Now, That's What I Call Music

Now That’s What I Call Music

Back in the early 1980s, compilation albums were a rum lot. Labels such as K-Tel and Ronco would churn out monstrosities with titles like 20 Super Amazing Hits which would have tracks faded out early and pressed really quietly to allow ten songs to be squeezed into each side of vinyl. Later they would allow thirty or so songs to be spread over a double album, providing better sound quality and full length tracks. These sets would be packaged as two separate albums and sold using the “Buy part 1, get part 2 free” gimmick – notwithstanding the fact that they still sold for the price of a double album – and usually had appalling pun titles like Chart Attack or even Chart Encounters Of The Hit Kind. Despite all the hyperbole, these albums never did contain the advertised number of “hits”; they would inevitably be padded out with a number of tracks that had never had a sniff of the charts, usually hidden away at the end of each side in the hope that prospective purchasers would have stopped reading the track listing before getting that far.

Released on 28th November 1983, the very first Now That’s What I Call Music album was an instant game-changer. Every one of its thirty tracks had been a top twenty hit in the UK, an unheard of situation in the compilations market, and the “buy one, get one free” pretence was dropped – this was a premium product and made no bones about it. Selling for around £5.99, it was an instant success and became the year’s Christmas number 1 album, holding off the likes of Thriller, Seven And The Ragged Tiger and even Chas ‘n’ Dave’s Knees Up.

Whereas all future releases in the main series would focus on a period of four to six months, this first instalment takes in the whole year of 1983, so more than a third of the tracks on offer here are number 1 hits; yet, having been compiled without the benefit of hindsight, there are still a few unusual selections which probably wouldn’t make it to a compilation of 1983’s greatest hits from today’s perspective. There’s also a surprising amount of duplication – Culture Club and UB40 get two songs each, Phil Collins appears with and without Genesis and, in the interests of fairness, Kajagoogoo’s big moment is accompanied by both Limahl’s solo début and the band’s first single without their erstwhile lead singer.

Released on double LP (NOW 1) and double cassette (TC NOW 1), the album was reissued as a double CD (in a card replica of the original vinyl gatefold sleeve) to mark its 25th anniversary… in January 2009, two months late. It was reissued on vinyl for Record Store Day in 2015, and all three formats – LP, CD and cassette – were reissued in July 2018 on the same day as the release of the 100th edition of the series.

Listen to episode one of Now Parlez, our Now That’s What I Call Music podcast in which Off The Chart‘s Steve and Julian discuss their memories of the album and play some of the key tracks from the original vinyl!



1. PHIL COLLINS – You Can’t Hurry Love

What better way to start a review of the hits of 1983 than with a hit from 1982? Collins had been the drummer in Genesis since 1970 and their lead vocalist since Peter Gabriel’s departure in 1975, but this solo cover of The Supremes’ 1966 hit became his first number 1 single in January 1983. He would go on to top the chart again in 1988 with another ’60s cover, but you’ll have to wait for Now 13 to find out about that…

2. DURAN DURAN – Is There Something I Should Know

Having seen their popularity build throughout the previous year as Hungry Like The Wolf, Save A Prayer and Rio all hit the top ten, Duran trounced all comers at the 1983 British Rock & Pop Awards and entered the chart at number 1 with this single. Despite not appearing on any of the band’s albums (except in the US, where it was added to a reissue of their 1981 début), it remains one of the band’s best loved hits and contains that most ’80s of lyrics “Don’t say you’re easy on me, you’re about as easy as a nuclear war.” Answers on a postcard.

3. UB40 – Red Red Wine

After four top ten hits in eighteen months, UB40 were struggling by the start of 1983, their last four singles having all fallen short of the top twenty. Their fortunes were quickly turned around with the release of Labour Of Love, an album of cover versions. Now often seen as the last desperate flailings of a once successful act attempting to wring the last drops out of its career, at the time a covers album was a genuinely novel and interesting idea and this version of Tony Tribe’s reggae hit (itself a cover of a Neil Diamond ballad) gave the band its first number 1 hit in the UK. It also topped the charts in Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and – five years later – the US.

