Now That’s What I Call Music 1981: The Millennium Series (EMI / Virgin / Universal, 1999)

Now Millennium 1981

Now Millennium 1981 r

The 1981 entry in the Millennium series follows the same template as before, coming in a light blue with a variant of the classic 3D logo on the front. Once again, Bob Marley gets mentioned in the sleeve notes but doesn’t actually feature here. “In 1981, the global music community suffered one of its greatest losses – the tragic death of Bob Marley, aged just 36. Later in the year, 20,000 people flocked to Montego Bay’s Fourth International Reggae Sunsplash Festival which was billed as a tribute to Marley. Marley’s music has continued to be a major influence in the work of musicians the world over.”

I’ve covered 21 of the tracks when reviewing previous compilations. These are:
Chart Blasters ’81: Phil Collins – In The Air Tonight, Roxy Music – Jealous Guy, XTC – Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me).
Super Hits: Human League – Love Action (I Believe In Love), Quincy Jones – Razzamatazz, Imagination – Body Talk.
Chart Hits ’81: Ultravox – Vienna, UB40 – One In Ten, Star Sound – ABBA Medley, Godley and Creme – Under Your Thumb, Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin – It’s My Party, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Souvenir, Squeeze – Labelled With Love, Kim Wilde – Kids In America, Smokey Robinson – Being With You, Michael Jackson – One Day In Your Life.
Hits Hits Hits: Elvis Costello – A Good Year For The Roses.
Modern Dance: Visage – Fade To Grey.
Action Trax: Philip Lynott – Yellow Pearl.
Now That’s What I Call Music – Smash Hits: Queen and David Bowie – Under Pressure, The Specials – Ghost Town.

The Tide Is High, originally a hit for The Paragons in 1966, became the lead single on Blondie’s fifth LP Autoamerican. The music video sees Debbie Harry trapped in a flooded apartment and then flying into space. In a prophetic twist, a #1 chart position was achieved – just like Heart Of Glass, Sunday Girl, Call Me, Atomic and 1999’s Maria. Meanwhile the new romantic movement was gathering pace and would peak in 1981: Duran Duran’s third single Girls On Film was their breakthrough and brings back carefree memories of that summer in Courtown Harbour. The song begins with a recording of the rapid whirring of a motor drive on a camera while its raunchy video was directed by Godley and Creme. They are four key mixes: 3:27 (Single Version), 5:31 (Night Version), 5:45 (Extended Night Version), 5:41 (Instrumental Version). B-Side is Faster Than Light.
If you’ve got the time you might consider At Night: A Duran Duran Compilation.
Late Bar / Khanada / Fame / To The Shore / Tel Aviv / Anyone Out There / Faster Than Light / Like An Angel / Hold Back The Rain (Remix) / The Chauffeur (Blue Silver) / Faith In This Colour / Secret Oktober / Tiger Tiger (Remix) / The Seventh Stranger

Tainted Love was recorded by Gloria Jones in 1965 and became a smash down Wigan way during the glory days of the Casino c. 1973. A cover version by Soft Cell became the band’s second single. A much slower take and the 12″ mix transitioned into a version of The Supremes’ Where Did Your Love Go? Mike Thorne recalls: “When Soft Cell performed Tainted Love I heard a very novel sound and a very nice voice, so off we went.” It ended up being the year’s best-selling single, shifting 1,350,000 copies. True diamond geezers Spandau Ballets broke into the top 3 with their fourth 45, the funky Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On). 36 years on, it’s still fresh and sparkles like nothing else. The juxtaposition with Yellow Pearl works brilliant before the next tune kicks in.

