Now 100

Now 100, the 100th edition of the Now That’s What I Call Music! compilations!

The cover is a celebration of that milestone, it is subtitled “Now That’s What I Call A Celebration!”. The cover is set in a stadium with lots of fireworks, the Now itself written as if in bright lights like a star performer, and with a nod to past Now! styles, such as a blimp with coloured balls and lightning bolt style of the early Nows, from Now 3 through to 17.

There’s also a pig balloon, referencing the mascot Big Pig, which itself was inspired by the pig which featured in the Danish Bacon poster that the “Now That’s What I Call Music” title is taken from. The current logo has been in place since Now 20, with a few tweaks and lots of variations on theme. So it is a good snapshot of the Now! logo history, in the same way that these albums are a good snapshot of the charts.

In a change to the usual format, only CD1 has current chart hits, for this album CD2 features classic hits that appeared on other Now! albums. “The best hits Now and Forever”, to quote the recently departed Car Share, which memorably included Now 48 as a contribution to the overall story arc.

There is an introduction in the booklet, which mentions that Now! albums are “the soundtrack of your life”, and that when you pick one up it reminds you of what was going on in your own life at the time. It also points out that the Now! series has seen many formats come and go, like vinyl (which returned again!), cassette, CD, downloads and streaming.

CD1

With the heatwave of 2018, we’ve seen a lot of summer anthems. The opening track on Now 100 is ‘One Kiss’ by Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa. It is one of the biggest hits of 2018 so far, and very much has a sunny holiday feel to it, specifically holiday romances. It sounds like a lot of ’90s dance tracks too.

‘Shotgun’ by George Ezra is the singer-songwriter’s first official number one single. It is very catchy and an anthem for the start of your holiday, with lyrics about “hot sun”, “bikini bottoms and lager tops”. Although the most memorable lyric is probably the reference to ‘See You Later, Alligator’.

I don’t like ‘Solo’ by Clean Bandit feat. Demi Lovato much to be honest, I find it a bit annoying. But regardless of whether we like the song or not, let’s all wish Demi Lovato a full recovery after her recent admission into hospital.

Jess Glynne has been quietly clocking up those number one hits, she now has 7, which is more than any other British female solo artist, and the same number as Kylie Minogue! The lucky 7th is ‘I’ll Be There’, which is like a lot of Jess Glynne songs, it’s… fine. It’s  listenable and pleasant enough, but it sort of passes by like a breeze.

‘If You’re Over Me’ by Years & Years musically sounds like upbeat, bubblegum pop as sugary as ice cream, but lyrically it’s a bitter break-up song. It sounds like something that might have been played on Skins, which is fitting in a way as Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander acted in the final series of Skins.

I really like the track ‘Bad Vibe’. It’s by pop-R&B girlgroup M.O., trap duo Lotto Boyzz and singer-songwriter Mr. Eazi, and the track is a good mix of all those styles.

‘Rise’ is a Jonas Blue song which features Jack & Jack. Not to be confused with Jack & Jill of “went up a hill” Nursery Rhyme fame, or Jack and Joe from Big Brother 14, or 2016 UK Eurovision entrants Joe and Jake, or Jack and Joel from series 14 of The X Factor. Jack & Jack are YouTube stars. It shows how increasingly generic J names and duos are becoming though. Jack and Jack aren’t even two different names, it’s the same name twice! To be fair, ‘Rise’ isn’t a bad track really.

‘Ring Ring’ by Jax Jones & Mabel feat. Rich The Kid is alright, but what I really love is the promo pic. It has Jax Jones and Mabel as cartoon astronauts and the whole thing is designed to resemble a packet of Haribo Starmix.

New(ish) American star Post Malone has two appearances, his own song ‘Better Now’ and appearing on ‘Jackie Chan’ along with Tiesto & Dzecko feat. Preme. That track is a very international affair, as Tiesto is Dutch, Dzecko and Preme are Canadians. A line references “sushi from Japan”, and Jackie Chan, the star who the song is named after, is from Hong Kong. He’s not the only celebrity to get a shout out, Kelly Rowland gets mentioned as well (and she appears on CD2 as part of Destiny’s Child).

‘Youngblood’ by pop-rock band 5 Seconds Of Summer has been a steady streaming hit, being a slowburner, and climbing up the charts. I think it sounds similar to something Imagine Dragons might release. If anything, it’s probably a better Imagine Dragons song than what Imagine Dragons themselves have released recently.