4. LIMAHL – Only For Love

A speculative placing for a song the compilers clearly expected to do much better in the charts, Limahl’s first single after his acrimonious departure from Kajagoogoo only reached number 16, rather trailing in the wake of his former bandmates’ immediate success without him. To be fair the track is forgettable and bears all the hallmarks of having been tossed off in a desperate hurry to get a single out before the end of the year. In the end, neither Limahl nor Kajagoogoo could sustain much success, although the pineapple-haired one still had a top five single in him, as we’ll see on Now 4.

5. HEAVEN 17 – Temptation

The breakthrough hit for “the other two from the Human League”, who had left Phil Oakey to his own devices in 1980 only to see him recruit a couple of girls he met in a disco and immediately conquer the world with 1981’s Dare album. Meanwhile Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, having fulfilled their artistic leanings by forming the British Electric Foundation, brought in Glenn Gregory to front their other project. After a number of singles that tickled the lower reaches of the chart, Heaven 17 also discovered the benefits of a female vocalist when Carol Kenyon’s contribution to Temptation helped it to the number 2 position. Nine years later a remix of the track hit number 4 and featured on Now 23.


After nine top forty hits in the ’70s, Give It Up was an unexpected resurrection for a band that had pretty much died out with the old decade. Their first chart entry since Please Don’t Go had reached number 3 in the first weeks of 1980, the song first appeared on 1982’s All In A Night’s Work but by the time it became a hit single in July 1983 the band had split and KC promoted it as a solo artist; rather cheekily he also included the track on his subsequent solo album KC Ten. The insistently catchy Give It Up became the band’s only UK number 1 and their last top forty hit.

7. MALCOLM McLAREN – Double Dutch

Having given the world the Sex Pistols and inadvertently spurred Adam Ant on to stardom after stealing the original Ants to form Bow Wow Wow, Malcolm McLaren decided to make his own album. With producer Trevor Horn in tow, McLaren travelled the Americas, the Caribbean and Africa, making field recordings of Zulu music and New York hip-hop which Horn, together with future members of the Art Of Noise, welded together to make the album Duck Rock. (Naturally McLaren took all the credit.) The album’s first single Buffalo Gals was the first UK hit to use DJ effects such as scratching, while Double Dutch introduced the US craze of skipping using two ropes. This was McLaren’s biggest hit in his own right, reaching number 3.

Related:  Off The Chart: 10 December 1986

8. BONNIE TYLER – Total Eclipse Of The Heart

Previously best known for her ’70s hits Lost In France and It’s A Heartache, Bonnie was the lucky recipient of this song which Jim Steinman had written for Meat Loaf. Due to record company politics Steinman ended up recording the song with the Welsh singer instead, giving Tyler her a number 1 hit in the UK, US and numerous other territories. Steinman also wrote and produced Tyler’s second biggest hit, 1985’s Holding Out For A Hero. The Welsh warbler was last seen spectacularly failing to win Eurovision for the UK in 2013.


1. CULTURE CLUB – Karma Chameleon

Entering the chart exactly a year after their breakthrough hit Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?, this was Culture Club’s second and final number 1 single, the fourth of seven consecutive top 5 hits and the opening track of the band’s only number 1 album Colour By Numbers. With its memorable harmonica solo from Judd Lander, the song marked the peak of Culture Club’s success and the point at which Boy George crossed over from freak show to national treasure. Karma Chameleon was 1983’s biggest selling single with sales of 1.4 million copies in the UK.

2. MEN WITHOUT HATS – The Safety Dance

With its impenetrable lyrics and surreal video, The Safety Dance reached number 6 in the UK despite nobody actually knowing what the song was about. In fact it was written by MWH mainman Ivan Doroschuk in protest at being ejected from a nightclub for pogo dancing – this was seen as a dangerous activity and clearly a safer alternative was required. Men Without Hats remain one hit wonders in the UK although they found further success in many countries (including a number 1 hit in Austria of all places) with their 1987 single Pop Goes The World.