RCA released the Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) LP in September 1980 with the promo line “Often Copied, Never Equalled”, seen as a direct reference to the new wave acts Bowie had inspired over the years. The title track is a percussive treat with an exaggerated cockney accent. Unfortunately the single edit is not included here. Neither is the correct version of ABC’s debut 45, Tears Are Not Enough, which was produced by Steve Brown. Instead we get the re-recorded take from The Lexicon Of Love which is actually better but not authentic. CD1 ends on a serious note with Titles, or Chariots Of Fire as it’s better known. A sweeping piece of music that has become synonymous with slow motion pieces, it was used by the BBC as theme music for its coverage of the 1984 Summer Olympics.

After the gentle strum of Elvis Costello’s A Good Year For The Roses and Squeeze’s Labelled With Love, The Jam crash in with That’s Entertainment. In 1981 it was an import single backed by a live version of Down in the Tube Station at Midnight, peaking at #21. File under caustic acoustic psych – it’s fantastic, minimalist, transcendent and tremendously evocative of a time and place. Here’s John Thorne’s take on those times:
“This is 70s London in three minutes. The opening bars of this take me back to the baking summer of 1976, and a couple of years later to sitting in back gardens drinking with mates, both white and black, listening to a Jam track, then a Trojan records reggae track, then a Clash track, then Marley, Toots/Maytals – and everybody there, white/black, loved each one. I know London black guys who think music ended after The Jam!! We thought racists were mugs. Why make an enemy when you can make a friend? I had my black mates’ kids sit on my lap calling me Uncle John and was proud. If I didn’t hate them when they were 5, why the fuck would I hate them if they were 25? Then 1981 came around and it all went so very wrong. But we’ll always have The Jam, Madness, The Who, The Clash, The Kinks. And a special mention to Don Letts.”

Number 7, number 7, number 7, number 7, number 7, number 7, number 7. . .
The Return Of The Los Palmas 7 was released as the Madness’ seventh single on 16 January 1981, reaching #7 in the UK and staying in the charts for seven weeks. The 7″ single release was slightly different from the track on the album Absolutely, and was roughly 30 seconds longer. 2:33 vs 2:03 – and guess what? We get the Absolutely version here. Either way, it’s a top instrumental that takes me right back to the school yard. “You will know these songs; the North London septet eulogise London with a sound like rainwater on grey roof slates. It’s an interesting world Madness created with trilby hatted rude boys, weary old lags and ASBO offenders singing songs of redemption and despair. The lyrics are all picture perfect and the instrumentation evocative of the sounds of London and its inhabitants.” (Hot Fudge on Divine Madness)

“All wrapped up the same.” Another cracker from that cold January. The Teardrop Explodes, fronted by Julian Cope, created a beautiful racket of ska and northern soul with wonderful lyrical observations: “Death in solitude like Howard Hughes.” Anyone for a bit of Latin? Despite only reaching #55, U2’s Gloria comes next, the opening track on their quietest and most unobtrusive LP, October. The anthemic chorus is taken from Gloria In Excelsis Deo, a Christian hymn. The Steve Lillywhite influence is evident: even now, it’s a stunning track that takes me back to RTE’s Anything Goes and its Rock Show segment which was presented by Dave Heffernan. The Gloria video, directed by Meiert Avis, was filmed in October 1981 on a barge in Grand Canal Basin, Dublin. You never see it now.

Another track which failed to crack the top 40 was Steve Winwood’s While You See A Chance. A 45 peaking at #45. The musical equivalent of a sunrise and perfect for early morning bus or train rides. Watching the red skies. The single mix runs about 80 seconds less than the version on Arc Of A Diver. We get the full 5:15. A 4:09 version can be found on Time Life’s The Early ’80: Part 2 – a fantastic 32 volume series that’s well worth collecting. Into the soul zone: Motown veterans The Four Tops arrive with When She Was My Girl, all booming bass. Flying the funk flag are Kool and The Gang with the infectious Get Down On It – another tune with a taut 7″ edit that’s not here. Save the last dance for Endless Love, a honeyed duet between two legends Lionel Richie and Diana Ross.