Pop-country is a trend that seems to stick around as well. ‘Meant To Be’ is a collaboration between pop starlet Bebe Rexha and country group Florida Georgia Line. Maybe that mix of the modern and the traditional works well, which sometimes it doesn’t. Like the ‘Home Wrecker’ episode of American Dad where Stan and Francine can’t agree on how to redecorate their house, so it ends up being split into a macho hunting lodge on Stan’s side and a trendy plush apartment on Francine’s side.

Though personally as country/dance-pop crossovers go I prefer ‘The Middle’ by Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey. Zedd is a great producer, I have loved a lot of his songs like
‘Clarity’, ‘I Want You To Know’ and ‘Stay’, among others. I haven’t really heard of Maren Morris before, but her raw, powerful voice fits strangely well with Zedd’s smooth polished production.

I think my favourite track on CD1 is ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ by Ariana Grande. It was the first brand new song she released after the terror attack at her concert at Manchester Arena last year, and is a track about dealing with trauma and being able to move on and enjoy life again. It is one of the most intriguing hit songs in a long time, the production flows very elegantly, and Ariana Grande’s voice is gorgeous.

Nostalgia tracks pop up quite regularly in the charts, ‘Summer Of ’69’ by Bryan Adams is probably the most famous one. Ed Sheeran had one last year, ‘Castle On The Hill’, and now he’s co-written another one, ‘2002’ by Anne-Marie. Can you believe Noughties nostalgia is here already?! On one level, it makes you feel old knowing nostalgia industry is targeting you. On the other hand, well I guess that’s your reward for putting up with older generations constantly getting misty eyed about their long gone youth.

‘2002’ contains references to ‘…Baby One More Time’ (which appears on CD2!) and ‘Oops… I Did It Again’ by Britney Spears, ’99 Problems’ by Jay-Z, ‘Bye Bye Bye’ by N*SYNC, ‘The Next Episode’ by Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg, Kurupt and Nate Dogg (although it also reminded me of ‘What Would You Do?’ by City High, which sampled ‘The
Next Episode’), and ‘Ride Wit Me’ by Nelly feat. City Spud. I recognise all those songs, so I like ‘2002’. It’s a very sweet song. Though it’s a bit odd that in her previous hit ‘FRIENDS’ Anne-Marie was complaining about someone for thinking she would be his girlfriend when they’ve known each other “since we were like ten”, in ‘2002’ she’s getting all romantic about someone she’s known since “we were only eleven”. I sympathised with her on ‘FRIENDS’, but now I feel a bit sorry for the lovesick chump she was singing about on that song. Especially if it’s the same guy as on ‘2002’. The words “reel them in and throw them back” come to mind.

The bonus track is a cover of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’. The Phil Collins version of that was the first ever track on the first ever Now! album. I guess it’s come full circle in a way, as the original version of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ was by the Supremes, and this new version is by another girlgroup. They are MU4, and they won a jury and later a phone vote on a competition for Good Morning Britain, the prize being able to record this at Abbey Road studios and being included on Now 100. Good for them. But this version of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ is boring, and almost muzak like. You could imagine it advertising a cheap hotel.

Overall though, I enjoyed CD1. It was a great snapshot of popular songs from the summer, which is exactly what a mid-year Now! album should be. Will these be classics in the future, who knows, but they sound good now.

CD2

CD2 was Now! Classics, so a greatest hits album essentially, with the Now! it was taken from listed in brackets in the tracklisting.

Getting the honour of representing the very first Now! are reggae band UB40 with ‘Red Red Wine’, which was a UK number one in 1983 and US number one a year later. It was originally by Neil Diamond, but even he tended to perform the UB40 arrangement after it became a hit. The UB40 version still sounds decent, and again suitable for sunny weather. It is listed on the tracklisting as being from Now 1, but it was just called Now That’s What I Call Music!. It’s like with films that end up with a load of sequels, the first one always retroactively gets a “1” added to it.

Phil Collins is next with ‘Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)’, one of his most famous songs. Oddly enough, it didn’t quite make it to number one in the UK, having to settle for number 2. But two extremely shite cover versions of it did get to number one in the UK, Mariah Carey & Westlife in 2000 and The X Factor series 1 winner Steve Brookstein in 2005. I guess in a way it’s comeuppance for Phil Collins, after his not-very-good take on ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ was a UK number one while the Supremes original only got to number 3.

To be fair, the original Phil Collins version of ‘Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)’ is a very fine pop ballad. It was the movie theme of a film called Against All Odds, and I think it’s fair to say the song has outlasted the film, which seems to have completely faded from people’s memory. Genuinely, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who’s seen it!