Formed by adding Chris “Limahl” Hamill to the avant garde quartet Art Nouveau, Kajagoogoo hit the number 1 spot straight out of the traps with this pop nugget, co-produced by Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes. Following the release of an album White Feathers and two lightweight follow-up singles, Limahl was kicked out of the band in July 1983. As we’ve seen, he immediately launched a solo career while bassist Nick Beggs – the only member of the band with a more ridiculous haircut than Limahl – took over lead vocals and guided the quartet to a spot on side 3.

4. MIKE OLDFIELD – Moonlight Shadow

Now probably better remembered as the theme for Dave Angel: Eco-Warrior from BBC TV’s The Fast Show, Moonlight Shadow was Oldfield’s biggest hit single and effectively rescued him from a lifetime of being “that Tubular Bells guy”. With uncredited vocals by Maggie Reilly (leading to numerous asinine “doesn’t Mike Oldfield have a girly voice?” comments by low quality DJs), the song describes a violent murder, although the precise details of the incident are unclear; some have speculated that it concerns the IRA, others that it references the death of John Lennon. In fact even Oldfield himself is not entirely sure.

5. MEN AT WORK – Down Under

Not to be confused with Men Without Hats (see above) or even Mental As Anything (see Now 9), Men At Work were – surprise! – an Australian band fronted by Scottish-born Colin Hay. Both the song and its parent album Business As Usual had been hits in Australia in 1981 before making the slow journey via the US to the UK. The song introduced Britain to such essential Aussie concepts as Vegemite and “chunder” and remains something of an unofficial Antipodean anthem, despite a much-derided lawsuit in 2009 which claimed that the song’s distinctive flute riff was plagiarised from the folk song Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree.

6. ROCKSTEADY CREW – (Hey You) The Rocksteady Crew

The aforementioned Malcolm McLaren had opened the floodgates for hip hop, scratching and breakdancing crews with Buffalo Gals the previous year, to the extent that even Roland Rat was cashing in on the craze by late 1983. Slightly more authentic were the Rocksteady Crew, a breakdancing collective formed in the Bronx in 1977, although there are now various Rock Steady Crews around the world. This particular version boasted Richard “Crazy Legs” Colón among its number, now regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of hip hop dance, and reached number 6 in the UK with this electro classic.

7. ROD STEWART – Baby Jane

Former Faces singer and professional Scotsman Rod Stewart had been scoring number 1 hits since his first solo hit Maggie May in 1971; this was his sixth, his first since Da Ya Think I’m Sexy managed a week at the top in late 1978 and his last to date, although he continued to score top twenty singles well into the 1990s and topped the album charts with his 2013 set Time.

8. PAUL YOUNG – Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)

Paul Young’s first taste of success came as lead singer of Streetband, who scored an unexpected and unwanted novelty hit with Toast in 1978. Moving on to front soul revivalists The Q-Tips, Young eventually hit the big time with his third solo single, a cover of a then little-known Marvin Gaye B-side. The accompanying album No Parlez, including among its tracks a controversial cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, also reached number 1 and set Paul up for a string of top forty hits over the next fifteen years.


1. NEW EDITION – Candy Girl

A Boston boy band formed in the image of the Jackson 5, New Edition were taken under the wing of producer Maurice Starr who oversaw their début album Candy Girl, from which this chart topping bubblegum piece was lifted. Still in their early teens at the time of its success, the group soon split from Starr who responded by forming New Kids On The Block. New Edition would enjoy sporadic success for the rest of the decade, including a number 19 hit Mr Telephone Man in 1985, before lead singer Bobby Brown departed for a solo career (we’ll see him again on Now 14). The others soldiered on but had effectively split by the end of the decade; Ralph Tresvant and Brown’s replacement Johnny Gill both went solo while remaining members formed Bell Biv Devoe. A tentative reunion in the mid ’90s saw the band return to the UK top twenty with singles Hit Me Off and Something About You.

