Now That's What I Call Music II

Now That’s What I Call Music II

There was no doubt that the first Now That’s What I Call Music album had been a success. It took the Christmas number 1 spot, sold over a million copies and had already spawned a competitor, PolyGram’s Formula 30 which spread thirty ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s hits over four sides of vinyl or cassette.

Clearly a follow-up was required, but did EMI and Virgin really have to wait until November to round up another 30 hits of the year? Not necessarily. Enter Ashley Abram, a consultant employed by EMI and Virgin to put together thirty hits from the first three months of 1984 with a view to turning the concept into a regular series. He must have made a good job of it, because he went on to compile 80 volumes of Now That’s What I Call Music, eventually bowing out after Now 81 in 2012.

Even moreso than Now 1, volume 2 is a perfect snapshot of the top 40 at the time, with well established acts such as Queen, the Rolling Stones and Hot Chocolate rubbing shoulders with fresh young upstarts like Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Nik Kershaw and The Smiths. Even the one hit wonders are instantly recognisable today – well, most of them. Released on double LP (NOW 2) and double cassette (TC NOW 2) on March 26th 1984, the album entered the chart at number 3 and spent the next five weeks at number 1.


1. QUEEN – Radio Ga Ga

Queen’s stock had been at its lowest point over the previous couple of years, with 1982’s ill-advised disco album Hot Space alienating many fans. This Roger Taylor-penned crowd pleaser won them back and reached number 2 in the chart. Although the song bemoans the increasing importance of promo videos to the detriment of the music they were supposed to promote, the single was accompanied by a lavish clip which set the band inside Fritz Lang’s classic sci-fi film Metropolis. Presumably Taylor took some comfort from the fact that the epic promo didn’t feature on the Now 2 video selection.

2. NIK KERSHAW – Wouldn’t It Be Good

The second single and first hit for the diminutive Bristolian. Even his chart career was compact: all of his eight top forty singles and two top ten albums came in a two year period between 1984 and ’85, although his biggest chart success came in 1991 when he wrote Chesney Hawkes’ number 1 hit The One And Only.


A hit in the dying weeks of 1983, arriving too late to appear on Now 1 although it did make the video selection, thus throwing everything out of whack for the rest of the year. Tom Bailey’s melancholic tale of love gone wrong was the band’s biggest UK hit to date and went on to become their biggest US hit, heralding the start of the Twins’ most successful period, centred around their 1984 album Into The Gap. One of the band’s best remembered hits, actress Amelia Warner recorded an acoustic version of the song (under the name Slow Moving Millie, for some reason) for her 2011 album Renditions.

4. MATT BIANCO – Get Out Of Your Lazy Bed

Playing the old “It’s a band, not a person” card to great effect, Matt Bianco started out as a jazzy “sophistipop” band with the vocal interplay of Mark Reilly and Basia Trzetrzelewska guaranteeing their début single airplay on every breakfast radio show around and propelling it up the chart. Further success was sporadic and the band soon ditched their jazz influences in favour of a more commercial and later dance-based sound, while Basia went solo and achieved some success in the US.

5. CARMEL – More, More, More

More jazz stylings from another band named after a person, this time lead singer Carmel McCourt. The soulful Bad Day had been a top twenty hit for the band the previous autumn; this more uptempo number made number 23 but proved to be their second and last top forty hit. Despite this, the band continued to release albums throughout the ’80s and ’90s and returned to the scene with an album of Edith Piaf songs in 2011.

6. MADNESS – Michael Caine

An unusually sombre, even vaguely sinister track from the former Nutty Boys which left their fans somewhat confused, coming hot on the heels of two of their jolliest singles Wings Of A Dove and The Sun And The Rain. Sung by Cathall “Chas Smash” Smyth, it peaked at number 11, bringing their run of top ten hits to an end and sparking rumours that Suggs had quit the band. This proved to be untrue, although keyboard player Mike Barson did leave shortly afterwards. It would be fifteen years before Madness scored another top ten hit.


Looking for an a cappella version of a Yazoo hit from eighteen months ago? Look no further. The Flying Pickets were a group of actors who formed a singing group after they were required to sing a cappella in the 1981 stage play One Big Blow. For their début single they recorded a version of Only You which Yazoo had taken to number 2 the previous spring; with its memorable “Ba-da-da-da” introduction, the Flying Pickets’ vocal-only arrangement went one better and topped the chart for five weeks over the 1983 Christmas period.


