In a galaxy far far away, before a pig, Gary Crowley and Brian Glover introduced us to a seminal series of compilation albums
The Now! That’s What I Call Music series of compilations have been going for 30 years. We not only have Sir Richard Branson to thank for this, but another person who made this possible: Ashley Abram.
Ashley Abram was hired by Virgin from Ronco, whom in the early 1980s had great success with compilation albums like Rock ‘n’ Roller Disco and Chart Trek. Unlike the Now! compilations, Ronco’s compilation albums had edited running times on their compilation albums. This arrangement ceased in 1982-83 when Raiders of the Pop Charts was released with the unedited single versions.
Without the predecessors which led to Now!, we would still be listening to re-recorded versions of Emeli Sande’s or Bruno Mars’ back catalogue on Pickwick’s Top of the Pops albums. Thank goodness for the fact we are spared this misery.
As a homage to Now’s predecessors, East of the M60‘s latest Not So Perfect Ten pays tribute to the predecessors.
* * *
The Chart of Chart Compilations
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Disco (Ronco, 1979);
- Space Invasion (Ronco, 1981);
- Chart Hits ’81 (K-Tel, 1981);
- Axe Attack (K-Tel, 1980);
- Overload (Ronco, 1982);
- Breakout (Ronco, 1982);
- The World’s Worst Record Show (K-Tel/Yuk Records, 1978);
- Disco Fever (K-Tel, 1977);
- Raiders of the Pop Charts (Ronco, 1982);
- Chart Heat/Chart Beat (K-Tel, 1982).
* * *
1. Rock ‘n’ Roller Disco (Ronco, 1979):
In 1979, roller discos were pretty much the rage, and Ronco cashed in on this with a curious album reflecting this. Rock ‘n’ Roller Disco was pretty much a grab bag from a July 1979 singles chart, though with a few curiosities which never charted (as was often the case on pre-Now! compilations). There was a mix of disco, reggae and new wave. It is probably the only album in my collection where B.A. Robertson features on the same disc as The Boomtown Rats, Voyager and Sparks.
Killer Cut: a toss-up between Babylon’s Burning by The Ruts and Death Disco by Public Image Ltd.
Skip: quite a good all-round compilation, but the weakest track for me is Back Of My Hand by the Jags.
Forgotten Gem: Halfway Hotel by Voyager. They supported the Electric Light Orchestra on their tours but didn’t get the success they deserved (why?).
* * *
2. Space Invasion (Ronco, 1981):
Whereas Rock ‘n’ Roller Disco focused on current releases, Space Invasion had a mix of earlier material. It was a compilation themed around (ahem!) space themed songs, and an eclectic mix at that. Side One would open with Hot Chocolate’s excellent No Doubt About It, followed by Firecracker/Theme from ‘The Invaders’ by Yellow Magic Orchestra. Other tracks included the soulful Shining Star by The Manhattans and Chris de Burgh’s A Spaceman Came Travelling (which is a Christmas song).
My copy came from a car boot sale in Stalybridge along with The Pointer Sisters’ 1984 album Breakout, and introduced me to some wonderful, more leftfield gems.
Killer Cut: Magic Fly by Space.
Skip: The Eve of the War by Jeff Wayne. This is not on the grounds of musical merit (I love the song and the whole War of the Worlds soundtrack anyway), but on the severity of its editing.
Forgotten Gem: Dancing in Outer Space by Atmosfear. Ronco, thank you much for getting me into space funk music.
* * *
3. Chart Hits ’81 (K-Tel, 1981):
A friend who used to get the same train as I did more or less introduced me to this album, and this was thanks to a long term search for one of its lesser known tracks.
Advertised by Peter Powell, Chart Hits ’81 offered a gimmick where you got Part One free with Part Two (or vice versa), leading us to Now’s double album format. It was quite a diverse compilation with such gems like Hazel O’Connor’s version of Hanging Around, The Birdie Song by the Tweets, and part of K-Tel’s pet project, Hooked on Classics. Curiously, there are two versions of The Birdie Song, one on each disc.
