The Hits Album versus Now 4

In celebration of ‘Now 4’ arriving in full on CD, SDE explores the pop compilation battle to rule them all. It’s late ’84 and that pocket money isn’t going to spend itself – but which to choose? In the red corner, new kid on the block ‘The Hits Album’ and in the blue corner, the reigning champion ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ (#4). Ian Wade is your guide….

November 1984, and one of pop’s most extraordinary years was drawing to a close, ending as spectacularly when every pop star imaginable ended up on the Christmas No.1. Duran Duran were in their pomp, Wham! had embarked on a gold run, the biggest new group in the country, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, had spent a quarter of the year at the top spot and while Michael Jackson was still everywhere, Prince and Madonna’s threat level to his crown had upgraded.

All while that was going on, there was another battle brewing…

Having reinvigorated the compilation market and leaving the likes of Ronco and K-Tel for dead, the first Now That’s What I Call Music had suddenly created a brand and the sales to suggest it could go far, having featured the biggest hits of 1983 together, chiefly from the Virgin/ EMI/ Polygram (now Universal) stables. Eyeing that success, the remaining major labels CBS (now Sony BMG), BMG and WEA (now Warners) glanced through the hits they’d accumulated during 1984 and cast themselves as rivals with the release of The Hits Album.

The Hits Album arrived with great fanfare a week before Now 4 and kept it bay, denying the emerging Now series another No.1, and making it the only Now to not top the charts. Ironically, it’s unlikely to claim a No.1 slot now as it’s now released the same day as latest installment Now 104. Now That’s What I Call Music 4 will forever be considered the bridesmaid to the rest of the series. The last laugh would be Now’s, though, as having agreed to stagger their releases in the future, The Hits Album strolled on to a varying degree of memorability onto nine official editions, and then sort-of rebranded over the remaining years with not much of a cohesive mood design wise. Now That’s What I Call Music, as we’ve established, has arrived at volume 104, and the brand also has a string of ace themed compilations covering Christmas, Forgotten 70s and 90s editions, and a second volume of Forgotten 80s coming soon too.

Now 4 also holds the record for Most Obscene Amount Spent On A Now Album (trust me, I’m sure Guinness are onto it) with copies of the limited edited down single CD version of the album – the first Now CD in fact – going for a whopping £700 on Discogs.

Back to November 1984 now, though, and pop fans faced something of a Sophie’s Choice. Many knew that they would be getting Now 4 in their festive stockings, but secretly wishing they had asked for The Hits Album instead, and vice versa. Others would impatiently huff through the season of ‘Last Christmas’ and Band Aid waiting for the shops to reopen so that they could either exchange or buy their favoured ones with record tokens. After a lengthy debate* (*a brief email exchange) SDE concluded that The Hits Album was the better of the two, but I (Ian) decided to conduct a scientific experiment to see if that was really true. So, I decided to pitch the two albums, track against track, to see and ultimately prove who the victor was after these 35 years of turmoil. Please find my findings attached.

(Hits) Freedom / Wham!
(Now) No More Lonely Nights / Paul McCartney

A very strong opening gambit, ‘Freedom’ was the overlooked chart-topper, a top-grade pop hit yes, but when you think of George and Andrew’s imperial phase in 1984 it’s usually the fourth single you think of, after ‘Wake Me Up…’, ‘Last Christmas’ and even George’s ‘Careless Whisper’. Outside of his work with The Beatles, Wings and the Frog Chorus, ‘No More Lonely Nights’ is one of Macca’s last huge classic solo singles and was, and now is presented on Now 4 in a special Arthur Baker mix that gives it the exclusivity brag.

Verdict: Now 4

(Hits) Like To Get To Know You Well / Howard Jones
(Now) Together In Electric Dreams / Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder

Dear old Howard, with his healthy relatable synthpop was fresh into his chart career with his top-selling debut album Human’s Lib and this summer hit based around a theme of world unity. Whereas, Phil Oakey and Giorgio Moroder had been operating at the Electronic Pop coalface for years, and really, when you have ‘Love Action’ and ‘I Feel Love’ on your CVs, it’s a no-brainer. Plus ‘Together in Electric Dreams’ has been drunkenly bellowed along to in more pubs, clubs and car journeys since its inception than any Jones number.

Verdict: Now 4

(Hits) All Cried Out / Alison Moyet
(Now) Why? / Bronski Beat

Alison Moyet had launched her solo career earlier in the year with the racy ‘Love Resurrection’, and was about to sell shedloads of her debut album Alf, yet Bronski Beat’s ‘Why?’ was a politically charged powerhouse of Hi-NRG. While we love Alison, the Bronskis get this.

