Now That’s What I Call Music

21 01 2012

Part of the fun of doing this Pop Encyclopedia is being able to look back and view things in context. It is easy to look back see the full story of say, Ghost Town, because you are looking back from a historical point of view. This is all well and good, but pop music is pretty much about the moment. For me, nothing, except maybe Top of the Pops, defines this immediacy of pop music in the way that the Now That’s What I Call Music series of albums does. Now doesn’t care about context. It does not care if you are beginning a career that is going to change music forever, or if you are clearly a novelty that will be forgotten about in months.  It is “just” a collection of all the big hits from the moment, providing endless perfect snapshots of any moment in music at any time.

The Now series is now up to 80, and although I have not bought one in well over a decade, it pleases me that it is still going strong. Everybody remembers their first Now (mine was Now 43) and if you go back to your first one – or any of the ones you played over and over – as an adult, you feel a wave of nostalgia as two songs that really could never be placed together in any other context (Now 48 for example followed Papa Roach with Planet Funk). You will remember endless pop songs that history perhaps hasn’t been so kind to, because they didn’t have a big influence, even though they were inescapable at the time.

They are also the perfect “in” for teenagers, and I feel for any teen who didn’t at some point get a Now album. When you first discover music, you don’t really care about the context, about the genre’s or anything, you just either like, or dislike the music – Now collects everything in the way that a teenager just discovering the thrill of pop music does. Read the rest of this entry »

Discography Guide: Madonna (Part Two)

14 01 2012

This is part two of my complete guide to Madonna’s albums. Part One you can find right here. 

Ray of Light (1998)

Coming off the back of Erotica and Bedtime Stories, Madonna was, perhaps for the first time out of…erm, vogue with pop music on mass. She followed Bedtime Stories with a compilation album of classy ballads (Something To Remember) which did point at what she was listening to at least, with a Massive Attack collaboration opening the album. She then did Evita, which provided her with Don’t Cry for Me Argentina and You Must Love Me, both top ten hits. Two years of radio silence followed Evita, and it has been quite a while since a proper new album, and arguably as far back as 1989 since a great Madonna album.

Ray of Light is a big, bold, brilliant comeback album. Produced by William Orbit (Madonna is always at her best with a great producer to offset her) Ray of Light is a million miles from Bedtime Stories, and perhaps everything else she had done up to that point – despite previous attempts this is her smartest, most grown up record.

She certainly took some risks with it – despite having the obvious hit single of the title track lying around, she chose to announce her return with Frozen, a six minute, broken hearted trip-hop song. It was a masterstroke, it reached No 1 in the UK, and No 2 in the US. Madonna was well and truly back.  Read the rest of this entry »