“This still life is all I ever do
There by the window quietly killed for you
In the glass house my insect life
Crawling the walls under electric lights”
By November 1994, the Now team were on a roll. The somewhat haphazard volumes of the 22 – 25 era had been followed by the invincible Now That’s What I Call Music 26 with its two successors proving almost as potent. The eagerly anticipated 29th edition had a lot to live up to – and thankfully it doesn’t let us down and is one of the best volumes of the entire run. You’ll note the “2CD set” wording on the inlay’s top right hand corner; that was to reassure us that the slimmed-down packaging did contain two discs.
The opening sequence on CD1 is effortlessly poptastic. Toast-master Pato Banton and UB40’s Campbells tackle Eddy Grant’s Baby Come Back before Cyndi Lauper’s laidback reboot of her 1984 hit, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. Meanwhile Big Mountain, along with three others, had already appeared on rival compilation The Ultimate Hits Album; their multicultural cover of Peter Frampton’s Baby I Love Your Way was a huge US hit before crossing the Atlantic. Take That made it five number ones in 15th months with the assured pop of Sure while Michelle Gayle’s second 45 Sweetness is an immaculate soul gem.
Whigfield and her phenomenal Saturday Night – the slayer of Wet Wet Wet’s Love Is All Around dragon – had already featured on Now That’s What I Call Music 1994. It’s the first track in what has become known as the Night Trilogy. Partners in crime are MC Sar and The Real McCoy with the pounding anthem Another Night. And to top it off are the glorious Corona with their massive Eurodance sandblaster The Rhythm Of The Night. This amazing sequence will leave you breathless and even more non-stop ecstatic dancing will ensue on New Order’s True Faith ’94. There’s not much difference between it and 1987.
Change of style: two years after Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover, Sophie B. Hawkins has her second UK hit with the magical Right Beside You. For once, the album version is the one to own and it’s here. Lovely coda. Senegal vs Sweden next as Youssou N’Dour hooks up with Neneh Cherry for some heavenly chord action on 7 Seconds. The spell remains in place as Lisa Loeb suspends reality on the intensely personal Stay (I Missed You). Surely this one hit wonder influenced Taylor Swift? A gentle wave ensues with the Crash Test Dummies’ addictive Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm; my enduring image is the overwhelming peace and love vibe during their performance at Féile ’94. I think the band were genuinely surprised that it hit the mark with so many people. Captured on YouTube. Forever young.
“Nothing more, nothing less, only love”: It’s a long way from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to Guinness adverts but Louis Armstrong’s ballad remains timeless. The way is paved for Robert Palmer’s most rewarding single, the enigmatic love poem Know By Now. Violent shaggers R.E.M. unleash some inner demons on the jarring What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? Good evening rockers, it’s Oasis: their first appearance on a Now album. Cigarettes And Alcohol was single #4, a searing riff nicked from T.Rex’s Get It On. Definitely Maybe soundtracked the late summer; I brought it to party and passed out. Then it’s a rare outing for The Rolling Stones and the addictive Love Is Strong. And a marvellous first half rocks out to The Cranberries and the furious thrash of Zombie.
“Ladies averted their eyes
Lenny Valentino reside”
A head full of steam: CD2 kicks off with East 17’s smooth summer smash Around The World. They were about to unleash Stay Another Day. Watch this space. Sly and Robbie produced Red Dragon’s Compliments On Your Kiss; Jamaica’s premier vocal duo Brian and Tony Gold elevate it. We stick with reggae on the gentle strains Gal Wine from Chaka Demus and Pliers. And switch to soul matters for R Kelly’s She’s Got That Vibe and the Brand New Heavies’ fine cover of Maria Muldaur’s Midnight At The Oasis. Meanwhile China Black follow up Searching with the far superior Stars, a rich melodic treat.
1994’s charity record was in aid of Rwanda; Music Relief consisted of CJ Lewis, Roachford, Yazz, Aswad, Edwin Starr, Peter Cunnah from D:Ream, Kim Appleby, Mick Jones from B.A.D, Rozalla, Toni Di Bart, Paul Young, Paul Carrack, Angie Brown from Romona 55, Jimmy Ruffin, Omar, Apache Indian, Worlds Apart, Kaos, The Pasadenas, Gus Isidore, Jools Holland, Mark King from Level 42, Nik Kershaw, Larry Adler, Dannii Minogue. The treated us to a most enjoyable version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. However a #70 chart placing was an unwelcome outcome and scant reward.
Celine Dion’s cover of Jennifer Rush’s gut-wrenching ballad The Power Of Love become her biggest UK hit to date. Strings alert! It’s Kylie’s grown-up scorcher; the John Barry sound was all over Confide In Me. Also returning were Massive Attack with the follow-up to the seminal Blue Lines. Sly was the first single from Protection, a beautiful trip hop drifter. Britain’s premiere girl group, Eternal, had their fourth consecutive hit with the buoyant So Good, a track that drips ’90s. Here come five young men from London – Nico G, Jomo B, Jayde, Ryan and Haydon. Calling themselves Ultimate KAOS, Some Girls is a forgotten dope jam masterminded by one Simon Cowell. Elsewhere the beats take a harder edge with Reel 2 Real’s breaker Can You Feel It and M Beat’s jump-up anthem Incredible. A big shout out to General Levy.
Time for the dazzling teenage pop-punk princesses from Plumstead. Shampoo’s teen anthem Trouble. And Blur are here too. The Britpop wars had not yet started. Parklife was the title track of their superb third album; a confident and jaunty number with Phil “We are the mods” Daniels. It sums up living in London during the mid-90s. We continue with Erasure’s new single, I Love Saturday. The bassline makes keeping still an impossibility. Equally arresting are Sparks and the throbbing synths of When Do I Get To Sing My Way? A deep and almost futuristic classic. Finally it’s 2wo Third3 and their uptempo classic I Want The World. Immaculate production, style and melodies all neatly packaged together. There’s no justice like pop justice.
Sparks – When Do I Get To Sing My Way?
Eternal – So Good
Oasis – Cigarettes And Alcohol
Sophie B. Hawkins – Right Beside You
Lest we forget
Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories – Stay (I Missed You)
Missing tracks and other thoughts
In case you haven’t already guessed, Now That’s What I Call Music 29 is a masterpiece that surpasses every other contemporary compilation in terms of poetic pop and emotional power. Yes, very nice, very nice, very nice, very nice. . .
Erasure – Run To The Sun. A possible alternative to I Love Saturday. Or what about both?
Future Sound Of London – Lifeforms. Gorgeous Liz Fraser vocal.
Elastica – Connection. Squeeze beside Shampoo.
Moby – Feeling So Real. There’s a whole lot going on.
The Beautiful South – One Last Love Song. London vs Hull stand-off.