Verdict: Now 4

(Hits) I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down / Paul Young
(Now) The Never Ending Story / Limahl

He’d end the year spending five weeks at No.9 with the that’s-more-like-it ‘Everything Must Change’, but Paul Young’s cover of the Ann Peebles number was a rum comeback single after the ubiquitousness of No Parlez. Limahl, however, was mid last-pop-gasp with his Moroder-assisted theme to the film of the same name, and has probably done better out of the PRS of it over the years.

Verdict: Now 4

(Hits) Big in Japan / Alphaville
(Now) Warning Sign / Nick Heyward

Cultural appropriation wasn’t the thing it is now, back in the 1980s, especially with the somewhat dodgy approach to the far east. Naturally Japan made it an art form and people turned a blind eye to them due to David Sylvian’s lovely hair, but the less said about Aneka’s ‘Japanese Boy’, the better. However! Alphaville were German and we forgave any patronising thoughts, as ‘Big in Japan’ is a solid classic. Nick Heyward’s ‘Warning Sign’ wasn’t shoddy either, but it was no ‘Favourite Shirts’, eh kids?

Verdict: Hits

(Hits) Self Control / Laura Branigan
(Now) Missing You / John Waite

Babys frontman John Waite’s hot city night-tastic ‘Missing You’ was a bit professional and boring back in the day, but with age comes wisdom and it’s grown into a top toe-tap. Unfortunately for this exercise though, he’s up against lungsmith Laura Branigan whose colossal “WO-OH-OH” assisted RAF cover about living among the creatures of the night wins on this occasion.

Verdict: Hits

(Hits) Ghostbusters / Ray Parker Jr
(Now) Farewell My Summer Love / Michael Jackson

Now, ‘Ghostbusters’ crops up on both Now 4 and Hits, so gets two opportunities to impress the judges. Even up against an excavated oldie by a pre ‘all that business’ Michael Jackson, it stands tall. Will it triumph again in our scientific findings? (Clue: no.)

Verdict: Hits

(Hits) Thriller / Michael Jackson
(Now) Hello / Lionel Richie

Speaking of Jacko, whether he’s currently cancelled or not, there’s still no escaping the genius of Thriller and virtually every track off it released as a single. It was by far a mass discussion video event. Lionel’s ‘Hello’ also was a bit of a video event even if the ‘event’ bit of it was discovering that the lady he was mooning over was visually impaired and made a slightly creepy clay effigy of Mr Richie. Suddenly Michael Jackson becoming a zombie seemed more believable as a promo treatment.

Verdict: Hits

(Hits) I Feel for You / Chaka Khan
(Now) The War Song / Culture Club

Everybody remembers the first time they heard ‘The War Song’, and how it was followed by a mass “GOOD GRIEF”. Fair to say that it wasn’t a vintage Culture Club number. It’s almost wrong to pair it against the clattering Prince-written and Stevie Wonder/ Melle Mel assisted masterpiece that was Chaka Khan’s ‘I Feel For You’. Poor ‘The War Song’.

Verdict: Hits

(Hits) Caribbean Queen / Billy Ocean
(Now) Passengers / Elton John

Last seen on Top of the Pops in the late seventies in a tight light blue suit, Billy Ocean’s unexpected back. Back. BACK renaissance in the 80s began with ‘Caribbean Queen’ and before you knew it he was a trans-atlantic chart-topper. ‘Passengers’ isn’t particularly bad either, if not vintage Reg, but one can forgive him the odd misfire as he’d just got married during the accompanying album (Breaking Hearts) and was busy settling down with his wife.

Verdict: Hits

(Hits) Body / The Jacksons
(Now) Too Late For Goodbyes / Julian Lennon

Family fortunes time now, and I doubt even The Jacksons themselves can remember their Top 94 “smash” ‘Body’, whereas Julian was the freshly crowned Best New Act of the year in Smash Hits’ Reader’s Poll and looked set to set fire to the rest of decade’s charts. Ahem.

Verdict: Now 4

(Hits) Just Be Good to Me / The S.O.S. Band
(Now) Shout To The Top / The Style Council

As befitting a politically-aware musician such as Weller, his fans are really quite keen on voting, as a recent online poll suggested that ‘Shout To The Top’ was the Best Single of 1984. Hmmm. It wasn’t even the Best Single released that particular week (that was ‘Freedom’ by the Wham!). Anyway, ‘Just Be Good To Me’ still sounds enormous and amazing like a vast undersea city erupting to the surface (or something) plus effectively gave Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis their first big hit as producers.

