Now That's What I Call A Music Blog

Now That’s What I Call Music 9 – Taking your breath away

now 9In 1987, for the first time since they had co-existed, NOW released its first compilation of the year in the Spring, leaving Hits 6 to take over for the summer, presumably because it gave NOW the opportunity to produce a selection containing no less than seven number ones, the most on a single release since their first collection. And we’re not just talking of fly-by-night chart toppers like Jack Your Body, or Everything I Own. There were HUGE number ones, that are still listened to and loved (by someone, surely) today like Take My Breath Away and The Final Countdown. Iconic, monster hits which etched themselves into the collective memories of generation after generation of music lovers. And love or hate them, these songs help to make NOW 9 one of the strongest collections so far in the series, providing a winning mix of great pop and iconic rock. The dance scene takes a backseat here (with a notable exception) as the UK fell in love with Soft Metal and rediscovered hair-rock.

But first, this cover. I had no idea what this was supposed to be. For years I thought it represented a photo album, or possibly a white wallet (it was the 80s, stranger things have happened). The inner gatefold confuses matters further by featuring a ring binder in the centre. Just what the flip is going on here? Then I saw the advert… oh dear.

“Your own personal Hits file…”

It’s a bloody Filofax! But of course they can’t say that as it’s a brand name, so instead, they have a little pop at their rival (probably). Only two albums in, and it looked like Quick on the Draw had dropped the ball already. But, I am looking at it from 25 years remove; I’m sure in 1987 this would have been at contemporary, and finger-on-the-pulse, as the shiny flying CD’s and liquid silver of NOW 8’s advertising. Personally, I think it’s pretty dreadful.

The peerless Reet Petite kicks things off in style, but sadly, it would signal a turn that pop in general would take over the next few years, thanks to the success of Levis use of classic tunes in their adverts. But before we get ahead of ourselves, despite what you may read on other websites, Reet Petite was never used in any such commercial for any product. Its rerelease was the result of an animated video, featuring a claymation Jackie Wilson, made for the song for an episode of the BBC Two arts series, Arena. The specially-commissioned video was such a success, and generated a renewed interest in the song, that it was rereleased, swiftly hitting number one in the process.

Carry On... Don't Lose Your Head

Carry On… Don’t Lose Your Head

NOW 9 features two other songs which had previously been hits, one of which, Ben E. King’s Stand By Me WAS used in a Levis advert, becoming the first, but certainly not the last, to be included on a NOW album on the back of the denim manufacturers’ campaigns. I’ve no idea why Hot Chocolate’s You Sexy Thing was remixed and rereleased in 1987, by the then ubiquitous Ben Liebrand, but that too appears here. Silentnight mattresses, my first thought, didn’t start using it until 2001. The remix is one of the worst I’ve ever heard. In fact, I’ve no idea why Liebrand was so popular at the end of the decade, as every song he touched ended up being ruined.

Most NOW albums from this point on would feature at least one old tune, that was dragged back into the charts on the back of an advert, or a film. In some cases this would also tie in with a Greatest Hits package (good news for the record company) and would often see songs from previous NOW albums appearing again (such as Simple Minds Alive and Kicking, or Hue and Cry’s Labour of Love) as we will see as we delve further through the albums.

For now though, our focus is fully on NOW 9. Mental as Anything, sadly, never fulfilled the promise of the wonderful Live It Up. Massive in their native Australia, they never travelled well, with this being their only breakout hit anywhere else in the world (it made the top ten almost everywhere). It still sounds wonderful today. Simply Red’s The Right Thing also sounds good (I hate to say). Something about Mick Hucknall just makes me think he’s a bit of a mucky character (a fact maybe not helped by tabloid revelations about his private life during the nineties), and every original song he sings seems to be about sex, like a red-haired Mancunian Prince, without the humour. The Right Thing is one of his more listenable songs, but it still has the whiff of slimy guy on the pull at the wine bar about it.

Not an accusation you could level at Erasure. Making their first appearance, with many more to come, Erasure managed to create a hybrid of Yazoo (Vince Clark’s former chart conquering outfit), Pet Shop Boys and the hi-energy dance of Bronski Beat, to create a wonderfully commercial slice of electro-pop which dominated the top ten for almost a decade. Sometimes, their first hit, was huge, but was kept off the top by The Final Countdown, of which more later. It, oddly, is one of several tracks on NOW 9 from the previous year (albeit, the tail end of 1986) when many of the acts, Erasure included, had released further songs. No chance of including a further song by Robbie Nevil though. His C’est la Vie was his only big UK hit (though the long-forgotten Dominoes would scrape the top 30 later in 1987), but it was a belter.