Rounding off the ’80s are Bon Jovi with ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’. I’m not a fan of the term “guilty pleasure”, but this is something close to it for me. I know it’s cheesy as hell, but I enjoy it so much, I love singing along to it, playing it and punching the air!

Onto the ’90s, and we have ‘Love Is All Around’ by Wet Wet Wet, the main love theme from the famous 1994 romcom Four Weddings and a Funeral. ‘Love Is All Around’ was
originally by 1960s band The Troggs, perhaps best known for ‘Wild Thing’. But the Wet Wet Wet version of ‘Love Is All Around’ was a bigger hit than the original, which peaked at number 5. The Wet Wet Wet version was number 1 for 15 weeks, and during my childhood in the ’90s that song was inescapable, though to be honest you rarely hear it today. I think you hear the Christmas remix performed by Bill Nighy for Love Actually more nowadays! Fun fact, the songwriter Reg Presley from The Troggs spent the royalties from the Wet Wet Wet version on research into alien crop circles!

‘Wannabe’ by the Spice Girls was another inescapable song in the ’90s, and you do still hear it played today. It was huge, as they point out in the booklet it was number one in 37 countries! The production sounds very 1990s, but that in itself is a benefit, as it reminds people of the time that the Spice Girls were a phenomenon. If you’re too young to remember, it’s hard to explain just how big the Spice Girls were for a while.

The booklet describes Oasis as “Britpop personified”, which is fair. The track on here, ‘Wonderwall’, is arguably THE Britpop song too. For me, I much prefer ‘Wonderwall’ as a ’90s “love” song than ‘Love Is All Around’. What I most associate ‘Wonderwall’ with though is the finale of series 2 of My Mad Fat Diary, which was set in the ’90s. I suppose ‘Wonderwall’ does have a timeless quality to it, as it is not only the most Spotify streamed song of the ’90s, apparently it’s the most streamed song from the 20th century!

Despite not being one of his number one hits, ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams is his biggest selling hit, and it probably made all the difference, as his solo career had started off a bit wobbly, but after ‘Angels’ he went on to be one of Britain’s biggest popstars. For the Now! compilations he is notable for appearing on them more times than any other act.

The first Now! compilation I bought, Now 42, gets an appearance on here with pop-dance track ‘Believe’ by Cher. ‘Believe’ was her biggest hit, and it came quite late in her career. She’d been a well-known star since the 1960s as part of a duo Sonny & Cher with her then husband Sonny Bono. She’s still making an impact in high-profile media in 2018, being one of the most famous parts of this years summer blockbuster film the ABBA musical sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, not least for her version of ‘Fernando’.

The biggest selling Now! album ever was Now 44, released in 1999 and the soundtrack to thousands of New Millenium parties. The track that represents it is the opener, ‘… Baby One More Time’ by Britney Spears. This was her debut single and is still her biggest hit, but launched a long career. It was rightfully regarded as a pop classic from the start. It’s been covered multiple times, a lot of indie/rock bands have done a take on it, Travis being a famous example. But it is so associated with Britney Spears now it’s strange to imagine that it was initially considered to be more of a group song, being offered to the Backstreet Boys, Five and TLC before she recorded it!

Into the noughties, and we start with ‘Reach’ by S Club 7. It’s a very catchy, cheery, happy, positive, optimistic bubblegum pop track about reaching for the stars and the moon, climbing the mountain, following the rainbow, dreams will come true etc. It’d be easy to be cynical about it, but it’d be hard not to appreciate it.

‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child seems a slightly random inclusion for some reason. I’m not sure why. It was a big enough hit, and it’s alright as a song. I guess it just feels like there were bigger Destiny’s Child songs, and bigger Beyonce songs, but maybe that’s nitpicking.

‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ by Kylie Minogue is her biggest hit, and while not quite as far down the line as ‘Believe’ was for Cher, it still came over a decade into her pop career. ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ is a classy dance-pop track and considered one of the ultimate noughties tracks. While I don’t think it’s that similar to ‘… Baby One More Time’, what it has in common is that it transcends genre tastes, even people who aren’t really into pop/dance quite like it, and it’s been covered many times. The Flaming Lips did an interesting take on it. Like ‘… Baby One More Time’ it also could have been released by different artists. ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ is synonymous with Kylie, but it was considered for both S Club 7 and Sophie Ellis-Bextor before her! It’s interesting to think about all these multiple pop parallel universes.

While Justin Timberlake’s ‘Cry Me A River’ and Robbie Williams ‘Angels’ are very different types of songs, in both cases they are the track that made an ex-boybander into a solo superstar. The production by Timbaland (not to be confused with Timberlake himself) on ‘Cry Me A River’ was excellent. Timbaland’s production did get a bit ubiquitous in the mid-noughties, but it is great to hear it again.