Verdict: Hits

(Hits) Let’s Hear It For The Boy / Deniece Williams
(Now) Doctor Doctor / The Thompson Twins

A trope of many a talent show, such as Strictly is that the judges ignore previous efforts and focus on that one performance in a dance off. Deniece would win this category due to her magisterial ‘Free’ chart-topper hands down, but ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’ is a different kettle of light-80s frothy pop fish, and so ‘Doctor Doctor’ gets this by a nose.

Verdict: Now 4

(Hits) Dr. Beat / Miami Sound Machine
(Now) Sunset Now / Heaven 17

‘Sunset Now’ was great, but can you imagine yourself in a poolside bar mildly off your tits attempting a salsa to it? No. No you cannot. Hence Gloria Estefan’s Latin-flavoured tale of a disco-themed paediatrician gets the vote.

Verdict: Hits

(Hits) Lost in Music / Sister Sledge
(Now) Respect Yourself / The Kane Gang

You’d be forgiven for imagining that Sister Sledge essentially had one album – 1978’s We Are Family – seeing as they kept having hits from it some six years later. Of course, if we were discussing their 1985 No.1 ‘Frankie’ this would be a different outcome, but The Kane Gang’s cover of the Staple Singers classic pales somewhat up against Chic’s production even in a reswizzled version.

Verdict: Hits

(Hits) Purple Rain / Prince and The Revolution
(Now) Private Dancer / Tina Turner

Tina pretty much owes her career rebirth to Now. Her cover of ‘Let’s Stay Together’ was still on the ascent up the charts when it was included on the first Now album – the original sleeve notes had it as ‘destined to be a smash hit’. By the end of 1984 she’d rightfully become a huge solo star, thanks to the presence of her Private Dancer album, and this Mark Knopfler-written title track. But to pitch it against Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’, the title track from the film and album then currently halfway through a SIX MONTH spell at No.1 on the Billboard charts is, well, to put it mildly, unfair.

Verdict: Hits

(Hits) Careless Whisper / George Michael
(Now) It’s A Hard Life / Queen

Queen had managed to follow-up the career highlight of 1982’s Hot Space with 1984’s The Works, which saw them reverting to a more Queen-like sound with hits such as ‘Radio Gaga’ and ‘I Want To Break Free’. However ‘It’s A Hard Life’ isn’t either of those, and frankly isn’t even on the same level as ‘Careless Whisper’. Not much is.

Verdict: Hits

(Hits) Drive / The Cars
(Now) The Wanderer / Status Quo

While both acts would eventually be high points of the following year’s Live Aid, with Quo kicking off proceedings and The Cars’ ‘Drive’ soundtracking some harrowing famine footage. Alas, Status Quo’s Dion cover here was the first sign of a rot starting to set in with the be-denimed rockers, having spent much of the eighties so far ‘coked up and hating each other’ and turning the gents toilet at Sarm Studios during the recording of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ into a buffet of sniff. Personally one would’ve pulled the plug after the release of 12 Gold Bars, but there’s no telling some people.

Verdict: Hits

(Hits) Hard Habit To Break / Chicago
(Now) East Of Eden / Big Country

Chicago had morphed from bluesin’ rockers to smoochy balladeers, before levelling out into a sort-of Cab FM power ballad afterlife with the likes of ‘Hard To Say I’m Sorry’ and ‘Hard Habit To Break’. Big Country meanwhile had binned the tartan affectations of their breakthrough hits and become one of the UK’s big new rock bands set to follow then-fellow rivals U2 into the stadiums.

Verdict: Now 4

(Hits) All Through the Night / Cyndi Lauper
(Now) Pride (In The Name Of Love) / U2

Speaking of which, this is where U2 began their properly big phase. The first single off The Unforgettable Fire had become their biggest hit to date, and within the next 12 months they’d be one of the biggest bands in the world. Cyndi wasn’t having a terrible 1984 either to be fair, but she herself would concede that ‘Pride’ is the better number of these two.

Verdict: Now 4

(Hits) Sister of Mercy / Thompson Twins
(Now) Listen To Your Father / Feargal Sharkey

Still quite post-Undertones, Feargal’s first foray into the solo sphere after his collaboration as part of The Assembly, was this Madness-assisted number that has got lost in time due to ‘A Good Heart’’s success, but still sounds great up against the decidedly flimsy ‘Sister of Mercy’. Now, had it been the actual Sisters of Mercy

Verdict: Now 4 

(Hits) Skin Deep / The Stranglers
(Now) Tesla Girls / Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark

‘Skin Deep’ was a great, if somewhat smoother, side of The Stranglers after their first brace of jolly hits about murderers, rapists, ladies’ bottoms and heroin, although OMD’s 1984 chart resurgence after 1983’s ill-selling masterpiece Dazzle Ships saw them back on top with a string of smashes.

