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Reminiscing on “Now That’s What I Call Music!”

Kevin Noonan | Monday, November 26, 2012


Here are two fun facts about the “Now That’s What I Call Music!” series:

1. It’s been around since 1983 (it was released in the U.K. primarily until 1998). The Berlin Wall was still standing.

2. Not even counting the spinoff series (which includes separate U.S. releases, since this is a U.K. original), there are 83 of them. Eighty-three. That’s more albums than Lady Gaga and Ke$ha have songs combined.

This series has been around forever, and its long and storied history is rich with one-hit wonders, terrible songs and easy-to-make jokes. Too much for one column, for sure.

Part 1: “Now That’s What I Call Music!” ’80s and ’90s


Cassette tapes were a thing once. Even
better, vinyl.

The 1983 original, fondly known as “Now 1,” was released in vinyl and, in attempt to be ahead of the technological curve, cassette tape. It was released in the U.K. initially, and reached number one in the U.K. charts in 1983, on the back of 11 songs that reached number one on the U.K. singles chart.


That Duran Duran was SO hot back then.

Duran Duran is featured seven times in the first eight albums. Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel and Genesis are featured a collective eight times on the first eight, but it wasn’t all under one banner, so they don’t get their own “Zoolander” reference.


Send a thank you note, Aerosmith

The eighth installment, in 1986, featured a single from up-and-coming rap group Run-DMC, “Walk This Way.” The wildly popular single featured the rap trio of Run, D.M.C. and Jam-Master Jay (pour one out) rapping over one of Aerosmith’s early hits of the same way. In addition to adding to the popularity of Run-D.M.C., the single helped revitalize Aerosmith’s career. For better or worse, I suppose.


There’s a band named Bananarama?

Apparently there’s a British female pop group by the name of Bananarama. Their music and name isn’t recognizable, but they made more than one appearance on “Now” in the ’80s.


Just realizing how British these things are.

The 15th edition, in 1985, includes Gladys Knight’s James Bond theme song, “License to Kill.” That sounds like an awfully British thing to do, so checking down the other artists on the list, it becomes apparent just how much of a British influence there is on these albums. They weren’t released in the U.S. until 1998.


Let’s show England how good American music can be ¾ give ’em Paula Abdul.

In the first ’90s release, the Brits were treated to that cornerstone of American music tradition, Paula Abdul, in the form of her single, “Opposites Attract.” It also featured Tina Turner, but with one of her less popular tracks in “I Don’t Wanna Lose You.”


More like two-hit wonder, am I right Vanilla Ice?

The 19th edition, in 1991, features the B-side of Vanilla Ice’s most and only popular track. The A-side,  “Ice, Ice, Baby,” was not included. Instead, “Now That’s What I Call Music 19” picked “Play That Funky Music.” Good call.


Not exactly a trendsetter, are you?

By the end of 1992, “Now” had featured three MC Hammer songs, at least two songs popular in the early ’70s and one song by the Monty Python crew. Nirvana and Pearl Jam, who at the time were revolutionizing rock music in America, are nowhere to be seen.


Posthumous poor taste.

The 25th edition, in 1995, featured one of Freddie Mercury’s solo singles from 1985, “Living on My Own.” Mercury died in 1991. Maybe let the guy rest for a few years?


Blur had more than one song.

Blur, most famous for “Song 2” in which they yell a bunch in the chorus, has a song, “Girls and Boys,” featured on the 28th edition in 1994. Who knew?


Duran Duran just won’t go away.

The band keeps popping up throughout the ’90s, including the 31st edition in 1995 with “White Lines (Don’t Do It).” Somebody in that band’s uncle must’ve worked for the producers of the album.


Finally, one where I recognize the songs.

The 34th edition, in 1996, features the Spice Girls with “Wannabe,” 2pac with “California Love” and Oasis with “Wonderwall.” This is my favorite one so far. Also, Blur has even more songs. Color me blown away.



In the last edition before they started releasing in the U.S. they start it off right ¾ “Tubthumping,” by Chumbawumba is the first track. That’s what’s up.


British Invasion of “Now Music!” isn’t quite as cool as the Beatles, but it’s okay.

The first exclusive U.S. release is in 1998, featuring some classic ’90s tracks. “Flagpole Sitta,” “Sex and Candy” and “Mmmbop” are all a part of the action.


1999 is the peak.

The two U.S. releases in 1999 have some of the best tracks on any of the releases to that point, including singles from Smashmouth, Jay-Z, Blink 182, Britney Spears, Enrique Iglesias, Fatboy Slim and the Backstreet Boys. Going out on top. I like it.


Contact  Kevin Noonan at knoonan2@nd.edu 

The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.