Now That’s What I Call Music 38 (EMI / Virgin / Polygram, 1997)

Now 38

Now 38 r

“I wander lonely streets
Behind where the old Thames does flow”

Now That’s What I Call Music 38 was released on 17 November 1997 and contained just two chart-toppers – Spice Up Your Life and The Drugs Don’t Work. A number of its tracks had made already featured on the following compilations:
Now Dance ’97: Chumbawamba – Tubthumping, Spice Girls – Spice Up Your Life, Eternal – Angel Of Mine, Louise – Arms Around The World, Gala – Freed From Desire, Hot Chocolate – You Sexy Thing *, N-Trance featuring Rod Stewart – Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?, Bellini – Samba De Janeiro, DJ Quicksilver – Free, Moby – James Bond Theme, PF Project featuring Ewan McGregor – Choose Life. * Also Now That’s What I Call Music 9.
The Greatest Hits Of 1997: Backstreet Boys – As Long As You Love Me, Ash – A Life Less Ordinary, Conner Reeves – Earthbound.
Huge Hits 1997: Dario G – Sunchyme, Tina Moore – Never Gonna Let You Go, Ricky Martin – Maria.

In a disgraceful move by the compilers, the Spice Girls were bumped from pole position and replaced by Chumbawamba. Having really enjoyed Slap! and Shhh at the time; when played now, I just feel that I am being lectured by a group of po-faced anarchists. Moving on to Hanson hit #3: Where’s The Love, a right rollicking pop ‘n’ rock tune with neat harmonies. Next comes Boyzone’s pleasant Picture Of You (see Bean) and the Lighthouse Family’s mega smooth Raincloud, the first 45 from their second LP Postcards From Heaven; let the daylight in. Stopping us all in our tracks is Janet Jackson’s superb Got Til It’s Gone, one of 1997’s greatest jams with its unforgettable Big Yellow Taxi sample.

You’ve Got A Friend lives on in the spiritual vocals of Siedah Garrett who joins the Brand New Heavies on their cover of Carole King’s classic. A rich backing vocal tapestry. All hail the new kids on the block – All Saints. Melanie Blatt, Shaznay Lewis, Natalie Appleton and Nicola Appleton who get their collective groove on with the super fresh I Know Where It’s At. Meanwhile Sash! drops the life-affirming Stay, a carefree and progressive memory slap. And LL Cool J’s Phenomenon samples Creative Source’s Who Is He And What Is He To You with beats from White Lines. Dopes on plastic: 911 and the bland Party People.

CD2 sees the focus move towards Brit Pop and starts off – appropriately in a way – with Wet Wet Wet covering The Beatles’ Yesterday. When I lasted looked at the 1990s, George Michael was still alive. His death hit me hard, listening to the soulful and warm You Have Been Loved now is very sad – “It’s a cruel world”. Listen Without Prejudice and Older – two of the best albums of the decade. Next: The Verve and The Drugs Don’t Work which entered the charts at #1, tapping into Diana grief in a way. Magnificently miserable though: “I know I’ll see your face again”. Another from Be Here Now, the epic Stand By Me with its brass, strings and Liam and Noel both singing. In its wake, the death row blues of Embrace and All You Good Good People. Who else remembers Trigger Happy TV?

A Life Less Ordinary: Faithless’ stripped down and plaintive Don’t Leave. Then there’s Radiohead – now about to mark the 20th anniversary of OK Computer – with its second single, the exquisite and mystifying Karma Police. Close by, Robbie Williams’ star rises but Lazy Days isn’t any great shakes. Better are Texas with their booming reborn modern soul of Black Eyed Boy coupled with Meredith Brooks’ sardonic Bitch. Not so hot: Jon Bon Jovi’s Janie but Ocean Colour Scene have rarely seen Better Days. Lizardly then, the lonely suite. Cast’s I’m So Lonely. Total heartbreaker which is followed by Peter Andre’s slushy Lonely and Boyz II Men’s gloomy 4 Seasons Of Loneliness. One of three ain’t bad.

“I lost myself”

Favourite tracks
George Michael – You Have Been Loved

The Verve – The Drugs Don’t Work

Oasis – Stand By Me

Embrace – All You Good Good People

Radiohead – Karma Police

Lest we forget
Cast – I’m So Lonely

Missing tracks and other thoughts
A surprisingly listenable volume when lined up in line 20 years on. CD1 is an enjoyable pop and R&B ride with a decent dance selection while the second half has a great Brit Pop / Cool Feet flow. Other chart memories that deserved a place are:

Roni Size / Reprazent – Heroes. The golden age of drum and bass.
Portishead – All Mine. Melancholia from the outer limits.
Chemical Brothers – Elektrobank. Don’t stop the rock. Top Spike Jonze video.
The Sundays – Summertime. Third coming.
U2 – Please. More thoughts on The Troubles. Pop classic.
Paul Weller – Friday Street. The Heavy Soul era.


