Now That’s What I Call Music 1981: The Millennium Series (EMI / Virgin / Universal, 1999)

Now Millennium 1981

Now Millennium 1981 r

The 1981 entry in the Millennium series follows the same template as before, coming in a light blue with a variant of the classic 3D logo on the front. Once again, Bob Marley gets mentioned in the sleeve notes but doesn’t actually feature here. “In 1981, the global music community suffered one of its greatest losses – the tragic death of Bob Marley, aged just 36. Later in the year, 20,000 people flocked to Montego Bay’s Fourth International Reggae Sunsplash Festival which was billed as a tribute to Marley. Marley’s music has continued to be a major influence in the work of musicians the world over.”

I’ve covered 21 of the tracks when reviewing previous compilations. These are:
Chart Blasters ’81: Phil Collins – In The Air Tonight, Roxy Music – Jealous Guy, XTC – Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me).
Super Hits: Human League – Love Action (I Believe In Love), Quincy Jones – Razzamatazz, Imagination – Body Talk.
Chart Hits ’81: Ultravox – Vienna, UB40 – One In Ten, Star Sound – ABBA Medley, Godley and Creme – Under Your Thumb, Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin – It’s My Party, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Souvenir, Squeeze – Labelled With Love, Kim Wilde – Kids In America, Smokey Robinson – Being With You, Michael Jackson – One Day In Your Life.
Hits Hits Hits: Elvis Costello – A Good Year For The Roses.
Modern Dance: Visage – Fade To Grey.
Action Trax: Philip Lynott – Yellow Pearl.
Now That’s What I Call Music – Smash Hits: Queen and David Bowie – Under Pressure, The Specials – Ghost Town.

The Tide Is High, originally a hit for The Paragons in 1966, became the lead single on Blondie’s fifth LP Autoamerican. The music video sees Debbie Harry trapped in a flooded apartment and then flying into space. In a prophetic twist, a #1 chart position was achieved – just like Heart Of Glass, Sunday Girl, Call Me, Atomic and 1999’s Maria. Meanwhile the new romantic movement was gathering pace and would peak in 1981: Duran Duran’s third single Girls On Film was their breakthrough and brings back carefree memories of that summer in Courtown Harbour. The song begins with a recording of the rapid whirring of a motor drive on a camera while its raunchy video was directed by Godley and Creme. They are four key mixes: 3:27 (Single Version), 5:31 (Night Version), 5:45 (Extended Night Version), 5:41 (Instrumental Version). B-Side is Faster Than Light.
If you’ve got the time you might consider At Night: A Duran Duran Compilation.
Late Bar / Khanada / Fame / To The Shore / Tel Aviv / Anyone Out There / Faster Than Light / Like An Angel / Hold Back The Rain (Remix) / The Chauffeur (Blue Silver) / Faith In This Colour / Secret Oktober / Tiger Tiger (Remix) / The Seventh Stranger

Tainted Love was recorded by Gloria Jones in 1965 and became a smash down Wigan way during the glory days of the Casino c. 1973. A cover version by Soft Cell became the band’s second single. A much slower take and the 12″ mix transitioned into a version of The Supremes’ Where Did Your Love Go? Mike Thorne recalls: “When Soft Cell performed Tainted Love I heard a very novel sound and a very nice voice, so off we went.” It ended up being the year’s best-selling single, shifting 1,350,000 copies. True diamond geezers Spandau Ballets broke into the top 3 with their fourth 45, the funky Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On). 36 years on, it’s still fresh and sparkles like nothing else. The juxtaposition with Yellow Pearl works brilliant before the next tune kicks in.

RCA released the Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) LP in September 1980 with the promo line “Often Copied, Never Equalled”, seen as a direct reference to the new wave acts Bowie had inspired over the years. The title track is a percussive treat with an exaggerated cockney accent. Unfortunately the single edit is not included here. Neither is the correct version of ABC’s debut 45, Tears Are Not Enough, which was produced by Steve Brown. Instead we get the re-recorded take from The Lexicon Of Love which is actually better but not authentic. CD1 ends on a serious note with Titles, or Chariots Of Fire as it’s better known. A sweeping piece of music that has become synonymous with slow motion pieces, it was used by the BBC as theme music for its coverage of the 1984 Summer Olympics.

