Now That’s What I Call Music 39 (EMI / Virgin / Polygram, 1998)

Now 39

Now 39 r

The first Now album of 1998 was released on 6 April and included five number ones. You’ll already have read about the following tracks which originally appeared on:
Smash Hits ’98: Robbie Williams – Angels, Louise – Let’s Go Round Again, Bamboo – Bamboogie.
Big Hits: Natalie Imbruglia – Torn.
New Hits ’98: Catatonia – Mulder And Scully, Steps – 5, 6, 7, 8, Aqua – Barbie Girl, Run DMC and Jason Nevins – It’s Like That, Cornershop – Brimful Of Asha (Norman Cook Remix), Lutricia McNeal – Ain’t That Just The Way, Backstreet Boys – All I Have To Give.

CD1 begins with the devastating Never Ever, a work of advanced maturity from All Saints. The story of a break-up which focuses on what the protagonist did wrong, set to 67 BPMs and based upon the overlay of the hymn New Britain. Sales figures were 1,200,000+ – the second highest for a British girl group after the Spice Girls’ Wannabe. It also picked up best British single and best British video at the industry’s awards ceremony. Forever You And Me: the Lighthouse Family drop another smooth number with the addictive rush of High. Get a groove on with Janet Jackson’s uptempo yet sombre memorial to a friend Together Again while the Spice Girls take us on a Motown spin with the poptastic Stop.

“Hello, can you hear me?” began Billie Myers’ signature tune, the moody tale of growing pains, Kiss The Rain. Remember it from Dawson’s Creek. Not aged 13 and 3/4. In close proximity is the star-studded (including Lou Reed) Perfect Day, all proceeds to Children In Need. Christmas number one in Ireland, 1997. Background: originally used by the BBC in a lengthy corporate promotion of its diverse music coverage. “Whatever your musical taste, it is catered for by BBC Radio and Television. This is only possible thanks to the unique way the BBC is paid for by you. BBC. You make it what it is.” Reap what you sow.

Roll call: Lou Reed, Bono, Skye Edwards, David Bowie, Suzanne Vega, Elton John, Boyzone, Lesley Garrett, Burning Spear, Thomas Allen, Heather Small, Emmylou Harris, Tammy Wynette, Shane MacGowan, Sheona White, Dr John, Robert Cray, Huey Morgan, Ian Broudie, Gabrielle, Evan Dando, Courtney Pine, Andrew Davis, Brett Anderson, Visual Ministry Choir, Joan Armatrading, Laurie Anderson, Tom Jones.

Shades of pop abound: Boyzone’s heartfelt Baby Can I Hold You gives way to a surprising cover version of a Sundays’ album track. I remember the bracing cold Monday morning in January 1990 when I walked from Waterford RTC to the KG Discs at Lisduggan Shopping Centre. Reading, Writing and Arithmetic was the vinyl prize. Back to reality: Tin Tin Out’s version is a form of electronic dream pop and quite pleasant. Next the inspired pairing of Cerys from Catatonia and Space indulging their mutual passion for Tom Jones in the form of a quirky ballad. And for their fifth single from White On Blonde, Texas serve us up the brooding Insane. Equally downbeat are Hanson with their all grown-up Weird. Respect.

We continue to drift along. LeAnn Rimes’ soul-searching How Do I Live, a song with serious chart staying power – 34 weeks in the UK. Elsewhere Shania Twain starts to make it big with the impressive ballad You’re Still The One while the 007 franchise gets another memorable theme – Sheryl Crow’s Tomorrow Never Dies. OK Computer has just turned 20; its third single the mournful No Surprises is a thing of beauty. Childlike guitars and a Pet Sounds vibe. This mini Brit pop section continues with another third 45, The Verve’s melancholy urban hymn Lucky Man. The end of the line: Pulp’s This Is Hardcore which reached #1 in my annual top 50. A epic soundtrack to a dark fantasy. A hell of a show.