Verdict: Now 4 

(Hits) Each and Every One / Everything but the Girl
(Now) The Second Time / Kim Wilde

No one stands in the way of our love for the charms of Kim Wilde, even if ‘The Second Time’ barely registers with even her biggest fans. Accompanied by – as was the law in 1984 – a video filmed during a nuclear attack, ‘The Second Time’ seems a lot of effort up against the breezin’ jazzy charms of Everything But The Girl.

Verdict: Hits

(Hits) Smooth Operator / Sade
(Now) Human Racing / Nik Kershaw

Ipswich was put firmly on the UK pop music map during 1984 thanks to the Duran-feted, be-snooded singer-songwriter Nik Kershaw and his handful of hits, but the world’s coffee tables belonged to Sade and her swoonsome Diamond Life long-player. Plus, you could probably recall ‘Smooth Operator’ at gunpoint, whereas a verse of ‘Human Racing’ might prove tricky.

Verdict: Hits

(Hits) Gimme All Your Lovin’ / ZZ Top
(Now) Ghostbusters / Ray Parker Jr

Ray Parker Jr may have dispatched early Jacko earlier, but on this occasion, up against the turbo futurist-boogie of ZZ Top – who broke through that year with Eliminator, and soon everyone’s key fact was that the one without a beard was called Frank Beard – he doesn’t stand a chance.

Verdict: Hits

(Hits) Jump / Van Halen
(Now) If It Happens Again / UB40

We will gladly put the case for UB40 being utterly magnificent for their first seven/ eight years of existence, but even so, Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ operates in a different orbit of amazingness entirely and wins this by a large margin.

Verdict: Hits

(Hits) Footloose / Kenny Loggins
(Now) Jump (For My Love) / The Pointer Sisters

Kenny Loggins’ ‘Footloose’ was the bane of many a motorist’s life, encouraging the youth to fight smalltown oppression by dancing on top of cars. For that reason alone we’re Team Pointer Sisters.

Verdict: Now 4 

(Hits) Apollo 9 / Adam Ant
(Now) Hot Water / Level 42

Perhaps Adam Ant’s last splash before his extremely odd appearance at Live Aid the following year, ‘Apollo 9’ is a clattering astronaut-themed glam romp which is seated close to the main table at the wedding reception of his output. Although ‘Hot Water’ holds fonder memories for this correspondent as they were the first band he saw live around this time and they fair blew his mind.

Verdict: Now 4

(Hits) Modern Girl / Meat Loaf
(Now) Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four) / Eurythmics

Literally the sound of the year, soundtracking the fun-free film adaptation of George Orwell’s book 1984, Eurythmics showed off their new sampler to great effect with all its “sex-sex-sex-sex-s-s-s-s-sex-sex-sex-CRIME” stutterings. No shade to Meatloaf’s ode to female empowerment, but ‘Sexcrime’ still shines as an example of a band mid pop-goldrush.

Verdict: Now 4

(Hits) Some Guys Have All the Luck / Rod Stewart
(Now) Somebody’s Watching Me / Rockwell

Yes, everyone loves Rod and Rod covering Robert Palmer’s cover of The Persuaders’ 1973 hit is great and all, but the sole hit by son of Motown inventor Berry Gordy, Rockwell’s ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ featured backing vocals by Michael and Jermaine Jackson and is far more year-appropriate.

Verdict: Now 4

(Hits) Teardrops / Shakin’ Stevens
(Now) Madam Butterfly (Un Bel Di Vedremo) / Malcolm McLaren

He turned rock ‘n’ roll on its head with SHOCK, appalled society and tried to destroy the establishment, but by 1984 Shakin’ Stevens’ luck was starting to run out. Meanwhile having invented scratching, African rhythm and skipping, Malcolm McLaren turned his hand to bringing opera to the masses in a way Queen never managed, and literally grafted bits of Puccini’s tale of doomed romance into a tune while having a bit of a mutter over it.

