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Now That’s What I Call Music 4 – Hello, is it twee you’re looking for?

now 4Whilst NOW 3 may have given us the wonderful NOW! balls logo, it also gave us another, less welcome taste of 80s design: wacky, wavy neon lines. So 80s, so Max Headroom, so The Roxy, so ‘bank advert trying to ensnare teenagers paper round money when they should be spending it on compilations of top chart hits’. That rather ghastly theme continues on the cover design of NOW 4, and no doubt onto the bed linen of many teenagers who bought the thing. NOW 4 adopts a slightly less obvious, but more vomit inducing, green background, over its predecessors’ standard black background. Sadly, vomit-inducing is the order of the day for 1984’s NOW! swansong, released just in time for the Christmas, last minute panic present buying market.

From Boy George’s local chicken shop promotional outfit on the cover and the first stirrings of Arthur Baker’s utterly dreadful “Special Dance Mix” of Paul ‘Macca’ McCartney’s No More Lovely Nights, you get the distinct feeling this is not going to be a particularly comfortable ride. And to make matters worse, the only number one on offer here is Lionel Ritchie’s plasticine head singing the turgid Hello. Incidentally, Lionel, no, it most certainly not you that we were looking for.

Most of the good stuff on show here are songs that are usually remembered for their 80s kitsch value, rather than an inherent ‘greatness’. A good example of this is displayed early on side one with the appearances of Together in Electric Dreams and Never Ending Story, two theme songs from mildly successful films (even if Electric Dreams is now long forgotten, that whole boy-meets-computer rom-com sub-genre never did catch on). To be fair, Electric Dreams is a much better song than Limahl’s last hit, and deserves more credit. Both Phil Oakley and Giorgio Morodor are too talented to be dismissed, it’s just unfortunate that so much of their art is based around 80s synthesisers, an area which doesn’t travel well.

Staying with the synthesisers, Oakey’s former cohorts Heaven 17 (born from an early incarnation of Human League) also appear with the now forgotten Sunset Now. The Thompson Twins make their ubiquitous appearance with Doctor, Doctor, a song released a whopping ten months before NOW 4, and before the band’s track that had appeared on NOW 3. The Twins current release, Sister of Mercy, appears to have been snagged by the incoming Hits Album, so NOW! must have figured an old Thompson Twins track was better than none at all (tellingly, a glimpse of the video appears in the TV advert, but the song doesn’t).


This raises the question of what impact The Hits Album was going to have on NOW!, particularly this edition. I’ll cover Hits in more detail in another post, but in short the creation of the rival series would see the end of NOW! being able to feature artists from the CBS and WEA labels, two of the biggest labels in the world, and home to such legends as Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Wham and soon George Michael. It seems almost a massive two fingers to Hits that Jacko appears here, his only NOW! showing, with a track recorded over a decade earlier. Part of a series of ‘lost tracks’ found in a dusty vault at his old label, Motown, some bright spark decided to dust them off, remix them to sound more 80s and release the album in the wake of the phenomenal success of Jacko’s Thriller album. The album did OK, but hardly matched its big brother, probably as the public started to smell a rat that this wasn’t an official release. The single Farewell My Summer Love is a lyrically suspect tale of meeting a girl who’s on summer holiday and maybe meeting her again next year when school is through, or some such nonsense. Compared to Thriller or Billie Jean, this is pretty ropey stuff, but somehow scraped into the top 10. NOW! were obviously not going to turn down the opportunity to have the world’s biggest artist appear, no matter how crap the material, as it was the only chance they were going to get.

Still, despite losing a couple of their more reliable fillers, NOW! still had a couple of aces up its sleeve: EMI still had Duran Duran, the biggest band in the world, who were two singles away from splitting up, and Virgin had the unstoppable Culture Club, here showcasing the song that Boy George described as a ‘stupid’ and that probably killed his career. Oops. Despite reaching number 2, The War Song would be Culture Club’s last big hit until their late 90s reunion. (And to add insult to injury, it was kept off the top by Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called To Say I Love You and seems to have been the inspiration for the ITV Schools music which would appear later in the decade.)

