Now That’s What I Call Music 40 (EMI / Virgin / Polygram, 1998)

Now 40

Now 40 r

The Now series reached another milestone with the release of its 40th volume on 3 August 1998. 20% of its songs reached number one on the UK chart and we get treated to a double whammy from rising pop stars All Saints. My opinions on this set of a dozen tunes can be read from the following:
New Hits ’98: Natalie Imbruglia – Big Mistake.
Smash Hits Summer ’98: The Tamperer featuring Maya – Feel It, Aqua – Doctor Jones, Steps – Last Thing On My Mind, Janet Jackson – I Get Lonely, Massive Attack – Teardrop, Perpetual Motion – Keep On Dancin’ (Let’s Go), Imaani – Where Are You?
Fresh Hits ’98: Bus Stop featuring Carl Douglas – Kung Fu Fighting, Lutricia McNeal – Stranded, Catatonia – Road Rage, Baddiel, Skinner & Lightning Seeds – Three Lions ’98.

The Grease Megamix first reared its ugly head in December 1990. This ghastly staple of weddings and bad discos was put together by PWL’s Phil Harding and Ian Curnow. It was released in 1998 when the film turned 20 and in case you’ve been living under a rock, features the three biggest hits from the Grease soundtrack: You’re The One That I Want, Greased Lightnin’ and Summer Nights. Of more artistic merit is Viva Forever, a tired and emotional ballad from the Spice Girls. Yahoo: “A tear-jerking flamenco guitar and lush strings weave into this break-your-heart, I Will Always Love You ballad with a touch of Madonna about it.” Shades of Like A Prayer’s Spanish Eyes. In its wake, Karen Ramirez’s evocative cover of Everything But The Girl’s Looking For Love and then Billie Piper’s cheeky call ‘n’ response pop classic Because We Want To. #1 at 15 years old.

“Do you want to sleep with me tonight?” is a translation of a French question asked by Eleventh Hour, Labelle, Sabrina and now All Saints. A passable entry. Stay smutty with the relentless grind of Mousse T vs Hot ‘N’ Juicy – Horny. And now for one of the most inspired Now sequences ever: The Groove Generation featuring Leo Sayer – You Make Me Feel Like Dancing followed by Bus Stop’s reboot of Kung Fu Fighting. The GGs are CP, Kipper and Carlos and they revamp the ’70s disco classic with a choice rap and extremely funky grooves. Kung Fu Fighting sees the main man, Carl Douglas, get into the action himself. Staying with glitter are Ultra Nate and their string-soaked New Kind Of Medicine.

Postcards From Heaven begat Lost In Space, a relaxed, soulful jam from the Lighthouse Family – complete with heavily religious iconography in the video. Also ploughing a downbeat furrow are Boyzone on All That I Need; additional production by Rude Boy, Andy Bradfield, Trevor Steel, and John Holliday. Elsewhere All Saints second number is a superb take on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Under The Bridge while K-Ci & Jo-Jo’s All My Life is pure gorgeous, an awesome bump. Sticking to R&B, Sparkle sounds like its name, a stripped-down cautionary tale. Closing the first half is Peter Andre and Kiss The Girl, taken from Disney’s The Little Mermaid; a cloying and uninteresting effort.

CD2 starts with a throwback to 1985: Don Henley’s nostalgic and elegiac look at lost youth and aging, The Boys Of Summer. It won best video of that year at the MTV Music Awards. Shot in monochrome, it shows the main character of the song at three different stages of life (as a young boy, a young adult and middle-aged), in each case reminiscing about the past relationship. The crucial line: “A little voice inside my head said don’t look back, you can never look back.” at which point, each of the three people look back in turn. He also has a pop at Grateful Dead stickers on a Cadillac; an automobile that apparently is a right wing status symbol. The video is absent from YouTube, otherwise it would be first in line.

I can’t get excited about The Mavericks and their turgid timex texmex country Dance The Night Away. Next is the gentle strum of Eagle Eye Cherry’s Save Tonight – “Fight the break of dawn” always gets me. Big anthem spot: Embrace’s deadly serious Come Back To What You Know followed by The Verve’s Sonnet – described in the booklet as “the single that never was.” Not quite. In early 1998, Hut asked The Verve to put out another 45 from Urban Hymns. The band disagreed. Unusually, Hut pressed them on this matter, and so the band finally agreed to release Sonnet, but only in a format that would make it ineligible for chart recognition. It ended up coming out as part of a set of four 12″s (the other three being Bittersweet Symphony, The Drugs Don’t Work, Lucky Man). A cardboard mailer held ’em all. However, sales of an imported format resulted in it charting at #74.