Killer Cut: It’s My Party by Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin, closely followed by Godley and Creme’s Under Your Thumb.
Skip: Souvenir by Orchestra Manoeuvres in the Dark: another great song ruined by savage editing.
Forgotten Gem: Quite a few! Gerard Kenny’s Outlaw and Panic by The Scoop for overall cheesiness. Ditto the above with The Waders’ knock-off version of The Birdie Song (Qwaka Song). Also, Shut Up by Madness.
* * *
4. Axe Attack (K-Tel, 1980):
The timing of K-Tel’s Axe Attack was pretty immaculate. At the end of 1980, The New Wave of British Heavy Metal was in full swing, so K-Tel released Axe Attack. For many, this was a safe introduction to heavy metal music in general, with Gillan, Ted Nugent and Motorhead featuring in its track listings. How many would have heard of Iron Maiden had it not been for a budget price heavy metal compilation promoted by Tommy Vance?
Killer Cut: Where do I begin? AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid and Motorhead’s Bomber.
Skip: Race With The Devil by Girlschool. Not heavy metal enough.
Forgotten Gem: You Got Living by Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush.
* * *
5. Overload (Ronco, 1982):
In a nutshell, Overload was basically a May 1982 chart rundown with a knock-off version of Mike Score on its cover. If you look a little closer, it’s yet another eclectic compilation. Ph.D. follows Tight Fit – what is there not to like? Plus, a couple of Eurovision Song Contest entries (the 1982 winner by Nicole and the UK entry by Bardo). Then there’s UB40, the Goombay Dance Band and the Fun Boy Three.
Killer Cut: Fantasy Island by Tight Fit, followed up by Ph.D.’s I Wont Let You Down – classic. Also, Promised You a Miracle by Simple Minds.
Skip: Seven Tears by The Goombay Dance Band: avoid unless you fancy having The Mother of All Earworms.
Forgotten Gem: The Telephone Always Rings by the Fun Boy Three or Save It For Later by The Beat.
* * *
6. Breakout (Ronco, 1982):
The summer of 1982 was dominated by Survivor’s and Dexy Midnight Runners’ vice like grip of the UK Number One Spot of the singles chart. The former group’s chart topper (The Eye of the Tiger) inspired Ronco’s Breakout album. Besides having ’22 Roaring Great Hits’, it had a free poster of the Breakout album cover. One which featured a tiger, appropriately designed by a graphic design company called… Shoot That Tiger. The album comprised of two novelty songs and a fair number of cover versions.
Killer Cut: The River by King Trigger, plus The Boystown Gang’s cover of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.
Skip: The Clapping Song by The Belle Stars: no offence to them, but I prefer the original by Shirley Ellis.
Forgotten Gem: The River by King Trigger, Wavelength’s Hurry Home (the latter toe-curlingly billed as a Falklands War Tribute to the Armed Forces number by Simon Bates), and Love My Way by The Psychedelic Furs.
* * *
7. The World’s Worst Record Show (K-Tel/Yuk Records, 1978):
Rule Number One of Compilation Albums: have the strongest tunes committed to vinyl. Unless of course, in a fit of irony, you decide to release a tie-in record with the tagline ’20 Bursts of the Worst’.
Enter The World’s Worst Record Show, which was actually twenty of fifty All Time Worst Records from a one-off edition of Kenny Everett’s show on Capital Radio. Lovers of great music, or masochists, could be treated to songs about necrophilia, religion, emigration or bad cover versions. To complete the package, K-Tel opted for Puke Green vinyl. I purchased my copy from an antique and collectors’ shop in Oldham and it opened my ears to new low in recorded music.
Killer Cut: literally(!) the excellent I Want My Baby Back by Jimmy Cross. It is a song about necrophilia after a motorcycle accident affected the singer’s wife.
