On Monday the 28 November 1983, Ronald Regan sat twiddling his thumbs in the White House watching the STS-9 shuttle ping itself into the depths of space. While that was going on a few miles above earth, we busied ourselves on this side of the pond with something far more important than conducting experiments into plasma physics, astrobiology, and sending unimaginably heavy and complex machines filled with human beings into space.
That morning the very first edition of Now That’s What I Call Music slid onto the shelves of HMVs from Liverpool to Llandudno, and the face of British pop culture consumption changed forever.
Older than the Macintosh PC, the Air Jordan, and the entire World Cup winning French squad, the Now series has finally notched up 100 editions, each stuffed to the gills with the kind of pop hits that pack a potent enough nostalgic punch to floor unwitting listeners.
That’s 100 editions of the flagship series, by the way. Combine that with the likes of Now That’s What I Call Driving Rock, or Reggae Party, or Footie Anthems and its little wonder that Now can boast of being “the biggest selling compilation brand in the world.”
Here at It’s Nice That, we don’t mind footie anthems, reggae parties, or driving rock. In fact we quite like those things, to a degree. But what we’re more interested in, on this must hallowed of days, is placing Now in a visual context.
As objects, and as ideas, the Nows that litter charity shops and the glove compartments of seen-better-days people carriers up and down the country are primarily functional. End-of and mid-year money savers, they are cheap and cheerful. And they look it, too.
Take a trip to the Now website and you can scroll through a pleasingly interactive timeline that presents the series in factoid-littered chronological order. You’ll notice that after rather anodyne first and second editions, the team decided to inject a bit of personality into procedings. Which, for Now’s three, four, and five they did with a pig. In sunglasses. This, for reasons that are probably best left kept in the matte black confines of a mid-80srecord label HQ, was the big idea. This was how they were going to sell yet another chart compilation to the nation. With a pig in sunglasses.
Audiences obviously responded somewhat negatively to the porcine mascot, and by Now 6, the sty-dwelling miscreant found himself replaced by what seems to be the back pocket of a pair of leather trousers. The rest of the decade played out in a similarly textural, but notably drab fashion.
Then the 1990s arrived. With them came a focus on big blocky type, first displayed on November’s Now 18. Oddly for a record that featured Tina Turner, Elton John, and the Righteous Brothers – during the height of acid house’s ecstasy fuelled reimagining of British society – it was a harbinger of the future.
A year later, the format we’ve come to know and love was born. Now 20 is a behemoth of high street design, a psuedo-3D render that screams summer holidays, long car journeys, miserable half-term mornings in fading late-afternoon mid-winter light. It is when Now truly came to life.
Since then, the designers have changed very little. Very, very little. The Pantone chart has been plundered every which way, and the backgrounds — rollercoasters! Icy winter wonderlands! Biplanes cruising anachronistically past palm trees! – have been given a layer of (mild) complexity, but the fundamentals have stayed enjoyably static. The big blocky type sits there, proud as a sphinx, inviting you into a world of musical ephemera.
Like the Little Chef logo or the Nike swoosh, the solid sameness of Now provides a moment of calm in an epoch marked by hysterical atomisation. You’ll probably never buy another _Now _compilation again — because why would you —but that isn’t the point. Like cockroaches at Armageddon, Now will always sit there on supermarket shelves.
After 100 editions, changing the face of Now would, we’d wager, put the entire universe out of sync. Charmingly naff, it is an indelible part of our shared visual heritage.