Straight out of Chester came Mansun with a half dozen top 40 hits in just over 12 months. Legacy sounds almost immortal now, built on an amazing riff and a rather creepy promotional video. Back to football, time to score one more – Vindaloo was the work of a Britpop side project called Fat Les AKA Damien Hirst, Keith Allen and Alex James. Watch out for a young Lily Allen in the video. Unofficial piss up anthem. Yes, oh yes: The Rockafeller Skank featuring the repeated line “Right about now, the funk soul brother / Check it out now, the funk soul brother”, a truncated vocal sample of rapper Lord Finesse on the Vinyl Dogs’ Vinyl Dog Vibe. Also added: Just Brothers – Sliced Tomatoes, The Bobby Fuller Four – I Fought the Law, John Barry and his Orchestra – Beat Girl, Art of Noise featuring Duane Eddy – Peter Gunn.

Banger time: David Morales presents The Face – Needin’ U. Perfect summer holiday blaster. In step, Lucid’s I Can’t Help Myself, the sound of a thousand house parties. KAM decks carried down basement steps and placed on the kitchen worktop. Also caned in those sunny months was Barbara Tucker’s uplifting Everybody Dance (The Horn Song). You’ve never too far away from a bad disco cover; this time its star of the Saturday Night Fever stage production, Adam Garcia murdering Night Fever. Lastly, a pair of glorious failures. 1) Kerri-Ann’s likeable Irish #1, Do You Love Me Boy. All the airplay in the world didn’t help. 2) Los Umbrellos – No Tengo Dinero. Catchy in the worst possible way.

Favourite tracks
Spice Girls – Viva Forever

Lighthouse Family – Lost In Space

Embrace – Come Back To What You Know

Mansun – Legacy

The Verve – Sonnet

Lest we forget
The Groove Generation featuring Leo Sayer – You Make Me Feel Like Dancing

Missing tracks and other thoughts
Now 40 is a lot better than I remember with some crackers and impeccable sequencing from the maestro Ashley Abram. Even the rubbish is placed together. Some more songs:

Bluetones – If… Classic single from their enigmatic second album.
Air – Kelly Watch The Stars. Retro electronics and table tennis.
Cornershop – Sleep On The Left Side. Low, fat grooves.
Beastie Boys – Intergalactic. The triumphant return and Hello Nasty prelude.
Hanson – Thinking Of You. Lost in the sands of time, a beautiful noise.


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36 Responses to Now That’s What I Call Music 40 (EMI / Virgin / Polygram, 1998)

  1. andynoax says:

    Possibly the worst album in the entire series, for the following reasons –

    Can’t licence ‘You’re The One That I Want’, which had just been re-released? Why not slap the Grease Megamix on instead – track bloody one!

    All Saints had given us one of the worst No.1 singles of all time. We get both sides of it…..

    Too many punts on nonsense: OK, I expected the Groove Generation song to do much better, so fair enough on that one. And Los Umbrellos *could* have been that big summer holiday hit. But Kerri-Ann’s song is clearly utterly without merit, and although you say it got airplay, I don’t remember ever hearing it on the radio.

    Oh, and then there’s putting a song on that wasn’t even a single (I have a radio promo of the CD single, probably worth nothing mind you!)

    That’s not to say there aren’t good songs on it, there are plenty, but this is the one and only time Ashley Abram ****ed up big time if you ask me.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Cheers for the feedback Andy – I don’t agree that it’s the worst. At the time, it didn’t feel great but is more enjoyable now. Nows 24 and 25 are my least favourite so far I think.

      Using the Grease Megamix was a cheap get-out.
      The Kerri-Ann tune was played a lot over here (Ireland) where it hit the #1 spot. Didn’t realise it was different in UK.

      • andynoax says:

        NOW 25 has a LOT of minor / non-hits so I can understand that being near the bottom of your pile. Not sure what’s wrong with 24 really, though it does cover songs that were out when I was at Uni Radio (as does 25 actually) so maybe that’s why I don’t dislike it as much as you do.

