It'll be a few days before the next album starts, but as a sort of experiment in the interim I've signed up at We7 and set up a playlist of some of the more impressive tracks I've blogged about so far. It's pretty much done on the fly and there are a few omissions because the records I wanted to include aren't available on there (no 'Born Slippy', I'm afraid) but feel free to try and navigate your way through what there is of it. I'll be keeping it updated as and when anything else seems to deserve inclusion.
One final piece of business to wrap up Now 4 is the CD release which carries over the numbering of the LP it coincided with, even though it's not the fourth CD and there's so little in common with the other formats that they'd struggle to be classed as the same album in the charts; the artwork is different of course, because two of the four acts who stare out at you from the cover of the vinyl and tape aren't even on the CD. Still, despite the tenous connection between the two records, I thought I should record the content, or at least paste it off the internet...
Duran Duran 'The Reflex' (video)Originally included on Now 3
By sneaking in selections from early in 1984, this seems to equate to a more consistent collection than the standard version, and Queen certainly offer a more satisfying finale than Eugene Wilde. That said, my favourite track from the entire album is absent and it's sort of a pity in retrospect that 'Listen To Your Father' didn't get a CD release. Either way not many people jumped at the chance to pay more for a shorter album and this has now become such a rarity that it's reputed to change hands for over £200 on the rare occasions one comes up for sale, presumably to collectors only.
By the way, I think all this makes 'The Reflex' the only track to have opened two Now albums, albeit only on a technicality.
No relation to Kim Wilde of course, as it's neither of their real names (he's actually Ron Broomfield and at time of writing Wikipedia claims that he adopted the pseudonym because "He had sex with a hooker and then decided to call it the Wilde Flowers of sex." Citation possibly needed there.
It probably wasn't the best idea to look this song up on YouTube after watching a load of comedy clips either, because with that in mind this could almost be mistaken for a parody of loverman soul. Of course, that's partly because it's over 25 years old now and the parts that now sound so cliched might have been fresher then, but there is something decidedly unconvincing about it; he tells whoever he's singing to to kick off her shoes, although the title implies that he wants her to go home without them. It's slick, but going through the motions. Still, it continues the tradition of a slow song at the end of a Now album, which remains more or less solid (on vinyl at least) until the twenties.
A song possibly better remembered now for the video, regularly dug out by VH-1 because it has some women in it without much on. Well, at least McLaren isn't in it in person...
I do wonder how many of the viewers remembered the song itself, which is another of McLaren's attempts to blend old and new styles, in this case 80s RnB and opera. It's not a bad idea, I suppose, but the execution isn't as effective as it could have been, especially now it's not modern any more. And McLaren's narration just grates on me. I think perhaps you had to be there.
You wait all this time for a Michael Jackson appearance and then there are two on the same album... For yes it is him singing the chorus, and cynical voices have suggested that this record wouldn't have been the hit it was without this; certainly no other Rockwell singles reached the Top 75 in the UK, although he managed to scrape the US Top 40 with 'Obscene Phone Caller' and the Top 100 with a cover version of 'Taxman', which seems like a fair summary of his lyrical agenda: paranoia and a difficult relationship with the IRS.
The other fact everyone knows about Rockwell is that his father owned the record company. Many sources claim that Berry Gordy didn't find out his true identity until after the album came out, which I've never entirely believed, especially considering the effort it must have taken to call in the big guests and producers for this, and the fact that, let's face it, he can't really sing or anything. There's enough money thrown at this to give it some entertainment value, and that's probably why it turns up regularly on Halloween compilations alongside Ray Parker Jr. But it's in no way an actual good record.
Incidentally, this is the third Motown track on Now 4, three more than I can see on the previous volumes put together; they must have taken some persuading because this was a hit in February nearer the time of Now II. Motown's biggest single of 1984 is still absent, but perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies.
This is probably as good a time as any to come clean and admit that doing Now 4 at this stage was a bit of a mistake. I had an undisclosed plan to do one album from every year from 1983 to 1999, so I was about to do Now 5 for 1985, but then forgot myself and made a last-minute switch to this 1984 album. Oops.
