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Now! That’s What I Call Music II – More, more, more

now 2

Almost four months to the day since it had crashed its way through the charts and teenage bedrooms of the UK, NOW! would launch a second onslaught on the nation. And whilst at first glance it seems just like more of the same (including the first use of the ubiquitous phrase “Top Chart Hits”), if you dig deeper, things do seem a little bit stranger this time around.

Yes, there are the huge hits (Radio Ga Ga, Relax, Girls Just Want To Have Fun), but there’s also some things that have slipped through the cracks of time. As good a track as More, More, More is (and it’s not a cover of the Andrea True disco classic), I’d never heard of Carmel. Nor was I familiar with Julia & Company, Snowy White, Re-Flex  or Matthew Wilder (though his track Break My Stride is fairly well-known).

So what’s happened here then? Has NOW! blown it already, and only on volume 2? Well, no. Of course not, otherwise I wouldn’t be planning to review all 80 odd albums in the series that has lasted for 30 years.

What happened was the inevitable result of a shorter window in which to choose tracks from. Whereas NOW! had had a whole year to pilfer from, NOW 2 had the unenviable task of replicating that massive track listing from just four months of hits, ranging from November 1983 (The Thompson Twins’ Hold Me Now) to March 1984 (Culture Club’s soon to be released It’s A Miracle, which it would have been if that had been as successful as their previous singles). A task as difficult as this required a professional, and so Richard Branson brought one in: Ashley Abram.

Now, Ashley Abram may sound like a runner-up on The X-Factor or Masterchef, but he is probably the most important person in the history of the entire NOW! series, being the compiler of the albums since NOW 2 all the way to NOW 81. He may not be the most recognisable name in pop, but thanks to him unsuspecting teenagers everywhere probably had their first taste of house music, heavy metal or garage. Not much is known about him, and trawling the net for info turns up more discrepancies than an MP’s account of an indiscretion. The most common story is that Branson brought in Abram’s Box Music, a professional music consultancy, to take the NOW! concept to the next level. Other sources say he was Ronco’s chief compiler in the 1970s, another says he was a record buyer for Woolworths, some say that Box Music was his company, others that he was simply an employee. It’s a minefield to be honest and unless I get to speak to him personally, I’m not going any deeper into the background. All I’ll say is, it’s Abram’s name on the back of the albums (at least from Now 4) as ‘Now Co-ordinator’, so he’s the man we thank.

Whoever made the decision to increase the frequency of releases, it made sound commercial sense, but it was bound to affect the quality. NOW! had been such a huge, unprecedented success, the desire to quickly cash-in is completely understandable, but looking at the track listing here, you have to wonder if three a year (one every four months) was the wisest decision. But then you realise that the releases tie in with the major school holidays (Easter, Summer and Christmas) and of course it makes perfect sense.

But as a result of the increased frequency, NOW albums would rarely hit as hard as that first release. Already with NOW 2, the quality threshold has dropped considerably, and where the hits may hit even harder than they did before (Relax, still banned by Radio 1 at the time is the masterstroke here), there are far too many duffers. Side 2 would have been swiped off most kids record players after the first two tracks (Nena’s 99 Red Balloons  and Cyndi Lauper), with its mix of mullets and tracks that were probably more popular with their parents, a theme continued later on with the inclusion of Slade, Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones (in the first of only two appearances in the series) . The other casualty is the volume of number 1’s, dropping from the massive eleven chart toppers on NOW! to just four here (Only You, 99 Red Balloons, Relax, Pipes of Peace(!)).

Joe Fagin and Matthew Wilder aim to take Limahl's title for 'Most Ridiculous Hairstyle Ever Featured on a Now! Album'

Joe Fagin and Matthew Wilder aim to take Limahl’s title for ‘Most Ridiculous Hairstyle Ever Featured on a Now! Album’

Side Three would see the first attempt to theme a whole side (remember this was back in the day when the albums would have four sides, rather than two CDs, a CD still being as futuristic as a jetpack to the average Woolworths customer).  These would generally be undertaken when a particular musical style dominates the charts for a certain period. I first became aware of it on NOW 11, where a whole side was devoted to the burgeoning House scene, and goes some way to making that album one of the best in the series. Here, Side Three is almost entirely devoted to post-New wave acts, an odd mix of alternative electro-pop, guitar bands and just general oddness of a kind that wouldn’t normally be seen bothering the charts which at the time were dominated by the likes of Duran Duran. But is that true? As is so often the case people like to misremember the past. Of the eight tracks on Side Three, five of them were top ten hits and Relax is still one of the biggest selling singles ever in the UK. The appearance of The Smiths is rather special though; they would never appear again, though Morrissey’s solo career was a good standby for the series, at least until he stopped having top ten hits at the end of the 80s.

No idea who’s doing the voice over here, so if anyone can enlighten me I’d be most grateful. I suspect she  was a DJ  on either Radio 1 or Capital, but it’s not a voice I recognise.

