Now That’s What I Call Music! Turns 30. A look through time.

Now That’s What I Call A Long Time.


Most of us have grown up with the Now That’s What I Call Music! (Now! for short) compilations. Can’t actually remember a time when we didn’t have them, and it’s not surprising, since the first one came out in 1983. (I’m talking the UK here guys, and other parts of the world – Europe, and South Africa). The Now! series didn’t come out in the United States until 1998. In South Africa the series started in 1984. It should be noted that the numbers I’m referring to relate to the UK series in this article. 



It got me to thinking about what’s changed. The world has changed, and music has changed, although sometimes the more things change the more they stay the same. Music formats have definitely changed! Back in 1983, you probably bought the first album on vinyl or cassette. Today you’re probably buying it on CD or downloading it. 

The first album featured songs like Phil Collins’ You Can’t Hurry Love, Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, and Mike Oldfield’s Moonlight Shadow There’s a lot on the internet already about the history of the Now! series, the changing record labels, the countries its been produced in, etc. (it was conceptualised by Virgin Records and the name based on an idea by Richard Branson – does that guy have a finger in EVERY pie?) 

I want to have a look at the changing times we’ve been through, all punctuated by the soundtrack of the Now! series. 

Back in 1983, I was 8 years old. I was in what was then Std 1, in apartheid South Africa. I had no idea at all about music and what I listened to was what was prescribed by my parents – Glazunov! and if I was lucky, Elvis, and the Beatles. However, my brother was a year older and had somehow escaped enough to be listening to the soundtrack of Rocky, and “Eye of the Tiger” featured in our lives. The first U.S. woman astronaut went into space as a crew member aboard space shuttle Challenger. Cagney and Lacey and Cheers were top of the TV charts. 

In 1985, we discovered there was a hole in the Ozone layer. Handsome leading man Rock Hudson became the first celebrity to die of AIDS. It was the year featured in the iconic Movie Back to the Future starring Michael J Fox which has become a cult classic. The movie featured Huey Lewis and the News, both in music and in a cameo role, and they in turn appeared on the 8th release of Now! in 1986. 

And Simple Minds “Don’t You Forget About Me” was on the Now Compilation – a song which has become synonymous with the campaign to find the missing British girl Madeleine McCann.  

In 1987, Now That’s What I Call Music 10 was released. This was my coming of age year when it comes to music. I was just becoming a teenager. It was a good year to come of age music wise. It was the year that the movie Dirty Dancing was released. Patrick Swayze was every girl’s crush. Features on the Now release of that year included Barcelona by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe, The Communards with Never Can Say Goodbye and T’Pau’s China In Your Hand among many other timeless songs. 

In 1989, in the world’s history, things were beginning to happen. The Berlin wall fell. The end of apartheid was in sight. George HW Bush was the 41st President of the United States and it was not long before the Gulf War – which was to many the start of the oil struggle in the Middle East which continues to this day. Did the music of the day reflect the good and the bad of the time? Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy, The Christians Harvest for the World and Yazz – The Only Way is Up, seem to reflect this. 

The mid 90s were an interesting time – in 1994, the first democratic elections in South Africa, and the ensuing few years were a great time. Perhaps not so much in America, where the Gulf War of 1991 and its aftermath were felt for a long time. Musically, we had a bit of bubble gum – perhaps it helped take our minds off the politics? Track listings on Now That’s What I Call Music 23 included Charles and Eddie – Would I Lie To You? and Billy Ray Cyrus – Achy Breaky Heart.

In 2001, 9/11 occurred and it had ramifications all over the world. Music of the day was definitely reflective of the fears and the coming together  of people.  For example, Five For Fighting’s Superman became an unofficial anthem about the disaster respondents. 

Today, politically we live in a more accepting world. Gay marriage is being recognised in most places of the world. Acceptance rather than rejection is perpetrated. A greener living is encouraged. But some countries still tend towards a dictatorial regime. And now That’s What I Call Music has just released its 86th compilation, having come full circle, with Miley Cyrus being featured – the daughter of Billy Ray who was featured years before. 

Back to the original premise that the more things change the more they stay the same, how much has pop music changed, really? Certainly I think things were more innocent back in the 80s, but let’s face it, Gaga is a reinvention of Madonna. Miley even rhymes with Kylie? And does the Biebs think he’s an original? Think again:



Now that’s what I call a lifetime, punctuated by some of the best sound in the world. 

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