Verdict: Now 4

(Hits) Hole in My Shoe / neil
(Now) Gotta Get You Home Tonight / Eugene Wilde

It’s hard to really indicate how revolutionary riotous house share sitcom The Young Ones was to a new generation obviously quite au fait with seeing punks decapitated by train tunnels, neurotic virgins fighting fascism with poetry and in-jokes about Cliff Richard before Motorhead suddenly turn up in the living room. However, by 1984 after the second and final series ended, Neil (played by Nigel Planer) was eking out the public’s enthusiasm with his own album, based around his hopeless hippy character. The truth is, you’d gladly not care about hearing ‘Hole In My Shoe’ again, but have probably subconsciously had plenty of exposure to Eugene Wilde’s loverman smooch ‘Gotta Get You Home Tonight’ over the years. While he may not have troubled the charts again, Wilde’s career as a songwriter for the likes of Britney, Backstreet Boys and, um, Victoria Beckham have seen his songs sell over 60 million copies. Fancy that!

Verdict: Now 4

 Final score:  Now 4 = 16 – The Hits Album = 16

So there you have it. Conclusive PROOF that the two albums are equal in their magnificence. Admittedly, both albums had a few stinkers between them, and Now 4 missed a trick by not obtaining ‘The Wild Boys’ or ‘The Power Of Love’ to boost its appeal, but then Hits could’ve wooed something like ‘Holiday’ or ‘Like A Virgin’ from Madonna. The peculiar thing is that, in this new world of labels and licensing, all the labels involved are almost one big mass, and it’s Sony who are now reissuing Now 4, there could’ve feasibly been an opportunity to reissue The Hits Album on CD to see how it would fare today. Anyway. Hopefully you’ll agree with these actual facts and chip in with your congratulations below *turns off notifications*.

Now 4 is reissued today as a two-CD set.


CD 1

1. No More Lonely Nights / Paul McCartney
2 Together In Electric Dreams / Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder*
3 Why? / Bronski Beat*
4 The Never Ending Story / Limahl
5 Warning Sign / Nick Heyward
6 Missing You / John Waite*
7 Farewell My Summer Love / Michael Jackson
8 Hello / Lionel Richie
9 The War Song / Culture Club*
10 Passengers / Elton John
11 Too Late For Goodbyes / Julian Lennon*
12 Shout To The Top /  The Style Council*
13 Doctor Doctor / The Thompson Twins*
14 Sunset Now / Heaven 17
15 Respect Yourself / The Kane Gang
16 Private Dancer (Single Edit) / Tina Turner

CD 2

1 It’s A Hard Life / Queen
2 The Wanderer / Status Quo*
3 East Of Eden / Big Country
4 Pride (In The Name Of Love) / U2
5 Listen To Your Father / Feargal Sharkey
6 Tesla Girls / Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark*
7 The Second Time / Kim Wilde
8 Human Racing / Nik Kershaw
9 Ghostbusters / Ray Parker Jr*
10 If It Happens Again / UB40*
11 Jump (For My Love) / The Pointer Sister
12 Hot Water / Level 42
13 Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)/ Eurythmics
14 Somebody’s Watching Me / Rockwell
15 Madam Butterfly (Un Bel Di Vedremo) / Malcolm McLaren
16 Gotta Get You Home Tonight / Eugene Wilde

*on the original 1984 single CD edition, along with Duran Duran’s ‘The Reflex’, Tina Turner’s ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It (instead of ‘Private Dancer’), Phil Collins’ ‘Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now) and Queen’s Radio Ga Ga (instead of ‘It’s A Hard Life’)

This is the original track listing to The Hits Album

1 –Wham! Freedom
2 –Howard Jones Like To Get To Know You Well
3 –Alison Moyet All Cried Out
4 –Paul Young I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down
5 –Alphaville Big In Japan
6 –Laura Branigan Self Control
7 –Ray Parker Jr. Ghostbusters
8 –Michael Jackson Thriller
9 –Chaka Khan I Feel For You
10 –Billy Ocean Caribbean Queen
11 –The Jacksons Body
12 –The S.O.S. Band Just Be Good To Me
13 –Deniece Williams Let’s Hear It For The Boy
14 –Miami Sound Machine Dr. Beat
15 –Sister Sledge Lost In Music
16 –Prince And The Revolution Purple Rain
17 –George Michael Careless Whisper
18 –The Cars Drive
19 –Chicago (2) Hard Habit To Break
20 –Cyndi Lauper All Through The Night
21 –Thompson Twins Sister Of Mercy
22 –The Stranglers Skin Deep
23 –Everything But The Girl Each And Everyone
24 –Sade Smooth Operator
25 –ZZ Top Gimme All Your Lovin’
26 –Van Halen Jump
27 –Kenny Loggins Footloose
28 –Adam Ant Apollo 9
29 –Meat Loaf Modern Girl
30 –Rod Stewart Some Guys Have All The Luck
31 –Shakin’ Stevens Teardrops
32 –Neil (2) Hole In My Shoe

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