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Who would win in a fight: 'Now That’s What I Call Music! 100' vs 'Now That’s What I Call Music! 1'

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Dave Fawbert
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Settling the question of whether music has got better in the last 35 years or, in fact, worse

So Now That’s What I Call Music! is about to get a telegram from the Queen as it reaches the grand old age of 100 releases over 35 years.

It’s both a staggering achievement and also, absolutely, completely, excellently inevitable that it has achieved this feat, - as I explain here - a Now! album is the greatest hits of everyone’s greatest hits, so it was always going to work. 

It is (bar a dodgy period in the mid-nineties where they’d attempt to predict forthcoming hits at the end of tape 2, side 2, never a good idea when you’re dealing with the fickle whims of the Great British Public) an unprejudiced, simple way of dealing with things: is it a hit, or isn’t it? And if it is, on it goes. And if you stuff a double CD or download package with 40 tracks that the general public have already given the big old double thumbs up to, at a price that is less than buying them all separately, then chances are they’re going to rush to Our Price/HMV/Woolworths/iTunes and throw their money at the cashier for it.

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But the release of Now That’s What I Call Music! 100 is also a time for reflection. The uniquely unchanging rules of Now! means that one can treat each release as a representative time capsule of the state of music when it was released. 

So, with Now 100 hitting shops/download stores, this is the perfect time to go back and ‘scientifically’ compare it to the very first edition in the series, Now That’s What I Call Music released way back in 1983. Back then it hadn’t yet earned its exclamation mark, and it didn’t have a number because, in a very non-presumptuous way, how were the bigwigs at Sony supposed to know if this crazy idea of putting a load of massive hits on one single release would work or not? (A lesson, incidentally, that Korn would have done well to have learned when issuing their Greatest Hits Volume 1 in 2004. Oh you thought those hits would never dry up didn’t you guys? I hope time has taught you some humility). 

Once again, like my previous face-off between Now 96 and Now 34, this will be a track-to-track fight to the death, which will conclusively prove whether music has improved in the last 35 years, or whether it has actually got worse.

Tale of the tape

Now That’s What I Call Music! 1

It’s the year 1983: we’ve had punk, we’ve had post-punk, and the synthesizer is starting to become easily available to the more inquisitive of musicians. The first ‘Compact Disc’ has just gone on sale in the UK. Margaret Thatcher has just won a landslide to claim her second election victory, and the summer saw a heatwave, with temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius measured in London. Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones sign a new $28 million contract with CBS Records. Surely, their biggest and best recording years are ahead of them. Michael Jackson’s Thriller is the biggest-selling album of the year.

Now That’s What I Call Music! 100

It’s the year 2018: we’ve had chillwave, witch house and chiptune and anyone can record an entire hi-fidelity album on their laptop. Streaming has just overtaken downloads and physical CD sales for the first time. Theresa May struggles with Brexit and the summer sees a heatwave, with temperatures regularly topping 30 degrees Celsius for weeks on end across the whole of Britain. The Rolling Stones have not had a top ten single since 1981. Ed Sheeran’s Divide and The Greatest Showman OST are the biggest-selling albums of the year.

Let’s fight

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Track 1: Phil Collins - ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ vs Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa - ‘One Kiss’

Oooof! Pow! Who could have expected such a bloody battle right from the off? Mighty blows rain down from both the red and blue corners as Phil’s legendary Motown cover that still sounds exactly the same as Motown which sort of makes it redundant but actually when you think about it it’s absolutely the right thing to do because Motown is, if we’re being honest, probably the best genre of music ever. Phil absolutely nails both the vocals and the drum groove (of course he nails the drum groove, it’s Phil Collins…), driving the whole thing to smash Calvin and Dua straight in the face. However, Calvin and Dua pick themselves up, dust themselves off and brutalise Phil with a gut punch to the stomach that comes from making an undeniable summer banger that’s not even really a banger, more understated in that fantastic way Calvin does things these days as he distances himself from mindless EDM. It’s basically a dead heat, this one, but let’s face it Phil is pretty old and fragile these days and Calvin is stacked, so if this went to an actual fight then Collins is leaving in a body bag.