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36 Responses to Now That’s What I Call Music 38 (EMI / Virgin / Polygram, 1997)

  1. Feel the Quality says:

    I love The Drugs Don’t Work but I hate that it’s become partially associated with Diana’s death. We already had a (truly atrocious) song for that event. The Verve hitting the top spot may have had something to do with the country being in a state of low-level hysteria but it’s far too beautiful a song to suggest it wouldn’t have sold as well had it been released at any other time.
    One thing that bothered me with 38 was the inclusion of the cack 1987 remix of You Sexy Thing. The original version was re-released after its use in The Full Monty, the remix is nowhere to be found in the film. Why include the inferior version? Probably a rights issue.
    Like it or loathe it, Tubthumping was the summer anthem of 1997. It made perfect sense for it to open the album. Also, Spice up your Life might just be the worst Spice Girls song from that period, so I’m happy for it to be relegated to track 2.
    As for George Michael, it’s been a third of a year now and I still can’t believe he’s dead. Hearing Last Christmas this coming December is going to be tough.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      The 1987 remix of You Sexy Thing was probably easier to licence as the Now team already had it on Now 9.
      Take your point re Tubthumping – it was everywhere that summer!

    • I do have to point out that “The Drugs Don’t Work” is not really associated with Diana’s death, but they only reason why is because it was released as a single on Monday 1st September, the day AFTER Diana’s death – which counted for the singles chart of Sunday 7th September.

  2. andynoax says:

    1997 is hardly my favourite year for music but there are some decent tracks on here – a good Ocean Colour Scene song that you don’t hear very often, ditto with the Faithless tune, and I genuinely think that ‘Where’s The Love’ is a top notch pop song that’s criminally ignored because it was recorded by some kids who weren’t seen as cool.

  3. cosmo says:

    I actually quite like Tubthumping… “Lager drink, whisky drink, vodka drink, cider drink”.
    Kudos to Dario G. for bringing the Northen Town back from the dead smelling of roses.

    (Also big-ups to Gala, Tina Moore, Bellini, and DJ Quicksilver.)

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  11. Martin Davis says:

    Was very surprised that the reworking of “Candle In The Wind” wasn’t included on this volume. Rights issues maybe or another reason?

  12. Andrew Chinnock says:

    Hi Paul, I think this was the first time the full single version of Tubthumping appeared on a compilation. It had been used several times by Ashley Abram/Box Music before this was released, first time on Club Hits 97/98. This was an attempt at a football anthems compilation which was badly hotly mixed and was used with an early fade (for obvious reasons) on future Virgin compilations.

    Strangely, Abram used both the slightly shortened version and the proper 7″ on compilations in the future.

  13. Andrew Chinnock says:

    Another thought with this compilation. I recall you saying there was around a 3 week turnaround in getting a compilation on the shelves. This contains 10 of the top 12 from 3 weeks before this was released. The only 2 tracks missing from that top 12 were Elton John and Aqua, by coincidence they were the top 2 selling tracks of the year. Goldie’s ‘Digital’ was at no. 13, considerably higher than ‘Inner City Life’ reached, yet this never made the cut.

    The omission of Barbie Girl I think is particularly important. Universal had gone into a partnership with Telstar and they held the licence for this. It first appeared on The Greatest Hits Of 1997, released a week before Now 38. I reckon had Barbie Girl appeared on Now 38 it would have had an impact on sales of GH1997. Now 38 did feature ‘Stay’ by Sash, released only a week before Barbie Girl and was a part of the Telstar stable and also on GH1997.

    Instead of probably opening Now 38, Barbie Girl ended up as as relatively lowly track on Now 39 where it seemed to be included more as a token gesture and arguably wasn’t needed at all.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Thanks Andrew; yes it was a surprising exclusion but the Telstar Greatest Hits albums needed a couple of unique tracks given the competition. I guess sales were tapering off at that point.

      The sleevenotes are generally finalised three weeks beforehand – based on the most up to date chart position & dated noted on the inlay. That was a pretty impressive “recent” top 12.

      • Andrew Chinnock says:

        Yes, it was a very impressive list. There’s a project – number of top 20 hits on a Now 3 weeks before its release. Hmmm…..

        Your comment also says a lot about the newly found strength of Telstar’s brief alliance with Universal. In previous years, they would never have had unique tracks as strong as that. By now, having your own material on a compilation made the difference as you could trade tracks with other compilers. When you look at how dreadful Hits Mania 96 was, they’d come a long way, baby.

        • nlgbbbblth says:

          I think previous compilations worked when they tried a “less obvious” selection – certainly 1987 and parts of 1988 & 1989

          • Andrew Chinnock says:

            Yes, as long as the less obvious selection are not that obscure! It’s an interesting balancing act. I think Telstar’s more interesting Greatest Hits offerings were when they delved outside the top 10, even if that goes against the idea of it being the ‘greatest hits’. It would probably be possible to compile a greatest hits album featuring the top 40 biggest selling singles of the year. It would sell. It would arguably be too clinical, though. The Now 10th anniversary selection got things about right for me, it wasn’t all about the top 10. The millennium had less top 10 hits and celebrated their own tracks much more, but was almost as worthy a series.

    • TellyFan says:

      “This contains 10 of the top 12 from 3 weeks before this was released. The only 2 tracks missing from that top 12 were Elton John and Aqua”

      I’m not sure where you got that from. There was a week with NINE of the top 12, also excluding Torn. This was the week after the notes were compiled so I guess it’s the week you were thinking of.

      What is pretty unusual is how up to date the tracks are: the oldest song – Freed From Desire – only charted fifteen weeks prior to 911, N-Trance and LL Cool J who were the last songs to chart before the notes were compiled. You have to go all the way back to Now 19 to find a newer tracklist.

      • nlgbbbblth says:

        Now 26 also seemed very fresh – I think nearly one quarter of it was new releases / about to come out.

        • TellyFan says:

          A comment that demonstrates that there are different ways of measuring these things! Yes 9 of Now 26’s songs hadn’t charted when the notes were compiled, but on the other hand seven songs had charted eighteen weeks or earlier. Perhaps the best way to work out the freshest album is to look at the current-ness or otherwise of every single track and average them out! Though I find Now 33 problematic. Some might say (you’ll see what I did there) that Live Forever was the oldest current hit to have ever been on a Now, but as per the liner notes I’m happy to take the view that it was included because it had recharted so I give it an age of 28 weeks (still the oldest song on the album) when it entered again at #50, but I therefore also classify it as one of the lowest charting songs to appear on a Now (otherwise one might as well ignore any other songs peak when compiled because of a rerelease, and instead record its peak as per a prior release)! That’s all off topic to this album but Oasis are on here so stand by me lol!

          I see Andrew Chinnock also suggests that Barbie Girl wasn’t needed on Now 39. It was admittedly the oldest song on there, but was only 23 weeks old (there were three older than that on 37) and still in the chart when Now 39 was put together so there was certainly nothing out of the ordinary about its inclusion at any rate. Now 39 is one of my absolute favourites by the way.

          • nlgbbbblth says:

            Agree with the Live Forever classification – it was a re-chart.

            Fair point on the averaging for freshest tracks. I didn’t take that approach.

          • TellyFan says:

            I noted that Barbie Girl was the oldest song on Now 39 and yet still charting when Now 39 was compiled. This is actually extremely unusual.

            I should probably clarify further my rules for deciding on the ranking of songs from oldest to newest. The two main rules are a continuous run, in the Top 75. So if a song began it’s run as 76-75-76-75 before climbing to it’s peak, those first three weeks wouldn’t be counted. Usually as a matter of course it’s the peak run that determines what chart run counts. But of primary concern is what chart run was the cause of a songs’ inclusion. So rather than being one of the oldest songs on Now 33 with its peak of 14, the second peak of 21 for The Connels 74-75 takes precedence and instead makes it one of the newest songs.

            So, oldest song on Now 3 is White Lines Don’t Don’t Do It, with of course one of the longest climbs to peak position in chart history (pre-streaming era, anyway). It was still on the ascent when the liner notes were written.

            Here’s a fun fact. Of the first 42 Now’s, Now 19 has the newest oldest songs! The three oldest songs were only 13 weeks old when the liner notes were compiled! I technically class Pray as the oldest song as I rank by highest debut position. The third oldest song by rank, debuting at 45, was Crazy. It’s 15 week chart run was the longest on Now 19 (just like White Lines on Now 3) so again it was still charting.

            Then we come back to the forever thorny issue of Live Forever. Ranked as oldest for its 50-52-55 chart run the previous June, it had re-entered in time for Now 33. Even with non-continuous runs, this was still only the third time the oldest song on a Now was in the top 75 when the liner notes were compiled. Counting all chart runs even outside the top 75, Live Forever is also again the longest reigning song on the album, even only counting its weeks from June 95 to September 96.

            So these songs have all been anomalies in one way or another, either through their own unusual chart runs, or in the case of Crazy by virtue of being on an album with an unusually fresh track list. Yet there was nothing particularly extraordinary about the chart run of Barbie Girl, so for it to be the oldest song and still having one week of chart action still to go when Now 39’s liner notes were written, I feel only strengthens the argument that it deserved its place on the album. LeAnne Rhymes had the longest top 75 run, incidentally, making Aqua the odd one out in that regard, too!

            • nlgbbbblth says:

              Thanks TellyFan – a lot to digest there. Oasis singles were routinely pushed in HMV and Virgin during this period with displays of 7″, 12″, cassette and CD for about half a dozen at a time. Hence the re-charting as they always seemed to stay in print.

  14. TellyFan says:

    The first instance of a Now featuring ten of the top twelve would incidentally be week 4 of 1984. That week only positions 5 and 6 would not have a song on Now 2. The following week however was even better – still only ten of the top twelve but this time all of the top eight were included (number nine was The Killing Moon). I couldn’t tell you how often ten of any weeks top twelve have been included on a single volume as my data isn’t set up to tell me that. I can however tell you that despite happening so early in the series run, it was a rarity even then to have all the songs from the top eight within a single now album. No other week came close until Now 7, when the top 9 was featured! My research on this doesn’t go beyond Now 9 at present I’m afraid!

  15. Martin Davis says:

    Did EMI/Virgin ever include the original version of “You Sexy Thing” on one of their many compilations? I find it hard to believe that they wouldn’t have but I may be wrong.

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