1. NENA – 99 Red Balloons

Impending nuclear disaster – everyone’s favourite mid-80s topic – rears its head for the first of many times on the early Now albums with German band Nena’s tale of a clutch of helium balloons which float off and are mistaken for missiles, triggering World War III in which everyone dies except, apparently, the singer and keyboard player. The balloons are only red in the English translation; the original German version 99 Luftballons (simply “99 Balloons”) was a hit in most of Europe and even the US and Australia, while the English recording topped the charts in the UK, Ireland and Canada.

2. CYNDI LAUPER – Girls Just Want To Have Fun

When they’re not worrying about impending nuclear armageddon, of course. Cyndi Lauper had been singing in various bands for over a decade by the time of this, her first hit; her previous band Blue Angel released an unsuccessful album in 1980 before splitting. Adopting a colourful, wacky image, Lauper’s solo career was an instant success with her début album She’s So Unusual selling over 16 million copies worldwide. Girls Just Want To Have Fun reached number 2 in the UK and returned to the chart a decade later when a new recording, (Hey Now) Girls Just Want To Have Fun, reached number 4 (you’ll find that version on Now 29).

3. TRACEY ULLMAN – My Guy’s Mad At Me

On the back of three top ten hits, Tracey Ullman’s gender realigned version of Madness’s My Girl would have been expected to achieve similar success, especially with the publicity generated by Labour leader Neil Kinnock’s cameo role in the accompanying video. Ultimately though, the simple charm of the song was lost in an over-complicated brass and string arrangement, and the single only managed to reach number 23. After one further top twenty hit Sunglasses in the summer of 1984, Tracey went back to television and gave birth to The Simpsons (not literally) via her successful US TV show The Tracey Ullman Show in the late ’80s.

4. MATTHEW WILDER – Break My Stride

One hit wonder and unfortunate Steve Wright lookalike Wilder had been part of an American folk duo in the ’70s, before going solo and finding synthpop on his début album I Don’t Speak The Language. This jaunty tune was a worldwide hit in early 1984, reaching the top ten all over Europe and America, but he was unable to follow it up with another hit. After a second album Bouncin’ Off The Walls, Wilder turned to songwriting and production for other artists including Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera and No Doubt. Break My Stride was adopted – badly – as part of Puff Daddy’s 1997 hit Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down, which also sampled Grandmaster Flash’s The Message.

5. JULIA & COMPANY – Breakin’ Down (Sugar Samba)

Another one hit wonder, US singer Julia Nixon and her Company (not affiliated with Legs & Co or K9 & Company) reached number 15 in the UK with this club classic and never troubled the top forty again. Nixon went on to star on Broadway but still performs with Julia & Company and released a solo album Keepin’ On Track in 2007.

6. JOE FAGIN – That’s Livin’ Alright

Three one hit wonders in a row! Fagin wrote and performed songs for various TV shows and movies in the ’80s and ’90s but only found chart success with this theme from the TV comedy Auf Wiedersehen Pet about a group of English builders who find work in Germany. The second series of the show in 1986 required a new theme Back With The Boys Again which reached number 53, but in the meantime one of the show’s stars had forged a pop career of his own – we’ll meet him on Now 5.

7. HOT CHOCOLATE – I Gave You My Heart (Didn’t I)

From one hit wonders to one of the most prolific hit making acts of the past fifteen years. Hot Chocolate had managed at least one hit every year since 1970, although this rather nondescript piece of fluff turned out to be the last of them. Iconic lead singer Errol Brown later went solo, scoring a minor hit with Personal Touch in 1987, while Hot Chocolate gamely struggled on without him to no great acclaim. With such a vast back catalogue, of course, it wouldn’t be the last we saw of them – the remixers moved in before Brown’s solo career had even begun, as we’ll see on Now 9.

8. SNOWY WHITE – Bird Of Paradise

And back to the one hit wonders. Terence “Snowy” White had played guitar with Pink Floyd on their 1977 Animals tour and subsequently joined Thin Lizzy for a couple of years. His solo career got off to a flying start (ha!) with this AOR staple which became his only hit single, although he has released sixteen albums in his own right and with his bands The White Flames and Snowy White’s Blues Agency.



Despite spending five weeks at number 1, if you hadn’t bought the 7″ of Relax there’s a distinct chance you would have forgotten what it sounded like by the time Now 2 came out. It hadn’t been played on Radio 1 or Top Of The Pops since Mike Read took a close listen to the lyrics and declared them obscene back in January, propelling the record to the top of the charts. Given an apocalyptic production by Trevor Horn after he saw the band perform an embryonic version on Channel 4’s The Tube, Relax now exists in over 40 versions and has become so ubiquitous that nobody really cares how rude the lyrics are, even though bassist Mark O’Toole famously admitted “When it first came out we used to pretend it was about motivation, and really it was about shagging.” Thanks to a 1993 reissue Relax also appears on Now 26.