Winner: One (Glasgow) Kiss: 

o points - NOW 1 

1 point -  NOW 100

Track 2: Duran Duran - ‘Is There Something I Should Know’ vs George Ezra - ‘Shotgun’

A solid Duran Duran banger this one - it basically sounds exactly the same as all their other massive imperial era hits (ie. amazing) but not quite as memorable as those ones. It’s a 7/10 effort if we’re honest. Up against this is big George Ezra; I say big, he’s actually only 6 foot 1, I thought he was way bigger than that but who am I to argue with Google (no one, that’s who). I’ve never really been a fan to be honest, but he’s won me round a bit recently by clearly being a nice bloke, and also for gamely going along with Radio 1’s Greg James’ effort to make him sing this song with an extra ‘with your mum’ lyric on the end of the chorus lines which, now, I can never unhear. ‘Shotgun’ is a decent enough tune, 7/10 again. So another dead heat, but the Durans’ effort containing one of the worst lyrics of all time in the form of “Don’t say you’re easy on me, you’re about as easy as a nuclear war” means that big Georgey edges it.

Winner: A Shotgun to the head of every Duran Duran member

o points - NOW 1

2 point - NOW 100

Track 3: UB40 - ‘Red Red Wine’ vs Clean Bandit feat Demi Lovato - ‘Solo’

I’m slowly coming to the realisation that Clean Bandit are absolute scientific pop geniuses. They’ve done it too many times for it to be written off as luck: ‘Rather Be’? Can’t argue with its M&S-flogging brilliance. ‘Symphony’? Really, really great song. ‘Rockabye’? Brilliant. ”I Miss You’? Yeah also excellent. ‘Solo’ at first glance seems a little weaker than these but bugger me if by 3 minutes in I am not absolutely all in on this catchy ode to onanism. Shame, then, that they’re up against UB40’s ‘Red Red Wine’ which is a Brummie reggae anthem 4 lyf.

Winner: UB losing this one? Impossible 

1 points - NOW 1

2 point - NOW 100

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Track 4: Limahl - ‘Only For Love’ vs Ariana Grande - ‘no tears left to cry’

These days Limahl is probably best known for his spell in the jungle back in 2012 but back in 1983 he was very much A Big Deal, as evidenced by the fact that he appears on Now 1 with both this solo track and not one but two Kajagoogoo tracks. Sadly ‘Only For Love’ is an enjoyable eighties romp but ultimately pretty forgottable while Queen Ariana’s comeback track is a great modern pop track with a big old chorus and enough twist to make it interesting. She loses points for forgetting to capitalise the song title and for it not being as good as ‘Into You’ but she triumphs nonetheless.

Winner: A Grande win for Ariana:

1 points - NOW 1

3 point - NOW 100

Track 5: Heaven 17 - ‘Temptation’ vs Anne-Marie - ‘2002’

An absolute walkover for Heaven 17 here with ‘Temptation’ being categorically one of the greatest pop songs ever made, while Anne-Marie, as devastatingly illustrated below, cannot even be bothered to Google which songs actually bloody came out in 2002 (and if I can be bothered, she should be bothered). Good grief it’s such a lazy track, in sharp contrast to Heaven 17’s synthpop wizardry.

Winner: It’s Heaven for ‘Temptation’ and Hell for ‘2002’

2 points - NOW 1

3 point - NOW 100

Track 6: KC & The Sunshine Band - ‘Give It Up’ vs Jess Glynne - ‘I’ll Be There’

It was my firm belief that Jess Glynne was once one of the most brilliantly guided pop artists in history, what with absolutely every single track she - first as features, and then on her own - did for the first few years of her career being absolutely, unarguably excellent. Sadly, since returning after a two year break, she appears to have turned into the dullest artist alive, as evidenced by the criminally tedious ‘These Days’ (with Rudimental) which I am yet to make it through without slipping into a coma, and ‘I’ll Be There’ which manages the impressive feat of being ‘anthemic’ and utterly forgettable. There can be only one winner and that is the enduring disco brilliance of ‘Give It Up’, which would have triumphed regardless of its opposition since it is a) a total classic and b) you can sing the name of Leyton Orient midfielder Jobi McAnuff over the chorus tune.

Winner: It’s not Jess Gwin, it’s Jess Gloser (Ed: does that work?)

