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NOW 13 – Don’t worry, be crappy

Now_13Why, in the winter of 1988, it was decided to base a cover of NOW 13 around a charmingly retro spaceship design, I do not know. But it’s a fab design and, even better, features roman numerals for the first time since NOW 2, sorry NOW II. NOW 13 was a huge release, reaching the top 5 selling albums of the year despite being on sale for only the last six weeks of the year. As my quick look at the Hits albums explained, this may in part have been helped by that rival series’ near suicidal rebranding. But surely there’s more to it than that? What about the tunes?

Well, erm, maybe NOW 13’s success lays absolutely on the fact that Hits shot itself in the foot, because this is a pretty shocking affair. Dreary, uninspiring and, in some cases, simply embarrassing. The highlights are all dance tracks, house, hip-hop and rap (whatever the difference between those two is, I’ve never been entirely sure). These genres were now firmly established as pop and chart mainstays and would be for the foreseeable future.

As if to demonstrate, Yazz’s The Only Way Is Up, the killer track of the year, rightly opens the album. It’s dance-pop at its best with that wonderful trumpet-train horn intro, its fist pumping chorus and a joyous atmosphere throughout. You really get the impression that Yazz’s grin throughout the video was genuine and had been there throughout the recording sessions as well. It dominated the charts throughout the summer of ’88 and narrowly missed out on being the biggest selling single of the year thanks to the Antichrist’s Christmas single, Mistletoe and Wine. The rest of side one, in comparison, is a very mixed bag, veering from the sublime (Erasure’s A Little Respect) to the, well if not ridiculous, then at least the utterly forgettable (Hands to Heaven by Breathe?).

Womack and Womack’s Teardrops irritated the piss out of me when it was released, seemingly spending all year stuck at number three. Harvest for the World (The Christians) and Breakfast in Bed (UB40 with Chrissie Hynde) are two of the worst cover versions ever to appear on a NOW album. The Christians were always a bit too worthy for my liking, and UB40, well I think I’ve given them far too much attention on this blog already. But, how on earth do you take a song like that (one of the sexiest ever written when Dusty Springfield sings it), get the Goddess Chrissie Hynde to sing it, and turn it into an insipid pop-reggae dirge like this? That takes skill. In total there are SIX cover versions throughout NOW 13.

A certain amount of skill was required to keep Hue and Cry out of the charts, but they managed it. Ordinary Angel is one of the best songs on here, but it’s also one of two tracks that failed to make the top 40. Robert Palmer is someone I’ve always had a lot of time for, but not for She Makes My Day, beyond enjoying its odd time structure. The problem is, it’s jazz, and jazz is not pop. Speaking of which, Johnny Hates Jazz went AWOL this time, so the bland, sophisti-jazz-pop slot was taken by the now-long-forgotten Breathe who were almost as hilariously unsuccessful as the turn of the millennium, money-haemorrhaging website that shared their name. Hands to Heaven was their only hit, and I’m sure they still get the odd royalty cheque when it’s used for a montage on some dreadful, low rent US hospital drama, but you never hear it on the radio, do you? There’s probably a very good reason for that.

Seriously... these guys were briefly pop stars. Smash hits cover and everything. look at them (Watermark supplied by Getty Images)

Seriously… these guys were briefly pop stars. Smash Hits cover and everything. Look at them (Watermark supplied by Getty Images)

Side two is, if anything, even worse. Phil Collins begins a dirge-fest with his horrid cover of Groovy Kind of Love. Half of this side is covers and re-releases (Tom Jones’ Kiss, The Hollies’ He Ain’t Heavy, Bryan Ferry’s Let’s Stick Together) while the rest consists of Kim Wilde (having one of her perennial ‘comebacks’; You Came has not aged well, unlike Ms Wilde herself), Bobby McFerrin (who most definitely did NOT kill himself after recording Don’t Worry Be Happy) and Bother Beyond, who, oddly, are not dreadful. The Harder I Try’s low-rent Motown sound is actually quite pleasant. Nathan Moore can’t sing, but it matters not. Fancy that.

For some reason, in the midst of all this is an absolute diamond: Bomb the Bass’ Don’t Make Me Wait. A cracking follow-up to Beat ‘Dis, it was a double A-side with the equally awesome Megablast, but it was obvious that this track was the single, and it should have been as big a hit as its predecessor. If you want to be picky (and what are sarcastic blogs for, if not to be picky), you could argue the vocal is a little weak, but it’s a brilliantly produced piece of dance-pop, cut from a slightly harder, rougher cloth than Yazz and her Plastic Population. Maybe that was why it wasn’t as successful.

