So, I now have 12 years of Now That’s What I Call Music albums done, and a huge spread sheet detailing my opinions on every one of these. 1003 songs, by 546 different artists. Working on a 4 minutes per song average (which is pretty fast and loose, but it’ll do), that works out at 2 days 19 hours spent listening to pop music. As a big fan of big data, that at least throws up some interesting results- I may add some extra detail for next time, to add some more analytical joy. But for now, it’s just about quality, and the various winners and losers this time around.
So firstly, who sits astride the 80’s and 90’s as a pop colossus? To qualify for this, I set a limit at a minimum of 5 songs featured, and then based it on the tried and true Groom Method™ of rating to work out how well they had done*. They are presented in the time honoured tradition of reverse order, as per the Top of the Pops act, 1973. Feel free to whistle the riff from Whole Lotta Love as you read this. And the winners are as follows;
10) Eternal– 70% from 5 songs
A surprise new entry at number 10. Consistently great across their first salvo of singles, and deservedly here. Can they hold on to this spot in 10 Now albums time? Only time will tell (but I’m going to guess no. No they can’t)
9) East 17– 75% from 6 songs
And more new at number 9! Walthamstow wonders East 17 bringing their cheeky brand of pop and endearingly terrible rapping to the top 10.
8) Erasure– 79% from 12 songs
Falling 5 places from number 3 last time round, quirky electro pop still doing brilliantly- that they’ve stayed so good over 12 singles is a fantastic achievement, and to my mind, their place in the pop canon is earned and deserved.
7) The Cure– 80% from 5 songs
And the first entry from the indie canon. Robert Smith and co. appear, having consistently popped up with a Lovecats here, and a Close To Me there, taking number 7 by stealth.
6) Queen (including Freddie Mercury)- 81% from 13 songs
Even Freddie’s demise couldn’t hold back the operatic rock juggernaut that is Queen. A slight drop from 4 to 6 here, for which you have George Michael to blame!
5) Tina Turner– 82% from 11 songs
No movement from number 5 for Tina Turner, who actually improves her rating this time around. She’s just never not brilliant.
4) Duran Duran– 83% from 9 songs
Her come the Brummies! Dropping one place to number 4, despite their sell by date arriving in 1993, who can argue against their new wave pop flair?
3) Fine Young Cannibals/ Neneh Cherry– 90% from 5 songs
From both ends of the spectrum, the R&B and early trip hop of Neneh Cherry, and the almost schizophrenic genre jumping of the Fine Young Cannibals both more than earn their bronze medals for the 10 great pop songs they’ve released.
2) Pet Shop Boys– 94% from 9 songs
You cant argue with such consistent brilliance. They boil pop down to it’s most essential parts- great tunes and witty lyrics, and are just an inescapable force of pop nature.
1) KLF/ Salt ‘n’ Pepa– 100% from 5 songs
A double new entry for the number one spot, bossing the early 90’s with either situationist craziness, or hip hop heaven, both worthy of running the crown.
In the interests of those artists who just didn’t have enough songs on, here are the remaining artists who didn’t quite qualify for the Top 10, but are yet to have even an average song included yet.
4 songs- Take That
3 songs- Norman Cook (and side projects), Heaven 17, James, Massive Attack, Morrissey, Peter Gabriel, R Kelly, REM, Transvision Vamp
2 songs- Arrested Development, Betty Boo, Bitty McLean, Bjork, Blur, Cameo, CeCe Peniston, Cranberries, Culture Beat,De La Soul, En Vogue, Faith No More, Flying Pickets, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Kate Bush, Malcolm Mclaren, Meatloaf, Oasis, Paul Hardcastle, Prince, Righteous Brothers, Snap, Tasmin Archer, Ugly Kid Joe, Utah Saints, Voice of the Beehive, Whitesnake
Again, you need to take the rough with the smooth, and these are, scientifically, the roughest things out there according to my scientific methods.
10) Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark– 40% from 5 songs
Not a bad band per se, but not a singles band, and it shows in their final tally.
9) Kim Wilde- 40% from 5 songs
I’m shocked too! But outside of Kids in America and killing it in denim jackets, there are a lot of bad songs.
8) Chaka Demus and the Pliers– 40% from 5 songs
In their defense, Tease Me is an undeniable killer tune, but a whole smorgasbord of bland lover’s rock lets them down badly.
7) INXS– 33% from 6 songs
Dropping three places (which in this instance, is a good thing), but clearly massively overrated nonetheless.
