Pop: Now what?

Thanks to a record-company buy-out, the Now That's What I Call Music! series could be in jeopardy. Oh no! Says Gillian Orr

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The Independent Culture

Everyone remembers the first one they bought. Moreover, most can even recall their favourite songs on it. Mine was 21. Or more precisely, Now That's What I Call Music! 21. It was actually a hand me down from a generous babysitter but – due to my parents' stingy approach to pocket money – my tape cassette collection was, shall we say, limited, meaning it received more plays than I care to admit. Just glancing over the tracklisting – Shakespears Sister's [sic] "Stay", Roxette's "Church of Your Heart", Shanice's "I Love Your Smile" –induces waves of nostalgia. As with all Now compilations, Now 21 was a curious offering, with Right Said Fred sitting uncomfortably alongside The Jesus and Mary Chain. Not only can a Now compilation carry a personal attachment but they also serve as a glimpse into the music scene of any given time. But is the series' future now in jeopardy?

As part of Universal's deal with the European Commission in its recently approved £1.2 billion takeover of EMI, Universal has agreed to sell EMI's 50 per cent stake in Now That's What I Call Music! (as well as a slew of labels such as Parlophone, Mute and Chrysalis). Unless someone steps up to invest in the series, it looks set to end with its next edition, Now 83, which is slated to be released in November.

"Everyone has at least one Now album in their record and CD collection – they're a total guilty pleasure and an essential part of growing up," says Peter Hart, editor of Top Of The Pops Magazine. "But at the same time, these song collections are nearly as an important part of British pop heritage as Top Of The Pops itself, and it would be devastating to see them disappear for good."

The first Now was released in 1983, featuring tracks such as Phil Collins' "You Can't Hurry Love" and The Cure's "The Love Cats", and immediately flew to the top of the UK album chart. Although there had been other compilations of recent hit singles released since the 1970s, Now was the first which was a result of a collaboration between the major record labels, ensuring there were 11 number ones on the first edition. The series has gone on to amass sales of more than 100 million, including the spin offs, which include Now Dance, Now Hip-Hop and Now Reggae, among others. But the most successful volume to date is 1999's Now 44, which has sold 2.3 million copies and is the biggest selling compilation album ever (thanks, presumably, to Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time" being the first track. Or perhaps the inclusion of more Phil Collins…). Such is its success that a number of other countries have even been given their own Now series, including the United States, Argentina, Egypt and New Zealand.

However, industry insiders are confident there will be buyers for all parts of EMI that are to be divested. And given Now's huge popularity and strong branding, fingers crossed it will get snapped up. Because even though the last edition carried not one, but two, tracks featuring David Guetta, they remain an important musical snapshot of the time. Long may they continue.