One man’s journey through 15+ years of top-hits history…
In October of 1998, the “NOW That’s What I Call Music” series finally hit American shelves. The blaring infomercials invaded televisions and citizens called in, trying to get their hands on it at a cost of $15.98 for the cassette and $17.98 for the CD, both with $4.95 for shipping and handling. The album contained 17 of the “hottest” songs of the time (today, there are 54 entries in the main series for the United States).
In 1998, I was seven years old, in the middle of the second grade. As a kid whose single mom worked some late hours, the television and I were pretty good friends. I became intimately familiar with the NOW spot. The music intrigued me simply because I hadn’t heard most of it. Living in the rural south put me in kind of a pop-culture dead-zone, especially before the advent of widespread internet access. How was this popular music if I had never heard it on the radio? It wasn’t Shania Twain. It wasn’t Randy Travis. This was not my popular music.
My mother, however, somehow heard Fastball’s “The Way” and fell in love. My brother and I decided that NOW was the only place that song could possibly exist because that was the only place we had heard it, and with help from our dad, we ordered that tape for our mother’s Christmas gift.
When she wasn’t listening to it, I snuck the tape away several times to listen to this “popular” music. Of course, I recognized some of the biggest names: Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, and the infamous Hanson. Their songs and “The Way” were what I listened to most. The other songs were just too bizarre or boring for my little seven-year-old brain.
So, I decided to look back and compare what kid-me thought of these songs compared to adult me. That’s always a good idea.
The album opens up with Janet Jackson’s “Together Again.” I honestly cannot remember Janet Jackson being popular at the time. I always thought she fit more in the late 80s – early 90s category. But admittedly, the synth-heavy, fast-paced-yet-quiet song seems like a transitional one with a beat fit for the older era and sounds for the newer one. I didn’t even remember this song was on the album and I can see why. It’s not very memorable to me.
The Backstreet Boys’ “As Long As You Love Me” comes second. I guarantee that many of you can remember some of the words right now. The simplistic, straightforward love songs of that generation were even popular to second-graders and I remember many kids in class talking about these guys. Personally, I think songs like this one, Hanson’s “Mmmbop,” and Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” are parts of the 90s that need to stay there.
“The Way” by Fastball, the song that started the “NOW” adventure for me, is a stark departure from the two before it. This track is one of the few songs on the album that departs from the drum-machine, robo-music that pervades the rest of the album.
Funnily enough, some of the songs I only know through parodies by Weird Al Yankovich. “Zoot Suit Riot” by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies was parodied into “Grapefruit Diet” by Yankovich. “Sex & Candy” by Marcy Playground and “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger were both featured in his famous polka remixes. “Zoot Suit Riot” was one of the more entertaining songs on the album to me simply because it was so different from the rest. It’s a swing-and-jazz inspired tune that I still find highly entertaining today.
Songs that I disregarded as a kid are definitely more enjoyable today. “I Will Buy You a New Life” by Everclear and “If You Could Only See” by Tonic are two of the more prominent ones. The songs have a certain catchiness that must have bypassed me when I was younger.
Some songs that I bypassed as a kid, though, can still be bypased today. Bands that I’d never heard of as a kid such as Imajin, All Saints, and K-Ci & JoJo…I’ve still never heard of them. “NOW” is the only place I’ve ever encountered these “hits,” and I can understand why. Their music is hardly timeless.
It seems like hit music during the late 90s was a very mixed bag. From the classic rock vibes of “Fly Away” by Lenny Kravitz, to the upbeat techno of “Barbie Girl,” the “hits” seemed to be very eclectic. There were tracks that screamed 90s, such as the slow, grungy, rock songs, while others seemed to look towards the future of processed pop and boy-bands. The album shows off that special blend of the times: old, young, and what was to come.
In the end, I can’t discuss every song in detail. But, the plan is to come back each week and review the next album in the long-standing series. I’ll talk a little bit about my feelings on the music at that time, my feelings now, and whether or not I feel like those albums hold up. Next week will be “NOW 2,” followed by “NOW 3,” all the way up to whatever the current one is when I finish this project.
That’s right. I’m listening to every “NOW” album. Every. Single. One.
I encourage anyone reading along to share your thoughts, memories, and own analyses with me and the rest of the Just Us Geeks crew! I will probably only survive this project knowing that some other poor soul is joining me in my quest. I can only hope that you will stick with me through the long haul.
For those of you that were curious, here’s the full track listing for “NOW That’s What I Call Music 1.”
1. “Together Again” by Janet Jackson
2. “As Long as You Love Me” by Backstreet Boys
3. “The Way” by Fastball
4. “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger
5. “Say You’ll Be There” by Spice Girls
6. “All My Life” by K-Ci & JoJo
7. “Never End” by All Saints
8. “If You Could Only See” by Tonic
9. “Mmmbop” by Hanson
10. “Zoot Suit Riot” by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies
11. “Shorty (You Keep Playin’ with My Mind) by Imajin
12. “Anytime” by Brian McKnight
13. “Barbie Girl” by Aqua
14. “Karma Police” by Radiohead
15. “I Will Buy You a New Life” by Everclear
16. “Fly Away” by Lenny Kravitz
17. “Sex & Candy” by Marcy Playground
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