Niall Anderson has listened to to all of the Now That’s What I Call Music Albums so you don’t have to
The saddest and most interesting place I’ve ever been in London is the Old Vinyl Factory in Hayes. In its 1950s salad days, when it was owned by HMV, it employed 10,000 people, producing and packaging the label’s roster of recording artists. When I visited the site in 2008, it was owned by EMI and employed just four people: two of them part-time. A 17-acre site occupied by a maximum of two people daily, all there to manage the EMI archive. With its empty concrete offices and effusively strewn barbed wire, it was like visiting a post-apocalyptic prison camp.
I asked one of the archivists what he spent his time doing. ‘We’re only really busy around Christmas when the compilation albums get made,’ he said, and with that took me around the archives. Master reels of Beatles albums, signed gold and platinum discs by The Beach Boys, Scott Walker’s hesitant signature on a two-album contract in 1981 (only one album appeared: 1982’s Climate Of Hunter). Gold-dust for the archivist and pop aficionado. I happen to be both.
So as a tribute to the discouraged archivists, I decided I’d listen to EMI’s own historical effort at canonising pop: the Now That’s What I Call Music series. All of it. Currently running to 83 volumes (or 10 days of continuous listening), it has valid claims to being the biggest selling compilation series of all time. The Top Of The Pops albums aren’t pop enough! The Motown Chartbusters comps didn’t bust enough charts! Even unimpeachable pop blockbusters like Thriller and ABBA Gold haven’t sold in the quantities that the Now! series has. We’re talking about a collection of songs popular enough and deep enough to be worth an extended trawl. Ladies and gentlemen, this is it. This is pop.
Continue reading Pig’s Ear