Surprisingly, It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way was The Blow Monkey’s only top ten hit (lead singer, Dr Robert would hit the top ten with Kim Mazelle on the criminally underrated Wait in 1989, one of the best songs on the 80s) but their jazz-pop noodlings (somewhere between ABC and Level 42, but a tad more pretentious) makes their sound quintessentially “87”, and it’s probably the most ‘of its time’ track on show here, at least until we get to side three.

blow-monkeys

Kids, this was NEVER acceptable in the 80s

The Housemartin’s Caravan of Love was the song that stopped Reet Petite from being Christmas number one, and would prove to be their sole chart-topper, and I think it’s often forgotten that it was a number one. Many people cite Reet Petite as being Christmas number one in 1986, but sadly not. Caravan of Love is nice, but not a patch on some of their other tunes (The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death remains their best for me) and is pretty inconsequential.

NOW 9 avoids a problem many of its predecessors have of trying to crowbar a collection of dance tunes onto one side. Perhaps because there were so few around in the period covered by NOW 9, we instead get a scattering of loosely defined dance tracks throughout sides two and three. There’s reggae from Boy George’s cover of Everything I Own (his first solo release which unfortunately did not lead to a particularly successful second coming) and, of course, there’s bloody UB40 again, this time with Rat In Mi Kitchen.

The Gap Band’s Big Fun, is not a particular favourite of mine, but I think it’s worth mentioning how closely it resembles a track of the same name by Inner City, which was released the next year (and turns up on NOW 13). None of the writers are credited on the Inner City track, which I think is unfortunate as, while it’s not a direct cover, it is certainly influenced by The Gap Band track.  Maybe the fact it was so forgettable explains why.

Dance-pop kicks in with Five Star and Bananarama showcasing lesser known tracks. I swear I had never ever heard Trick of the Night by the Nana’s, their first track to really betray the sound of Stock, Aitken and Waterman while still retaining their earlier sound, particularly Cruel Summer. Included here in anticipation of being a hit, it failed to reach the top 30. Between these two we find Pepsi and Shirlie, who until recently had been backing up George and Andrew in Wham, but now found themselves unemployed. It’s a mystery why they never sustained their early success, as Heartache (the track included here) and Goodbye Stranger are both fantastic pop tunes, and they had the sexy image to go with the tunes. Sadly, it was not to be, and, according to Wikipedia at least, the last gig they had was singing backing vocals on Geri Halliwell’s Bag It Up!

The pop dance party is brought to a shuddering halt by Berlin’s Take My Breath Away. As I said at the start, it’s a truly iconic piece of 80s music, straddling soft rock and pop in a way only non-English European acts seemed to be able to do. I can add nothing to the discussion about this song other than I absolutely despise it to its very core, and I’d gladly have my ears surgically removed if it meant I’d never hear it again.

Side three presents the greatest mix of styles on the album, from Freddie Mercury’s torch song version of The Great Pretender (sung brilliantly, but let down by some cheap-sounding production, it proves Freddie alone is good, but it’s not Queen) through Stand By Me and into Curiosity Killed The Cat’s Down to Earth. Somehow this remains their biggest hit (equalled by a cover of Hang On In Their Baby in 1992), proving more popular than their better-known hits Misfit and Name and Number (“Hey, how you doin’? I’m sorry you can’t get through…”). I always found this track incredibly dull, and Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot to be indicative of a lot of what was wrong about late 80s pop. Like many other acts at the time, it seemed to be style over substance, working out your look and your back-story before thinking about the tunes. When earlier acts like ABC or Frankie did the same, they at least had the tunes to back it up. People like Curiosity, Johnny Hates Jazz, Breathe and the like never did, and were swiftly dumper-bound. Though Curiosity would continue to pop up, using another of their cat’s lives, throughout the 90s.

The Communards So Cold The Night is the oddest track on here, being a strange mix of middle eastern sounds (played on a synthesiser, natch) and Jimmy Somerville stretching his falsetto to the max. As a follow-up to Don’t Leave Me This Way, it was a nailed on top ten hit, but I wonder how many people actually liked it. NOW waste no opportunity to plug NOW 6 in their blurb, mentioning that it contained the original version of You Are My World, which had been remixed and rereleased in the wake of their new success.

