Sunday, 16 June 2013
Now That's What I Call Music! 30 years on
The heart of pop, from the outset, has been found in the single and, in turn, the compilation album. An entirely commercial enterprise, the 'comp' is designed to sell as many copies as possible by including the greatest number of hit singles from the shortest amount of recent history, genres be damned. Thirty years old - and 84 compilations down the line - 21st century pop is defined by Now That's What I Call Music.
"I used to do a paper round" says pop obsessive, compilation collector and Universal Music employee Mark Wood, "and after two weeks I'd have enough money to buy Chart Explosion or Mounting Excitement, one of the K-Tel comps. When you're a kid, they're fantastic value - you could either buy three singles, or a comp with 20 hits on it."
Wood says that the market for compilations has never been stronger. "In a market that went down last year, comps held up. In 2008 Now 69 set a record first-week compilation sale - that’s ANY comp ever - of 382,000 in one week in March. And then in August Now 70 broke that record with 383,000 in week one. Now 71 ended up with 2008 sales of 964,000 in about six weeks. Unbelievable!"
Ashley Abram would have loved the option that public domain affords Future Noise - he has lost count of how many times he's been asked why Madonna hasn't appeared on a Now, the vagaries of artist consent and inter-label politics being beyond most people. Abram compiled the Now series from 1983 to 2012, leaving when EMI was sold off and split up. He was originally poached by Richard Branson from Ronco after his Raiders Of The Pop Charts comp had "knocked John Lennon off the top of the album chart." Not everyone is as sniffy as Madge about appearing on a comp: "U2 have gone on about the 'iconic' Now series" says Abram. "One of them, I think it's Larry Mullen, is really mad keen - some people just like the charts, I suppose. And Pride (In The Name Of Love) was on Now 4 so they've appeared on a lot of Nows."
He finds the collectors' market for early Now CDs "quite bizarre. Now 4 is the scarcest; even though it's a multi-million selling series, it sells for hundreds of pounds. And there's a mythical Now 5 CD but I've never seen it." The very first Now - Paul Young, Kajagoogoo, Men Without Hats et al - was issued on CD for the first time in 2008 to appeal to this lunatic fringe. The plan was for the other non_CD Nows, volumes two to seven, to follow but they never materialised.
Ashley Abram says there are "no hard and fast criteria" for a track to be included on a Now, but he liked to "keep the process a bit mysterious. We don't have a final track listing until three weeks before they hit the shops. All I do is go in for a day at Abbey Road, a long working day, and sequence it there. I usually make a few notes beforehand. Occasionally bands demand where they'd like to be on the CD. Queen used to."
Track one, by any chance?
"Yes! But we always agreed, and it always worked."
Now 85 is out on July 22nd.
*my favourite unlikely opening sequence is on Ronco's 20 Star Tracks from 1972: Procol Harum - Conquistador; Joan Baez - The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down; Royal Scots Dragoon Guards - Amazing Grace; Free - Little Bit Of Love.
Posted by Bob Stanley at Sunday, June 16, 2013