3 points - NOW 1

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3 points - NOW 100

Track 7: Malcolm McLaren - ‘Double Dutch’ vs Years & Years - ‘If You’re Over Me’

This is a tricky one: former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren (aided by the legendary producer Trevor Horn) created a truly joyous record here (although how much they did and how much South African group the Boyoyo Boys, who took legal action against them, did is open to debate). However, ‘If You’re Over Me’ is one of those lovely songs that sneaks up on you - the first few times I heard it, I thought it was “fine”, then “good” and then slowly, slowly, it turned out that I absolutely loved it. Wonderfully restrained, boasting one of the most glorious pre-chorus melodies of recent times and then unleashing a genuinely moving chorus, this is pop at its absolute finest. They’re both great records but I’m going with Olly and the boys.

Winner: Olly Olly Olly Oi Oi Oi: 

3 points - NOW 1

4 points - NOW 100

Track 8: Bonnie Tyler - ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ vs David Guetta & Sia - ‘Flames’

Oh come on. The tracklisting is not doing me any favours here. David Guetta has quietly reinvented himself to be a rather fantastic producer, completely outside of the EDM genre he became famous for, and Sia has pretty much never done anything less-than-amazing and it’s no exaggeration to say that ‘Flames’, with its laidback, funky feel and actual, proper songwriting, is one of the best pop songs of recent times. If this had been on Random Access Memories, it would have been critically acclaimed. But you all know what’s coming don’t you? The winner is ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ because I love it, you love, it is one of the most ridiculously incredible - and incredibly ridiculous - songs ever recorded (here’s why ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ is so catchy by they way) and it has cannons exploding in the middle 8. More cannons next time David, more cannons.

Winner: David Guetta & Sia are shot down in flames

4 points - NOW 1

4 points - NOW 100

Track 9: Culture Club - ‘Karma Chameleon’ vs Post Malone - ‘Better Now’

Post Malone is big with the kids these days isn’t he? Personally I preferred his early work, yeah, Pre Malone. Thanks, thanks, I’m here all week. To be fair to the lad he is actually very good at the whole dark/cloud rap/trap thing - ‘Rockstar’ was really quite great and ‘Better Now’ is perfectly serviceable, although it’s a bit too ‘happy’ for my liking. But enough about that, because it’s very easy to forget, given its total and utter ubiquity, just how brilliant a song ‘Karma Chameleon’ is. You know it from the first second, the verse is as catchy as a chorus, the pre-chorus is brilliant and it one of the most gloriously bittersweet choruses ever. It’s pop perfection and it’s taking the point.

Winner: Post Malone is feeling worse now

5 points - NOW 1

4 points - NOW 100

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Track 10: Men Without Hats - ‘The Safety Dance’ vs Jonas Blue feat Jack & Jack - ‘Rise’

When I first saw Men Without Hats on the tracklisting, my first thought was that it was Men At Work, but it’s not, it’s Men Without Hats, although Men At Work are also on Now 1 and I presume they will be having strong words with the Men Without Hats for not taking their health and safety obligations seriously and wearing protective headwear whilst in the pop workplace. I’d never heard this song before but it’s a quality bit of very Vince Clarkey-style electropop and apparently they are a Canadian new wave/synthpop group, originally from Montreal, Quebec (thanks again Google). Everyone likes Canadians don’t they? Anyway, they’re up against Jonas Blue, him of Instagram House fame who did that cover of ‘Fast Car’ which, begrudgingly, sort of worked and who features that sort of bendy synth sound on every track he does. Teaming up with the eminently punchable ‘Jack & Jack’, ‘Rise’ is one of the most predictable pieces of music I’ve ever heard.

Winner: Hats off to the Men Without Hats!

6 points - NOW 1

4 points - NOW 100

Track 11: Kajagoogoo - ‘Too Shy’ vs Liam Payne & J. Balvin - ‘Familiar’

I don’t like to kick a man when he’s down but Liam is a truly terrible pop star. He’s also fifth in my list of One Direction members who I’d like to go for a pint with and I sincerely hope that wasn’t the final straw for Cheryl when she was deciding whether to work at the marriage or not. However, I am a just and fair man and, even if ‘Familiar’ is simply the sound of an A&R team desperately struggling for direction before going: “HANG ON, that ‘Despacito’ track did well didn’t it? What if… - prepare yourself guys because this is some advanced and out-of-the-box A&R thinking right here - we did a song a bit like that?” It’s undeniably a really catchy pop song. Also, Liam’s only singing on half of it, which helps. Meanwhile, ‘Too Shy’ is kinda viewed as a bit of a novelty hit these days but, have another listen, it’s really quite a clever track, with some outrageous slap bass throughout and and an unexpectedly moody intro and middle section. However, in the interests of giving Liam a much needed boost in these troubled times, I’m giving this one to ‘Payno’ (and J. Balvin).