2. EURYTHMICS – Here Comes The Rain Again

Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart had been scoring hits together since 1979, initially as members of The Tourists who reached the top ten with I Only Want To Be With You and So Good To Be Back Home Again at the turn of the decade. After a brief hiatus the duo, now operating as Eurythmics, had enjoyed four top ten hits in 1983 and Here Comes The Rain Again continued that trend, reaching number 8 as the third single from the duo’s chart topping third album Touch.

3. HOWARD JONES – What Is Love?

Like Nik Kershaw, Howard Jones had huge success in a relatively short space of time, scoring nine top twenty hits between September 1983 and April 1986. This was the second and biggest of them, reaching number 2 in early 1984 and still his best known song on both sides of the Atlantic. Kershaw and Jones would be mainstays of the early Now albums, one or both of them appearing on each of the first six volumes.

4. THE SMITHS – What Difference Does It Make?

Well, here’s a thing. The Smiths’ only Now appearance came after their second hit What Difference Does It Make? reached number 12 in February. Always determined to do things their own way – there was no video for the song, because Morrissey despised music videos – they would have bigger hits including Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now and Sheila Take A Bow, but never again appeared on a Now album. Whether they refused to allow their songs to be licensed or they simply weren’t chosen is unclear, but once Morrissey went solo and signed to EMI it was a different story and his first three solo hits graced Now 11, 12 and 14.

5. FICTION FACTORY – (Feels Like) Heaven

More one hit wonders and the only band from Perth (the Scottish one, not the Australian one) ever to appear on a Now album, Fiction Factory reached number 6 with this enduring hit. They recorded two albums before splitting in 1987, but reformed for the Rewind Festival in 2011. Slow Moving Amelia Warner covered this one on her Renditions album too. She probably has a copy of Now 2 lurking in the back of a cupboard somewhere.

6. RE-FLEX – The Politics Of Dancing

Guess what? Even more one hit wonders! A well-connected bunch, one of their early line-ups included future Level 42 drummer Phil Gould, Thomas Dolby introduced them to their bassist and their album The Politics Of Dancing was produced by John Punter who had worked with Roxy Music and Japan. Despite this, the single only reached number 28 (although it did slightly better in the US and even reached the top ten in Canada) and the band failed to deliver a follow-up, although they continued to work together and the fruits of their labours were finally released in 2010 as a 6CD box set.

7. THOMAS DOLBY – Hyperactive!

Singer, songwriter, keyboardist, producer, boffin and friend of Re-Flex Thomas Dolby had attracted attention in the early years of the decade with minor hits such as Windpower and the mighty She Blinded Me With Science, a top five hit in the US although multiple releases in the UK never climbed higher than number 49. Hyperactive! was Dolby’s biggest UK hit by some distance, reaching number 17 in 1984 and number 23 when reissued exactly a decade later. In between releasing solo records sporadically for the next decade or so, Dolby produced several albums for the distinctly non-synthpop Prefab Sprout and appeared at Live Aid as a member of David Bowie’s band.

8. CHINA CRISIS – Wishful Thinking

Politically charged Merseysiders whose Eno-influenced ambient soundscapes often strayed dangerously close to easy listening territory, China Crisis revelled in pretentious album titles such as Difficult Shapes And Passive Rhythms – Some People Think It’s Fun To Entertain and Working With Fire And Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume 2. The band scored a top twenty hit with Christian in early 1983 but took a full year to reach the top forty again; Wishful Thinking became their only top ten hit, although they would return to the chart in 1985 with help from Steely Dan’s Walter Becker.


1. DAVID BOWIE – Modern Love

One of the major omissions from Now 1 was Bowie‘s enormohit Let’s Dance, so the inclusion of Modern Love on Now 2 goes some way towards redressing the balance, even though it’s the oldest track on the album and the only one to have dropped out of the chart before 1984 started. Modern Love brought to a close Bowie’s most intense period of chart success; it reached number 2 in October 1983 as China Girl had done four months earlier, on the back of the number 1 success of Let’s Dance in April. Bowie would never come close to achieving that kind of chart success again, but he still had a few aces up his sleeve for future Now albums before everything spiralled into Tin Machine hell.

2. CULTURE CLUB – It’s A Miracle

After dominating 1983 and Now 1, Culture Club again reached the top ten with the third single from their Colour By Numbers album, although it’s far from their strongest song. In North America the similar sounding Miss Me Blind was released instead; in fact the two songs were mixed together to create a 12″ version. With cracks beginning to appear under the make-up, Culture Club would return on Now 4 later in the year with one of their most derided songs.

