11 – 4 – 3 – 1.
Tricky number sequence? Think of Chequered Flag [ZX Spectrum big-seller of 1984] and pole position. It’s chart-toppers I’m talking about and the fourth instalment of Now That’s What I Call Music only has one. And it’s nearly nine months old. Hello.
Last weekend I wrote about The Hits Album. Having no serious rival was great while it lasted but this idyll could not last and the gauntlet was well and truly thrown down. The Now team had to cope with some heavy muscle from CBS and WEA and it’s fair to say that they came off second best.
Now 4 isn’t bad; in fact it’s got many great moments but what it lacks is the wow factor of the second and third volumes. We start somewhat incongruously with Arthur Baker’s special dance mix of Macca’s No More Lonely Nights. It’s a fine ballad in its own right but Ashley Abram had other ideas. This sideways shift is immediately rectified by three diamonds – Together In Electric Dreams, Bronski Beat’s fine follow-up Why? and Limahl’s finest moment. However Nick Heyward’s Warning Sign is just forgettable while John Waite’s Missing You would have been more suited to the Hits franchise. And speaking of Hits [you cannot write about Now 4 and not] – it’s got to be said that Thriller sans Vincent Price is still way better than the staid Farewell My Summer Love.
The second side prolongs the underdone vibe. The War Song ain’t no Two Tribes and the underdog in me would have gone for worthy follow-up The Medal Song [Sun go east! Sun go west!]. Elton’s Passengers has got some charm but Julian Lennon’s Too Late For Goodbyes is pretty insipid stuff. Disliked it at the time, hate it now. Heaven 17’s Sunset Now is marvellous though and a killer 45 from an much misunderstood album. Its fellow singles …(And That’s No Lie) and This Is Mine are equally fantastic. Tina’s back with the single edit of Private Dancer; The Kane Gang should have stayed at home – Respect Yourself is poor and a shocking follow-up to the sublime Closest Thing To Heaven.
Time to bring out the big rock. It’s A Hard Life is the third Queen side-starter in a row. I’d have preferred Hammer To Fall but this will do nicely. The Wanderer is turgid but East Of Eden from Big Country [a unique version] and U2’s Pride hit the right spots. It’s nice to have Feargal Sharkey’s debut single preserved here; Listen To Your Father is a catchy and oozes fun. A perfect antidote to the sombre but super Never Never by The Assembly [check out the VHS selection on the first Now]. The momentum is preserved with Kim Wilde’s inspirational The Second Time, Nik Kershaw’s downbeat Human Racing and the no-no-no singalong that is Tesla Girls.
The second record definitely has the edge on the first. This is borne out by a fairly decent fourth side. Ghostbusters saw unprecedented queues at my local cinema and the simple theme song never loses the power to thrill while Level 42’s massively energetic white-funk of Hot Water is just crucial. Three of my favourites feature in the final furlong. The Eurythmics best track ever Sex Crime [always associated with Gerry Ryan’s The Twelve Inches of Christmas on RTE Radio 2, 25/12/84], Malcolm McLaren’s masterpiece Madam Butterfly. and Eugene Wilde’s sleazefest a.k.a. the slow jam of love.
Malcolm McLaren – Madam Butterfly
Eurythmics – Sex Crime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)
Kim Wilde – The Second Time
Eugene Wilde – Gotta Get You Home Tonight
Lest we forget
Feargal Sharkey – Listen To Your Father
The release of Now 4 on CD was an unusual move. The format was in its infancy in 1984 with just a limited selection of titles available in the shops at fairly high prices. Back then the target market for chart compilations was not considered affluent; indeed many of the buyers were people who couldn’t afford to buy singles regularly. Therefore it was quite a surprise to see the Now 4 CD in its “patent pending” case in my local record shop just before Christmas that year. It retailed for IR£24.99 and was still there when the shop closed two years later. Needless to say I didn’t buy it…
The CD contains 15 tracks and to further confuse matters only 10 of them are from Now 4. You also get four songs that appeared on Now 3 [The Reflex, Against All Odds, Locomotion and What’s Love Got To Do With It] and the opener from Now II [Radio Ga Ga]. I don’t have sales figures for this format but I guess that it was a commercial failure. This is borne out by the relative scarcity of copies and the prices paid on the second hand market. It’s the holy grail for Now collectors and has gone for as high as £500 on Ebay in the past. After a frenzy last year [following the ITV documentary on the Now phenomenon] demand has fallen slightly in recent times with the a copy being sold for £250 earlier this month.
Missing tracks and other thoughts
This is the first Now album to feature 32 tracks. Volumes 5 and 6 would go back to having 30 tunes. At least five of them should be nowhere near this record on the basis of when they charted. The Thompson Twins and Rockwell could have featured on Now II while Michael Jackson, the Pointer Sisters and Lionel Richie are of Now 3’s vintage. You actually could make the argument that the exhumation of Farewell My Summer Love with a sprinkling of 1984 fairy dust has no place on any compilation. If they wanted contemporary Motown then The Temptations’ Treat Her Like A Lady would have sufficed.
So what would I have done differently?
David Bowie – Blue Jean. Fellow EMI artist. Why not?
Duran Duran – Wild Boys. Including this would have been a major coup (a Victims for 1984 – and even better as it was a standalone release).
Lionel Richie – Stuck On You or Penny Lover. At least they’re more recent than Hello.
Pointer Sisters – I Need You or I’m So Excited. Likewise – Jump (For My Love) was early summer.
Ultravox – Love’s Great Adventure. Epic.
Tears For Fears – Mothers Talk. A quality late summer tune.
Kraftwerk – Tour De France. Would have slotted in nicely after Shout To The Top.
Human League – Louise. This never features on compilations and is gorgeously morose in 7″ form.
Murray Head – One Night In Bangkok. It’s got that exotic touch.
Stephanie Mills – The Medicine Song. Would gladly sacrifice The Wanderer for this.
Paul McCartney and The Frog Chorus – We All Stand Together. Despite being a fan of the Arthur Baker remix of No More Lonely Nights, it’s a strange and somewhat underwhelming start to the album. This touching number with its unforgettable animation video would have made for a perfect closing track. A novelty finale to rival Neil who signed off The Hits Album.
As always there was a video selection. Waifs and strays from the VHS medium include two tracks that ended up on The Hits Album [Modern Girl and Sister Of Mercy] along with Depeche Mode’s genuinely thought-provoking Blasphemous Rumours and Iron Maiden’s steam-rolling Aces High.