        The Kerri-Ann song was certainly hyped an awful lot here (I think she was a Louis Walsh act, wasn’t she?) but as soon as radio producers heard the actual song there was no way that was going on. Certainly judging from my station manager’s reaction at the time anyway!

        • nlgbbbblth says:

          Yes, Kerri Ann came from the Louis Walsh stable…

          I don’t dislike Now 24 but it’s in the relegation zone due to having a kind of stale feel – I think it’s down to these two points:
          1) the Hits series was revived beforehand (which I bought straightaway) and had five of the tracks (Take That, 2 Unlimited, West End featuring Sybil, Annie Lennox and Snap)
          2) Three others had previously been included on earlier Now volumes (Bluebells, Hue and Cry, Genesis). While the Invisible Touch on Now 24 is a live version (fair enough – The Way We Walk was out), they really miss a trick by including the original version of Labour Of Love as opposed to the Urban Edit.

          The closing run of covers is also odd – Faith No More, Bryan Ferry, Ugly Kid Joe.
          In its favour there’s this era-defining triple play – Informer – Mr Loverman – Oh Carolina.

          • Feel the Quality says:

            Now 25 is still my go to answer for worst in the series. I used to really dislike 19 but I’ve never really worked out why as it contains some fine songs. I’ve mellowed on it a lot as I got older, so much so that I now put in the “most underrated Nows” category.
            Plus, any album that contains Unfinished Sympathy can never be considered bad (even if it also contains Vanilla Ice, The Postman Song and The Stonk).

            • nlgbbbblth says:

              I like Now 19 despite the fact that the second disc misfires. I wonder why it’s the lowest-selling? A few more indie tunes would have worked better – likes of Ride, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin etc. They also used album versions of Only You and Unfinished Sympathy. I know the latter has a lot of people preferring the Blue Lines version.

              • andynoax says:

                Disc 1 of NOW 19 is mostly fantastic. Disc 2 admittedly less so, but I still like it overall.

                Both the Massive Attack and Praise tracks had airplay for the album versions so I think it’s fair enough that they got included. More importantly, both are superior to the single versions I think – the former is my favourite song ever made.

              • nlgbbbblth says:

                Hard to say for me – both very close. The album version of Unfinished Sympathy is amazing. The Nellee Hooper single remix is on Dance Energy 2.
                And check out The Best Of Dance ’91 for the 7β€³ mix of Only You.

  2. Feel the Quality says:

    What’s worse than one turgid All Saints cover? Yep, two turgid All Saints covers. Their version of Under the Bridge is one of the worst atrocities ever committed in pop music, there is not one redeeming feature about it. It’s utter, utter gash.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Thanks Feel The Quality – you don’t mince your words. πŸ™‚ Do you like the original of Under The Bridge? I wasn’t a fan but think the All Saints version is a big improvement. The other side is pretty unexciting.

      • Feel the Quality says:

        Yeah, I’m a big fan of the original Under the Bridge, even though I was never that into RHCP.
        I never quite got All Saints, I always thought they were trying too hard and trying to be different whilst making the usual bubblegum pop. It was almost like they were “we’re like the Spice Girls…but edgy!”, forgetting that when they first burst onto the scene, the Spice Girls at least had more edge to them than being “girls in combat trousers”.

  3. cosmo says:

    On the contrary, I think 39 was one of the weaker Nows. This one’s (for me) much better. Although I agree on the comments here of the Grease Megamix. Nor am I too fond of All Saints’ Lady Marmalade cover.

    Karen Ramirez – Looking for Love

    The Tamperer Feat. Maya – Feel It

    Mousse T. – Horny

    Don Henley – Boys of Summer

    The Mavericks – Dance the Night Away (the best track on here. πŸ™‚ )

    Fat Les – Vindaloo

    David Morales – Needin’ U

  4. Steve B says:

    Just a quick line to say many thanks for this blog as it proves a fascinating read and takes me back to when I would blow a lot of cash on CD’s or Double Cassettes of compilation series! I have a majority of the Now’s (Starting from Now 8 and Now 86) on CD and have been buying each album as you review it (Cheap as chips on Amazon from a used seller) and ripping them to my PLEX music library. Keep up the fantastic work.

    Regarding NOW 40, agree with other readers that its a disappointing start with The Grease Mega-mix. Surprised that Karen Ramirez makes it as high up as track three, side one, as whilst its a good house track and very listenable, it was not a huge commercial hit (No 8 I think).