Speaking of stupid songs, there’s a fair few on show here: there’s Elton John’s deeply annoying Passengers, the Eurythmics over-produced, and near unlistenable mess Sexcrime (1984) and Julian Lennon’s irritating Too late for Goodbyes, yet another example of the trend for horrible white boy reggae pop fusion which blighted the charts for far too long during the decade. Culture Club and maybe (maybe!) The Police were the only acts who ever managed to pull it off successfully.

At least side three looks like it might rock things up a bit. Queen appear for the third album in succession, and are backed up by The Quo, Big Country and the first appearance from a little Irish band who were pulling up trees in America, U2. It would not be their last. Yes, it might all be a bit stonewashed jeans and white t-shirt (or leather vest in U2’s case) but the guitar-fest is a bit of respite from the endless bleeps and bloops of the first two sides. It’s short-lived.


“Without you I’m nothing”, said the Now albums of the 80s

Fergal Sharkey’s silly Listen to Your Father bridges the gap between axe-wielding and a return to the 808s, with OMD’s ludicrous Tesla Girls. But before the album disappears into the vacuum of nothingness that is Nik Kershaw’s dreary Human Racing there is a treat, supplied by the lovely Kim Wilde. Not a massive hit, The Second Time is a bit of a corker, and not a little bit rude. Or rather, suggestive. It’s pretty bloody obvious what Ms Wilde is singing about, and most blokes at the time would find it hard to resist a line like “Look in the mirrors and see the heat of something new, Why don’t we do it, just do it once again”. Oh my. I think it’s better than Kids in America.

The first track on Side Four is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, Ray Parker Jr’s Ghostbusters not only appears here, but was also on The Hits Album. Arista, the label concerned (and also home to The Thompson Twins), were not tied to any of the major’s responsible for the compilation albums, so were technically free to license their tracks to whomever they saw fit. The fact that Ghostbusters appears on both would suggest a desire from both camps to have one of the biggest hits of the year on their records (though surprisingly, it never made number one, stuck for three weeks behind that immovable object that was the bloody Stevie Wonder song. The second notable fact is that the track is incorrectly credited. The title is listed as Ghostbusters (Searchin’ For the Spirit). Oh, thinks I, maybe that is in fact the full title of the track. Bracketed suffixes are often left off song titles for space, or simply because they are pretentious toss and are best forgotten. In this case however neither is true; Searchin’ for the Spirit is in fact the subtitle given to an extended version of the track which featured on an alternative single release ( But not here. This is your common or garden single and radio version, identical, bar fading out a few seconds later, to the version on The Hits Album. Was this a deliberate attempt to deceive purchasers into thinking the version on NOW 4 was a different one to that on The Hits Album? Was the incorrect version used on the album, and the extended version was meant to be included? Or was it just a mix up over the title? We will probably never know. And you probably don’t really care.

Side Four then sort of drifts away. Jump remains a fun, feel-good song, we get the first of many appearances for the slap bass of Level 42, Rockwell’s attempt to be both Ray Parker Jr and Michael Jackson at the same time on Somebody’s Watching Me, and Malcolm McClaren’s Madam Butterfly is a great musical experiment (of a kind which would become ubiquitous in the charts towards the end of the century) once he stops wittering on over the first minute. The final track by Eugene Wilde is a now forgotten piece of fluff of the “ooh baby, let’s go have sex” variety, the inspiration here being Sexual Healing, but looking forward to people like R Kelly and Keith Sweat. Take away the 80s production and this could have been released at anytime in the past 30 years.

It’s a disappointingly bland finish to an album which has an air of going through the motions about it. With Hits already in the shops consumers weighed up the pros and cons, and went with Hits. NOW 4 is the only album in the series not to reach number 1, and it’s easy to see why. There’s one serious problem with NOW 4, and that’s, ironically, a lack of hits. Take away Ghostbusters, Jump and Hello, and this is a very dull, uninspiring collection. Brian Glover does his best in the advert but you suspect even he thinks this is all a bit thin.