3. THE ROLLING STONES – Undercover Of The Night

Amongst all the one hit wonders, here comes by far the oldest act to appear on Now 2. Already twenty years into their hit-making career by this point, the Stones were at least still capable of generating genuine controversy with this tale of political corruption in South America, promoted by a largely unseen video in which Mick Jagger, playing a detective, is shot by a kidnapper played by Keith Richards. The single reached number 11, a chart position the Stones haven’t bettered in the thirty years since its release.

4. BIG COUNTRY – Wonderland

Big Country had been one of the breakthrough acts of 1983, scoring three top twenty hits Fields Of Fire, In A Big Country and Chance from their début album The Crossing. With their trademark bombastic drums and guitars that sound like bagpipes still to the fore, this stopgap single reached number 8 and tided the fans over until the release of the band’s second album Steeltown later in the year.

5. SLADE – Run Runaway

A decade on from their time as glam rock gods with six number 1 hits to their name, Slade had ridden out the late ’70s punk backlash and emerged as true rockers with a triumphant performance at the 1980 Reading Festival. In 1981 they scored their first top ten hit in six years but the comeback seemed to have fizzled out until the anthemic My Oh My reached number 2 in late 1983. With the deathless Merry Xmas Everybody back in the top twenty at the same time, a suitable follow-up single was required and the bombastic, Big Country-ish Run Runaway did the trick, reaching number 7. The band ploughed on through the ’80s, scoring their last hit with Radio Wall Of Sound in 1991, although Merry Xmas Everybody continues to sell like fake snow every December.

6. DURAN DURAN – New Moon On Monday

All was not well in the Duran Duran camp at the start of 1984. After Is There Something I Should Know entered the charts at number 1, the expected string of chart toppers failed to materialise; Union Of The Snake peaked at number 3 and this follow-up limped to number 9. This was considered such a disaster that New Moon On Monday would be excluded from Duran’s 1989 best-of album Decade. Luckily Nile Rodgers was on hand to give the band a helping hand back to the top of the charts, as we’ll see on Now 3.

7. PAUL McCARTNEY – Pipes Of Peace

George had done it straight out of the blocks in 1971, John had done it three times in quick succession in 1980 and ’81, but by the start of 1984 Paul still hadn’t managed a solo number 1. (Ringo still hasn’t, but you never know.) Released with an eye on the Christmas market and helped by a memorable video in which he played both a British and a German solder in the 1914 World War I Christmas truce, this often derided anti-war statement would be the first and only time McCartney topped the UK singles chart in his own right. Like Mull Of Kintyre before it, it wasn’t considered suitable for the US market and was relegated to a B-side there. It may be cloying and sentimental, but at least it’s not We All Stand Together.

Also Available

A “video selection” was also released, for the second and final time on Laserdisc as well as the VHS and Betamax formats which would continue for the next few years. With Hold Me Now having appeared on the first video, the Thompson Twins’ follow-up Doctor! Doctor! was used instead, while Culture Club’s Victims from the first album appears on the second video rather than It’s A Miracle. In fact almost half the videos included were nowhere to be seen on the album; some – Shannon’s Let The Music Play, Status Quo’s Marguerita Time – could conceivably have been included on the LP, while others wouldn’t even have been considered – Bourgie Bourgie’s sole hit Breaking Point only reached number 48 and although The Icicle Works had scored a top twenty hit with Love Is A Wonderful Colour, the video includes their follow-up single Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream) which failed to dent the top fifty. This gives the whole compilation a distinctly K-Tel feel, although in those early days of home video perhaps it was impressive enough just to be able to own a collection of pop videos, regardless of their chart success.

1. NIK KERSHAW – Wouldn’t It Be Good
2. THOMPSON TWINS – Doctor! Doctor!
3. HOWARD JONES – What Is Love?
4. DURAN DURAN – New Moon On Monday
5. CHINA CRISIS – Wishful Thinking
7. STATUS QUO – Marguerita Time
8. CARMEL – More More More
9. SHANNON – Let The Music Play
10. THE ICICLE WORKS – Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)
11. BOURGIE BOURGIE – Breaking Point
12. RE-FLEX – The Politics Of Dancing
13. THOMAS DOLBY – Hyperactive!
14. MATT BIANCO – Get Out Of Your Lazy Bed
15. BIG COUNTRY – Wonderland
16. MARILYN – Cry And Be Free
17. SNOWY WHITE – Bird Of Paradise
19. KAJAGOOGOO – The Lion’s Mouth
20. CULTURE CLUB – Victims

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