Winner: I am already regretting giving a point to anyone with the nickname ‘Payno’ but nonetheless it’s a winner

6 points - NOW 1

5 points - NOW 100

Track 12: Mike Oldfield - ‘Moonlight Shadow’ vs Banx & Ranx & Ella Eyre feat Yxng Bane - ‘Answerphone’

Question: is that the largest number of Xs in an artist line-up in Now history? I’m struggling to think of one with more than three. Also, why does Yxng Bane only get a feature when Ella Eyre gets an ampersand? The political maneuverings of pop I guess. Anyway, ‘Answerphone’ is a good old bit of electro dancehall pop which one could definitely imagine having a ‘bop’ to. Meanwhile, ‘Moonlight Shadow’ is a truly lovely bit of folky pop and trying to compare the two is a frankly ridiculous task, but that is what we are here to do. Sadly for Mike Oldfield, I cannot hear this song without thinking of The Fast Show’s Dave Angel, Eco Warrior and thus cannot take it seriously in the slightest.

Winner: Exxxcellent result for Banx, Ranx, Ella and Yxng

6 points - NOW 1

6 points - NOW 100

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Track 13: Men at Work - ‘Down Under’ vs M.O, Lotto Boyzz & Mr Eazi - ‘Bad Vibe’

Jeepers, Xs are like buses, you wait for ages and then another collection of three acts comes together and produces a combined line-up name with three Xs. Actually that’s not anything like a bus is it. Anyway, as it happens, this is basically exactly the same song as that triple X song previously. It’s all irrelevant though because ‘Down Under’ is an absolute Aussie banger for the ages.

Winner: Hats on (off) to the Men at Work in their safety hats! 

7 points - NOW 1

6 points - NOW 100

Track 14: Rock Steady Crew - ’(Hey You) The Rock Steady Crew vs Tiesto & Dzeko feat. Preme & Post Malone - ‘Jackie Chan’

Because people seem to be incapable of doing a song on their own any more, the Now 100 entrant at track 14 is a load of people, including another appearance from our old mate Post Malone, and it’s a sort of weird disco/French house number which sounds nothing like you’d expect a Tiesto track to sound like. Meanwhile, The Rock Steady Crew are legit hip hop legends but ’(Hey You) The Rock Steady Crew’ sounds a bit novelty these days. Neither one is a great track really but y’know, respect to the OGs and all that - the Rock Steady Crew take the point.

Winner: Hey You! Yeah you guys! You’ve put Now 1 in a commanding position here!

8 points - NOW 1

6 points - NOW 100

Track 15: Rod Stewart - ‘Baby Jane’ vs M-22 feat Medina - ‘First Time’

I’m going to be honest with you, as we enter the final straight, I did not expect Now 100 to put up as good a fight as this. A quick glance at both tracklistings before entering into the fight and it looked to be a tough task, but the whippersnappers are slugging it out good and proper. You’d expect big Rod to walk this wouldn’t you? ‘Baby Jane’ is an absolute classic, no mistaking that, but ‘First Time’ is one of those brilliant dance tracks that comes together perfectly and just works, like MK’s ‘17’ did last year, so it takes the victory in a huge upset.

Winner: It’s close but the oldies are clutching on with all the stubborn awkwardness of a Tory government 

8 points - NOW 1

7 points - NOW 100

Track 16: Paul Young - ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)’ vs 5 Seconds of Summer - ‘Youngblood’

It’s quite funny watching the video for ‘Youngblood’ featuring 5 Seconds of Summer thrashing around on ‘real instruments’ while there are basically none on this pure pop recording. It’s fine but it sounds like a Niall Horan B-side (which, to be fair, means it is good) but, let’s face it, no one will remember this track in a couple of months. ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)’, however, features the glorious fretless bass opening courtesy of Welsh four-string wizard Pino Palladino and the distinctive soul voice of Paul Young, who was unimaginably huge in the eighties and manages the barely believable feat of improving a Marvin Gaye track.

