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 »





Moments: Ghost Town goes to No 1

18 01 2012

One of the most of the extraordinary chart-toppers if all time, The Specials masterpiece, Ghost Town has been wheeled out a lot in the last few years, be it because of global recession, or last summers riots in London (and elsewhere). It remains a prescient a damning indictment of government, of elements of youth culture and of the far-right, but if it remains appropriate 21 years after its release, that is nothing to how it summed up how it was to live in the UK  in 1981.

Yet Ghost Town was The Specials swansong, just two years after their début single, Gangsters. The band had fallen to pieces, and Ghost Town was a final chance to make something coherent, and they couldn’t have picked a better statement.

The Specials had formed in Coventry in 1977, but really found their identity after supporting The Clash (Joe Strummer was an early supporter of the group) where a member of  fellow support band Suicide had been beaten up by members of the National Front, at that point on a mission to disrupt as much of society as possible. The band realised they had to make music to unite these people – a curious mix of the hippie and punk aesthetics.  Read the rest of this entry »