This article is part of a series, chronicling a foolish attempt to chronicle the history of modern pop, through the Now That’s What I Call Music series. All the previous articles, and some other fun stuff, can be found here.
Released- 24th November 1986
The Smiths play their final show, and the Beastie Boys release License to Ill the first hip-hop album to reach no. 1 (in the States. We English took a little longer to come up to speed). The circle of musical life goes on. Now albums are back on CD again, but you only get 20 tracks. What a ripoff.
2 years and 9 months old. God knows what I was doing. If I were Mozart, I would have about 2 years 3 months left to make my first composition. Just one of the many ways I have failed to become a genius! On the bright side, If I were Mozart, I’d only have 5 years left to live, so lets raise a glass to survival and mediocrity!
If I had to save one track from this album, and the remainder were doomed to become the playlist for Heart FM for the rest of all eternity, that track would be… decided by a flip of a coin, Word Up. Walk This Way and Don’t Give Up are both more deserving, but I went on pure fun here, so Cameo won the day. Also, Kate Bush is already in there for Running Up That Hill, and Run DMC don’t deserve to be remembered by that song when they have about ten better ones.
Track by track breakdown
Duran Duran : “Notorious”
They appear to have worked out that these albums should come out strong. Chic groove with added cockiness. Music to swagger by.
Pet Shop Boys : “Suburbia”
Beautiful and slightly maudlin. It feels like staring out a train window as you leave the verdant countryside, and return to grey concrete. But in an emotional moving way.
Run DMC vs Aerosmith : “Walk This Way”
Indisputable classic. About threesomes. Regardless of both bands reality TV and X Factor sins, this will forever stand the test of time. Rap rock’s problem, like political comedy, is that it is very difficult to succeed at both at the same time. This strikes that balance perfectly.
Communards with Sarah Jane Morris : “Don’t Leave Me This Way”
Hi NRG disco cover of the classic number. With so many parts that are so 80’s and naff it should be a failure. Instead it is like a big slice of disco joy pie.
Swing Out Sister : “Breakout”
Opens with the exact same chord progression as R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet. Really, that’s about the nicest thing I can find to say about it.
Steve Winwood : “Higher Love”
Faux funk, enjoyable but ultimately empty. Steve Winwood has proven far more capable than this in the past, which just exacerbates the feeling of dissapointment.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark : “(Forever) Live and Die”
Perfectly nice. Would be a good song if it actually decided to go anywhere.
Genesis : “In Too Deep”
I think I’ve solved the Phil Collins hate thing. When he’s good, he’s brilliant, but when he’s bad, as in this instance, it makes you want to pour sulfuric acid down your ear canal.
Cameo : “Word Up”
The silliest voice south of the B-52s can’t ruin the sheer pop funk fun of this song. One to strut to. Still confused at to the sneaking in of Ennio Morriconne into every song. But what the hey.
Grace Jones : “I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect for You)”
Sounds like The New Power Generation, fronted by the barmiest, scariest model ever. I love it almost as much as I love the Bond film with her and Christopher Walken as a tag team of odd.
Mel & Kim : “Showing Out (Get Fresh at the Weekend)”
The sound of an 808 being viciously assaulted with some generic weekend/party/dance lyrics on top. Not entirely awful.
Jermaine Stewart : “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off”
Deep joy. Despite not necessarily agreeing with the sentiment (taking your clothes off, in a committed relationship and with consent, often results in good times, good times), it’s a big old infectious pop number that drags you along on a wave of goodwill and smiles.
Jaki Graham : “Step Right Up”
Fast becoming the artist I’m obliged to tolerate once an album to catch up with writing the rest of it. I’m sure I heard it. It said hurry hurry at some point. Not very memorable.
Janet Jackson : “What Have You Done for Me Lately”
Oh Janet, your only real sin is not being your brother. Had MJ or Prince recorded this lite funk, I bet it’d still be on rotation today. Terribly unfair.
Human League : “Human”
Sparse and pretty song. Can’t explain why, but it hits me at my emotional core. A downbeat slice of loveliness.
Boris Gardiner : “I Want to Wake Up with You”
Ever so sweet natured and ever so boring lover’s rock.
Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush : “Don’t Give Up”
Beautifully stark, lonely sounding song. My katebushophila makes any attempt at an unbiased review redundant. There was a guy in a pub in Ramsgate who used to tell everyone he wrote this, and the sax intro to Baker Street
The Housemartins : “Think for a Minute”
I just need to put it out there that there is a Housemartins album called Now That’s What I Call Quite Good, thus creating a perfect closed loop of self reference. It’s really good. So is this. Paul Heaton is one of the most underrated songwriters around. I love wit and cynicism more than I love cronuts.
Madness : “(Waiting For) The Ghost Train”
Some more not badness, but not great Madness. A bloody brilliant intro though. Never quite lives up to the initial barmy promise.
Status Quo : “In the Army Now”
Please stick to silly 12 bar blues fun please lads. This attempt at seriousness is cringeworthy.
Huey Lewis and the News : “Stuck with You”
Sarcastically wonderful love song about the most neglected topic in love songs, the stable long term relationship. Musically it’s nothing special, but good on them for the subject matter.
Big Country : “One Great Thing”
Not actually terrible. Which is high praise given their usual dreck. Jaunty and dare I say it, bordering on fun!
Billy Bragg : “Greetings to the New Brunette”
Left wing, sings about mundane topics in a natural accent. I should love Billy Bragg. I really wish I did. It just leaves me cold and I have no idea why.
Cutting Crew : “(I Just) Died in Your Arms”
A viable contender for the most melodramatic song of all time. Absolutely fantastic, so long as you know not to treat it entirely straight faced.
Kim Wilde : “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”
Normally being the fifth best cover of a song means it’s pretty bad. In this instance the song is so strong, it still gets away with it. Absolutely unnecessary, but not unlistenable.
It Bites : “Calling All the Heroes”
A very messy, scruffy, glam pop number. It sounds like they threw every idea, sound effect, and note they could think of at it. A shambles, but not beyond redemption.
Doctor & The Medics with Roy Wood: “Waterloo”
Pointless glammy cover of the ABBA classic. Ah well.
Debbie Harry : “French Kissin’ in the USA”
I forget how varied Ms Harry’s output can be. This Toto sounding number is okay enough. Nothing spectacular, and yet another saxophone solo.
Robert Palmer : “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On”
Passable disco number with a title that sounds horrible coming out of his mouth. Double standard here. If Prince had said it I’d love it…
Paul Hardcastle : “The Wizard”
Three parts Rock It by Herbie Hancock with 1 part horror silliness. Wish I’d known in time to stick it on a Hallowe’en playlist.
Gwen Guthrie : “(They Long to Be) Close to You”
Horrible cover of an absolute classic. Just listen to the Carpenters and forget this horror ever existed. Don’t even read this, actually. Ignore it.
Nick Berry : “Every Loser Wins”
Okay… so it’s the second best single recorded by an Eastenders cast member- Anita Robson wins that dubious prize. And a good friend of mine used a 7 inch of this song as a booby prize at a Desert Island Discs party once, so it holds a special, silly place in my own musical history.
Final verdict: 19 out of 32, or a more impressive than I thought 59% for this one.
And for once, not retrospectively edited in… Then Play Long’s more literary interpretation of Now 8