On Wednesday I wrote a piece about Now That's What I Call Music Vol. 90 which gets released today. A listener got in touch and, knowing my fondness for making playlists, suggested I make a ‘best of Now’ playlist: all the greatest tracks from volume 1 (1983) to volume 90 (2015). I have done this. These songs I have chosen myself using the following criteria:
I am primarily a fan of indie or alternative music.
I love a good pop song, regardless of genre.
I wanted to recognise classic pop songs that have stood the test of time.
I enjoy great songs, from any genre, that sound good at parties and put a smile on people’s faces.
I wanted to choose songs that I think listeners to TXFM would enjoy.
I don’t like the Black Eyed Peas.
Here is a link to the playlist on Spotify – sorry I can’t embed – so all you do is click and then follow the playlist. The list is compiled chronologically, with tracks from the oldest compilation up to the newest, but if you really want to enjoy it just hit shuffle. 250 songs, over 17 hours of music. Go here:
Perhaps the most interesting thing is to observe how pop music trends have changed over the years, and in many ways you don’t have to be cynical, grumpy, old or curmudgeonly to see that so-called manufactured bands or artists came to dominate the Now series, especially during the late 90s and into the 2000s.
Is it fair to say that TV ‘talent’ shows, such as X-Factor, have ruined pop music? I have my own view, which is that they have, but maybe you disagree. Undoubtedly these shows combine the commercial interests of the production companies behind the shows and the record companies on whose labels the ‘winning’ acts have their songs placed. Yes, they facilitate career development for behind-the-scene songwriters and session musicians, but also a massive marketing machine exists that exploits the consumer. Keep in mind that the major block of the music-buying public for these songs is young teens. Create enough hype and often the quality of actual songs gets overlooked; it can be more about trends and fashion.
The explosion of boybands and girlbands, especially from the year 2000 onwards, gave rise to a multitude of strikingly similar acts on the track-list of many Nowcompilations. In the space of just twelve months you have the likes of the Spice Girls and their individual members (Geri Haliwell, Victoria Beckham) appearing on successive compilations. The same goes for Boyzone (Ronan Keating) and Take That (Robbie Williams). There are acts like S Club 7 and the ghastly S Club 7 Juniors. Other groups like Take That, Westlife, Sugababes, Honeyz, Steps, Blue, Girls Aloud, All Saints, McFly, Atomic Kitten and Busted, all feature heavily around the years 2000 to 2008. It’s almost like a genetic mutation occurred, with the resultant drop in quality and inevitable defects. My point concerns the lack of variety compared toNow compilations of previous decades.
Of course, the famous Stock, Aitken and Waterman song writing and recording partnership of 1984-1993 was pretty much doing the same thing, producing acts like Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley, Dead or Alive and Sinitta. These stars also feature heavily on the Now series of their time, and even afterwards, e.g. Kylie. However, there were still some remarkably diverse collections released around this time. For instance, Now 27 (1994) had the likes of East 17, Eternal and Ace of Base, but it also had The Smashing Pumpkins, Primal Scream and Bjork.
Whereas once there was room for the likes of The Jesus and Mary Chain on Nowcollections, post-2000 non-pop taste was only catered for in mega-selling, crossover acts that were briefly indie/alternative but suddenly found themselves shifting major units, as the record labels would say. Acts like The Killers, Kings of Leon, the Stereophonics, Coldplay and Snow Patrol are prime examples of this, and seem to be the token rock or guitar bands on any Now releases of the past ten years or so.
The emergence of what is, or was, bizarrely considered ‘R n B’ (a term once used by The Who on an anthology of their hits: ‘Maximum R&B’) is also quite a phenomenon. It seemed to begin, or certainly plug itself into the mainstream, from the year 2002 with breakthrough hits from the likes of Ms. Dynamite, Nelly, Beyonce, R Kelly, Ashanti, 50 Cent, and others. Yet just as the boyband-girlband conveyor belt started churning out knock-off models, so too did this relatively new genre of ‘urban’ music. Many acts of recent Now compilations, like Chris Brown, Neyo or Akon, just sound like uninspired derivative efforts of what went before. There are no new ideas.
Alongside all this, and it’s a genre of music I have some fondness for, is the thread of dance music hits. Going back to the likes of the ground-breaking Inner City or the seminal Steve Silk Hurley, dance tracks have been a constant on Now. Sure there have been some awful tunes from the likes of Scooter, DJ Sammy and that kind of thing, but there have been important club and crossover hits such as Faithless by Insomnia or SL2’s On a Ragga Tip.
There are definitely less indie or alternative hits appearing on the Now series. Radiohead, Massive Attack and The Smiths are just some of the bands that have appeared – often more than once – but it doesn’t seem likely that the nod to left-of-centre music is still being maintained. (Interestingly, the massive appeal of Britpop resulted in songs from acts such as Oasis, Blur, The Verve, Pulp, Cast, Embrace and Monaco appearing over a short period in the 1990s. Maybe this was just an aberration, a result of the weird upbeat national mood in the UK at the time, a mood fed by football optimism, ‘lad culture’ and big-chorus rock songs.)
Irish bands have done well, but in reality it has only ever been acts that bother the upper end of the UK charts. Sadly you won’t find National Prayer Breakfast or Engine Alley on any of these collections. Still, it was nice to discover Fairytale Of New York on Now 10 (1987).
Hope you enjoy the playlist!
Sadly the KLF are not on Spotify, as I’d have added 3 a.m. Eternal and Justified & Ancient
Pearl’s Girl by Underworld is sadly not available on Spotify, and neither is Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer
Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’ is not on Spotify, and neither is Paul Oakenfold’s mix of U2’s Even Better Than The Real Thing
I had to go for the original club mix of Steve Silk Hurley’s Jack Your Body and the 12” of Pump Up The Volume by MARS