2. KAJAGOOGOO – Big Apple

Having disposed of Limahl, the slimmed-down Kajagoogoo returned to the top ten with this not entirely complimentary ode to New York City. This would be Kajagoogoo’s last major hit; next single The Lion’s Mouth struggled into the top thirty, album Islands peaked just outside it, while a 1985 relaunch as Kaja produced a more dance-influenced album Crazy People’s Right To Speak and top 75 hit Shouldn’t Do That but the band split soon after. Despite continued acrimony, the original Kajagoogoo line-up – including Limahl – reformed in 2008.

3. TINA TURNER – Let’s Stay Together

Although she had been recording with husband Ike since 1960, this was Tina’s first solo hit in the UK and her first chart showing since Nutbush City Limits a decade earlier. A messy divorce from Ike in 1978 had left Tina with all sorts of legal and financial problems and a career in free fall. Rescued from cabaret by support slots with Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones, Tina recorded two tracks for British Electric Foundation’s Music Of Quality And Distinction Vol. 1, which led B.E.F.’s Martyn Ware to produce this cover of an Al Green classic for her, while Ware’s Heaven 17 colleague Glenn Gregory provided backing vocals. A memorable appearance on Channel 4’s seminal rock show The Tube helped the single to number 6 and kick-started a twenty year run of hits.

Related:  Off The Chart: 23 March 1985

4. THE HUMAN LEAGUE – (Keep Feeling) Fascination

Having rescued themselves from a life of po-faced avant garde gloom with the album Dare and 1981 Christmas number 1 single Don’t You Want Me, the Human League were having serious trouble producing a follow-up. This was their only single of 1983 although their stock was still so high that, like their only single of 1982 Mirror Man, it reached number 2. Unusually, the verses of the song see each member of the band singing a line solo, almost as a premonition of the following year’s Do They Know It’s Christmas and every charity ensemble recording since. The League would return to the top ten and the Now series, but not with anything from their next album Hysteria.

5. HOWARD JONES – New Song

The first of ten top 40 hits for High Wycombe’s finest, New Song was an uplifting statement of self-belief, despite its pedestrian title. This early phase of Jones’s career is also his most fondly remembered, largely due to the efforts of his sidekick, mime artist Jed Hoile, who would silently interpret Jones’s songs and throw off his metaphorical mental chains until the cows came home. New Song reached number 3 and would be Howard’s second biggest UK hit.

6. UB40 – Please Don’t Make Me Cry

The second single from Labour Of Love and the band’s second of countless Now appearances, as befits one of the most successful singles acts of the ’80s. This one was originally recorded by Jamaican reggae star Winston Groovy in 1970; UB40’s version reached number 10.

7. PEABO BRYSON & ROBERTA FLACK – Tonight I Celebrate My Love

Roberta Flack had been scoring hits for over a decade, including such classics as The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and Killing Me Softly With His Song, while Peabo Bryson (yes, that is his real name) was a complete unknown in the UK despite achieving dozens of hits on the US R&B chart. This sweet ballad was the biggest hit either party ever managed on these shores, reaching number 2. Bryson found further success with Disney songs Beauty And The Beast (with Celine Dion) and A Whole New World (with Regina Belle), while Flack’s only subsequent hit was 1989’s bafflingly titled Uh-Uh Ooh Ooh Look Out (Here It Comes).


1. TRACEY ULLMAN – They Don’t Know

Well known for her role in BBC TV’s Three Of A Kind comedy sketch show, Tracey Ullman branched out into a very ’60s influenced musical career in 1983, charting with covers of Jackie DeShannon’s Breakaway, Doris Day’s Move Over Darling and this gem, originally recorded by its composer Kirsty MacColl in 1979. Tracey went on to cover several of Kirsty’s songs, including the title track of her début album You Broke My Heart In 17 Places.

2. WILL POWERS – Kissing With Confidence

Novelty record alert! Photographer Lynn Goldsmith created this clever parody, her voice pitch-shifted downward to create fictional self-help therapist Will Powers who gave useful smooching tips (“Is your breath fresh? Do you have spinach on your teeth?”) with help from an all-star cast of musicians including Nile Rodgers, Steve Winwood, Todd Rundgren and Carly Simon. For those with severe problems Goldsmith stretched out the joke to fill an entire album, Dancing For Mental Health, although this number 17 hit is probably enough for most people.