It does seem odd to sandwich a hard dance track between Kim Wilde and Brother Beyond, particularly when NOW 13 managed to cobble together a whole dance orientated side, of which a couple of other tracks would have been better suited to sit alongside such pop luminaries, and allow Bomb the Bass to nestle more comfortably amongst its contemporaries. Sadly, compared to NOW 11’s unmatchable dance collection, NOW 13’s end of year vintage in a tad vinegary. At a remove of a couple of decades, only Yello’s The Race and The Beatmasters brilliant Burn It Up (with the legendary PP Arnold on lead vocals!) are worthy of further listening. The Fat Boys try to replicate the success of Wipeout!, by roping in Chubby Checker and covering The Twist (Yo Twist!, as they insist on calling it). For some reason the photo on the sleeve shows them with Freddie Krueger, rather than Mr Checker, a character they had a later, much less successful team-up with. I wonder if a generation of kids grew up thinking that the purveyor of said Twist was the same guy who played a horribly burned, child molesting dream demon. Which does also raise the point, who on earth thought it was a good idea for a comedy rap group, ostensibly aimed at kids, to make a record with as vile a character as Freddie Krueger? In our post-Jimmy Savile world (which will be as epoch-making for the Brits as post-9/11 is for the Americans) the predatory child molester has taken on a rather different public persona that of a wise-cracking murderer. Very odd.

Next up: Derek B and Stuart Hall with Yo, Knockout!

Next up: Derek B and Stuart Hall with Yo, Knockout!

Twisting continues with Salt n’ Pepa’s awful cover of Twist and Shout. It was a much bigger hit in the UK than anywhere else which probably explains a lot about our pop sensibilities in 1988 than any number of my nostalgia-fests could. Wee Rule, by the Wee Papa Girl Rappers, was a song much beloved of my school year and sadly that’s what it still sounds like: a song for kids. This went top five while The Cookie Crew couldn’t buy a hit. It’s a disgrace. Also a disgrace is the shameless bandwagon jumping of D-Mob’s We call It Acieed. Seizing on tabloid headlines about the new ‘horror drug’, that had, of course, been around since (at least) the 60s, and had probably been taken by the same journalists now condemning it. But then it wasn’t about the drugs at all, it’s always about the grownups fear of young people having a good time. So if there’s a musical movement to go along with it, all the better. D-Mob ensured there was, cynically using the media backlash to generate sales from kids too young to go anywhere near an illegal rave, let alone popping pills. And it’s also painful to listen to: name-checking trendy London nightclubs, that awful high-pitched squeal of the title continuously and then one of those dreadful little plastic keyboards that you could blow into… you know the things. Even as a kid I knew that was pretty weak for a supposedly trendy dance track. D-Mob would, briefly, redeem themselves by later introducing the world to Cathy Dennis.

He calls it acieed too, apparently

He calls it acieed too, apparently

The best track on side three, by a mile, is The Beatmasters’ Burn It Up. A brilliant updating of disco (which was still relatively unfashionable despite the best efforts of the likes of S-Express, who are conspicuous by their absence) with the wonderful honey voice of PP Arnold. It shames everything else on this side of the record and so, of course, was one of the least successful tracks on it, reaching just number 14. By contrast, the most successful song on side three was Milli Vanilli’s Girl You Know It’s True, though when NOW 13 hit the shops, the track was still climbing the charts, and none of the later unpleasantness was known about. If you don’t know the story of Milli Vanilli why are you here? Seriously, stop reading this, read about Milli Vanilli then come back. OK? One of the greatest pop stories ever told isn’t it? For all the scandal and tragedy, Girl You Know It’s True was always going to be a hit no matter who the hell was singing it. It’s not good exactly, but it’s efficient, and pushes all the right pop buttons. I’m not sure about that weird burping ‘bah’ noise throughout though.

Milli Vanilli: Owners of the tightest trousers in pop, until Razorlight stole their crown

Milli Vanilli: Owners of the tightest trousers in pop, until Razorlight stole their crown


Side four, so often the graveyard of a NOW album, is actually the best side on offer this time. Level 42’s Heaven In My Hands shows a rockier approach from them and is still very listenable. Belinda Carlisle’s former Go-Go cohort Jane Wiedlin makes her sole appearance, with her only UK top 40 hit, the wonderfully saucy Rush Hour, a great tune that should have led to further, and greater success, but strangely didn’t. The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) has of course reached that legendary status reserved for songs you liked but hope to God you’ll never hear again thanks to Peter Bloody Kay. There’s no denying it’s brilliant, but that kind of association is difficult to shake off.

The rest of album is solid without being outstanding, and features some tracks many will struggle to remember, if you heard them at all. T’Pau’s Secret Garden, their last NOW appearance, is actually a brilliant song that never found an audience. Their fans clearly wanted more power ballads and this jaunty lead off from their second album was a big hit, and the bargain bin beckoned. Shame.

