“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.
The best Now of ’94. Another highpoint in the series, with plenty of year- and decade-defining numbers.
Personal highlights include Michelle Gayle (masterminded by Narada Michael Walden), MC Sar, Corona, New Order, Crash Test Dummies, R. Kelly, Brand New Heavies, and Eternal. But this is in general another excellent entry in the series – however, it does have a “lame duck” – Cyndi Lauper’s re-recording of her biggest hit. I’m afraid I really dislike this one – it really ruined what had been a great debut hit ten years before. But, considering all the other great hits that’s on here, I guess we’ll have to forgive that.
(I also agree that Moby and the Beautiful South would have fitted nicely here. Probably either could had replace the aforemetioned Cyndi.)
Definitely not a patch on the original but it doesn’t spoil my enjoyment. The early Eternal era is excellent.
The only song on here I truly detest is Compliments on your Kiss. So much so that when I imported the entire Millennium Series onto my iPod, I deliberately missed that one out.
As I’ve said before, this is a truly great entry in the series. I love the chance-taking by sticking some left-field choices on there and it pays off as pop music was starting to branch out and allow other genres to become more mainstream “pop”. It’s a perfect snapshot of that period when there was a mix of rock/dance/indie/euro dance and the seeds of Britpop were planted.
I quite like 30 and 31 too, especially 30. That first disc was almost constantly in my CD changer as it was one of the few places you could find Whatever by Oasis (which is still IMO their finest hour).
Well said; the diversity is what makes this one so good. Agreed on the early 30s – some brilliant sequencing on those too.
My favourite Now from the following year is 32.
This is one of the Nows that really showed me there’s an art to track sequencing. Back when it was the “four sides, 30/32 tracks” era, I would actually come up with my track listing for an upcoming Now (a few weeks before I guessed there would be one on the way) and then compare it to the finished article when it was released. Although I would normally nail the opening track more often than not, my versions had no sequencing to them, just randomly chucking songs next to each other with no thought of it playing out as an LP side, just seeing it as eight tracks one after the other.
I also never really thought of licensing issues back then but I seem to remember never including Madonna, Prince etc. because at that point they never appeared on Nows. (Maybe I believed that rumour that hung around like a fart in a car, that Madonna wouldn’t allow herself to be on Now albums, even though she turned up on a few of the Hits series.
Yes – track sequencing for V/A compilations is an artform and somewhat understated. Ashley Abram had a great knack for getting it right [not just on Nows but other compilations] and the series has suffered since his departure [Now 81 was his last]. The flow isn’t as good.
I was the same with Madonna and Prince – gave up on seeing them on Nows during the 80s. Nice to see them making some stray volumes of Hits.
Fast forward to
Now 40 CD1 – The 70s flashback pair. Groove Generation – Bus Stop feat. Carl Douglas.
Now 57 CD2 – The lovely slow beginning: Will Young – Katie Melua – Norah Jones – Blue.
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Would “One Last Love Song” by Beautiful South fitted in anywhere on this album? Unless of course maybe the group didn’t want to include it as it was the promo single from their Greatest Hits album?
Hi Martin – yes, good call. But given its status as the promotional single for Carry On, was never really a contender.
Couldn’t agree more about the crafting of this Now, though I’ve barely played it as a compilation in 20 years for some reason.
Only 3 disappointments on here:
1. Using the Ultimate Hits Album version of Baby I Love Your Way, missing out on the guitar intro and an early fade.
2. A slightly different version of Shampoo’s Trouble (album version?) I remember having the single and that version was on Now 1994. Given Abram’s love of lifting tracks from earlier compliations, this was a mystery.
3. Using that remix of Gal Wine. It was a track that I didn’t discover until after it had disappeared from the charts. I was gutted that this average remix appeared. Gal Wine appeared on a load of other compilations at the time, yet they used one licensed from Greensleeves, not the Island records UK release. More bizarrely was that Polygram used the Greensleeves record version on Dance Zone 3, instead of the one that was licensed to them.
Hi Andrew, hadn’t noticed 1 & 2 – must listen to Trouble again. Single and album are almost identical time-wise although that doesn’t necessarily mean no differences. Very odd about Gal Wine – do prefer the original mix having played it again.
Hi Paul, there’s not much difference but enough that my ears pricked up when I heard it on Now 29. Gal Wine – love the Double Barrel version. I’m into my ska and early reggae anyway but the addition of that solo piano line gives it a lift. Surprised how rare it is to find that on compilation. I guess it was cheaper to license the Greensleeves track. Dawn Penn’s You Don’t Love Me also suffered a similar fate that year, where it was less common to find the regular single version for one that Greensleeves owned.
That moment when you think of a witty reply but sent off the original…. Did you not buy Shampoo’s album?
I have a taped copy Andrew 🙂 – that was sufficient for the time anyway!
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Hi Paul, More reflections on Now 29.
Now 28,30,31 and 32 all followed a similar format of a mainly dance second cd. This doesn’t follow that pattern at all and is easily the least ‘dancey’ of the Nows of that period. Sometimes I felt that Nows tried to avoid having too much dance content (like Now 20), even if it would have been reflective of the charts. Dance compilations were plentiful. The omission of Baby D here is a strange one, given it was licensed by Polygram and released a week before Now 29. It would have been a very welcome addition. Rave tracks were rare on Nows.
It was quite a coup to get ‘Another Night’ on here from BMG. It was rare for Nows of the time to feature a BMG track that had only very recently been released. It also featured on Now Dance 94 and Dance Zone 94. Given how protective BMG were with their own tracks on their own compilations with Telstar, and that BMG’s new venture, Global TV, were a month away from releasing their first dance compilation “Hits Hits and More Dance Hits”.
Other possible additions for me would have been “Always” by Bon Jovi, “Circle of Life” by Elton John and “Move It Up” by Cappella.
Hi Andrew – that’s a very astute observation re the relative fall off in dance for this instalment. Another Night crucial for the “Night” triple play….Circle Of Life would have been very welcome.