Smile Politely

Now That’s What I Call a Compilation CD!

What were you doing ten years ago? I was an 11 year old wearing a “repeat three-peat” Chicago Bulls t-shirt while listening to the Godzilla soundtrack on repeat. From Puff Daddy rapping to Zeppelin to The Wallflowers covering David Bowie, the soundtrack of the 1998 monster movie remake was excellent in so many ways. That pop music collection, however, couldn’t compete with another compilation released that year, NOW That’s What I Call Music.

The NOW series debuted in the United States ten years ago and our lives have never been the same since. In celebration of this historic anniversary, the major labels have teamed up to release an album compiling the best that these compilations have to offer, The Best of NOW That’s What I Call Music! 10th Anniversary. The 20-track disc contains some of the absolute worst songs of the past decade, but if you’ve ever wanted “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry and “Beautiful Day” by U2 to appear on the same CD, this is the album for you.

If you’re still with me after all that, you’d probably be interested in what awaits after the jump. Read on as I dive deeper into the infamous history of NOW.

The long-running record series started in England in 1983. It began as a double LP and featured tracks from David Bowie, Fine Young Cannibals and Duran Duran. After 25 years and over 71 volumes, the UK series has sold more than 100 million albums.

By the time the durable series made its way to the states, it seemed doomed. Shortly after the release of NOW Vol. 1, Napster came into being and mix CDs began filling up Discmans. Strangely, this trend only seemed to help the NOW series.

People were never into the idea of buying an album for the one song they heard on the radio. It was too much of an investment and a risk. This general aversion to dropping $15 on a crapshoot was known by the record labels and they capitalized on people’s skepticism of the quality of mainstream music. People would definitely spend $15 if they knew every track on the CD. There was no risk — everything on the disc was heard constantly on the radio.

This format was perfect for the people whose “favorite songs” are subject to the current radio rotation. Chances are, these people also weren’t computer savvy enough to figure out: a) How to illegally download music off the internet, and b) How to take that music and place it on a compact disc. In a lot of cases, people didn’t own the technology to gain this free access to all their favorite songs, so NOW stepped in as the industry-approved mix CD.

I think it’s strangely appropriate that the tagline “now that’s what I call music” was derived from a Danish meat company advertisement, with a fat, cartoon pig delivering the line. You could say that the pig (as pictured on the UK’s NOW 5) represents the music industry. A pig knows nothing of music, its hooves leave it incapable of playing any instruments (besides a wide-keyed piano) and it loves rolling around in its own crap.

That’s exactly what the major-label music industry is and has been for a very long time. They pat themselves on the back for auto-tuning erotic dancers and have them perform at award shows they create. The best of NOW is so indicative of how absurd the series is because it doesn’t even feature the best of its own series. The 20 song CD seemed light without “Toxic,” Radiohead’s “Karma Police” (appearing on NOW 1) or any of the 17 songs featuring Beyonce that ended up on various NOWs throughout the years.

NOW, overall, has been a huge success. Besides Josh Grobin/Michael Bublé Christmas albums, the NOW series is the only thing that has been making the music industry money as of late. I’m glad they’re making money, but reading over the track lists of all 29 NOWs is really depressing. Sure it’s fun that Limp Bizkit and Fatboy Slim are on the same CD, but more than anything, NOW explicitly points out the horrible and stagnant state popular music finds itself in today.

Uh huh. Yeah.

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