Favourite tracks
The Jam – That’s Entertainment

Duran Duran – Girls On Film

Spandau Ballet – Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On)

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Souvenir

Lest we forget
U2 – Gloria

Missing tracks and other thoughts
The second volume in Now That’s What I Call Music’s Millennium series does a great job of capturing 1981’s musical highlights with a thoughtful selection of exquisitely sequenced tracks. Again, good things come in pockets – a ska / reggae triumvirate early on CD1 with new romantics and synth pop dominating the rest of the disc. New wave and R&B / soul get their chance on CD2. While the failure to use correct single edits continues to be disappointing (Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight is another album version casualty), it’s to be expected with retrospective compilations. The casual listener is not going to notice.

19 songs reached #1 in the UK during 1981; seven of them are here while The Tide Is High was a 1980 #1. Key omissions include Adam and The Ants’ Stand And Deliver (will always be associated with Carry On Henry – RTE2 re-runs) and The Police’s Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic. Once again, The 80s – The Album Of The Decade is a good source for the latter. John Lennon’s Woman should also have been included – before or after Jealous Guy. Given that songs from outside the top 40 made it in, a case can be made for Simple Minds – take your pick from The American, Love Song or Sweat In Bullet. Depeche Mode surely deserve inclusion too – New Life or Just Can’t Get Enough – while some rock ‘n’ roll or rockabilly (think Shakin’ Stevens, Stray Cats or Matchbox) would work too.

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Now That’s What I Call Music 1980: The Millennium Series (EMI / Virgin / Universal, 1999)

Now Millennium 1980

Now Millennium 1980 r

To mark the upcoming year 2000, the Now team devised The Millennium series. This would encompass 20 volumes of 36 tracks, one for each year from 1980 to 1999 with the first 16 released during June 1999. They were compiled by Ashley Abram for Box Music Limited with QD Design Limited taking responsibility for the cover and Jo Payton writing the sleeve notes. While there are obvious parallels with Now’s 10th Anniversary set of releases (1993), the Millennium series starts by tackling those barren years of 1980 – 1982 when K-Tel and Ronco ruled the compilation roost. It’s those first three volumes that were most eagerly anticipated by me at that time.

I’ve touched upon 12 of the tracks when reviewing previous compilations. These are:
Star Traks: Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers, Martha and The Muffins – Echo Beach.
Chart Explosion: Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Geno, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Enola Gay.
Space Invasion: Hot Chocolate – No Doubt About It.
Hit Machine: Madness – Embarrassment, Diana Ross – Upside Down.
Disco Daze / Disco Nites: Brothers Johnson – Stomp, Lipps Inc.- Funky Town.
Now That’s What I Call Music – Smash Hits: Blondie – Atomic, Adam and The Ants – Ant Music, The Jam – Going Underground.

CD1 begins with some big names and favourites from the early days of Now. Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust is a bass-heavy monster inspired by Chic’s Good Times. “I’d been wanting to do a track like Another One Bites The Dust for a while, but originally all I had was the line and the bass riff. Gradually, I filled it in and the band added ideas. I could hear it as a song for dancing but had no idea it would become as big as it did. The song got picked up off our album and some of the black radio stations in the US started playing it, which we’ve never had before. Michael Jackson actually suggested we release it as a single. He was a fan of ours and used to come to our shows.” (John Deacon)
The legacy: using three turntables and a crossfader, 23-year-old Grandmaster Flash created a continuous party jam out of records by Chic (Good Times), Blondie (Rapture), Queen (Dust) and more – showing off frenetic steel-wheels moves and establishing the DJ as a new kind of pop musician.

David Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes was originally titled People Are Turning To Gold. He later saw it as “wrapping up the 70s for myself” with Dave Thompson noting that it was “a very deliberate acknowledgement of the then-burgeoning new romantic scene.” The strings coupled with its hard-edged funky bass and complex vocal arrangements make it come across as a plaintive reflection on his career to date.
“I’ve never done good things
I’ve never done bad things
I never did anything out of the blue

The music video is iconic. Bowie gets dressed up in the loud Pierrot outfit that became the dominant visual representation of his Scary Monsters phase. Also appearing were Steve Strange and other members of the London Blitz scene, including Judith Frankland who had designed clothes for Strange’s Visage videos and Darla Jane Gilroy, forerunners of (later participants in) the new romantic movement that was heavily influenced by Bowie’s music and image.

Roxy Music go wistful and nostalgic on Oh Yeah (On The Radio) a key 45 from Flesh And Blood. Meanwhile there’s a new wave triple treat: Split Enz’s buoyant I Got You followed by Elvis Costello’s I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down. And the cherry on top – Squeeze’s harmonious pop classic Another Nail In My Heart. To lipstick traces; Spandau Ballet’s launched with a series of publicity stunts including an appearance on HMS Belfast. To Cut A Long Story Short was their debut single (reaching #5), their first step on a journey to glory – all spiky synths with a stomping backbeat. In the zone: The Cure’s atmospheric A Forest or “the definitive early Cure mood piece” (Jeff Apter). The promotional video was the band’s first, created by David Hiller, who mixed footage from the band’s debut appearance on Top of the Pops programme with a forest montage. Sadly not the 7″ mix.

Compass Point Studios, Bahamas 1980: Robert Palmer records Johnny And Mary along with the rest of his Clues LP. While it only reached #44 in the UK, the song was used as the signature tune in advertisements promoting Renault cars throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The first disc concludes with a blast of fire: Motörhead’s blistering Ace Of Spades which is considered to be the band’s signature song. “It put a choke on the English music charts and proved to all that a band could succeed without sacrificing its blunt power and speed.” (Ian Christe)
“First heard this in 1982, when I was eight. It blew my tiny little mind, of course– I immediately lost almost all interest in my Rush LPs, and spent the next three years looking for Motörhead records in my crummy small town record shop, to no avail. Luckily, I captured this clip on VHS (God, how I miss VCRs) and watched it til the tape wore out.” (Paul Snider)
“I don’t want to live forever.” (Lemmy)

Too Much Too Young – The Special A.K.A. Live! was only the second EP to top the UK singles chart. The title track is Terry Hall having a go at modern life, a total cracker. Next come UB40 with the stern ticking-off vibes of Food For Thought – a dig at Christmas – Robin Campbell remembers:“the fact that there are starving people in Africa and here we are all sat around eating our Christmas dinner and praising the Lord.” After Dexy’s Geno, Diana Ross’ Upside Down ushers in a sequence of soul, funk and (post) disco tunes. Kool and The Gang drop their party anthem Celebration while Jermaine Jackson’s Let’s Get Serious still retains a hard-edged funk side. The Gap Band’s anthem Oops Upside Your Head is all about the driving bassline and hilarious nursery rhyme interludes. Equally brilliant: Don’t Stop The Music, a set-ender by Yarbrough and Peoples (+ puppets) and the Average White Band’s Let’s Go Round Again (sounding more like 1974 than 1980).

Paul McCartney’s Coming Up is supposed to have spurred John Lennon back into the studio. The opening track on McCartney II (one of the decade’s best albums) has a minimalist synthesised feel to it. It featured vocals sped up by using a vari-speed tape machine. Macca played all instruments and shared vocal harmonies with wife Linda. Here are some more recommendations from that purple patch:
Frozen Jap: The Jap is explained by Macca as “shorthand for Japanese”. He amended the track title to Frozen Japanese for release there. Some think it’s a slight on Yoko Ono. I really don’t know but this is a wonderful jittery instrumental with an AFX flavour.
Temporary Secretary: What a hoot. This sounds like Devo and manages to transcend taste boundaries into something unique. How did people react to this in 1980?
Secret Friend: At 10 minutes and 28 seconds this is a monster. Some guy on YouTube says “Fela played by Kraftwerk” – not a bad description. File under floating ambient (like a Warp release) but remember it was recorded in 1979 not the early 1990s.
Front Parlour: Let’s stay (vocal) free with this soothing synthesised number. Marvelously plaintive in its delivery.
Check My Machine: Waterfalls was a decent ballad but I wonder what people thought when they flipped over the single. Play to people who think Wings / McCartney are crap. Avant garde weirdness with double tracked vocals and crazy sound loops.
Summer’s Day Song: A dreamy, going-to-bed track or a song for all seasons.

