Like us on Facebook!

Let’s Revisit All of Now That’s What I Call Music! Vol. 1

The first volume of the US edition of Now That’s What I Call Music! came out in October 1998 and hit #10 on the Billboard album charts. The next 30 releases in the series all went platinum, half of them charted at #1, and NOW! Vol. 45 cracked the top 10 physical sales of 2013, confirming that there are over 400,000 Americans still willing to pay for mix CDs. The franchise is strong! But also: why? And how does the original hold up 15 years later? Let’s take this journey together. Feel free to listen along with the links. 

Track 1: Janet Jackson, “Together Again

Sweet Janet, there is SO much harp in this intro, very aural Bob Ross. “I’ll never forget you,” she whispers, and then she drops this incredible Motown-disco beat! There will always be a place for these max-sugar pop songs, like “I Love You Always Forever,” with such basic chord progressions that a five-year-old could memorize the song immediately and everyone’s guaranteed to remember the melody for all time.

How does it hold up? 8/10

What is the think piece that was blessedly not written about it? Together Again” and the AIDS Epidemic: Why Sentimentality Doesn’t Help

Track 2: Backstreet Boys, “As Long As You Love Me”

OH HELL YEAH, NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC. Actually, this sounds like the Seventh Heaven theme song. A beat destined to be reenacted by thousands of youth group band leaders armed with nothing but a shaker and their love of Christ; a celestial shimmer over top and ultra-sincere delivery; lyrics that collapse immediately upon any sort of extrapolation: “[Dear Kim Jong-Un,] I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you did, as long as you love me.” Video is included because the Backstreet Boys spend the whole time morphing into each other while doing choreographed chair dances.

How does it hold up? 6/10

What is the think piece that was blessedly not written about it? “What If They Were the Backstreet Girls? Analyzing the Casting Couch in the “As Long As You Love Me” Video”

Track 3: Fastball, “The Way

Okay, here is what this song is about: two parents who “drank up the wine” (same), packed their stuff, drove off into the night, started walking when their car breaks down, and then all of a sudden (catchy chorus!) “anyone can see the road that they walk on is paved with gold, it’s always summer, it never gets cold, they’ll never get hungry, they’ll never get old and gray.” Their shadows are “wandering off somewhere” and they don’t care that they’re never coming back to their abandoned children. Fastball: what is this hippie death fantasy you are peddling? We know the plan: to drink till the pain’s over. But what’s worse, the pain or the Winter’s Bone hellscape that awaits these orphans as soon as they wake up in the last verse?

How does it hold up? 5/10

What is the think piece that was blessedly not written about it? “For Baby Boomers, Malaise Beckons When Bohemia Ends”

Track 4: Harvey Danger, “Flagpole Sitta

I hate this song, but it’s chock full o’ hooks. Let’s do a quick Lyrical Edge Ranking. Solid start with #5 (“Been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding”), getting warmer with #4 (“I don’t even own a TV”), pretty sick brah at #3 (“I wanna pierce my tongue, it doesn’t hurt, it feels fine”), 90’s panties dropping at (“I wanna publish zines, and rage against machines”), and an evergreen clincher with #1 (“The agony and the irony, they’re killing me”).

How does it hold up? 5/10

What is the think piece that was blessedly not written about it? “10 Cartoon Characters That Look Like the Lead Singer of Harvey Danger”

Track 5: Spice Girls, “Say You’ll Be There”

I am including this video because I think it’s the cutest in the Spice Oeuvre, and also because of their video names: Katrina Highkick, Trixie Firecracker, Kung Fu Candy, Midnight Miss Suki, and Blazin Bad Zula. Not subtle, but that was never what the Spice Girls were about (MAKE THE BLACK GIRL THE SCARY ONE) and who can concentrate anyway when these ladies are so, so cute? I would wear any of those outfits. Oh, now they’re duct-taping a guy to the ground?

Posh spotted singing on the pre-chorus: Very Rare.

How does it hold up? 9/10

What is the think piece that was blessedly not written about it? “Feminism, All Dried Up: Why Shania Twain and the Spice Girls Film Girl Power Anthems in the Desert”

Track 6: K-Ci and JoJo, “All My Life

Impossible to hear this song without triggering a whole bunch of middle school muscle memory. I’m sweating, this girls’ dance circle is rapidly evaporating and no one’s coming for me, oh no, is it my body glitter, is it too much body glitter, HELP. If you have never noticed that the opening piano of this song is identical to the fourth bar forward of  “Dancing in the Moonlight,” it’s worth getting into for a second.

How does it hold up? 7/10

What is the think piece that was blessedly not written about it? “The New Oedipus in R&B: What Does It Mean to Be ‘Close To Me You’re Like My Mother'”

Track 7: All Saints, “Never Ever

“You can write it in a leh-uh,” but I REFUSE to sully this perfect song with my words.

How does it hold up? 9999/10

What is the think piece that was blessedly not written about it? “Never Ever is My Favorite Song of All Time,” by Jia Tolentino (0 words)

Track 8: Tonic, “If You Could Only See

What if these 90’s alt-rock singers talked the way they sang? “If yuh could onleh see the way she luvs meh,” drawled Tonic’s lead singer, sipping a Rolling Rock under the dim lamps of the bar. “If yuh could onleh see how blueh her aiz can be when she sez, when she sez sheh luvs meh.” His friend sighs. “Fucking chill out about this chick already.” Tonic replies: “If yuh could onleh see the way she luvs meh, maybe you would understand.”