After the gentle strum of Elvis Costello’s A Good Year For The Roses and Squeeze’s Labelled With Love, The Jam crash in with That’s Entertainment. In 1981 it was an import single backed by a live version of Down in the Tube Station at Midnight, peaking at #21. File under caustic acoustic psych – it’s fantastic, minimalist, transcendent and tremendously evocative of a time and place. Here’s John Thorne’s take on those times:
“This is 70s London in three minutes. The opening bars of this take me back to the baking summer of 1976, and a couple of years later to sitting in back gardens drinking with mates, both white and black, listening to a Jam track, then a Trojan records reggae track, then a Clash track, then Marley, Toots/Maytals – and everybody there, white/black, loved each one. I know London black guys who think music ended after The Jam!! We thought racists were mugs. Why make an enemy when you can make a friend? I had my black mates’ kids sit on my lap calling me Uncle John and was proud. If I didn’t hate them when they were 5, why the fuck would I hate them if they were 25? Then 1981 came around and it all went so very wrong. But we’ll always have The Jam, Madness, The Who, The Clash, The Kinks. And a special mention to Don Letts.”

Number 7, number 7, number 7, number 7, number 7, number 7, number 7. . .
The Return Of The Los Palmas 7 was released as the Madness’ seventh single on 16 January 1981, reaching #7 in the UK and staying in the charts for seven weeks. The 7″ single release was slightly different from the track on the album Absolutely, and was roughly 30 seconds longer. 2:33 vs 2:03 – and guess what? We get the Absolutely version here. Either way, it’s a top instrumental that takes me right back to the school yard. “You will know these songs; the North London septet eulogise London with a sound like rainwater on grey roof slates. It’s an interesting world Madness created with trilby hatted rude boys, weary old lags and ASBO offenders singing songs of redemption and despair. The lyrics are all picture perfect and the instrumentation evocative of the sounds of London and its inhabitants.” (Hot Fudge on Divine Madness)

“All wrapped up the same.” Another cracker from that cold January. The Teardrop Explodes, fronted by Julian Cope, created a beautiful racket of ska and northern soul with wonderful lyrical observations: “Death in solitude like Howard Hughes.” Anyone for a bit of Latin? Despite only reaching #55, U2’s Gloria comes next, the opening track on their quietest and most unobtrusive LP, October. The anthemic chorus is taken from Gloria In Excelsis Deo, a Christian hymn. The Steve Lillywhite influence is evident: even now, it’s a stunning track that takes me back to RTE’s Anything Goes and its Rock Show segment which was presented by Dave Heffernan. The Gloria video, directed by Meiert Avis, was filmed in October 1981 on a barge in Grand Canal Basin, Dublin. You never see it now.

Another track which failed to crack the top 40 was Steve Winwood’s While You See A Chance. A 45 peaking at #45. The musical equivalent of a sunrise and perfect for early morning bus or train rides. Watching the red skies. The single mix runs about 80 seconds less than the version on Arc Of A Diver. We get the full 5:15. A 4:09 version can be found on Time Life’s The Early ’80: Part 2 – a fantastic 32 volume series that’s well worth collecting. Into the soul zone: Motown veterans The Four Tops arrive with When She Was My Girl, all booming bass. Flying the funk flag are Kool and The Gang with the infectious Get Down On It – another tune with a taut 7″ edit that’s not here. Save the last dance for Endless Love, a honeyed duet between two legends Lionel Richie and Diana Ross.

Favourite tracks
The Jam – That’s Entertainment

Duran Duran – Girls On Film

Spandau Ballet – Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On)

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Souvenir

Lest we forget
U2 – Gloria

Missing tracks and other thoughts
The second volume in Now That’s What I Call Music’s Millennium series does a great job of capturing 1981’s musical highlights with a thoughtful selection of exquisitely sequenced tracks. Again, good things come in pockets – a ska / reggae triumvirate early on CD1 with new romantics and synth pop dominating the rest of the disc. New wave and R&B / soul get their chance on CD2. While the failure to use correct single edits continues to be disappointing (Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight is another album version casualty), it’s to be expected with retrospective compilations. The casual listener is not going to notice.

19 songs reached #1 in the UK during 1981; seven of them are here while The Tide Is High was a 1980 #1. Key omissions include Adam and The Ants’ Stand And Deliver (will always be associated with Carry On Henry – RTE2 re-runs) and The Police’s Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic. Once again, The 80s – The Album Of The Decade is a good source for the latter. John Lennon’s Woman should also have been included – before or after Jealous Guy. Given that songs from outside the top 40 made it in, a case can be made for Simple Minds – take your pick from The American, Love Song or Sweat In Bullet. Depeche Mode surely deserve inclusion too – New Life or Just Can’t Get Enough – while some rock ‘n’ roll or rockabilly (think Shakin’ Stevens, Stray Cats or Matchbox) would work too.

