You never forget your first Now! That’s What I Call Music album. Mine was Now 42, released in March 1999, 20 years ago. Yes, let that sink in. The last year of ’90s was 20 years ago, and after this year the 2010s will be over.
I got Now 42 on double cassette tape, but what I’m using to listen to it again and write this review is a CD version which I got for just £1 at a charity shop.
The colour scheme of the cover is green and yellow, with yellow stars on a green background, which also looks a bit like someone has cut their grass in star shapes.
‘Believe’ by Cher still gets played a lot on the radio to this day! That famous vocoder effect sounds quite funny now, but other than that it has stood the test of time pretty well! The CD booklet gives some impressive stats too. ‘Believe’ is Cher’s biggest hit in the UK, the biggest selling and longest running UK No. 1 single of 1998, and the biggest selling single by a solo female artist in the UK… ever! And at the time of writing, it still holds that record! With streaming increasing and sales declining, it may hold it permanently.
The production for ‘Goodbye’ by the Spice Girls is really strong! I think this track is underrated, but I guess with the Spice Girls having so many hits that some of them get lost in the shuffle. ‘Goodbye’ was their third Christmas number one in a row. It’s also notable for the B-side being the Spice Girls cover of ‘Christmas Wrapping’ by The Waitresses. The title ‘Goodbye’ might make it sound like their last song, but they had a couple more after this, ‘Holler/Let Love Lead The Way’ in 2000 and their comeback ‘Headlines (Friendship Never Ends)’ in 2007, but with hindsight ‘Goodbye’ marked the end of their heyday. ‘Goodbye’ was also the first Spice Girls song not to feature Geri Halliwell, and while it wasn’t originally written about her leaving the group, for the other Spice Girls and their fans the lyrics did take on a new meaning. A lot of us will also associate it with things like leavers parties/graduations, because it was played on them for a few years afterwards.
Fatboy Slim had a number one hit with ‘Praise You’, which is considered a classic now. Like many Fatboy Slim tracks, it features several samples and arranges them skillfully into one record. Of the samples, the most notable is the vocals, which are from ‘Take Yo’ Praise’ by Camille Yarbrough.
Another bonafide dance classic is ‘You Don’t Know Me’ by Armand Van Helden feat. Duane Harden. I found out from the CD booklet that Armand Van Helden’s “before they
were famous” jobs include working at a law firm and “flipping burgers”, so he’s got quite a varied C.V. really!
‘Erase/Rewind’ by The Cardigans is absolutely gorgeous! It’s a very lush and dreamy track, taken from their Gran Turismo album. I think ‘Erase/Rewind’ has always been overshadowed by the rockier ‘My Favourite Game’, which was the first single from Gran Turismo. Although ‘Erase/Rewind’ technically charted higher in the UK (it made number 7, while ‘My Favourite Game’ reached number 14), ‘My Favourite Game’ was on the radio for years afterwards. In fact, it still gets played a fair bit now. I admit I do like ‘My Favourite Game’ better myself, but ‘Erase/Rewind’ deserves more appreciation. It does seem to be getting more radio play recently.
The Corrs – ‘What Can I Do’ is on here, and it is the Tin Tin Out remix. It doesn’t get much more late ’90s radio than that! I prefer the original mix on their Talk On Corners album personally, but I like this version too, it’s so lovely! It makes me want to slowly wave my arms in the air. It was also stuck in my head for days after I listened to this CD! And I ended up putting the song back in my friend’s head too just by mentioning it!
Actually, having said that you can’t get more late ’90s radio than the Tin Tin Out remix of ‘What Can I Do’, Now 42 will raise you the Mint Royale remix of ‘Tequila’ by Terrorvision. I was far too young to drink back in 1999, but I still remember hearing the “salt, lemon and lime” line a lot. Growing up in Yorkshire, local radio played a lot of hits by Yorkshire bands, ‘Tubthumping’ by Chumbawamba in particular.
Also, The Beautiful South. I heard so much of them, especially as my parents were huge fans. The Beautiful South have a track on here, ‘How Long’s A Tear Take To Dry?’ memorable for the animated Scooby Doo-style video. While they had bigger hits than this, ‘How Long’s A Tear Take To Dry?’ is the Beautiful South track I hear played most on the radio nowadays. In the Now 42 CD booklet they say the song is taken from the album Choke, but this is an error, as Choke was in fact their second album, released in 1990. The album ‘How Long’s A Tear Take To Dry?’ was taken from was called Quench.
Brassy Britpop track ‘National Express’ by The Divine Comedy was their highest charting hit, peaking at number 8, and is a song very much etched in my memory.
‘Just Looking’ by The Stereophonics is a contender for my favourite track of theirs, the other one is their number one single from 2005 ‘Dakota’. Though by “favourite”, I mean those are the only two songs of theirs I like at all! But they are both good tracks.
Robbie Williams – ‘Strong’ sounds very Britpop-ish, and contains a few of the sort of light, everyday comical asides which endeared him so much to the British public, like “I dance just like me dad” and “my bed is full of takeaways”. Some are very much “of its time”, like “the pause button is broken on my video” and references to talkshows hosted by Oprah Winfrey and Rikki Lake.
Lenny Kravitz scored a number one hit with ‘Fly Away’, which was used on a Peugeot advert. While the chorus of ‘Fly Away’ is very “rhyming dictionary” (fly/sky/high/ dragonfly), the rocky backing track is still pretty great.
The track I associate with Christmas 1998 is ‘Always Have, Always Will’ by Ace Of Base, as I played that a lot back then. It sounds a little Christmassy, despite it not being in any way a Christmas song. It is strange how we can associate songs with specific times, isn’t it? Like I remember my grandma taking me and my brother to a Pontins holiday camp in 1993, and the children’s entertainment The Crocodile Club having Ace Of Base’s Happy Nation album on a loop.
