The NOW compilations are often the gateway into your very own music taste; to owning it, curating a style, understanding the importance of a running order and finding your hero. For the last few decades, thrice a year, a NOW collection has summarised a moment in popular music. Even at a time when YouTube has the industry by the balls, the NOW CDs (and occasionally vinyl) continue to sell, and are as much as part of British music history as The Beatles or Top Of The Pops.
We asked Team TRASH for their memories on the NOW series, from firsts to favourites…
Times were tough for Santa back in 1994, but nevertheless my ‘main present’ (NOW 29) would turn out to be one of my favourite presents (and NOWs) of all time – a first date and under-the-mistletoe kiss in an ongoing love affair with music. With Cassette 1 Side 1 alone I was introduced to reggae (Big Mountain, Baby Come Back), soap-star turned popstars (Michelle Gayle‘s Sweetness – an underrated 90s classic), dance (Rhythm Of The Night), cheese (Whigfield‘s Saturday Night – still a wedding disco fave), and established icons (Cyndi Lauper, New Order). I was already aware of Take That, and was incredibly frustrated that as an 8 year old I was refused the right to have my hair dreadlocked and eyebrow pierced like Howard Donald.
Picking a favourite NOW is like picking a favourite child – easy (probably, I don’t have children but even if I did I don’t think I’d lie to the favourite or the others…). I seem to remember NOW 44 – the last of the 20th century – getting a lot of my airtime, and it was an odd one too: CD1 Track 1 (Britney Spears‘ Baby One More Time) had been released 9 months before, Shania Twain‘s That Don’t Impress Me Much was released pre-summer, and Steps‘ Tragedy was over a year old! Because of this, however, it was hit heavy – including 4 Spice Girl solo numbers (2 from Geri), 2 legendary ladies (Diana Ross and Tina Turner), and a LOT of short-lived pop acts (Lolly, Lou Bega, Eiffel 65…). Even more than your average NOW, it seems that NOW 44 was a real snapshot of what life was like pre Y2K.
My first ever NOW was the 41st edition. I got it for Christmas in 1998 – on tape, obviously. I remember the reason I wanted it so badly was because it had Jennifer Paige’s Crush and Sheryl Crow’s My Favourite Mistake; each song was a complete hit, and I think I broke it cos I kept playing it nonstop in my cassette player.
My favourite albums from the series are NOW 45 and NOW 65. I remember buying 65 when when I was 13, and it had all my teenage angst songs, from P!nk to The Fratellis, and The Killers to Amy Winehouse/Lily Allen. Personally I think it was the last year where there was good music around – since then its just been EDM shite and no proper talent. NOW 45 was released in 2000, and had Steps, Shania, Britney, Craig David and Blink 182. Hun, it was a tune after tune and it was my summer CD of 2006.
Way back in 1985 my oldest brother was lucky enough to be sent NOW 6 (from Santa) on cassette – the coolest way to enjoy the sweet sounds of the 80s. I am pretty sure this was the first time that anyone other than my parents owned music; it was time to say farewell ABBA‘s greatest hits and the scratchy tuneless vocals of Bob Dylan – now the pop charts were goning take over. My brother hi-jacked the stereo and played the dual cassettes on repeat, starting with Queen‘s One Vision (is there any better opening track?), then on to Nik Kershaw‘s When A Heart Beats, then oddly sticking wih the heart theme with Feargal Sharkey‘s only hit, A Good Heart, and Eurythmics‘ There Must Be An Angel. The curator must have run out of heart related pop magic so we were left with the glorious Alive n Kicking by Simple Minds, and ended with Marillion‘s Lavender. And that was just side A of tape 1! Side B wasn’t as hot, with only Kate Bush‘s Running Up That Hill and Tina Turner‘s Mad Max 3 mega hit, and tape 2 didn’t retrieve as much love on the family sound system. I literally had to look up the track listing to discover that Arcadia of all bands made an appearance. Sadly my brother obviously wasn’t a fan, so I just basically heard tape 1 on repeat, and to this day I can’t hear Queen without instantly expecting the opening keyboard part to When A Heart Beats. Good times.
For many a child of the 80’s like myself my first taste of pop music’s rich tapestry came with the periodic release of the latest NOW compilation. In an age of instant gratification all you can eat streaming, it’s easy to forget the genuine excitement that came with the release of each-two disc menagerie of the great and good in the charts at that time. As a teenager it was without fail the easiest way to get your hands on the latest pop hits without shelling out a couple of a quid for each tape or CD single, or battling the play/rec buttons on your recorder with the dulcet tones of Mark Goodier.
My first NOW compilation was NOW 32 – a christmas gift that gave me hours of aural pleasure. Released in November 1995, I can still remember the first strains of Queen’s Heaven for Everyone as disc one began (I’d quickly skip to track three – Fairground by Simply Red) then venturing through the rock and indie of disc one to the Europop of the time on disc two – who can forget Corona’s Rhythm of the Night, Whigfield and The Outhere Brothers?!
My favourite NOW was to come a couple of years later. 1997 for me was the pinnacle of my early love affair with pop music, and set the tone for my listening habits for much of life to come. When NOW 39 arrived in April 1998 it was a who’s who of the big hitters of the time – Spice Girls, All Saints, Robbie Williams, Texas, The Verve et al. The dancier sounds of disc two soundtracked my early forays into the nightclub scene and some of the tracks now deliver pangs of nostalgia that can’t be beaten – Sash!, DJ Quicksilver, Aqua to name but a few. The final track – Vanilla’s No Way No Way is a hilariously bad attempt at Spice Girls girl power that I urge you to rediscover and fish out of Woolies metaphorical bargain bin.
It’s hard to imagine now the connection teens will have with the NOW series – but I hope there still are many out there that cherish these anthologies and revisit them as windows back to their days gone by as I do.