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8 Responses to Now That’s What I Call Music 1981: The Millennium Series (EMI / Virgin / Universal, 1999)

  1. Feel the Quality says:

    If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times…. Squeeze are the most underrated band ever. Labelled with Love is a morose masterpiece and putting it between A Good Year for the Roses and That’s Entertainment is a master stroke. Add in Phil Collins and the Sultan of Suave and it’s a pretty depressing but essential opening selection. Then chuck on a Madness song to lift the gloom. Another example of just how good Ashley Abram was at his job.
    All said, this is again an excellent collection but where’s Don’t You Want Me? Yes, as it’s almost legally obligated to appear on any 80s compilation we’ve all got it a dozen times over but there’s a pretty good reason for it. If you’re going to include a Human League song on a 1981 album, surely it’s the one to go with.
    One Day in Your Life is an achingly beautiful ballad and to see it compiled here (finally actually making it onto a Now CD after it’s omission from the Smash Hits one) was an unexpected delight (it has special meaning for me as it was played at my mum’s funeral) and reminds us that MJ’s first solo #1 was one of his lesser known tracks.
    You’ve already mentioned the absence of Shaky and Mr. Ant. The only other major MIA is Making Your Mind Up. And maybe Aneka.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Thank you Feel The Quality. The track ordering at the beginning of CD2 is brilliant – love the downbeat flow. Squeeze’s 45s And Under is one of the greatest ever band compilations. One knockout track after another. Fair point re the Human League – was a little surprised when I looked at the tracklist,
      One Day In Your Life being the unlucky 32nd track from the Smash Hits collaboration is certainly a welcome inclusion.

  2. andynoax says:

    You’ve already covered most of the tracks that should have made it onto this collection, which for me is slightly less essential in terms of songs that you don’t usually get on compilations compared to the 1980 version. There are still plenty of top tunes having said that, though.

    Non-hits to me are fine if they were played lots at the time and for a fair while afterwards – the Steve Winwood song was still getting airplay on the radio station I worked for in the mid-90s so fair enough. The U2 track never got many spins even at the time so shouldn’t be here, I’m afraid. I’d also say that the Bowie track simply isn’t very good so I wouldn’t have included it.

    Arguably, though I’m sick to death of it, ‘Don’t You Want Me’ probably should have been on there. For me, ‘Love Action’ is the best song from ‘Dare’ so that’s fine with me.

    Oh, and point of order – the Starsound song is actually ‘Stars on 45 Volume 2’ and should be called by its proper name!

    • Feel the Quality says:

      I’m actually a fan of compilers throwing in “lesser known” tracks from a certain artist. I’ve discussed here before how I loved it when The 80s Album of the Decade chose Freedom over Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go or when Now 85 (10th Anniversary) included Everything She Wants instead of I’m Your Man.
      But when doing a compilation of a specific year, especially when it’s from a period never covered by a Now Album (with the exception of Smash Hits) it just makes sense to put in their biggest hit, especially when it’s a massive seller like Don’t You Want Me.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Hi Andy, The U2 track got a reasonable amount of airplay in Ireland at the time and also featured on Under A Red Blood Sky a couple of years later. I noticed the Star Sound track naming error on the back of the sleeve but left it in when writing the review! Personally I would left it off for a proper ABBA tune….

  3. cosmo says:

    Another good compo, which does the job both as a “For Dummies” and “For Anoraks”.

    Phil Lynott’s TOTP theme was a pleasant surprise. But it wouldn’t have gone amiss on the following year’s volume instead of this one, since it was in Jan 82 when it finally cracked into the top 20 (#14).
    I like Scary Monsters & Super Creeps. But this album on a whole got on to a flying start with Under Pressure.

    And I much prefer Tempted (*ahem*#41*ahem*) to Labelled with Love. But, yeah, Squeeze is one of my favourite bands from that era too. The “right” Jam song, was, however, happily included here.
    Great call on Los Palmas 7. Probably the best 45 Madness flung out that year.

    Other highlights: Godley & Créme, Stewart & Gaskin, XTC, Four Tops, Quincy Jones.

    P.S. FWIW, Jealous Guy’s 45 length was actually 6:10.

    • nlgbbbblth says:

      Hi Cosmo, thanks for your selections.

      There’s a nice edit of Jealous Guy (4:56) on the 1986 compilation Street Life that mixes solo Ferry and Roxy Music.

      Great to see the love for Squeeze. As well as the 45s and Under CD, I can also recommend these:

      Excess Moderation – a 40 track compilation of lesser-known album cuts, B-sides, and alternate versions, it provides a wonderful alternative view of the band’s career.

      Six Of One – the first six albums in a box. Each one in its own jewel case (the way it always should be), a decent booklet and bonus tracks.

      The Squeeze Story – All Music put it best “Ironically enough for a compilation called The Squeeze Story, this 2006 double-disc set does not follow a chronological order and thereby tell a story. Instead, this 38-track set tosses hits, album tracks, and relative rarities in almost a random order, so the latter-day “Electric Trains” appears just two tracks before “Black Coffee in Bed.” Some sticklers may complain about this seemingly haphazard sequencing, but the non-chronological order winds up emphasizing the depth of Difford and Tilbrook’s songbook and, in the process, winds up being one of the best Squeeze compilations yet assembled.”

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