I think it was worth the wait in the end. Now! 100 is finally here.
The dedicated band of people behind the production of the thrice-yearly Now That’s What I Call Music albums did a masterful job of not only building up the anticipation to the release of Volume 100 but also skilfully managing the PR campaign to ensure it was treated as a genuine major event. In the process thrusting the venerable compilations brand to the forefront of public discussion in a manner it hasn’t achieved for some considerable time.
One possible downside of the true extent of the coverage is that it exposed the way that the story behind a series of pop music compilations isn’t all that involved. Really there are only so many ways to spin the tale. Once you’ve heard one set of executives explaining about the Danish advertisement for bacon which hung on the boardroom wall at Virgin Records and which gave the collection its name, you don’t really need to hear it from five other people. But over the past week or so that’s precisely what has happened.
Amongst the many debates, discussions and documentaries that have appeared online there’s been:
A BBC Radio documentary on compilations, with a particular focus on Now!
A Virgin Radio UK documentary covering similar ground. Richard Branson telling the story of the pig poster included, naturally.
A Monocle 24 culture show on the same topic.
The BBC news website went behind the scenes to sit in on the process of putting together the celebrated 100th edition of the series. A piece which to my amusement and fascination featured identical contributions from the same individuals who appeared in the simultaneously published Guardian piece detailing the production of the 99th volume from earlier this year.
A search of online newspaper archives also turns up articles from past milestones, such as this one from a full ten years ago celebrating the series as it reached the 25th anniversary and which needless to say contains many of the same facts as the current swathes of admiring coverage. 2008 was also the last time I had cause to write about collecting Now That’s What I Call Music albums, prompted by a special CD re-release of the very first volume and one which I wrote about track by track on this very site. That re-release turned out to be so successful there were apparently tentative plans to continue with later volumes until it was noted that there was a Gary Glitter track on Volume 3 which was not so easily sidestepped. So plans were aborted, or so the rumour goes.
We All Have A Favourite
The Now! 100 hype has for me thrown into sharp focus the peculiar need for Britsh people to elevate the mundane to a beloved tradition, irrespective of whether it has ever been viewed that way. Aside from the one or two dedicated collectors, of which in all fairness I am one, I’m not sure anyone really had cause to fetishise the purchasing of a compilation album until this anniversary was released. Yet when prompted to do so, everyone can produce their own memories of the first one they were gifted, the volume which means the most to them for being the soundtrack of a particular time in life, or the particular moment all modern pop music started to sound rubbish and not like it was back in their day.
In that sense, Now That’s What I Call Music compilations kind of mirror the approach the average person has to the pop charts in general. Every single one of us intersects and engages with them at a certain point in life, and those are the only time that counts for us. We may not care much for the rest of our lives, but it is always nice to know they are still there. 35 years after the release of the first edition, suddenly everyone has been made aware that Now! is still around and in relative terms going strong. That may go some way to explaining the huge sale with which Volume 100 is set to debut at the weekend, early sales flashes suggesting it sold 105,000 copies in its first three days one sale alone. Compare that to its predecessor which posted 115,000 sales across the whole its first week back in March.
Disc 2 Disappointment
Not that the production of Now That’s What I Call Music! Volume 100 hasn’t been without its critics. I was amongst the many voices who reacted with some bemusement at the announcement that only the first disc would be filled with contemporary chart hits, the second featuring a selection of what you might call “Now’s Greatest Hits” with selected tracks from the collections from the last 35 years. This in spite of plans later in the year for a separate 100 track “Now That’s What I Call Now” retrospective. Which naturally will cover much of the same ground.
I suspect in the first instance this was done this way to broaden the appeal of the special edition. 100th volume notwithstanding, ramming it full of recent chart hits alone still would not have encouraged older generations to revert to old habits and make a souvenir purchase. It also allows the makers to sidestep what is fast becoming a major issue. The slow movement of the singles charts (despite best efforts to speed it up) meaning that locating 45-50 tracks to feature on each successive edition is becoming ever more of a struggle. By only having to fill a single disc this time around the compilers have more material to bite on for Volume 101 at Christmas.
Still, if it still meant the opportunity for my friend Bob Stanley to select his own playlist of the most eclectic deep cuts from the history of the series, who are we to complain? In any event, if those casual purchasers take the time to listen to Disc 1 they will discover that even the limited selection of current hits in contains just throws up how fabulous pop music is sounding right now. Shotgun, Solo, No Tears Left To Cry, 2002, I’ll Be There, If You’re Over Me, Flames, Better Now and Rise is a mouthwatering sequence of pop hits. Almost every one a Top 5 smash and every one of them the kind of single that will cause future generations to look back and mark the summer of 2018 down as a vintage era for pop music.
This Took Bloody Ages
As I admitted above, I’m a collector. Having been gifted the first volume and proceeded to obtain each subsequent one by fair means or foul ever since. How best to show off that collection? Well, three days before Volume 100 was released I decided to lay all the others end to end just to see how far around the house they would reach. It turns out I may need to buy a bigger one before too long.