New on the block were Transvision Vamp. Led by a gobby, nymphette blond, Wendy James (replacing Ms Carlisle in my teenage affections) they scored big with I Want Your Love but failed to immediately follow it up (the next few singles did little business). They basically had to start all over again the following year, with readers of Smash Hits even thinking they were a new band, landing them a spot in the Best Newcomer category at their Poll Winners Party in 1989. Idiots. Far from new, but always seemingly starting over, were Duran Duran. Stung by the relative failure of the singles from Notorious things were going to get a lot worse over the next few years. I Don’t Want Your Love, brilliantly sequenced after Transvision Vamp’s track, did not do well, reaching number 14. The follow up, All She Wants Is, hit the top ten and is featured on NOW 14, but the accompanying album, Big Thing, was dead on arrival and a few fallow years were ahead.

Don't Google Wendy James. Remember her this way,

Don’t Google Wendy James, remember her this way

Other former chart-toppers having trouble were The Human league. Love Is All That Matters was supposed to be the new track with which to plug their Greatest Hits album. While the album did great business, the single became the other track on NOW 13 not to break the magic 40. Another example of the craziness of the charts in 1988, particularly when you consider even All About Eve managed a top ten hit with Martha’s Harbour, a dreamy sea shanty (and probably metaphorically very rude) which is now best remembered for their legendary Top Of The Pops appearance. It was so similar to the dirges they regularly turned out you just wander “why this one?”. It could well be the dullest finish to a NOW album so far, and therefore quite fitting considering what a god awful experience this was.

NOW 13 promises the the stars and delivers The Daily Star. The decision to revert to three albums a year again has inevitably led to a drop in quality, as seen here and with the previous release, neither coming close to the majesty of NOW 11. But the record buying public are not exactly blameless either. It’s not really Now’s fault that most of the biggest selling singles of the release period are uninspired cover versions, songs from adverts and bandwagon jumping dance tracks. They just reflect the sales. But, of course, they don’t, since they included two tracks that didn’t make the charts. So, the compilers DO have a choice.

Whatever the reasons, three releases a year would continue into 1989, with similar results. But NOW’s chart dominance would not continue. Despite The Hits series’ implosion, compilation album were now to be banished to their own chart, apparently after upsetting one too many big act, upset that they could never snag the Christmas number one album slot. (I never realised the spot was so coveted; and if that’s the case, can’t they do the same for reality TV show singles at Christmas?) The fact that NOW 13 was, somehow, one of the biggest selling albums of the year, would mean no radical rebrand was needed just yet. But a radical change in quality most defiantly was.


Release date

21st November 1988

Biggest tracks

The Only Way Is Up – Yazz and the Plastic Population

A Little Respect – Erasure

Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin

Lost gems

Burn It Up – Beatmasters with PP Arnold

Don’t Make Me Wait – Bomb the Bass

Ordinary Angel – Hue and Cry (a lovely version with them performing it with a children’s orchestra, on long forgotten kids show What’s that Noise?, with Pat kane looking suspiciously like Dylan Moran!)

Forgotten tracks

Hands to Heaven – Breathe

Love Is All That Matters – Human League

The Harder I Try – Brother Beyond

What’s missing

Superfly Guy -S-Express

Nothing Can Divide Us – Jason Donovan

Tears Run Rings – Marc Almond


Track listing

Side one
The Only Way Is Up Yazz & The Plastic Population
Teardrops Womack & Womack
A Little Respect Erasure
Harvest For The World The Christians
Ordinary Angel Hue And Cry
Breakfast In Bed UB40/Chrissie Hynde
She Makes My Day Robert Palmer
Hands To Heaven            Breathe
Side two
A Groovy Kind Of Love Phil Collins
Don’t Worry Be Happy Bobby McFerrin
Kiss The Art Of Noise featuring Tom Jones
Let’s Stick Together Bryan Ferry
You Came Kim Wilde
Don’t Make Me Wait Bomb The Bass
The Harder I Try Brother Beyond
He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother         The Hollies
Side three
The Twist (Yo Twist) The Fat Boys & Chubby Checker
Wee Rule The Wee Papa Girl Rappers
Twist And Shout Salt ‘N’ Pepa
The Race Yello
Big Fun Inner City
We Call It Acieed D-Mob & Gary Haisman
Burn It Up The Beatmasters & P P Arnold
Girl You Know It’s True          Milli Vanilli
Side four
Heaven In My Hands Level 42
Rush Hour Jane Wiedlin
I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) The Proclaimers
Secret Garden T’Pau
I Want Your Love Transvision Vamp
I Don’t Want Your Love Duran Duran
Love Is All That Matters The Human League
Martha’s Harbour             All About Eve

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