I wonder what it was like to be one of these bands, seemingly caught between the desire to be Pearl Jam and the reality of being sub-Matchbox 20. Also, if you watch the music video, the girl who so captivates the lead singer of Tonic is definitely the Manic 90’s Dream Alt Chick—the broody, Winona-vibe waif that was in every Goo Goo Dolls video, “Story of a Girl,” “She’s So High,” etc. Is that girl okay now?? *checks the Style section* WHERE IS SHE AND HOW IS HER WORK-LIFE BALANCE

How does it hold up? 2/10

What is the think piece that was blessedly not written about it? n/a

Track 9: Hanson, “MMMBop” 

Let’s look at that hair. Let’s look at Taylor Hanson banging on the keyboards in a way that bears zero relationship to the backing track of the song and Zac in a Playskool commercial on the drums. They’re all hailing a cab now: Zac appears not to be riding in the booster seat that is required for him by law? Please, if you watch this video, do not miss their sassy hip-snaps at 2:00 and the fact that they are briefly green-screened onto the moon.

Here’s a fact! The chorus of this song is NOT a place-holder that was never changed (which is what I always thought) but the opposite; according to a producer friend of mine who worked with Zac for a hot second, the original chorus lyrics were removed. (“Babble is hot,” said the label exec, and the whole room nodded obediently.) Another fact: the brothers Hanson still perform this song, but they have to move it down a fourth. One last fact: if Hanson and Haim ever performed together, they’d all get sucked up to heaven in a glowing apotheosis of middle-parted sibling trios united across time.

How does it hold up? 6/10

What is the think piece that was blessedly not written about it? “The Hanson Brothers’s Haircuts: Trouble in Gender City”

Track 10: Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, “Zoot Suit Riot

I have been dreading listening to this song ever since I saw the track list, and it’s just as bad as I thought it would be. What was this awful resurgence of spicy swing music in the 90’s? At the time I was a gymnast and this stuff was really popular for floor routines, and so everything on the continuum between Brian Setzer Orchestra and Lou Bega gives me a sensation of creeping anxiety about my growing body as well as the feeling that I’m about to, in the grand spirit of the Daddies, break my hymen on the balance beam.

How does it hold up? 0/10

What is the think piece that was blessedly not written about it? “How the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies Got Their Name”

Track 11: Imajin, “Shorty (You Keep Playin’ with My Mind)

Dark horse right here! This song didn’t even hit number 1, which is understandable, because it is a bad song. A sample of the lyrics: “We both Gemini so we got two sides/ Our zodiac sign is the perfect sign/ Cause she replied, ‘All Geminis lie’/ I guess this is what it feels like when doves cry.”

How does it hold up? 1/10

What is the think piece that was blessedly not written about it? n/a

Track 12, Brian McKnight, “Anytime

Not sure about this inclusion either. “Back At One” is definitely the catchier McKnight single, even with that awful lyrical gimmick, and “Anytime” is one of those lazy R&B songs that mostly rolls around on a single note. I have muted it and am now revisiting the video for R. Kelly’s contemporaneous slow jam “Half on a Baby,” which features R. Kelly alone in an enormous house with giant-size all-white furnishings that make him look like a tiny, tiny child.

How does it hold up? 4/10

What is the think piece that was blessedly not written about it? “6 Instruments You Didn’t Know Brian McKnight Played”*

*bass, drums, trombone, tuba, flugelhorn, and trumpet

Track 13: Aqua, “Barbie Girl

This is prescient. Sort of LMFAO meets Gangnam Style meets Lana Del Rey, which is a terrible nightmare, but it would be a popular one too. With some Skrillex-y/Avicii production and a girl cooing the song instead of squawking it, this could probably be released today and do fine.

How does it hold up? 7/10

What is the think piece that was blessedly not written about it? “She’s Such a Doll: Infantilization and Male Fantasy in Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’”

Track 14: Radiohead, “Karma Police” 

Well, I love this song forever and have had zero decline in my appreciation for it since it came out. I really appreciate a song that manages to pull off not having a chorus, and this one is so great, with the only payoff from the alternating verses being the upward slant of the “For a minute there” part. I’m all about the distorted-alarm outro. I love this song!

How does it hold up? 9/10

What is the think piece book that was blessedly not written about it? Welcome to the Machine: OK Computer and the Death of the Classic Album

Track 15: Everclear, “I Will Buy You a New Life”  

“Here’s the money that I owe you/ So you can pay the bills/ I will give you more when I get paid again,” and, good Jesus, wait for it: “welfare Christmas.” SHIT’S GETTING REAL

How does it hold up? 2/10

What is the think piece that was blessedly not written about it? “For the New Working Class, Happiness Just Out of Reach”

Track 16: Lenny Kravitz, “Fly Away

This video was on heavy rotation in the VH1 morning circuit and it’s ingrained on my memory, especially that awesome chick drummer, but I did NOT remember how raunchy it was. This is a straight-up orgy: people are topless, there are censor blurs on their titties, and everyone on some badly cut 90’s ecstasy shoving their crotches into each other’s faces. Some girl just rushed to a sink to hurl. Good on you, Lenny—good distraction from the monotony of this song.

How does it hold up? 2/10

What is the think piece that was blessedly not written about it? “10 Best Orgy Gifs from the “Fly Away” Video”

Track 17: Marcy Playground, “Sex & Candy”   

I’m erasing all my memories of listening to shitty college-bar patio covers of this song, and I am pretty into what Marcy Playground’s got on offer! The verses are sort of Blind Melon meets the baby on the cover of Nevermind, and the lyrics, is this what the kids are calling alt lit? “Hangin ’round, downtown by myself, and I had too much caffeine, and I was thinkin about myself, and then there she was.”

How does it hold up? 7/10

What is the think piece that was blessedly not written about it? “The VICE Guide to Sex Smell”

Comments

Show Comments

From Our Partners