The long goodbye begins with Please Don’t Go, an evocative love ballad from KC and The Sunshine Band. KWS did a memorable cover in 1992 – one of the last 7″ singles spun in The Colosseum, New Ross. Never For Ever: Kate Bush’s tale of a marriage destroyed by paranoia is told on Babooshka complete with breaking glass at the end – courtesy of the Fairlight CMI digital synthesiser. Next is the perfect synergy between the Greek god Vangelis and the heavenly voice of Jon Anderson (Yes) on I Hear You Now. Spiritual and haunting with a deep bass sequence. Look sharp! It’s Joe Jackson and the sublime It’s Different For Girls. Easing in are The Korgis and their gorgeous zither ballad Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime – a sunrise song after a night out. Finally, all tired and emotional, we close with Don McLean’s hugely successful cover of Roy Orbison’s Crying.

Favourite tracks
Squeeze – Another Nail In My Heart

Joe Jackson – It’s Different For Girls

Spandau Ballet – To Cut A Long Story Short

Jon and Vangelis – I Hear You Now

Lest we forget
Paul McCartney – Coming Up

Missing tracks and other thoughts
The first entry in the Millennium series is a fantastic trip. The mini-clusters of genres work well – the new wave blending into new romantic and the R&B grooves of the second half . The last six tunes on CD2 are particularly enjoyable while it’s good to re-acquaint ourselves with diamonds like I Got You, Johnny & Mary and Food For Thought. However, there’s a black mark against them for not using single edits. The offenders: David Bowie – Ashes To Ashes, Roxy Music – Oh Yeah (On The Radio), Adam and The Ants – Ant Music, The Cure – A Forest, UB40 – Food For Thought. Elsewhere Peter Gabriel’s Games With Frontiers is 3:57 (7″ 3:47, PG3 4:10) while I’m undecided on Madness’ Embarrassment.

25 tracks held the #1 position in 1980 but just six of them are included here. Your first port of call for Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall (hit #1 in ’79, still there in January) and The Pretenders’ Brass In Pocket should be The 80s – The Album Of The Decade. There’s not much that I’d change here although it would have been quite nice to get an ABBA track (The Winner Takes It All) along with Olivia Newton John’s Xanadu and Kelly Marie’s holiday camp classic Feels Like I’m In Love. Maybe John Lennon’s Just Like Starting Over being slotted after Macca’s Coming Up should have been considered too. Otherwise the sequencing is excellent with a thoughtful selection of memorable songs across the spectrum. A decent start.

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Smash Hits Summer ’99 (Virgin, 1999)

Smash Hits Summer 99

Smash Hits Summer 99 r

Smash Hits Summer ’99 sees another change in design – four unknown heads across the front and back pages of the booklet with an advert for the magazine inside.
“We can’t wait to get hold of Smash Hits every fortnight!”
“The best pop magazine on the planet.”

Just 17 of its 40 tracks have already been written about. Look for these reviews:
Hits ’99: Five – Until The Time Is Through, The Corrs – So Young.
New Hits ’99: Steps – Better Best Forgotten, Shanks and Bigfoot – Sweet Like Chocolate.
Now That’s What I Call Music 42: Boyzone – When The Going Gets Tough, Cartoons – Witch Doctor, Vengaboys – We Like To Party, Robbie Williams – Strong, Honeyz – End Of The Line, Billie Piper – Honey To The Bee, Justin – Over You, 911 – A Little Bit More, Emilia – Big, Big World, Terrorvision – Tequila, Spice Girls – Goodbye, Steps, Tina Cousins, Cleopatra, B*Witched and Billie Piper – Thank ABBA For The Music, Tina Cousins – Killin’ Time ’99.