Winner: Hats off to Paul Young! (Ed: Can’t argue with the result but this is definitely your second ‘hats off’ joke’ in one article, c’mon Dave)

9 points - NOW 1

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7 points - NOW 100

Track 17: New Edition - ‘Candy Girl’ vs Bebe Rehxa feat Florida Georgia Line - ‘Meant to Be’

Less said about both of these the better to be quite honest. ‘Candy Girl’ is a pretty cheesy interpolation of the Jackson 5’s ‘ABC’, featuring a 14-year-old Bobby Brown - and overseen by Maurice Starr, who would go on to put New Kids on the Block together - while ‘Meant to Be’ is a shockingly over-autotuned and over-compressed country-pop song which seemingly contains around 62 choruses. Neither of these deserve the point but in the interests of maintaining competition it goes, utterly undeservingly, to Bebe Rehxa and Florida Georgia Line.

Winner: Let’s just move on and forget this ever happened

9 points - NOW 1

8 points - NOW 100

Track 18: Kajagoogoo - ‘Big Apple’ vs Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey - ‘The Middle’

A third appearance for the omnipresent Limahl here but, sadly, a third consecutive defeat. ‘Big Apple’ is a pretty good track, with a manic energy reminiscent of a Duran Duran track - and some cracking saxophone flourishes - but ultimately it’s a bit forgettable. Meanwhile, ‘The Middle’ was one of those tracks that I wasn’t sure about at first but which has really grown on me, like a particularly insistent fungus. The melody and vocal line is brilliant but what really clinched it for me was when I discovered that they used an actual whip sound effect just before the second half of the chorus kicks in. That’s worth a point on its own isn’t it?

Winner: Kajaloseloselose (Ed: wow)

9 points - NOW 1

9 points - NOW 100

Track 19: Tina Turner - ‘Let’s Stay Together’ vs Khalid & Normani - ‘Love Lies’

There can only really be one winner here, with Tina’s absolute powerhouse vocals bringing the house down, ably assisted by the Heaven 17/British Electric Foundation production team - this was her big comeback track after six years without a hit and she never looked back. I like a bit of Khalid and I like a bit of Normani but come on guys, bow down before your Queen.

Winner: Tina Turns it for Now 1

10 points - NOW 1

9 points - NOW 100

Track 20: The Human League - (Keep Feeling) Fascination vs Jax Jones & Mabel feat Rich The Kid - ‘Ring Ring’

’(Keep Feeling) Fascination’ is an absolute banger of a synthpop song from Sheffield’s finest, while ‘Ring Ring’ sounds - ironically - like they phoned it in, being as it is one of the dullest songs I’ve ever heard and, by some distance, the second best song about telephones in this article.

Winner: Human Top of the League 

11 points - NOW 1

9 points - NOW 100

Track 21: Howard Jones - ‘New Song’ vs Cheat Codes x Little Mix - ‘Only You’

I love Little Mix but ’Only You’ is absolute bobbins and is about a millionth as good as ‘Only You’ by Yazoo. Now that’s out of the way, we’re free to appreciate the pure pop brilliance and ‘ooh ooh oohs’ of Howard Jones’ ‘New Song’ (disappointing lack of effort in the song title Howard, see me after school) and also declare Now That’s What I Call Music 1 the winner.

Winner: Cheat Codes are not working in this game - Howard Jones wins it clean

12 points - NOW 1

9 points - NOW 100

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Track 22: UB40 - ‘Please Don’t Make Me Cry’ vs Shawn Mendes - ‘In My Blood’

There’s only 22 tracks on Now 100 so, although there’s another six to go on Now 1, this is the last round, which might be lucky for Now 1, because ‘Please Don’t Make Me Cry’ is pretty boring, while ‘In My Blood’ is a properly, properly good song, with a genuinely giant, full-bodied chorus courtesy of the probably-a-lot-better-than-you-assumed-he-was Shawn Mendes, who takes a comfortable point here to retain a respectable score for Now 100.

Winner: UB, lucky the fight is ending here because a comeback might have been on the cards but nonetheless…

12 points - NOW 1

10 points - NOW 100

THE FINAL VERDICT

A closely fought fight, and as the referee steps in to stop the bout, both Nows embrace in a touching finale to proceedings. We can now scientifically state that music was better in 1983 than now, but only just, which isn’t bad, seeing as we must be running out of songs by now. As the crowds leave the arena and the staff sweep away the confetti, I sit alone wondering what Now 200 will be like and whether by then there’ll be eighteen artists on every track with an untold amount of Xs in them, whether Post Malone’s late period will be known as Post-Post Malone and whether Phil Collins will ever forgive me for not giving him a point in round one.

Happy birthday Now. See you in another 35 years.