    Intergalactic by the Beastie Boys would have been a great inclusion, but the only time I can remember them on a Now or Hits complication LP up until that point was Hits 7 (She’s On It)

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Hi Steve – thanks very much for the feedback. It’s appreciated and glad that you are enjoying the reviews.

      Re: The Beastie Boys – I was very surprised to see She’s On It on Hits 7. You’re correct – aside from that, nothing on a mainstream series aside from Fight For Your Right on two Time Life collections (mid-90s) – one US, the other European. They weren’t averse to licensing tracks for hip hop or “cooler” compilations (the instrumental Flute Loop ended up on Mo Wax’s Headz 2) so it may have been a snobbery thing.

      • Steve B says:

        Thanks for the reply.

        Yes it was a surprise and more of a surprise that I remembered it as I usually forget something that my wife tells me to do 5 mins after she has said it!!

        However,I used to DJ and also run a music quiz night for many years so I’m not too bad on musical knowledge circa 84-98.

        Also really like the missing tracks feature you do. Always good to see what you would have included and what the other readers suggestions are too.

        We all know that licensing takes care of some of the A-list stars of the time (Prince/Madonna not being in NOWs for example) but some of the more leftfield tracks that ‘got away’ bring back memories.

        Final foot note would be that I make my own compilations these days, often featuring themes on the 80s. I even go as far as making my own artwork too as I just prefer this to making ‘playlists’

        Do you or any other readers do this (I clearly have to much time in my hands!!)

        • nlgbbbblth says:

          Hi Steve, usually before those compilations came out I used a notebook to jot down what I would have liked to see on them. Still have most of the notes so it’s handy to refer to them now. Otherwise I look back at the chart listings for the period and pick some possible candidates.

          I still make my own compilations and mixes and always try to have a theme – if you hover over the Mixes tab at the top of the page (need to be on a desktop) you’ll see some of them listed. Or you can access a wider selection of them on my Mixcloud channel –

          The most recent project is a seven part Balearic one. I’ve gone all out with sleeve notes for each song – this page has everything you need including links back to Mixcloud

          Last year I did a five part sophisti pop one. Again this page has tracklists and Mixcloud links to all parts

          Would be interested in seeing what ones you have done.

  5. Steve B says:

    Sorry for the late reply, one of those days!

    Many thanks for the links to your compilations – love the sleeve notes (I wish Now did these for their newer albums – Now Thats What I Call Drive etc) and some interesting choices if music too.

    More than happy to share some of my stuff, so maybe you can email me as I believe its logged when I post a comment?

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  16. Andrew Chinnock says:

    Hi Paul, we have another ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ moment on here (and other compilations of the time). The Tamperer’s ‘Feel It’. I’ve never been able to unhear the Jacksons, but that’s another story.

    The version used here and on Fresh Hits 98, Box Hits 98 vol 2, etc etc isn’t the blunt edit from the cd single. It’s mighty close, but it’s not. My ears pricked up the first time I heard it on whichever compilation used it first when the initial long synth note wasn’t quite what I was expecting. The one used is speeded up the merest fraction and is that tiny bit higher in pitch as well. A comparison with the original (blunt edit first)…

    I’ve never come across the proper blunt edit on a compilation. The original mix on the cd single is the “extended version”, though doesn’t offer much extension and is slower, but is the slowed down extended version of the blunt edit. Telstar, on Club Hits 98, used the original mix, yet used this odd version as the single version on subsequent compliations.

    It’s taken 22 years to get that off my chest lol!

  17. Martin Davis says:

    One of the Now albums I’m less familiar with but I do have some random memories of individual tracks:

    My younger self actually brought the CD release of “You’re the one that I want” as I got all excited that it had a bonus CD rom track on it.

    At the height of World Cup 98 we all persuaded our primary school music teacher to let us sing “Three Lions” in our music lesson. She let us and I remember her trying to bash out an accompaniment on the piano but everyone just wanted to let rip and sing along.

    Not a bad volume I suppose and a good cover design.

    Given that this album included “Three Lions” and “Vindaloo” I would have personally gone for “Top Of The World (Ole Ole)” by Chumbawumba too. And possibly also “The Great Escape” by England Supporters band but thats me being biassed as I liked that track.

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