The whole idea of a compilation album being sold in stores was certainly not a new idea in the United Kingdom, where the Now That’s What I Call Music! series began in 1983, so it is a bit surprising that it took fifteen years for the idea to spread over to the United States. When the NOW CDs started being released in 1998 in America, they began to sell extremely well, across generations. After all, now you didn’t have to waste eighteen dollars of your hard earned allowance money on an entire album after hearing one great song on the radio only to be disappointed by the rest of the songs anyways – all the songs you heard on the radio were in one place, on one CD. Volume 1 of the American NOW series, (or NOW 1 for short), was released in late October 1998. While most of us associate the NOW series with strictly pop radio hits, there’s a great number of alternative standbys on here that deserve recognition: (Fastball’s “The Way,” Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta,” Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy,” Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly Away”), as well as mainstream pop (Janet Jackson’s “Together Again,” the Spice Girls’ “Say You’ll Be There), and kitschy boy band hits, teen pop, and bonafide one hit wonders that exude the 90s with every note (the Backstreet Boys’ “As Long As You Love Me,” Hanson’s “MMMBop”, the “Zoot Suit Riot” by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies). Hell, this album is so eclectic and just so ‘nineties’ that even Radiohead’s “Karma Police” makes an appearance, right after Aqua’s “Barbie Girl,” which unless someone can tell me otherwise, has to be the strangest one-two punch of songs ever put back-to-back.
There are some songs that you probably haven’t even heard of, even if you grew up when NOW 1 was released (how many of you remember hearing “All My Life” by K-Ci & Jojo, Brian McKnight’s “Anytime,” or a song by someone named Imajin?). I certainly don’t, and guess what, these songs have not held up all that well and probably are not even worth your time. In trying to appeal to the masses, there’s a wealth of diverse material on here – both good and bad – at the end of the day, it can all be a bit off-putting, especially when this album is over an hour long. It really was never about the music with the NOW albums, the main reason for the NOW albums was money (shocking!), after all, now the record labels could potentially dip into people’s wallets twice – once for this collection of singles that you knew, and then, if you really fell in love with a song, you could still go out and by the whole album by that artist. While the NOW series has turned into mainly a popular purchase of the past (although physical copies still sell more copies than you would think), for many of us who grew up in the 90s and 00s, the American Now That’s What I Call Music compilation albums have become cultural touchstones and small slices of musical nostalgia, despite their intrinsically scatterbrained nature.
Songs Added To The Ultimate NOW Playlist (8): As Long As You Love Me, The Way, Flagpole Sitta, MMMBop, Barbie Girl, Karma Police, Fly Away, Sex and Candy
Listen to the first NOW and my “Ultimate NOW Playlist” below on Spotify: