Now That’s What I Call Music arrives, 28th November 1983
When EMI and the relative newcomer Virgin got into bed together at the tail-end of 1983 with the idea of releasing a singles round-up LP, the music industry was shaken to it’s very foundations. Pundits may cite the subsequent decline of the singles chart, sparked off by this seminal release, but hey, let’s celebrate the brand for it’s own worth. There’s so much to enjoy.
Until the early 80s, pop fans had to make do with the now iconic, but frankly vile, Top Of The Pop collections. Charity-shop fixtures to this day, these imposters would rob you of your pocket money with note-for-note recreations of the hits du jour- “Bohemian Rhapsody” proving a particular challenge for the anonymous session players.
The TOTP records as a series finally bit the dust around ’81 (although it limped on with two final editions in ’84 and ’85. But by that time the public wanted the real thing). Pre-Now, labels such K-Tel Ronco and Telstar had cornered the market in cheap compilation albums, using original artists (albeit edited down to fit ten tracks per side). Your local RSPCA shop is now home for these naffly-titled selections – Raiders Of The Pop Charts, Close Encounters Of The Chart Kind and so on.
This was the environment into which Now That’s What I Call Music arrived on 28th November 1983, proclaiming “30 Great Tracks including 11 Number Ones!” A double LP, it’s gatefold sleeve exuded quality from the word go and it’s maximum of eight tracks per side meant better sound quality (the vinyl still sounds great to this day). It’s slightly odd moniker came from a slogan on a 1920s poster advertising Danish Bacon, hung on the wall of Simon Draper’s office at Virgin Records.
That same Beatific pig later donned the Raybans and defined the brand for up until Now 5…..
However, the Northern porker didn’t prove too popular amongst the ranks at Virgin EMI, and perhaps conscious of straying back into the tacky aesthetics of Ronco et al, the sleeve for Now 6 declared “Feel The Quality”, with silk inner lining mock-up.
Hereon in, up until Now 16, the gatefold artwork was really something quite special. Completely photographic, in the days before computer generated manipulation, the familiar four-ball/lightening flash logo took on many forms with increasingly imaginative scenarios- a neon hotel sign, submerged under water, skyscraper reflections, spaceship, fireworks and an ominous “15” shaped shadow spoiling an otherwise perfect Summer 1989 day on the beach. That was all spoiled though by the time of Now 20 when a generic, computer generated three dimensional logo arrived and the design department went on holiday forever, each release looking indistinguishable from the one preceding it.
The series also emerged blinking into the video age. An 80-minute title called, not surprisingly, Now That’s What I Call Music Video was available on VHS and Betamax. The accompanying video series lasted until Now 20. 1985 and ’86 saw the brand expand into various offshoots with The Christmas Album, The Summer Album and the successful Now Dance series.
Other record companies quickly caught on and in late 1984, CBS and WEA/Warners followed with their Hits album series. This equally successful venture wrestled chart dominance with Now for a few years, even preventing Now 4 from reaching the top slot.
As a snapshot the times, there is no finer document than these perfect audio time-capsules. It’s the sound of Now. By which I mean the sound of then.