Now That’s What I Call Music – Smash Hits was released in August 1987. It’s a collaboration with Smash Hits magazine and was the brainchild of the latter. The staff can take the credit for the conception and design with the liner notes written in the same style as the magazine reviews.
32 tracks are included which cover the decade to date. So that’s four songs from each year [1980 to 1987] in reverse chronological order. Nine of the tracks had already appeared on previous Now albums with a tenth [West End Girls] featuring on the spin-off Now That’s What I Call Music ’86. In addition one of the 1987 picks would feature on a future Now album: Hue and Cry’s Labour Of Love on Now 10. Seven of the tunes had been included on rival compilations [six on the Hits series and one on Out Now!].
We start with the present and Curiosity Killed The Cat. Down To Earth was their second single; a flashy slice of energetic blue-eyed soul. Then there’s a couple of defectors from Hits; Mel and Kim’s number one smash Respectable and Terence Trent D’Arby’s mean R&B debut If You Want Me To Stay. Also making waves that summer were Glasgow’s Hue and Cry and their funky sophisti-pop classic Labour Of Love.
The 1986 choices consist of Five Star’s shimmering Rain Or Shine, the Housemartins’ breakneck breakthrough Happy Hour, an imperial West End Girls and Simply Red’s slow set perennial Holding Back The Years.
There’s a similar piledriver of tunes for 1985. A-ha’s unforgettable Take On Me, Dead Or Alive’s murderous You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) and Eurythmics’ There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart) – nice to get the 7″ on CD. And for those who’d prefer to rule than run there’s Tears For Fears.
“We wanted to have a huge hit all around the world“.
The treats continue with Wham! and George Michael. Wake Me Up Before You Go Go and Careless Whisper. What else? Well there’s Bronski Beat’s synth masterpiece Smalltown Boy and a welcome inclusion for Depeche Mode; the aggressive Master and Servant [remember that epic TOTP performance with the whips?] which as a #9 hit remains the most unsuccessful song on this compilation.
1983 was the year of the first Now album. One of the chart-toppers they didn’t include was Spandau Ballet’s soul-tinged ballad True. A masterpiece and much better than UB40’s Red Red Wine which follows it. The Thompson Twins and The Cure bring a touch of the avant garde / weird with Hold Me Now and The Love Cats.
From fringes to fiddles and gender-benders – it’s Come On Eileen and Do You Want To Hurt Me, two of 1982’s most overplayed songs. Towering above them like a new romantic colossus are ABC [the sublime Look Of Love] and Duran Duran’s beach anthem Save A Prayer.
1981: fires, riots and hunger strikes. The Specials tapped into the mood like no other band on Ghost Town. Think fast. Queen and David Bowie collided in style with the icy Under Pressure while Motown recycled some Jacko; the stunning One Day In Your Life. It was also the year of Haircut 100 and their Favourite Shirts. Dig that latino vibe!
The final quartet from 1980 are iconic: The Jam’s rousing Going Underground, Madness’ zany Baggy Trousers and the grand finale: Blondie’s superb Atomic. Plus the icing on the cake – Adam and The Ant’s manic call to arms, Ant Music.
So unplug the jukebox
And do us all a favour, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, that music’s lost its taste
So try another flavour
Adam and The Ants – Ant Music
ABC – The Look Of Love
Depeche Mode – Master and Servant
Hue and Cry – Labour Of Love
Lest we forget
Michael Jackson – One Day In Your Life
Up a bit and almost there.
When I saw this fatbox in the racks I thought “at last – a CD release with all the tracks”. Alas, no. Inexplicably the front inlays says “31 Swingorilliant Hits Of The 80s”. So who got the chop? You have to right back to 1981; it’s Michael Jackson’s One Day In Your Life for reasons unknown. One possible reason is that it’s really not an 80s tune – instead being a 1975 track that just happened to be reissued in the wake of Off The Wall’s success.
In any case it can be found on Now Millennium Series 1981.
Missing tracks and other thoughts
Now That’s What I Call Music – Smash Hits is a fantastic selection of the decade’s highlights. Almost half of the tracks  reached #1 and there are no deep cuts here; that isn’t the remit of the compilation. Other merchandise included a 26 track video selection and a companion booklet in an issue of the magazine featuring photos and song lyrics. The Smash Hits team would start releasing their own contemporary compilations from 1988.