We’re back in dance party mode next with two wildly different tracks. Jack Your Body was astonishing on first listen back in 1987, sounding like it had been transported through time from the next century. Lyric-less (beyond the repeated urge to “jack your body”, whatever that meant), amazingly, it reached number one despite not being played on Radio One, which seems outrageous looked back on today. What is Radio One there for if not to play pioneering, exciting music like this (or rather, as this was, in 1987)? It would be unthinkable today for such a track to slip under their radar. But it probably shows up the regime that was running the show back then, the Smashie and Nicey brigade so brilliantly sent up by Harry Enfield, and so ruthlessly sent down by Matthew Bannister. When you’ve got DJ’s who’d rather play Status Quo and Phil Collins, than scorching hot, bleeding edge stuff such as this, something was clearly very wrong.

These two ruthlessly led to the sacking of loads of old men from Radio 1. And they regret nothing. NOTHING!

These two ruthlessly led to the sacking of loads of old men from Radio 1. And they regret nothing. NOTHING!

Taffy, probably didn’t mind, declaring her love for her radio (her midnight radio), with a piece of candy floss dance-pop that had managed to escape my brain until I heard it again.

Nick Kamen is a name which will mean nothing unless you were around in the 80s, much as the names of Big Brother or X Factor winners only resonate with those who actually saw them in their triumphs. An Essex model who hit the big time after stripping to his boxers in a launderette (another success for Levis!) someone decided this boy could sing, and he found himself courted by none other than Madonna, and top hits and worldwide fame was inevitable. Though, you wouldn’t know this if you were British, as, his first single apart, he was derided and considered something of a joke. Each Time You Break My Heart, written by Madge, hit the top 5, but he would never scale such dizzy heights again in his homeland. In Europe, he was huge. Loving You Is Sweeter, a cover of a Four Tops single, hit number one in Italy, and a later hit I Promised Myself, went top ten everywhere, except in the UK. Maybe he was just too pretty. In retrospect, there’s a bit of a comparison with the stuttering munchkin Gareth Gates. Pretty boy, weak but not unpleasant voice, courted by large bosomed, sexually confident, ladies (Jordan in Gates’ case, though she never wrote a song for him… maybe that might have helped). The track is a surprisingly pleasant, but not earth-shattering diversion before the sheer oddness of a-ha’s Manhattan Skyline.

They had already shown that they were not adverse to tearing up the pop chart hit rulebook with things like Hunting High and Low, but this is from another level, seemingly three different songs all fighting each other with a cacophony of synths, strings, drum machines and perhaps Morten Harket’s finest vocal performance. I bet Radiohead used this as  a template when they prepared Paranoid Android. I love it, though it’s not as good as I’ve Been Losing You, their great forgotten track.

Speaking of forgotten tracks, side four kicks off with a song that made me grin like a loon when I heard it again, and could be the finest gem this whole exercise has unearthed so far: Sonic Boom Boy by Westworld. An amazing mix of rockabilly, dance and pop, it’s everything that made music exciting in the 80s, at least if you were in your teens. Listening to it now, it’s strangely similar to Aztec Camera’s brilliant Good Morning Britain, from 1990. Westworld are another band who never achieved anything near their potential, with this being their only big hit. The follow up, Ba-Na-Na-Bam-Boo, is more rocky but has a horrible 80s production that is nowhere near as polished as Sonic Boom Boy, and barely made the top 40. Shame.

Sonic boom... a-boom boy

Sonic boom… a-boom boy

Rediscovering tracks like this is what this whole thing is about. I’ve been lucky so far, in finding at least one track on every album that I’d either never heard, or had forgotten about, that still sounds amazing today. But this is the best one so far.

Side four continues familiarly with Livin’ On A Prayer (the first of only a few Bon Jovi tracks in the series), Land of Confusion and The Final Countdown. Much as with Take My Breath Away these are all far too well-known to warrant too much attention here except to say, astonishingly, I think the Genesis track is the best of the three. Maybe the video helps.

Gary Moore continues to be, bafflingly, included on NOW albums, with Over The Hills And Far Away, not a track I was familiar with, to the point where I actually thought it was Big Country. It’s got a big, rousing chorus, but it’s not memorable except for the use of what would now be referred to as ‘that Riverdance sound’ but is, of course, a traditional Irish sound. Very rare at a time when anything Irish was considered dangerous in the minds of many Brits.

