, as I’m a contrary bugger, I prefer their version of Never Can Say Goodbye, which found itself on NOW 10).

ian-hislop

Ooooooh…. baby!

Swing Out Sister were a new band on the scene in 1986, and newly insurrected Polygram were obviously keen to plug them, including the single Breakout just two weeks after its release (this was back in the days when singles could take weeks to reach their highest position; going straight in at number one, or even in the top ten, was considered a rarity). Luckily for them Breakout‘s mix of pop, jazz and electro was perfectly timed. Despite that description, they never had the feel of the kind of ‘yuppie pop’ tag that ended up tainting people like Sade or Level 42. Swing Out Sister were fun, the way all the best pop is. The same is true of OMD’s (Forever) Live and Die, perhaps not one of their better-known tracks, but still a good pop track.

Also, surprisingly good (although given his history, perhaps not) is Steve Winwood’s Higher Love. It’s a track I often dismiss as the kind of Dad-rock which became so prevalent as the 80s went on; the alternative scene in the 80s was so far underground, people like Phil Collins, Rod Stewart and Status Quo just kept on having hit after hit. I bracketed Winwood into that camp. I always had a fondness for Roll With It, but maybe because I’m older now (and have a new appreciation for his earlier work) I can now accept something like Higher Love with a new maturity. Genesis’ In Too Deep smells of poo though, something even its association with American Psycho can do nothing about.

I dread to think what Larry Blackmon’s cod piece smells like, but it’s back on display with the now legendary Word Up. Hard to believe this is the same band who produced the frankly dreadful Single Life on NOW 6 (where I incorrectly stated that it had the same intro as Word Up; turns out, it was the other way around). Both feature samples from Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly soundtrack, back when sampling was still in its infancy.

A codpiece yesterday

A codpiece yesterday

And so we find ourselves in the dance zone, this time taking over side two, where it feels a bit more at home, keeping the party going following on from all that pop malarkey (almost ruined by smelly old Genesis). In a touch of creative compiling, Larry Blackmon’s flattop is immediately followed by the same haircut in the shape of Grace Jones’ I’m Not Perfect. It’s a got a similar sound to Notorious, unsurprising given the involvement of Nile Rodgers, but fails to capture that wonderful otherworldliness she can bring to music, as on Slave to the Rhythm. That track could only have been performed by Jones. This could be a Eurythmics b-side. Another track included on NOW 8 before its actual release, it would prove to be a notable flop, failing to make the Top 40. Much better, and more successful is Mel and Kim’s Showing Out, their first single, and the first of four top ten hits (with their only four singles!) before Mel’s tragic illness. Yes, it’s a cynical Stock, Aitken, Waterman production (and they’ll be much more of that over the next few NOW albums) and, surprisingly for that production team, it’s very rough around the edges. Stuff isn’t quite cut together as cleanly as it should be, with notable jerks and slices through the song which once you know they’re there can’t be unheard. Shame as it’s a great dance-pop tune.

As is Jermaine Stewart’s We Don’t Have To … It’s fluff, but it’s fun. I’m not sure what’s happening with the title here though. At first I thought NOW were being a tad coy with their titling, but there is genuine confusion as my two source books list it differently (The Guinness British Hit Singles as We Don’t Have To… Take Our Clothes Off and The Guinness Top 40 Charts as We Don’t Have To…). The single sleeve shows it as one sentence with no ellipses. I don’t know…

Jaki Graham is back, for her fourth appearance in a row, and her last. Step Right Up hadn’t been released when NOW 8 hit the shops, but it is pretty forgettable, and would prove to be her final top 40 hit. In contrast Janet Jackson was celebrating her first hit with the still awesome What Have You Done For Me Lately. So different from what her big brother was selling trillions of records doing, it still sounds like it’s about six months ahead of its time, even though, oddly, it was the oldest track on NOW 8, having been released in March 1986, eight months previously.

The dance side then slows it down for some smooching, with Human League’s Human (which on closer listen is a pretty horrible song about a couple who keep cheating on each other because they’re “only human”…) and Boris Gardiner’s I Wanna Wake Up With You. This wasn’t the guy who parachuted out of a spaceship last year; this is a guy who somehow managed to have a massive number one with a dreary, repetitive love song that sounded like it was recorded in his bedroom with a Casio keyboard. He may also have been a reggae pioneer in the 70s, but on this showing I think that’s a lie.

Things get a bit serious on side three, as we enter Dad territory. In fact, with the exception of Huey Lewis and the News’ Stuck with You (another song that on closer listen doesn’t sound like the lovely song you always thought it was) this is all very low key and moody. Don’t Give Up and Think For A Minute were clearly only included because of the success of Peter Gabriel and The Housemartins’ previous singles, as neither screams “Top Chart Hit”. Madness’ Waiting For The Ghost Train was a disappointing end to their golden period (it’s billed here as their farewell single), and Status Quo’s In The Army Now snatches the worst song on the album title from Boris Gardiner’s clutches. What was the country thinking sending this to number two (kept off the top by Every Loser Wins, which I’ll deal with in a moment)? Big Country’s One Great Thing is not one of their better tunes.

status_quo

In The Army Now got to WHERE in the charts?