Still, it's one of the few times I get to write about the Eurythmics here, presumably for contractual reasons; the soundtrack to a film of 1984 was on Virgin rather than their usual home at RCA, and so presumably more easily obtainable. I haven't seen the film and I don't think I'd heard the song before either, although I do remember the "Doo-do-do, boom-boom" middle section from a VH-1 trailer. The rest reminds me oddly of Queen somehow. They made worse records than this, but it feels like it loses a lot out of context.
Level 42's second Top 20 hit after 'The Sun Goes Down' (and also their first Hot 100 hit in the US, I believe) finds them on their way towards the smooth pop sound that made them stars, whilst still retaining some of the slap-bass funk of their pre-fame days. I can't really claim much knowledge of the early stuff (and probably wouldn't get it anyway) so I have to take people's word for it that they knew what they were doing then.
In fact I don't remember hearing this before either, as it was overshadowed by the later more radio-friendly stuff. Coming to it now it seems to be falling rather between two stools, and despite the polished production they seem unsure of themselves. The lyric seems like a precursor to 'Running In The Family' and whilst that's not a favourite of mine it at least seems more wholehearted than this, which can't quite bring itself to be a pop song but isn't quite anything else either.
Also appearing on: Now 6, 7, 10, 13, 14 Available on:Level Best
There's another subtitle here, but at least a well-known one: apparently it was added to avoid confusion with the Van Halen song. In some ways, it's difficult to review this song in words, because it's not a work of great literary ambition; it strives to be no more than the vivacious pop song that it is. Perhaps the most interesting (if obvious) way to look at it is to compare it to the Girls Aloud version; they didn't exactly reinvent it but the words are much more intelligible there, which isn't necessarily an advantage. Both versions also sound slightly overstaffed, as if they don't really need so many singers on them, but that's the risk you run in a vocal group. And the version I've linked to has a longer outro than I remember, which certainly could have been trimmed. For all that, though, this is a record that succeeds so well on its own terms as to make further questions irrelevant.
Another song I remember hearing a lot at home for some reason; in fact I tend to associate it particularly with the Feargal Sharkey track, possibly because they both have that dramatic brass punch. 'If It Happens Again' was their first self-penned hit after the Labour Of Love covers set that's represented twice on the first Now album. As such, they'd already passed their artistic peak so far as I'm concerned, but they had a few good pop songs left in them and this is one of them.
However, it's hard to agree with the comment on this other upload that it "hardly sounds like it's an 80s hit." In fact one of the most notable elements of this track is the use of electronic drums and other synthesisers alongside the traditional instrumentation, in line with contemporary trends in reggae. The grouchy lyric suits the whiny quality in Ali Campbell's voice quite well and the only major flaw is that they seem to run out of ideas too long before the end, and that video is a bit creepy. Otherwise though, this is about the best of the after-they-were-really-good years.
A song that now recharts so regularly in October that it almost feels like cheating to listen to it in February. But listen I did, and for the purposes of this post I actually had to look up 'I Want A New Drug' by Huey Lewis and the News, who sued Parker over this. There are three minutes I won't get back. It's not my place to comment on the (confidential) outcome of the case; suffice it to say that there is some resemblance (though a few people have also mentioned M's 'Pop Muzik' which predates both records) but there's no real comparison.
Parker apparently struggled for inspiration in time for his deadline (which explains a lot I guess) before he came up with the mock-ad-jingle idea. The lyrics he wrote to it have some air of first-draft silliness about them but that's no bad thing in this context; what really sells it is his deadpan delivery. It was enough for the single to come near the top of the UK chart in late summer, months before the film was actually released here. I don't know how he feels about the fact that this has overshadowed the rest of his career, but he'll have to live with it. Oh, and I've never seen that 'Searchin For The Spirit' subtitle anywhere but this album.
A commenter says this could almost be a Stevie Wonder song, and that's not far off if you allow the caveat that it sounds like Stevie Wonder in the 1980s, rather than at his peak. Still, it's one track that turns out to be better than I expected, and I think I like this more than the the Nik Kershaw songs I remembered from the time. I don't think I can take it as seriously as it seems to take itself, but there's a decent melody in there and it's solidly produced and all.
Also appearing on: Now 2, 3, 6 Available on:Then & Now
An entirely unofficial track-by-track examination of highlights and lowlights from the Now That's What I Call Music compilations. And if that doesn't sound like a challenge, you're obviously not an old curmudgeon like me.