Last week, the Now That's What I Call Music! series reached a milestone when it released its 50th hits compilation album in the U.S. To commemorate the occasion, Soundcheck producer Katie Bishop listened back to the very first Now album -- which first came out in the fall of 1998. Did you grow up with the Now series? Leave a comment below, or call us at 866 939 1612.
When that very first American edition of Now That’s What I Call Music! was released, I was 12 years old, liked to wear “tech vests” (a fashion trend I hope is burning in hell) and had an orthodontist so evil that she ordered me to wear rubber bands in squares around my front teeth, so that every time I opened my mouth it appeared that several large white strings of spit were extending straight down between my top and bottom sets of braces. Also, I read my school's morning announcements.
Times were tough.
Listening back to that very first Now album is like being transported back in a time machine -- an awkward, mildly sweaty one -- to my somewhat tortured 7th grade self. I’m reminded of how hungry I was for music that was “cool,” and that maybe, somehow, could make me cool. “Are you ready for Now?” the ubiquitous infomercial asked over a music bed of the Backstreet Boys’ “As Long As You Love Me.”
“Move into a new dimension with the year’s biggest songs!”
Quite frankly, I wasn’t really ready for Now, nor was I even ready for yesterday. But I was definitely ready to move into a new dimension (or at least social sphere) by wholeheartedly embracing the songs on that first album. Each track, like Janet Jackson’s “Together Again” and Bryan McKnight’s “Anytime” brings back another flush of memories from a time when every song seemed to so perfectly summarize what was happening in my life at the time -- at least, I thought so.
“I wanna publish ‘zines and rage against machines,” sang Harvey Danger in “Flagpole Sitta.” (I too want to write for magazines someday!) “I’m giving you everything,” sang the Spice Girls. (Maybe if I give that boy a present, he'll "go out" with me!) At school dances, we belted Aqua’s oh-so-daring “Barbie Girl” at the top of our lungs ("undress me everywhere!") -- just to make it clear that Barbie now meant something completely different to us than it had, oh, 12 months prior.
I had only vaguest notion of what any of it was really about. I just hoped that by listening and singing along, I’d absorb some of that “now”-ness through my flimsy foam headphones.
Today, 16 years and 50 Nows later, it seems sort of unbelievable that this CD-centered business model still exists, in an era of customized playlists, digital downloads and on-demand streaming. Then again, that universal need for belonging -- to feel current and up on popular music and culture -- has never gone away (particularly for the middle school set). And, as skin-crawlingly embarrassing as it is, listening back to that first Now album is like popping open a memory-filled time capsule of my younger self -- which, if nothing else, is good for a laugh.