It does a great job of convincing you that you have to have it, reeling off the list of winners with great pride, and any self-respecting pop fan would have killed for this album at the time.  Sadly, NOW 2 has not aged well, appearing to modern eyes exactly like the kind of cheap cash-in that NOW! itself would have to contend with in the months and years ahead. It was going to take something special to convince the record-buying public that this was more than a fly-by-night operation…

NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC II

Release date

26th March 1984

Biggest tracks

Relax – Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Radio Ga Ga – Queen

Lost gems

More, More, More – Carmel

Forgotten tracks

Bird of Paradise – Snowy White

Breaking Down (Sugar Samba) – Julia & Company

Politics of Dancing – Re-Flex

What’s missing

Doctor Doctor – The Thompson Twins (would later appear on NOW 4)

Holiday – Madonna

Track listing

Side One
Radio Ga Ga Queen
Wouldn’t It Be Good Nik Kershaw
Hold Me Now The Thompson Twins
Get Out Of Your Lazy Bed Matt Bianco
More, More, More Carmel
Michael Caine Madness
Only You The Flying Pickets
Side Two
99 Red Balloons Nena
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun Cyndi Lauper
My Guy Tracey Ullman
Break My Stride Matthew Wilder
Breakin’ Down (Sugar Samba) Julia & Company
That’s Livin’ Alright Joe Fagin
I Gave You My Heart (Didn’t I) Hot Chocolate
Bird Of Paradise Snowy White
Side Three
Relax Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Here Comes The Rain Again Eurythmics
What Is Love? Howard Jones
What Difference Does It Make The Smiths
Feels Like Heaven Fiction Factory
The Politics Of Dancing Re-Flex
Hyperactive! Thomas Dolby
Wishful Thinking China Crisis
Side Four
Modern Love David Bowie
It’s A Miracle Culture Club
Undercover (Of The Night) The Rolling Stones
Wonderland Big Country
Run Runaway Slade
New Moon On Monday Duran Duran
Pipes Of Peace Paul McCartney


Video edition
 

The video version is even more of a mixed bag than for NOW!

20 tracks, but only eleven of them are on the accompanying album. One track (Victims) is from NOW!, one that would appear on NOW 4 (Doctor, Doctor) and seven that never appeared on any NOW! album (Help, Marguerita Time, Let The Music Play, Birds Fly, Breaking Point, Cry and Be Free, The Lion’s Mouth).

Now 2 video

Nik Kershaw – Wouldn’t It Be Good
Thompson Twins – Doctor, Doctor
Howard Jones – What is Love?
Duran Duran – New Moon on Monday
China Crisis – Wishful Thinking
Tina Turner  – Help
Status Quo – Marguerita Time
Carmel  – More, More, More
Shannon – Let the Music Play
Icicle Works – Birds Fly
Bourgie Bourgie – Breaking Point
Re-Flex – The Politics of Dancing
Thomas Dolby – Hyperactive
Matt Bianco – Get Out of Your Lazy Bed
Big Country – Wonderland
Marilyn – Cry and Be Free
Snowy White – Bird of Paradise
The Flying Pickets – Only You
Kajagoogoo – The Lion’s Mouth
Culture Club – Victims

 

 

 

3 Responses to Now! That’s What I Call Music II – More, more, more

  1. eightiespopkid says:

    This is where the fun began for me. I bloody loved this edition and wore my copy out. Overall, the feel of the album is quite wintery (I think it must have been an especially cold winter), the sleeve design is very dark and serious and there’s so much dark and brooding anorak-type stuff on here – particularly on Side 3 – that this could have been responsible for my subsequent love of all things indie/alternative. The Smiths make their only appearance of the regular series here (“Panic” made a welcome appearance on “Now 1986 – 10th Anniversary Edition” in 1993) and how I loved the China Crisis track!

    In hindsight, there’s very little upbeat, frivolous pop on here: Madness were morphing into something very interesting indeed and missing the Top 10 for only the second time in 4 years, the Nena and Frankie tracks had darker lyrical undertones than their melodies infer…If we ignore the rather out-of-place intrusion of Joe Fagin inexplicably being sequenced between Julia & Company and Hot Chocolate maybe the only out-and-out pop track on here is courtesy of Cyndi Lauper, and even then she was probably drowning her lyrics in irony.

    Other “pop” acts of note acting out of character: Tracey Ullman doing Madness somehow adds a desperate quality that wasn’t quite there in the original lyric – this came after 3 sublime, happy-sounding singles and then “My Guy,” a relative chart-flop. I never had a lot of time for Eurythmics but “Here Comes The Rain Again” was simply gorgeous and yearning and remains my favourite of theirs. Digging into the lyrics of “Break My Stride” between its references to laundry and rhyming “rocky” with “cocky” Mr Wilder is lamenting the loss of love who has left him behind and moved on to better things. It seemed as if all the pop stars’ hearts I was growing up with were breaking!

    I wasn’t quite 10 years old when this LP came out but I was lapping up the lyrical meanings of each track and subsequently entered adolescence early… It’s all EMI/Virgin’s fault!

  2. nlgbbbblth says:

    The David Bowie track was well out of date by the time Now 2 came out – six month gap. I’ve done a vinyl to WAV rip of Now 2 today and it was great fun. Julia and Company plus Carmel = amazing,

  3. Martin Davis says:

    The first copy of this I got was a second hand copy of the cassette that I got from a car boot sale. It turned out that most of the first cassette had been recorded over with early 90s dance tracks with only the last 7-8 minutes of Side 2 left.

    Instead of the likes of Queen, Nik Kershaw, Thompson Twins and Nena I found myself with a cassette that contained Vanilla Ice, The KLF, Kim Appleby, Soup Dragons and Technotronic. But with “Bird Of Paradise” at the end for good measure.

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