Geri’s back! Her debut solo single Look At Me is chosen to kick off disc 1. It’s a bouncy and catchy pop tune with some great production and a Shirley Bassey vibe. The music video features four versions of Halliwell: a vamp, a bitch, a virgin, and a sister. A #2 position was achieved; it fell 700 copies short of Boyzone’s You Needed Me. The latter was released on two CD singles whereas Look At Me just had one. Also stalling at #2 were Phats & Small whose Turn Around sampled Toney Lee’s Reach Up (Acapella) and Change’s The Glow of Love. And another silver: Fatboy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now. The basic string melody comes from the James Gang song Ashes, The Rain & I. while the lyrics are a sample of Angela Bassett’s voice saying “This is your life, right here, right now!” from Strange Days.

The second half of CD1 throws up Fierce’s half-decent R&B Dayz Like That, Precious’ Eurovision entry Say It Again (12th place) and Beverly Knight’s Made It Back ’99. The latter features Redman and samples Chic’s Good Times. Memories of boozy Ranelagh nights. The Moffatts came all the way from Canada but their formulaic country-meets-Rembrandts cuts no ice now. Far more palatable are Stereophonics and the driving Pick A Part That’s New, another top single from Performance And Cocktails. The music video features the band parodying The Italian Job and performing in a bus which is on a cliff edge. Pop gem time: The Younger Younger 28s and We’re Going Out – synth pop c.1982 sound which owes a huge debt to The Human League. They were fronted by Phil Oakey soundalike Joe Northern, with synth player Jimmy D and female singers Andie & Liz.

CD2 sees a move into less familiar territory beginning with the saccharine slop of Perfect Moment by Martine “Tiff from Eastenders” McCutcheon. The mood is not improved as 911 fail to do any justice to Stax classic Private Number while The 1999 Manchester United Squad’s Lift It High is epic sludge. Nine days after its release, they’d nick the Champions League from Bayern Munich. Be thankful for the endlessly inventive Super Furry Animals; Northern Lites is the calypso tinged first 45 from Guerrilla. The 7″ still gets a regular spin on my deck. Bang on with Ruff Driverz and Arrola on the breathless La Musica before the ugly side of big beat gets revealed with The Three Amigos’ perplexing take on Louie Louie. 1999 was a time for having it large. One example is the classical trance cheese of DJ Sakin and Friends’ No Mans Land (David’s Song) which retains a gurning attraction.

Fresh from his adventures with Armand Van Helden comes Duane Harden who gives Powerhouse’s What You Need a tasty vocal. Meanwhile the aptly-named Larry Lush joins with Tall Paul on Camisra’s intense Clap Your Hands. And then the hair-raising beats of Veracocha’s Carte Blanche. A 12″ from Tag Records. Ode to Joy: Just Round is built on Stevie Wonder’s Uptight and sounds like its beamed in from the kitchen. The last three tunes are amazing. A tale of the unexpected: some Bermuda reggae on Alan McGee’s Creation label – Mishka’s laidback and relaxed Give You All The Love. He’s Heather Nova’s brother. Next is Lynden David Hall’s soulful Medicine 4 The Pain. We close with Ellie Campbell’s gorgeous Sweet Lies, unjustly peaking at #43.

Favourite tracks
Geri Halliwell – Look At Me

Super Furry Animals – Northern Lites

Mishka – Give You All The Love

Lynden David Hall – Medicine 4 The Pain

Ellie Campbell – Sweet Lies

Lest we forget
Younger Younger 28s – We’re Going Out

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