Compilation glory: 40 years of ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ – and its greatest edition

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It is the best-selling compilation in the world and this week celebrated its 40th anniversary…

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The British Now That’s What I Call Music series launched on November 28, 1983. Since then, the compilations have served as a musical snapshot of bygone eras, tracing every musical trend from the early days of hip-hop to Britpop, the indie rock of the early 2000s and the current K-pop boom.

And Pietro André.

Before Spotify and the age of playlists, compilations were a must to keep up to date with the latest songs and trends, as well as discover new artists.

116 episodes have been released so far, the last of which came out in November, starring Sam Smith, Olivia Rodrigo, Doja Gattoand the last one The Rolling Stones to separate.

Something for everyone. Always.

And in case you were wondering, the artist who appeared the most on the Now compilations was Robbie Williams – 38 places, including both his solo songs and his Take That days.

The albums are still going strong in the UK, and only the US has continued to release them since 1998.

New Zealand went all out with the Now compilations (1985 – 2020), followed by valiant efforts from Australia (1987 – 2019), Canada (1988 – 2017) and Japan (1988 – 2014). Denmark and Finland did well (1999 – 2009 and 2003 – 2013 respectively), Italy managed 14 years of Now – All achievements (2000 – 2014) and France only had its variant from 2002 to 2006 with Now! Reference to shots.

Everyone has their favorite Now album and I still remember buying my first one on cassette in August 1996: Now 34.

To this day, it remains not only my most popular Now compilation, but also the one to beat when it comes to musical compendiums.

I know every song by heart: a sad badge of honor that I wear with pride. It’s a Proustian madeleine that reminds me of happier, simpler times. Diana finally divorced Charles; Fargo AND independence Day they were in the theaters; Friends AND The X-Files they were in full swing and all the rage; THE Chicago Bulls were crowned NBA champions; a strange little site called Ebay had just emerged; Dolly the sheep was cloned, leading me to hope that one day Gillian Anderson could be duplicated and accept me as her one true love; it was acceptable (and even cool) to say “Booyah!”; and unbeknownst to the world, one of her best actresses had just started her oxygen habit.

Florence Pugh, in case you were wondering.

What a time to be alive.

But let’s get back to the music.

Let me take you on the sonic highway of 90s eargasms.

Let’s get started: how else? — with the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe,” which catapulted the band to global stardom and paved the way for the teen pop boom of the late ’90s.

The aforementioned Robbie Williams gives us “Freedom,” followed by Peter Andre and Bubbler Ranx’s breakthrough single “Mysterious Girl.” The indie rock side follows, with “Good Enough” by Dodgy and the fantastic “The Day We Caught The Train” by the often overlooked Ocean Color Scene.

Soundtrack time, with “Theme from Mission: Impossible” by U2 members Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton (since we were only on Chapter 1 of the series led by Tom Cruise in 1996), and the song made famous by Trainspotting – “Born Slippy” by Underworld.

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By the way, all this is done from memory.

That’s how damn effective Now 34 was and remains.

The gender leap continues. Dance tracks follow, featuring JX’s “There’s Nothing I Won’t Do”; Gina G’s incomparable “Ooh Aah… Just a Little Bit” (the sexual subtext of which was a complete mystery to me at the time); Pianoman’s “Blurred” – which heavily samples Blur’s “Girls & Boys”; and finishing the dancefloor section with Louise’s ‘Naked’ (the cryptic implications of which I fully understood when the compilation was released).

Hip-hop follows, with Mark Morrison (“Return of the Mac”) and 2Pac (“California Love”), while some international trends settled for Los del Mar’s “Macarena”.

Let’s not mince words though. A woman named Macarena cheats on her military boyfriend with two of her buddies while he is deployed. AND YOU ARE WAITING FOR ME TO DANCE?? I did not approve of the behavior at the time and it will not be approved now.

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That little mistake aside, the electronic persuasions come into play with the triple tap of Wink’s “Higher State of Consciousness”, Todd Terry’s fantastic “Keep On Jumpin” and Robert Miles’ “Children” – which continues to sound more like The X Files compared to the current theme of The X Files.

And this is only the first part.

The second continued – in no particular order this time – with hits by Oasis (“Wonderwall”), Bon Jovi (“Hey God”), Blur (“Charmless Man”), Suède (“Trash”), Joan Osborne (” One of Us”), Tina Turner (“On Silent Wings”), the confusingly edited back-to-back anthems “How Bizarre” and “Walking on the Milky Way” by OMC and OMD. To this day I can still confuse both bands, not just because of their names, but because of this baffling and blatant track order.

The last three songs were the perfect send-off: “Female of the Species” by Space; forgotten indie darlings Cast and their hit “Walkaway”; and finally, some thoughts on the Boyzone boyband (“Coming Home Now”), just to bring things full circle considering we started with the girls on side one.

From 1996 to 2023, Now 34 accompanied me everywhere: parties, trips, holidays, exam revision, walks to work…

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I treasured the AC version, later dumped onto the CD version, and you can bet that if they ever release a vinyl pressing, I’ll be first in line to acquire a third copy.

I strongly urge you, dear reader, to investigate the eclectic joys of Now 34 and Now collections in general.

Spotify is probably your best bet, before you marvel at its greatness and decide that a physical copy of this 1996 monument to music is nothing short of a necessity.

And share with us what your favorite Now compilation is.

Happy listening.

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And no, Macarena, you and your bewitching dance moves still excuse nothing.

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