The side closes out with a surprise: Billy Bragg’s single NOW appearance with the wonderful Greetings to the New Brunette. Obviously hoping it would repeat his top 30 showing with Levi Stubbs’ Tears, this equally good tune was included pre-release, but sadly (unbelievably) it failed to dent the magic 40. Not that I’m sure Mr Bragg gave a monkey’s about things like that. Just as I’m sure he wasn’t bothered about being followed by Cutting Crew’s (I Just) Died In Your Arms (it must have been something I ate). Don’t know what happened with them or why the public fell out of love with them so quickly. Maybe the appearance of the near identical Then Jericho the next year had something to do with it.

From all that doom and gloom, we are firmly back in pop wonderland with side four. Kim Wilde’s You Keep Me Hangin’ On is in the same vein (and is arguably as good) as The Communards, in re-visiting classic soul for an 80s audience. Respectful, but also great on its own terms. It Bites would join Cutting Crew in the dumper soon after their only major hit Calling All the Heroes, which, to a kid like me, sounded like the future of pop, but now I realise is a massively pretentious piece of prog-rock, synth, jazz, pop blancmange nonsense. It’s massively over-produced, much like their Wikipedia page, which is bursting with such choice bon mots  as ” a band composed of voracious pop fans with a parallel taste for progressive rock.” No… stop it. That’s just silly. For a band who only had one hit, it’s pretty comprehensive stuff.

Also very silly is the big boo-boo by the compilers. We’ve noted a couple of early inclusions which proved to be a bit wide of the mark, but Dr and The Medics with Roy Wood just make them look very foolish. I know that everyone reading this has just gone “Wha…?”, I did too when I first saw the track listing, and saw their inclusion with a version of ABBA’s Waterloo. I’ll just repeat that, as it may have trouble settling your brain: Dr and the Medics (as in Spirit in the Sky), with Roy Wood (as in Wizzard, I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday), covering ABBA’s Waterloo… NOW certainly thought it was a guaranteed winner, and I shall quote:

“Roy Wood was number 1 with The Move (Blackberry Way) and with Wizzard (See My Baby Jive & Angel Fingers. Dr and the Medics were number 1 with Spirit in the Sky. Waterloo was number 1 and a Eurovision winner for ABBA. So this new version should get to…”

That’s the actual blurb on the sleeve, word for word, including the cheeky ellipses. That is utterly ludicrous confidence. And since you’ve probably never even heard it, I should tell you it managed to get to the dizzying heights of number 45.

More successful was Debbie Harry’s French Kissin’  in the USA and Robert Palmer’s I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On. Oddly not as successful was Paul Hardcastle’s The Wizard, which stalled at number 15 despite weekly advertising as the then theme for Top of the Pops (replacing the epochal Yellow Pearl by Phil Lynott).

In contrast to the brilliant 80s versions of 60s classics we’ve already seen, Gwen Guthrie’s remodelling of (They Long To Be) Close To You is everything that’s wrong with 80s cover versions; sludgy synthesisers, over-confident crooning, wildly inappropriate backing singers and arrangement, mention of “I love your sexy sexy moves”… it’s a mess. And that’s coming from someone for whom The Carpenters make me want to staple my ears shut. Still at least there’s Nick Berry to look forward too.

Do you know how much of a disappointment you are to your mother because you are not him?

Do you know how much of a disappointment you are to your mother because you are not him?

Everyone who slags off The X Factor or The Voice should be forced to listen to this (along with Anita Dobson and The Banned (Sharon and Kelvin)) and realise that hearing people who can actually sing is a bit of a novelty compared to when any old stage school hack who manages to snag a part in a soap opera managed to get to number one. It wasn’t just Eastenders either (though they were the main culprits). Neighbours of course would provide half of all the top 40 hits between 1988-90, and then there were the hits from Malandra Burrows, Martine McCutcheon, Adam Rickitt and The Cat From Corrie’s Opening Titles; unwanted chart botherers the lot of them. So next time you look at the charts and think “who are these talentless idiots?”, remember they are only following a time-honoured tradition of milking your 15 minutes for all it’s worth. And at least it kept You’re In The Army Now from getting to number one.

But wait! There’s more!