Another song I played a lot in Christmas 1998 was ‘End Of The Line’ by the Honeyz! It’s a smooth, silky R&B ballad and one of the most classy tracks on here.
The track straight after the Honeyz on Now 42 is ‘Honey To The Bee’ by Billie (Piper, but at this point she was known as a mononym). It was one of her best tracks, a bit more R&B influenced than most of her stuff. It’s as sweet as honey (an obvious comparison, I know). It reached number 3 in 1999, and was back in the charts again in 2007, reaching number 17 after a Radio One campaign by DJ Chris Moyles.
‘Honey To The Bee’ features the London Community Gospel Choir, and they make a second appearance on this compilation on ‘Tender’ by Blur. Look, don’t get me wrong,
‘Tender’ is a really pleasant track, but it’s 7 and a half minutes long, which seems a little…. more than necessary.
Considering there are so many great songs on here, it’s odd that what gets track 1 on CD 1 is Boyzone’s cover of Billy Ocean’s ‘When The Going Gets Tough’. It was a charity single for Comic Relief, and was a big hit at the time. It’s not dreadful, but a pretty mediocre start really.
Speaking of Comic Relief charity singles, if you remember in 2005 when Peter Kay did a comedy video to the 1971 track ‘(Is This The Way To) Amarillo’ by Tony Christie? Well, I found out from listening to Now 42 again that there was an earlier attempt to revive Tony Christie’s career. He sings on ‘Walk Like A Panther’ by the All Seeing I, which was co-written by Jarvis Cocker from Pulp, and released in 1999. The lyrics “fly like an eagle/prowl like a lion/leap like a salmon” made me think of BraveStarr, a 1987 cartoon series with a setting which was like the Wild West, but IN SPACE!!! and in which BraveStarr would try to invoke the “eyes of the hawk/ears of the wolf/strength of the bear/speed of the puma”. Just noticed, we have ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s nostalgia here in one paragraph!
Steps have a song on here called ‘Better Best Forgotten’. It’s just too easy to make a joke out of that song title. But really, it hasn’t aged well. It’s very bland, and the by-the-numbers ’90s electropop production sounds very cheap now.
They appear a couple of songs later too. Steps, Tina Cousins, Cleopatra, B*Witched and Billie – ‘Thank ABBA For The Music’, a medley of ABBA songs performed at the 1999
BRIT Awards. It does sound extremely karaoke, but it was quite fun at the time.
Tina Cousins has another song on here, ‘Killing Time ’99’, which is very ’90s electrodance. I liked it at the time, I still like it now. She’s best known for being the vocalist on ‘Mysterious Times’ by Sash!, who appears on this compilation himself with ‘Colour The World’, which is about not judging people by the colour of their skin, and gives a message of hope for world peace.
Surprisingly, ‘We Like To Party (The Vengabus)’ by The Vengaboys does still pop up fairly regularly on TV and internet memes, but it’s mostly in an “ironic” way. It is pretty fun, so I can see why it’s still around in some form.
There’s also a Europop cover of the Dave Seville novelty song ‘Witch Doctor’, courtesy of Danish act The Cartoons, who were Toonie, Buzz, Shooter (with tank shaped shoes), Sponge (with a sponge wig) and two female Elvis impersonators Puddy and Boop. Again, it was kind of fun, but doesn’t make much sense outside of the late ’90s.
I remember constantly rewinding ‘I Wish I Could Fly’ by Roxette on the cassette tape, because I liked the song and it wasn’t one I heard much elsewhere!
Boyband 911 appear on this compilation, and in the CD booklet they are pictured with someone dressed up, theme park mascot style, as Casper The Friendly Ghost. I’m not
sure why. There was a film adaptation of Casper in the ’90s, but it came out in 1995, so 4 years before this CD was released!
I had completely forgotten about this, but Deetah – ‘El Pariso Rico’ is a hip hop reworking of Madonna’s ‘La Isla Bonita’! Similarly, rapper A+ has a track ‘Enjoy Yourself’ which samples ‘A Fifth Of Beethoven’ by Walter Murphy from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack – and ‘A Fifth Of Beethoven’ itself is a reworking of, you’ve guessed it, classical composer Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
‘Protect Your Mind (For The Love Of A Princess)’ by DJ Sarkin & Friends is a dance remix of the orchestral theme from the film Braveheart. Yes, really. Though it’s not the worst track on the compilation. That, by a long way, is ‘Flat Beat’ by Mister Oizo. It’s just a load of random sound effects with a grating, repetitive bassline. It got to number one, but frankly I don’t think anyone bought it for the song. It was part of an annoying Levi jeans advert that was on TV all the time featuring a yellow puppet thing named Flat Eric.
A much better song which became associated with an advert is ‘Inkayezi Nezazi (The Star & The Wiseman)’, by South African acapella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It charted after being featured in a series of adverts for Heinz. On one level, it’s good that they gained some more mainstream exposure from that, but on another, a lot of us won’t be able to hear this majestic song without thinking of baked beans!
The last track on CD1 is a singer called Justin. Nowadays, we have Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber in the charts, but I guess in 1998 it was an unusual enough popstar name to be a mononym.
The final track on CD2, and therefore the whole compilation, is ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’, a ballad by Dusty Springfield which made number one in 1966. She passed away in 1999, and the song was included as a tribute to her. For me, it was an introduction to her music, and I was very impressed. I found that I liked a lot of her other songs, and I liked her as an artist, I went on to read a lot of articles and watch documentaries about her. So that is another thing I always remember Now 42 for.
Listening to Now 42 again, it brings back memories from that time, and it is a decent compilation, there is a lot of variety and most of the songs still sound good today.