Robbie Williams still has the record for the most appearances in the Now series. Easy when you get a few double appearances. Let Me Entertain You is a slamming track, although desperately over-familiar now. The remainder of the second disc is primarily geared towards the club zone. Back once again – Wildchild’s Renegade Master was already compiled on 1995’s Now That’s What I Call Music 32. The new mix is courtesy of Norman Cook, man of the moment. On the upside: Ultra Nate’s Found A Cure, Sash’s sensational holiday banger La Primavera and Camisra’s twisty techno Let Me Show You. And now for the unessential selection: Chumbawamba’s Amnesia.

It’s a turkey shoot for DJ Quicksilver as the melancholy trance of Planet Love storms the charts. Rest Assured’s Treat Infamy comes with the familiar strings from the Rolling Stones’ The Last Time. Also heard on Bittersweet Symphony. Classical meets hip hop on Warren G’s intricate Prince Igor. More royals: Prince Buster’s Whine And Grine (a 1967 skanker) gets revived on foot of a Levi’s advert. A blue breakbeat via a sweet exorcist: the All Seeing I’s sampling delight Beat Goes On (Buddy Rich vs Sonny & Cher). In other news, Goldie returnz with undercooked Believe which is not quite all that. Last orders on Now 39 go to Barnet’s Vanilla and the hilarious No Way No Way. A Reynolds Girls for the 1990s generation or a Poundland Spice Girls?

“You’re living in a dreamworld.”

Favourite tracks
Natalie Imbruglia – Torn

Sash! – La Primavera

Pulp – This Is Hardcore

Radiohead – No Surprises

The Verve – Lucky Man

Lest we forget
Hanson – Weird

Missing tracks and other thoughts
The first disc is a top selection of pop, both uptempo and reflective. CD2 is solid but pales in comparison. Here are some alternative options which could have helped:

Portishead – Over or Only You. Both equally excellent singles from their second LP.
The Prodigy – Smack My Bitch Up. Wicked, violent, crucial.
U2 – If God Will Send His Angels. Another fifth single. This from the underrated Pop.
Bernard Butler – Stay. Grandiose debut single, one of Britpop’s underrated tunes.
Ian Brown – My Star. Unfinished monkey business with a lot to offer.
Air – Sexy Boy. After three killer 12″s came this poppy lounge stunner.
Hurricane #1 – Only The Strongest Will Survive. Unsung classic, not landfill indie.


Promotional poster courtesy of the Now That’s What I Call Music Collectors Group UK.
Now 39 poster

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30 Responses to Now That’s What I Call Music 39 (EMI / Virgin / Polygram, 1998)

  1. andynoax says:

    Considering this wasn’t the strongest era for music, this isn’t a bad collection (the next one in the series I think is possibly the worst but I’ll save that for later….) all told though I agree that some of the selections on Disc 2 are not all top drawer. I still can’t work out if Vanilla were an elaborate piss-take or not.

    I have never got the love for All Saints though, I think they made some of the worst pop singles of the late 90s. ‘Never Ever’ isn’t one of those but I don’t like it as much as most people do.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Vanilla are like a cut-price girl band that couldn’t afford a posh one. Very funny though. Now 40 has a one-two punch on disc 1 that’s either the greatest thing ever or totally cheesy rubbish.

  2. cosmo says:

    I’ll raise you… Lighthouse Family, Janet Jackson and Run DMC.

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  13. Martin Davis says:

    On the whole I think this is a really good volume.

    Top Of The Pops 1998 Volume 1 also includes several tracks that are on this album. From memory they are Never Ever, High, Kiss The Rain, Ballad Of Tom Jones, Mulder and Scully, Brimful of Asha and Its Like That. It also contained Dr Jones, Feel It and Last Thing On My Mind which subsequently turned up on Now 40.

    Do you have any idea as to when that album was released in relation to Now 39?