With NOW 8 there is also the amazing opportunity to own a piece of pop history! Yes you too could own an official Now That’s What I Call Music sweatshirt! Light in weight but heavy in warmth, they were available in ‘Chinese Jade’ (green) or ‘Electric Blue’ (oo-er!). Made by Le Coq Sportif, they were advertised as being for a limited time only. But then they were still available when NOW 9 came out due to “exceptional public demand”. Not because “we’ve still got a warehouse full of the things”. Not at all. And at £20 a pop I’m not surprised; that’s about £50 in new money. And they were worried about people forking out for a double CD at the same price?

now-8-sweatshirt

NOW 8 also featured a competition, which handily also doubled as a plug for all the other great NOW albums still available (and no doubt would make great last minute Christmas gifts). Note that alongside NOW 7, the re-released Christmas Album, and the latest NOW Dance, there’s an anomaly on show: NOW That’s What I Call Music ’86. I’ll come to this in due course, as it is an oddity and one which requires its own post. The CD version of NOW 8 is intrinsically linked with NOW ’86, so I’ll discuss that in more detail there too (everything on the CD is on NOW 8 as discussed above, so you won’t miss out on me being sarcastic about any of the songs, it’s more to do with how the selection of tracks for NOW 8’s CD and NOW ’86 are interlinked).

now-8-competition

NOW had embraced the future and was now selling itself to a new market, the upwardly mobile of society. No longer the sole preserve of bedroom-ensconced, pop-loving, but probably spotty and grumpy, teenagers, the CD age was taking NOW to the mobile-phone buying, Porsche-driving, Filofax-touting nouveau riche. NOW 9 would model itself in their image.

 

NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC 8

Release date

24th November 1986

Biggest tracks

Walk This Way – Run DMC (Aerosmith are not credited)

Don’t Leave Me This Way – The Communards

Word Up – Cameo

Lost gems

Greetings to the New Brunette) – Billy Bragg

Forgotten tracks

I’m Not Perfect – Grace Jones

(They Long To Be) Close To You – Gwen Guthrie

Waterloo – Dr and the Medics with Roy Wood (fair play, the video is fantastic, unfortunately the sound on this is very ropey)

What’s missing

All I Ask of You  – Cliff Richard and Sarah Brightman

(I don’t like it, but it was a huge top ten hit)

 

Track listing

Side one
Notorious Duran Duran
Suburbia Pet Shop Boys
Walk This Way Run DMC
Don’t Leave Me This Way The Communards
Breakout Swing Out Sister
Higher Love Steve Winwood
(Forever) Live And Die Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
In Too Deep Genesis
Side two
Word Up (7” Vocal Version) Cameo
I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect For You) Grace Jones
Showing Out (Get Fresh At The Weekend) Mel & Kim
We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off Jermaine Stewart
Step Right Up Jaki Graham
What Have You Done For Me Lately Janet Jackson
Human The Human League
I Wanna Wake Up With You Boris Gardiner
Side three
Don’t Give Up Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush
Think For A Minute The Housemartins
(Waiting For The) Ghost Train Madness
In The Army Now Status Quo
Stuck With You Huey Lewis & The News
One Great Thing Big Country
Greetings To The New Brunette Billy Bragg
(I Just) Died In Your Arms Cutting Crew
Side four
You Keep Me Hanging On Kim Wilde
Calling All The Heroes It Bites
Waterloo Doctor & The Medics with Roy Wood
French Kissin’ In The USA Deborah Harry
I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On Robert Palmer
The Wizard Paul Hardcastle
(They Long To Be) Close To You Gwen Guthrie
Every Loser Wins Nick Berry

 

CD track listing

Notorious Duran Duran
Suburbia Pet Shop Boys
Walk This Way Run DMC
I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect For You) Grace Jones
Showing Out (Get Fresh At The Weekend) Mel & Kim
Step Right Up Jaki Graham
Breakout Swing Out Sister
You Keep Me Hanging On Kim Wilde
Calling All The Heroes It Bites
Waterloo Doctor & The Medics with Roy Wood
French Kissin’ In The USA Deborah Harry
Stuck With You Huey Lewis & The News
Don’t Give Up Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush
(Waiting For The) Ghost Train Madness
(Forever) Live And Die Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
In Too Deep Genesis

 

Video version

Venus had previously appeared on the album of NOW 7. Sometimes by Erasure would later appear on Now 9.

Four other tracks do not appear on any NOW album (marked with *)

Duran Duran – Notorious
Pet Shop Boys – Suburbia
Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark – Forever Live and Die
Erasure – Sometimes
The Communards – Don’t Leave Me This Way
Mel & Kim – Showing Out (Get Fresh at the Weekend)
Bananarama – Venus
Jaki Graham – Step Right Up
Swing Out Sister – Breakout
The Housemartins – Think For A Minute
Madness – Waiting for the Ghost Train
The Damned – Anything*
Big Country – One Great Thing
Ultravox – All Fall Down*
Status Quo – In the Army Now
Glass Tiger – Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)*
Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Warriors of the Wasteland*
Kim Wilde – You Keep Me Hangin’ On
Boris Gardiner – I Wanna Wake Up With You

 

3 Responses to Now That’s What I Call Music 8 – Not perfect, but perfect for you

  1. moggieboy says:

    Not just any sweatshirt, but a WARM sweatshirt!

  2. eightiespopkid says:

    My copy didn’t come with any warm sweatshirt or competition insert!! I feel cheated…

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