3. GENESIS – That’s All

As Phil Collins’ solo career took him in a more commercial direction, so his band followed suit. This simple piano-led pop song could easily have fitted onto a Collins solo record, but instead became a top twenty hit for Genesis, despite being about as far removed from the twenty-odd minute conceptual pieces of their prog rock heyday as it’s possible to imagine. Genesis would continue to tread the fine line between pleasing old fans and gaining new ones for another decade before Collins threw in the towel.

4. THE CURE – The Love Cats

Having made a concerted effort to be less gloomy, The Cure broke into the top twenty for the first time in the summer of 1983 with The Walk and followed it up with this, their first top ten hit. In fact 1983 was a busy year for frontman Robert Smith; he also found time to become temporary guitarist with Siouxsie & The Banshees and record an album with Banshees bassist Steve Severin as The Glove. Smith devoted most of his time to The Cure from 1984 onwards, becoming perhaps the biggest cult act of the decade. The Love Cats was not the band’s biggest UK hit – you’ll find that on Now 15 and it may surprise you.

5. SIMPLE MINDS – Waterfront

After breaking through in 1982 with top twenty hits Promised You A Miracle and Glittering Prize, this was the point where Simple Minds began to poke a hole in their synthpop cocoon and prepare to emerge as a fully-fledged stadium rock, er, butterfly. Within a couple of years they would conquer the States with songs whose basslines included more than one note. For the moment though, this would be the band’s joint biggest hit to date, a fortunate success for the Now compilers as the single hadn’t even been released when the album was put together.

6. MADNESS – The Sun And The Rain

The end of Madness’s imperial phase, this bittersweet ode to the British weather was the last of their fifteen top ten hits in four years. 1983 was the year the Nutty Boys sort-of conquered America, scoring a massive US hit with Our House but not quite managing to follow it up, ironically branding one of the most successful UK singles acts of all time “one hit wonders” in the States, although this single did manage to limp to number 72 across the pond.

7. CULTURE CLUB – Victims

“Almost certain number 1 by the time you have this LP,” offered the sleevenotes, hopefully. In fact this lush ballad, which had seemed a shoo-in for the Christmas number 1 spot, was eventually held at number 3 by the unexpected return of Slade and the bizarre spectacle of the Flying Pickets covering Yazoo’s Only You – but more of that on Now 2.

Also Available

In addition to the LP and cassette formats, a “video selection” was released on VHS, Betamax and Laserdisc. This would become standard practice for all Now albums right up until Now 20 in 1991, although by the end of the decade these releases were VHS only. All video selections followed the same pattern: somewhere in the region of twenty promo videos, some drawn from the LP/cassette tracklisting, some not. For this first release the vast majority of tracks came from the main album, including multiple instances of Phil Collins, UB40 and Kajagoogoo, but with the addition of I.O.U. by Freeez, Never Never by The Assembly and Hold Me Now by the Thompson Twins. The latter would appear on the next Now LP and cassette, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

1. PHIL COLLINS – You Can’t Hurry Love
2. DURAN DURAN – Is There Something I Should Know
3. UB40 – Red Red Wine
4. LIMAHL – Only For Love
5. HEAVEN 17 – Temptation
6. MALCOLM McLAREN – Double Dutch
7. CULTURE CLUB – Karma Chameleon
8. MEN WITHOUT HATS – The Safety Dance
10. MIKE OLDFIELD – Moonlight Shadow
11. ROCKSTEADY CREW – (Hey You) The Rocksteady Crew
12. TINA TURNER – Let’s Stay Together
13. FREEEZ – I.O.U.
14. HOWARD JONES – New Song
15. UB40 – Please Don’t Make Me Cry
16. WILL POWERS – Kissing With Confidence
17. GENESIS – That’s All
18. KAJAGOOGOO – Big Apple
19. THE ASSEMBLY – Never Never
20. THOMPSON TWINS – Hold Me Now
21. PEABO BRYSON & ROBERTA FLACK – Tonight I Celebrate My Love

Liked it? Take a second to support The Sound of the Crowd on Patreon!