Now that’s what you call an 80s phenomenon…

The 80s was, of course, a decade of fads – shoulder pads, boomboxes and neon spandex included – but there’s one particular trend has never gone away.

In fact, the ‘Now That’s What I call Music!’ albums, usually boiled down to ‘Now!’ went on to become a staple of the music industry in the UK and worldwide.

Everyone remembers the first one they bought (or in my case the first one my mum bought me).

Moreover, most can even recall their favourite songs on it. Mine was the very first release in 1986 and there was a three-way tie between Too Shy by Kajagoogoo, Total Eclipse of the Heart, by Bonnie Tyler and Is There Something I Should Know? by Duran Duran for my most played track.

The idea for the Now! phenomenon was born in the Virgin Records offices of Richard Branson in London.

The premise was to create a collection that would include original versions of hit tracks rather than the watered-down edits that were rife on their competitor albums.

Bizarrely the series took its name from a 1920s advertising poster for Danish bacon featuring a pig listening to a chicken sing “Now that’s what I call music.” The poster was purchased by Branson and was hung behind his cousin’s desk at the Virgin Records office.

The pig became the Now! series’ mascot for a while, making its last appearance on Now! 5.

Virgin teamed up with EMI and the first album in the original series was released in November, 1983.

Initial pressings were released on vinyl and audio cassette, with a re-release on CD in 2009, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the album and series.

Among its 30 songs, the excellent Now! 1 – the only album I had for my record player at the age of 11 – features 11 songs which reached number one on the UK Singles Chart: You Can’t Hurry Love by Phil Collins, Is There Something I Should Know? by Duran Duran, Red Red Wine by UB40, Give It Up by KC & The Sunshine Band, Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler, Karma Chameleon by Culture Club, Too Shy by Kajagoogoo, Down Under by Men at Work, Baby Jane by Rod Stewart, Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home) by Paul Young and Candy Girl by New Edition.

The Now! series became a reliable blockbuster around two to three times a year by sticking to a much-used music industry formula.

It took a collection of the biggest radio hits and packaged them together in a compilation – and bingo.

Now II, released in March, 1984 debuted at number three on the UK Albums Chart and then climbed to number one a week later, staying there for five weeks.

The first full-track edition to be released on CD, as well as on vinyl and cassette, was Now! 10 in November, 1987. I have this too…

It reached the top of the UK Albums Chart for six weeks and featured three songs that reached number one on the UK Singles Chart: Pump Up the Volume by MARRS, China in Your Hand by T’Pau and La Bamba by Los Lobos.

This release pretty much summed up the problem with buying a compilation CD/record – you often had the sublime (Fairytale of New York by The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl) as well as the ridiculous – My Pretty One by Cliff Richard).

Vinyls ended with Now! 35 and cassettes ended with Now! 63. Part of the series was also released on the MiniDisc format, starting with Now! 43 and ending with Now! 48.

These days the Now! releases seem predominately aimed at the young, especially ‘tween’, girls.

Eighty-two Now! albums have been released to date. The newest album in the series, Now! 83 was released last month.

Now! 83 features 12 songs which reached number one in the UK Singles Chart (most of which I confess I haven’t heard of).

Back in the 80s, before the days of digital downloading, if you were keen on the UK Singles Chart it made perfect sense to purchase a Now! album. It was music’s version of one-stop shopping.

And in our age of digital downloading, iTunes, Spotify and even YouTube, these compilations are still thriving. The series is the biggest selling compilation series… ever. It’s also the longest-selling branded compilation album in the UK.

“Now That’s What I Call Music! has always been a hit because every edition brilliantly distills each two or three months in pop,” says Mark Goodier, of Smooth Radio and the voice of Now! since Now! 21. “When a collector like me reviews the collection of Now! albums, it’s an accurate journey through the last two and half chart decades”.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

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The perfect man to tell us why the Eighties remains so popular

Few names scream the Eighties like Mike Read. The evergreen DJ and presenter became a household name during the decade of decadence – long before the uncomfortable viewing of his time in the jungle during the 2004 version of I’m A celebrity (Get Me Out Of Here!).
It is, therefore, no surprise to discover him fronting a stage show called 80s Mania which is touring the UK.
Mike is the video host of the show – appearing on the big screen surrounded by girls (Top Of The Pops style) and introducing the various chart acts from back in the day.
He also slips in impersonations of former colleagues such as David ‘Kid’ Jensen and late greats such as John Peel OBE.
I caught up with Mike when the 80s Mania show called in at Hanley’s Victoria Hall.
His CV is extraordinary and spans more than 30 years in the entertainment industry as a DJ, TV presenter, songwriter, author, actor and writer of no less than eight stage musicals.
Through his time hosting the Radio 1 Breakfast Show and as a presenter of the station’s legendary Roadshow Mike rubbed shoulders with everyone who was anyone in music and regularly drew 17 million listeners.
As the host of Saturday Superstore he was a household name to youngsters while his Saturday night Pop Quiz – featuring many of his showbiz friends – attracted more than 10 million viewers at the peak of its powers.
To my mind, this breadth of knowledge and experience should make Mike Read the perfect man to explain why the Eighties enjoys such an enduring popularity in the UK.
“It’s actually a really difficult question to answer,” said the 64-year-old. “However, what I would say is that the Eighties is to many people what the Sixties was and is to many others.
“You have to understand I am biased but I would say the Eighties was stronger musically than the Seventies, the Nineties or the Noughties.
“It also coincided with the advent of music videos which were hugely important and innovative and basically changed the face of the industry overnight.
“Back then the top acts could afford to jet off two Mauritius for a couple of weeks to work on a wacky video to accompany their song.
“They had the money to do it. There was plenty of cash around at the time and we all thought it would last forever.”
Mike’s time at Radio 1 coincided with a golden era in pop music and he helped launch some of the biggest names – as well as famously taking the decision on-air in 1984 not to play the Frankie Goes To Hollywood single Relax because of its ‘obscene’ lyrics.
Mike said: “It’s hard to choose a favourite artist from the period. There were so many quality acts like Duran Duran, the Spandaus (Spandau Ballet), Paul Young, Adam And The Ants – the list is endless.
“I was privileged to be a part of this scene and it is something that, at the time, I’m not sure we all appreciated.
“Simply being able to work on a show like Top Of The Pops was a dream and so much fun.
“At the same time the Radio 1 roadshow was a juggernaut – just so popular all over the country.”
Of course, even the bespectacled, always smiley advocate of the Eighties has to admit that some of the fashions from the time were somewhat regrettable.
He said: “I distinctly remember thinking at the time that, compared to the Sixties and Seventies the clothes we we wearing weren’t in any way unusual.
“I thought that people would look back at the Eighties and think ‘blimey, they wore normal clothes back then’.
“However, nowadays I see how wrong I was because some of the fashions were absolutely horrendous!”’