The Hits Series began in November 1984 as a joint venture between CBS and WEA and was also compiled in association with Jive and Arista. It was set up as a direct rival to Virgin and EMI’s Now That’s What I Call Music brand. The first album stole a march on Now 4 by being released a week beforehand. This proved to be a winning strategy as The Hits Album kept Now 4 off the top of the charts all through December.
The sleeve was designed by Studio Garrard and resembles a Monopoly board with each artist / song title having two squares with a thumbnail photograph on the left. The album contains 32 tracks (two more than the each of the first three Now volumes although Now 4 also had 32) with the emphasis on US acts. It contains three number ones [George Michael, Wham! and Chaka Khan] and quite a few silver medallists from that summer and early autumn. The sequencing is mostly great with four loosely-themed sides [pop, soul, romantic and rock].
Side one is quality from start to finish. Wham!’s Freedom sets the scene with quality pop from Howard Jones [non-album single Like To Get To Know You Well], Alison Moyet’s edgy All Cried Out and Paul Young’s hard-wired cover of I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down. Alphaville had a massive European hit with the moody Big In Japan while we go stateside for Laura Branigan’s Self Control theatrics, Ghostbusters and Thriller [complete with early fade].
The second side is all about the soul with a disco flavour. Aside from chart-topper I Feel For You, there’s killer cuts from Miami Sound Machine, Deniece Williams, Sister Sledge [a revved-up Lost In Music] and the S.O.S. Band. The single edit of Prince’s Purple Rain ends the first half. While it pales in comparison to the album version epic, it’s nice to hear the shorter take nowadays.
Side 3 is for romantics with the inimitable Careless Whisper effortlessly blending in with The Cars and Chicago. The Stranglers’ Skin Deep and the Thompson Twins’ Sister Of Mercy are less well-remembered hits from that summer but still evoke a rush of good memories. The plaintive Each And Every One from a youthful Everything But The Girl is followed by Sade’ sultry Smooth Operator [from Diamond Life – the driving-with-the-window-open-record of the year].
It’s now time to rock. Side 4 starts with a 1-2-3 punch of greatness [Gimme All Your Lovin’, Jump and Footloose] before veering into orbit with Adam Ant’s spaced oddity Apollo 9. Things get a little sentimental with Modern Girl, Some Guys Have All The Luck [Rod at his hoarse-best] and Shaky’s Teardrops. Finally we end with a real curveball. It’s Neil and Hole In My Shoe. A #2 hit for The Young One that actually deposed Two Tribes in Ireland before the reverse happened the following week. It’s a charming way to end a storming debut from the Hits series.
Prince and The Revolution – Purple Rain
Alphaville – Big In Japan
George Michael – Careless Whisper
Chaka Khan – I Feel For You
Lest we forget
Neil – Hole In My Shoe
Missing tracks and other thoughts
The only number one that they missed out on was Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called To Say I Love You. This was hardly surprising since it was the main draw on The Woman In Red soundtrack LP.
I’d also like to have seen Freddie Mercury’s Love Kills and Lionel Richie’s Penny Lover.
Madonna’s Like A Virgin was hot off the presses in November 1984 and would have been a great coup here.
Here’s the Music Week advert from November 1984. Thanks to David Hannah for sharing.