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Hi Martin – as far as I remember, Top Of The Pops 1998 Volume 1 was released in early May 1998 – so about one month after Now 39.

      • Martin Davis says:

        Sorry just seem this response. I didn’t realise it was released in May 1998 always assumed it was released before that.

  14. Martin Davis says:

    As an aftersought maybe “Teletubbies Say Eh Oh” would have been a good addition to this album. Just like “Candle In The Wind 97” despite getting to No1 I don’t think it’s included on any compilation albums.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Can’t fathom the exclusion of Candle…

      • Martin Davis says:

        Have been thinking about this and am rather suprised the Teletubbies track didn’t ever seem to be compiled given that it reached No1.

        The Tweenies and Bob The Builder singles subsequently got compiled on mainstream compilations so I do wonder why the Teletubbies track didn’t. It possibly could have worked well as a novelty number to close the album with.

        • nlgbbbblth says:

          Teletubbies is like Mr Blobby (hardly ever comped) – the BBC must have something to do with it…..

          • Martin Davis says:

            Mr Blobby was included on a kid’s compilation called 100% Kids (Telstar). Got the CD at xmas 1995 and was an absolute favourite of mine back then. Teletubbies is also on at least one CBBC theme tunes compilation released by the BBC so both tracks have been compiled, just not on any “mainstream” compilations.

            Interestingly “Can We Fix It” appeared on both a Now and a Top Of The Pops volume. If the BBC did have any thing to do with whether these tracks were included on compilations what their logic was behind their decisions.

          • Andrew Chinnock says:

            Hi Paul, I wonder if the non-inclusion of Blobby and Teletubbies was a fear of it somehow cheapening, discrediting etc the album, someone picking it up, seeing it listed and putting it back down. A sort of snobbery.

            As for Candle In The Wind, I have a hunch that the company, or even Elton himself, might have refused permission. It wasn’t even the official A-side of the single.

            On to more pressing matters – Vanilla’s ‘No Way No Way’. Why on earth didn’t they use the progress radio edit on the single instead of the incipid, flat, lifeless original version included here? I presume time was a factor.

            • nlgbbbblth says:

              Hi Andrew – yes, I think so and one that is a primary reason why novelty songs often get excluded. Cheers for info re Elton. Agree re Vanilla, much better version elsewhere.

  15. Matt Hayes says:

    Ah, Now 39… the last of the truly great Now albums. The last of Now’s golden period. It would all be downhill from here with Now 40 being the first where there were more bad songs than good. Still, all good things must come to an end and all that and would still be the occasional exception for a while (Now 44, I’m looking at you) but it really was the end of an era. Not the compilers’ fault, of course – the whole point of the Now albums is to showcase recent chart music and it’s not their fault that mainstream chart music has been on a downward spiral for twenty years.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      As the 2000s and beyond is outside the remit of this site – but there have been exceptions. Now 68 is tremendously great and much of Now 70-79 work well.

  16. Martin Davis says:

    Know its not strictly “Now” related but as TOTP 1998 Volume 1 is not covered here, something thats struck me is the fact that Now 39 features “Stop” by The Spice Girls and “Angels” by Robbie Williams which were more recent whereas TOTP 1998 Volume 1 which was released after Now 39 contained “Who Do You Think You Are” and “Old Before I Die” which were both released nearly a year earlier and both featured on Now 37. Is there any reason as to why this might have happened?

    Incidentally as “Perfect Day” was released on the BBC label it seems a mystery why it wasn’t compiled on that TOTP compilation.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Hi Martin, presume licensing reasons – the Spice Girls and Robbie Williams labels didn’t want to dilute sales of their current singles so would only grant older releases to the TOTP compilation.

      • Martin Davis says:

        Thanks for explaining.

      • Martin Davis says:

        One thought about that, given that the TOTP compilation came out after Now 39, the more recent Robbie Williams and Spice Girls tracks would have already been compiled and presumably were no longer the latest singles by that point anyway?

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