Skip: The Big Architect by Duncan Johnson: my idea of a big architect is a 20 stone Owen Luder or Norman Foster lookalike, but this religious tune voiced by a one-time DJ is too schmaltzy for my ears.
Forgotten Gem: the 24 carat Diamonique gem which is I’m Going to Spain by Steve Bent, a mid-1970s New Faces contestant. It was also covered by The Fall on their 1992 album The Infotainment Scam.
* * *
8. Disco Fever (K-Tel, 1977):
Long before Now! That’s What I Music’s albums dominated the mid-1980s album charts, an odd one by K-Tel or Ronco would have done the same. Disco Fever was one of the first to do so. And deservedly so given its killer track listing. First track is the excellent Yes Sir, I Can Boogie by Baccara before continuing towards Hot Chocolate’s So You Win Again. It is pretty much a fair picture of 1977 disco music, though with a few exceptions, which wouldn’t – or rather, shouldn’t – grace a malevolent GEC music centre.
Killer Cut: The Crunch by the RAH Band. The ‘RAH’ stands for Richard Anthony Hewson, and other credits as a producer included arranging the strings section for Supertramp’s Crime of the Century (1974) and …Famous Last Words… (1982) albums.
Skip: Naughty Naughty Naughty by Joy Sarney: a love story with Punch and Judy set to a reggae beat. Wrong wrong wrong…!
Forgotten Gem: Isn’t She Lovely by Manchester’s very own David Parton. Later covered by Stevie Wonder.
* * *
9. Raiders of the Pop Charts (Ronco, 1982):
With only a year to go before Now! That’s What I Call Music would make its chart debut, Ronco’s Raiders of the Pop Charts got to Number One in the album charts. They perpetuated the BOGOF offer and opted for an Indiana Jones theme on its cover. It pretty much covered the hits of the latter part of 1982 and – in shipshape and Ronco fashion – had the odd non-chart curiosity.
Killer Cut: A real cracker of a compilation! Zoom by Fat Larry’s Band, Our House by Madness and Annie I’m Not Your Daddy by Kid Creole and the Coconuts are the real stand-out tracks.
Skip: The On and On Song by Precious Little. High on the irritability factor and earworm scale.
Forgotten Gem: Quite a few! Gregory Isaacs’ Night Nurse, Thank You by The Pale Fountains, The Chaps’ version of Rawhide, Lene Lovich’s It’s You, Only You (Mein Schmerz) and Magic’s Wand by Whodini.
* * *
10. Chart Heat/Chart Beat (K-Tel, 1982):
We should really treat Chart Heat and Chart Beat as separate compilation albums, but they are together in this entry as they were the subject of another BOGOF promotion. A semi confusing one where you got a different album free (Ronco did this trick with their Hit Squad compilation in 1983 – Chart Tracking/Night Clubbing being the separate albums).
Chart Heat had – as you expect – the more commercial chartbusters, whereas Chart Beat was its more night club orientated cousin. The latter album included a Hooked on Classics single at the end (cross-promotion!), with other bedfellows including Mr Blunt by Kissing The Pink.
Killer Cut: This compilation lacked the punch of Ronco’s Breakout which was released at a similar time. The real killer tune was I’m A Wonderful Thing by Kid Creole and the Coconuts, closely followed by Yazoo’s Don’t Go.
Skip: Hi-Fidelity by Kids from Fame featuring Valerie Landsburg. Annoying with a capital A.
Forgotten Gem: One Can Dream by Doreen Chanter. Ms Chanter would be better known as a backing vocalist, often working with Meatloaf. She only had one chart entry in her own right with Sideshow in 1976, as one of The Chanter Sisters.
* * *
But Wait! There’s More…
Feel free to add to the list, or elaborate on our Not So Perfect Ten Now! That’s What I Call Music predecessors. In order to enhance the running time of this thread, I shan’t make any brutal edits which would inhibit the enjoyment of this post. Not arf…
S.V., 28 May 2013.