Speaking of ubiquitous, ‘You’re Beautiful’ by James Blunt was everywhere in 2005, to the point where a lot of people got sick of it, and even James Blunt started taking the piss out of it. But, again, I hadn’t heard it in a while and after listening to it again on Now 100, I’d forgotten that it is actually a pretty good song!

Summer 2006 and many since were full of ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ by Shakira feat. Wyclef Jean. It could probably still be a huge hit if it had been released today, especially given that Latin pop is back in.

‘Rule The World’ by Take That is probably my favourite of the movie songs on CD2 to be honest. It’s a rather lovely and uplifting song. I think the film it was written for, Stardust, is very underrated too.

I like how the song immediately after ‘Rule The World’ is ‘Viva La Vida’ by Coldplay! Going from “we can rule the world” in the Take That song to “I used to rule the world” in the Coldplay song in just a few seconds! That’s a short reign! ‘Viva La Vida’ is Coldplay’s biggest hit to date, and it is a fantastic track, quite a sophisticated pop song which today is regarded as a classic. I’m a little taken aback that this song is 10 years old now!

While I have grown fond of Katy Perry over the years, when she first arrived in the pop charts I couldn’t stand her, and ‘I Kissed A Girl’ certainly hasn’t improved with age. It’s really irritating, obnoxious and tacky, and it’s whole “I kissed a girl… for attention, but I’m totes not a lezzer!” vibe just gets more tasteless with each year.

Finally, we’re in the current decade with the last three tracks, but they feel a bit weaker, possibly because they haven’t been around long enough for us to know whether they have stood the test of time, and they are still in the overplayed stage, so there hasn’t been a chance to miss them.

The best of them is ‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars. It’s a cool, funk track with lots of horns, and was an international charttopper. I’d hazard a guess that it will be the one most seen as a classic in later decades.

‘Sing’ by Ed Sheeran was co-written by Pharrell Williams, who also provides backing vocals on it. Ed Sheeran also co-wrote the final track on Now 100, ‘Love Yourself’ by Justin Bieber. ‘Love Yourself’ is a bit of a dreary, petulant song, so unfortunately it’s quite a poor note to end this compilation on.

But, with a couple of exceptions, CD2 of Now 100 is a good selection of hits from the period that the Now! albums have been around.

Overview

When the tracklisting was announced, some people were disappointed, not with the idea of having new and classic hits, but that it was still only 2 CDs. I guess people might have been expecting 4 or more, but practically that might have been hard to do. The Now! team has given interviews about the anniversary, and stated that clearing songs can be difficult, especially for big US stars, and sometimes they don’t know if they can clear it until the last minute.

An advantage of this format is that there is much less filler than what you usually get on Now! albums. With only one CD of hits, all of them are decent sized ones, while on CD2 they all had to be huge hits to be considered classics anyway.

The tracklisting was never going to please everybody, mainly because everyone’s favourite Now!s tend to be the ones that were released during their teenage years. Most of the people who buy Now! albums are apparently in the 25-34 age group (which I fit in! Though admittedly on the older end). That probably explains why not only do we get a noughties nostalgia song, the noughties get the lion’s share of the classic hits, with 9. The noughties would have been the teenage years of the main demographic. Also, if you are in the 25-34 age group then the Now! albums will have been through your whole lifetime, so it has that “soundtrack to your life” feel.

It has been pointed out by many, not least DJ Mark Goodier, the voice of the Now! adverts, that a lot of people discover songs from Now! albums, so people may get a
chance to discover new and old music from this album!

There will be a spin-off Now! which will further the milestone celebration, called Now That’s What I Call Now – 100 hits from 100 Nows.

I really like the cover of Now 100, it’s very bright, colourful and sparky. The booklet is good too, it includes small pictures of all 100 Now! covers, and a picture of  the original 1930s Danish Bacon poster which inspired the title. It shows a pig on a wall listening to a hen singing, and the pig saying “Now that’s what I call music!”. It was originally going for a bacon and eggs thing, but it has been immortalised as part of this franchise. The booklet ends with a Thank You from the Now! team to the fans, which was nice. I liked the black and gold font too. Sam Sparro’s ‘Black and Gold’ wasn’t included on the album, but you can’t have everything.

Unsurprisingly, Now 100 has the best weekly sales for an album so far in 2018.

Now 100 was a good celebration of the franchise, and long may it continue!

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