The Ward Brothers mean nothing to me. Cross That Bridge means nothing to me. It will mean nothing to you either. Somebody at NOW obviously thought quite a lot of it though, including the tune despite the fact it only reached number 32, and would ultimately prove to be their only dalliance with the charts. It’s an extremely bland, pop-rock tune, sounding like any number of other songs from the same period. This, no doubt, would have been the most skipped song on the album.

Thankfully, the final track, for once, is lovely, rather than a song that makes you want to slash your wrists, and forget all the great pop you’ve listened over the past two hours. The Pretenders’ Hymn to Her is a great showcase for Chrissie Hynde’s voice and, while it is yet another album-closing ballad, it at least has heart to it, and is not as ordinarily pointless as most ‘slow dance’ tunes which normally occupy the final track slot.

Overall, NOW 9’s line up is strong. Some artists may appear with lesser tracks than may be appreciated, but its hit list of seminal tracks is indisputable, as is the amount of variety. Rock is definitely the prevailing mood on this one, but a change was on the horizon, as evidenced by Jack Your Body, and the continuing rise of Stock, Aitken and Waterman.

Things were about to change for me to… the next NOW album, would be my ground zero.

 

NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC 9

Release date

23rd March 1987

Biggest tracks

Take My Breath Away – Berlin

Livin’ On A Prayer – Bon Jovi

The Final Countdown – Europe

Lost gems

Sonic Boom Boy – Westworld

Jack Your Body – Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley

Forgotten tracks

Big Fun – The Gap Band

Loving You Is Sweeter – Nick Kamen

Cross That Bridge – The Ward Brothers

Trick of the Night – Bananarama

What’s missing

Real Wild Child  – Iggy Pop

Skin Trade – Duran Duran

Running in the Family – Level 42

 

Track listing

Side one
Reet Petite Jackie Wilson
Live It Up Mental As Anything
The Right Thing Simply Red
Sometimes Erasure
C’est La Vie Robbie Nevil
You Sexy Thing Hot Chocolate
It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way The Blow Monkeys
Caravan Of Love The Housemartins
Side two
Everything I Own Boy George
Rat In Mi Kitchen UB40
Big Fun The Gap Band
Stay Out Of My Life Five Star
Heartache Pepsi & Shirlie
Trick Of The Night Bananarama
Take My Breath Away Berlin
Side three
The Great Pretender Freddie Mercury
Stand By Me Ben E King
Down To Earth Curiosity Killed The Cat
So Cold The Night The Communards
Jack Your Body Steve “Silk” Hurley
I Love My Radio (Midnight Radio) Taffy
Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever Nick Kamen
Manhattan Skyline A-Ha
Side four
Sonic Boom Boy Westworld
Livin’ On A Prayer Bon Jovi
Land Of Confusion Genesis
The Final Countdown Europe
Over The Hills And Far Away Gary Moore
Cross That Bridge The Ward Brothers
Hymn To Her The Pretenders


CD track listing

Reet Petite Jackie Wilson
Live It Up Mental As Anything
The Right Thing Simply Red
C’est La Vie Robbie Nevil
You Sexy Thing Hot Chocolate
It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way The Blow Monkeys
Everything I Own Boy George
Rat In Mi Kitchen UB40
Stay Out Of My Life Five Star
Heartache Pepsi & Shirlie
Take My Breath Away Berlin
The Great Pretender Freddie Mercury
Stand By Me Ben E King
Down To Earth Curiosity Killed The Cat
Land Of Confusion Genesis
Hymn To Her The Pretenders

 

Video selection

For once, the video version contains all tracks from the accompanying album, with only one exception, for some reason substituting Gary Moore’s track for a different one.

As with the CD, it’s top heavy with tracks from the first two sides for some reason.

The Great Pretender Freddie Mercury
Reet Petite Jackie Wilson
Down To Earth Curiosity Killed The Cat
So Cold The Night The Communards
Heartache Pepsi & Shirlie
Everything I Own Boy George
Rat In Mi Kitchen UB40
You Sexy Thing Hot Chocolate
Caravan Of Love The Housemartins
Wild Frontier Gary Moore*
Sonic Boom Boy Westworld
Jack Your Body Steve “Silk” Hurley
Stay Out Of My Life Five Star
Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever Nick Kamen
It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way The Blow Monkeys
The Right Thing Simply Red

 

One Response to Now That’s What I Call Music 9 – Taking your breath away

  1. eightiespopkid says:

    “Cross That Bridge” by The Ward Brothers was all over Radio 1 at the time. Bates, Davies, Brookes I think were the culprits. The epitome of Yuppy-Pop…

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