Historically, NOW 4 is important for one reason (and without it, it would probably have been forgotten altogether) being the first of the series to be released on CD. It wasn’t a conventional CD release however, containing just 15 tracks, and being a mix of tracks from the three albums released in 1984. (The cassette version makes reference to The Best of Now 1984 Compact Disc, but the record makes no reference to the CD at all.) The experiment must have been far from a success as it wasn’t attempted again until Now 8, two years later. The CD itself is considered a rare collector’s item now. At the time of writing one copy is on eBay for over £300, with 19 bids,  and rising…

Now that NOW! wasn’t the only game in town, and its compilation crown had been toppled, it seemed a serious re-think was in order, and it be a long nine months before NOW! would return.


Release date

26th November 1984

Biggest tracks

Hello – Lionel Ritchie

Ghostbusters – Ray Parker Jr

Jump – The Pointer Sisters

Lost gems

The Second Time – Kim Wilde (a truly bizarre video in which Ms Wilde battles an exploding hotel room, a multi-coloured Mummy, and some of the worst 80s fashion ever seen in a music video)

Sunset Now – Heaven 17

The stinker

No More Lonely Nights (Special Dance Mix) – Paul McCartney

Forgotten tracks

Warning Sign – Nick Heyward

Gotta Get You Home Tonight – Eugene Wilde

What’s missing

Wild Boys – Duran Duran

(possibly not ready for inclusion, the track was released two weeks before NOW 4, but seems in retrospect to be a massive omission)

Blue Jean  – David Bowie

Track listing

Side One
No More Lonely Nights  (Special Dance Mix) Paul McCartney
Together In Electric Dreams Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder
Why? Bronski Beat
The Never Ending Story Limahl
Warning Sign Nick Heyward
Missing You John Waite
Farewell My Summer Love Michael Jackson
Hello Lionel Richie
Side Two
The War Song Culture Club
Passengers Elton John
Too Late For Goodbyes Julian Lennon
Shout To The Top The Style Council
Doctor Doctor The Thompson Twins
Sunset Now Heaven 17
Respect Yourself The Kane Gang
Private Dancer (Single Edit) Tina Turner
Side Three
It’s A Hard Life Queen
The Wanderer Status Quo
East Of Eden Big Country
Pride (In The Name Of Love) U2
Listen To Your Father Feargal Sharkey
Tesla Girls Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
The Second Time Kim Wilde
Human Racing Nik Kershaw
Side Four
Ghostbusters Ray Parker Jr
If It Happens Again UB40
Jump (For My Love) The Pointer Sister
Hot Water Level 42
Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four) Eurythmics
Somebody’s Watching Me Rockwell
Madam Butterfly (Un Bel Di Vedremo) Malcolm McLaren
Gotta Get You Home Tonight Eugene Wilde

 CD Tracklisting

now 4 cd

Duran Duran – The Reflex
Ray Parker Jr – Ghostbusters (Searchin for the Spirit)
Culture Club – The War Song
John Waite – Missing You
O.M.D. – Locomotion
UB40 – If It Happens Again
Tina Turner – What’s Love Got to Do with It
Bronski Beat – Why?
The Style Council – Shout to the Top!
Phil Colins – Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)
Giorgio Moroder & Philip Oakey – Together in Electric Dreams
Julian Lennon – Too Late for Goodbyes
Status Quo – The Wanderer
Thompson Twins – Doctor! Doctor!
Queen – Radio Ga Ga


Video edition

now 4 video bigThe video version this time around did feature mainly tracks from the accompanying album. Only four tracks were not on NOW 4 (indicated with a *).

Meatloaf’s Modern Girl and The Thompson Twins’ Sister of Mercy did feature on The Hits Album, further muddying the waters over the various licensing deals that were needed to put these albums together.


Queen – It’s a Hard Life
Tina Turner – Private Dancer
Giorgio Moroder & Phil Oakey – Together in Electric Dreams
UB40 – If It Happens Again
Limahl – Never Ending Story
Culture Club – The War Song
Julian Lennon – Too Late for Goodbyes
Ray Parker Jnr. – Ghostbusters
Thompson Twins – Sister of Mercy*
John Waite – Missing You
Nik Kershaw – Human Racing
Meat Loaf – Modern Girl*
Kim Wilde – The Second Time
Malcolm McLaren – Madam Butterfly
Nick Heyward – Warning Sign
OMD – Tesla Girls
Iron Maiden – Aces High*
Fergal Sharkey – Listen to Your Father
Heaven 17 – Sunset Now
Depeche Mode – Blasphemous Rumours*

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