6) Simple Minds– 31% from 8 songs
Don’t you, forget that that’s just about their only decent song. Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t. Still, a fall of 4 places on the strength of a nearly good song.
5) Roxette– 30% from 5 songs
It Must Have Been Love is again, unimpeachable in it’s greatness, but after that, a barren wasteland of the mediocre.
4) Cliff Richard– 30% from 5 songs
It’s feasible that he could actually climb higher if The Millennium Prayer is included on a future volume. Down one place, but no new songs on the last 10 Now! albums.
2=) Level 42– 25% from 6 songs
Tied for 2nd, and no move on last time, it’s the mediocre bass led crapness of Level 42.
2=) Culture Club (including Boy George et al)- 25% from 6 songs
And level on corpulence, a band with two brilliant songs, one of which wasn’t even featured on these albums.
1) Style Council– 0% from 5 songs
Will Paul Weller ever be able to get a positive score from me? Let’s say no now, even if it kills any suspense. He just has to hope something worse happens in the next 20 years…
3 songs– Brother Beyond
2 songs– D Ream, Enya, Feargal Sharkey, Go West, Kim Appleby, Lisa Stansfield, Living in a Box, Sydney Youngblood, Then Jerico, Urban Cookie Collective
As ever, quantity is not necessarily quality. but it certainly shows that they were doing something right, and people were buying it. So the most featured artists so far are as follows;
1) Phil Collins (inc. Genesis)- 16 songs
Say what you like about the man himself, Phil Collins has appeared on more than half of the Now! albums at this point. Over an hour of my listening has been to his dulcet tones. That may actually be more disturbing than if I had watched Buster without setting fire to my telly.
2) Queen (inc. Freddie Mercury)- 13 songs
Nearly as huge, and without the majority of the tracks that make up their first Greatest Hits album. And with Freddie being dead for a quarter of these albums too.
3) Communards (inc. Bronski Beat and Jimmy Somerville)/ Erasure– 12 songs
Without wishing to appear homophobic, or ascribing a trait to any group of people unfairly, based on this evidence, being gay makes you an amazing songwriter.
UB40/ Tina Turner– 11 songs
Reggae and soul, done well is always going to sell.
The Beautiful South (inc. The Housemartins)- 10 songs
Paul Heaton is just brilliant. If Norman Cook were included they’d be unstoppable.
So, where does this leave the Now! albums as a whole? Well, continuing my hypotheses from before, that the best pop is released in even numbered years, you can see that there is a minor spike in 1992, and a larger spike in 1994, continuing to support my theory. Perhaps cultural sea changes happen in odd years (the Summers of Love of 1969 and 1987, punk in 1977, grunge in 1991) that then permeate the pop culture in the following year, bringing a fresh wind of change? That’s my best theory so far, and ghere is a graph, because statistics prove everything.
I have continued to make a graph mapping the quality by volume number, but I am yet to discern anything from this information that is of value. I am also starting to create weighted figures to take into account that the volumes get larger as time goes on. For example, Now 1 had 30 tracks, whereas by Now 29, they settled on 40 tracks per volume, and by Now 90, we’re nearer 50! However, my current methodology is too simple, and needs further balancing to be of any real worth. I have included a second graph showing my current, broken figures, for information only. Essentially, both these graphs are useless. ENJOY!
My current weighting clearly shows an improvement in quality overall, which I am not sure the music itself justifies. However, Boom! Shake the Room may just explain this.
One Last Top 5
This time, being the top 5 Now! albums so far, and a few tracks that explain why.
1) Now 7 (August 1986)- 66%
Pet Shop Boys- Opportunities, The Housemartins- Happy Hour, Peter Gabriel- Sledgehammer
2) Now 27 (March 1994)- 64%
Enigma- Return to Innocence, Tori Amos- Cornflake Girl, Doop- Doop
3) Now 3 (July 1984)- 63%
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five- White Lines (Don’t Do It), Bronski Beat- Smalltown Boy, Sister Sledge- Thinking of You
4) Now 12 (August 1988)- 63%
The Timelords- Doctorin’ the Tardis, Salt ‘n’ Pepa- Push It, Morrissey- Every Day is Like Sunday
5) Now 17 (April 1990)- 63%
Beats International- Dub Be Good to Me, Happy Mondays- Step On, Adamski feat. Seal- Killer
See you in another ten!
* The Groom Method™- A great song is given one point, average half a point, and a crap song, nil points. This is then divided by the number of songs and multiplied by 100 to give a percentage score. You just wasted 20 seconds of your life reading this.