Released today in 1983: Victims

Virgin VS641

Virgin VS641

Virgin provided the public with two new opportunities to buy Culture Club’s track Victims on 28 November 1983. The song was already available before that date on the group’s album Colour By Numbers, but those who didn’t want a whole album of Culture Club songs could now purchase Victims as a 7” single or as the final track on a various artists compilation album called Now, That’s What I Call Music – both were released on the same day.

Jon Webster, co-creator of the ‘Now’ series, said in a 2014 interview: 1 “I was working in marketing at Virgin back then. We had hits coming out of our ears: we were the top-selling singles label in the country.” Smash Hits’ choice of cover stars backed this statement up: over two dozen Virgin acts appeared on the cover on the magazine during the 1980s, and there are 171 singles from the label listed on If You Were There – more than any other company. (No other has more than 100 titles listed, in fact.) Webster’s colleague Stephen Navin: “By the 1980s, Virgin was becoming a real force. The Human League had had a monster hit with Dare, their third album, and Phil Collins was huge, as were Culture Club and Mike Oldfield. The company was firing on all cylinders, nudging up against the majors, and the setting up of ‘Now’ was the apotheosis of this rise. It made 1983 our Annus Mirabilis.”

So hot was Virgin at the time that the first volume of the ‘Now’ series could have comprised only artists from that label. As it was, the track listing was dominated by Virgin artists, including, in addition to those Navin mentioned Genesis, Heaven 17, Malcolm McLaren, Rock Steady Crew, and Simple Minds. Virgin also distributed the labels Men Without Hats and UB40 were signed to, two more acts who were included. But what was unusual about ‘Now’ was that Virgin had teamed up with another label, EMI, to jointly release the collection. EMI acts featured were Duran Duran, Kajagoogoo and Limahl, and its subsidiary Capitol released the singles by Tina Turner and Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack that were featured. EMI also handled distribution for Island (represented on the album by Will Powers) and Stiff (Tracey Ullman and Madness).

The idea of record companies joining forces to release a various artists album themselves was an unusual idea: until the ‘Now’ series, most of these compilations were issued by budget labels who licenced specific tracks from record companies to include on a record. (Often, popular songs would be re-recorded by an in-house orchestra employed by the issuing label, rather than using the hit recording by the original artist.) Webster said that “compilation albums were cheap and nasty things with black and yellow sleeves. They were mostly 20 Top Hits! or collections of as-seen-on-TV music from companies like K-tel. Supermarkets sold loads of them.” It was being overwhelmed with requests from these budget companies to buy tracks that inspired the team at Virgin to create a collection they would put out themselves, and involving EMI increased the range of material they had access to. They also licenced specific songs from the other major companies: volume 1 of ‘Now’ featured Howard Jones and Rod Stewart, appearing with the permission of WEA group companies; KC And The Sunshine Band, Men At Work, Bonnie Tyler and Paul Young, via the CBS group; and The Cure and New Edition via PolyGram. The latter company joined up with EMI and Virgin from volume 8 of the ‘Now’ series in 1986, but WEA and CBS initially decided against joining the fold. Instead, they teamed up to launch their own rival series to ‘Now’, called The Hits Album, the first volume of which was released on 19 November 1984. (A shorter-lived series called Out Now was launched the following year, a joint effort between MCA and Chrysalis.)

Thereafter, quality ‘various artists’ albums became an important part of the market, so much so that chart compilers Gallup decided to remove them from the album chart in 1989 and list them in their own, separate ‘compilations’ chart. But the most prolific and biggest selling was still the ‘Now’ series. In the 1980s, there were 22 further volumes to the series as follows:

♬ Now, That’s What I Call Music II (26 March 1984)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music 3 (23 July 1984)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music 4 (26 November 1984)
♬ Now Dance – The 12″ Mixes (20 May 1985)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music 5 (5 August 1985)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music – The Christmas Album – 18 Original Christmas Hits (18 November 1985)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music 6 (25 November 1985)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music – The Summer Album – 30 Summer Hits (6 July 1986)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music 7 (11 August 1986)
♬ Now Dance ‘86 (27 October 1986)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music ’86 (27 October 1986)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music 8 (24 November 1986)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music 9 (23 March 1987)
♬ Now! Smash Hits (21 September 1987)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music 10 (23 November 1987)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music 11 (21 March 1988)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music 12 (11 July 1988)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music 13 (21 November 1988)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music 14 (20 March 1989)
♬ Now Dance 89 – 20 Smash Dance Hits (The 12″ Mixes) (3 July 1989)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music 15 (14 August 1989)
♬ Now That’s What I Call Music 16 (20 November 1989)

Now! Smash Hits was a tie-in with Smash Hits, featuring many of the artists who had appeared on the cover of the magazine during the 1980s. Those included who hadn’t were Michael Jackson (who didn’t make the cover until October 1990), Queen (although David Bowie, who appeared with them on the track that was featured, did appear on the cover twice during the decade), and Hue And Cry.

Worldwide sales of ‘Now’ titles now exceed 100 million copies. “For a lot of people, the full title, Now That’s What I Call Music, is a bit of a mouthful. But having the word NOW – those three big capital letters shouting out from the album sleeve – is a pretty arresting image,” said Navin. “And it’s gone into history as the most successful and longest-lasting compilation series ever. Would it have been so big under another name? My guess is yes – Virgin was so hot, and EMI was a massive force. It raised the bar in terms of what a compilation album was, and of course that first one made an ideal Christmas present.”

Volume 92 is out at the end of this week.

1 Stevens, Jenny. “How we made … Now That’s What I Call Music”, The Guardian, Guardian Media Group, 9 December 2014.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Nov. 28
ADAM ANT Antmusic (CBS CBS9352)
FRANTIC ELEVATORS (Mick Hucknall) You Know What You Told Me (Eric’s ERICS006)
Holly JOHNSON Hobo Joe (Eric’s ERICS007)
Hazel O’CONNOR Time (Albion ION1006)
SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES (Siouxsie Sioux) Israel (Polydor POSP205)
SKIDS Women In Winter (Virgin CHEAP11)
VISAGE (Steve Strange) Fade To Grey (Polydor POSP194)
CULTURE CLUB Victims (Virgin VS641)
Malcolm McLAREN Duck For The Oyster (Charisma MALC4)
UB40 Many Rivers To Cross (DEP International DEP9)
BON JOVI (Jon Bon Jovi) Born To Be My Baby (Vertigo JOV4)
Bobby BROWN My Prerogative (MCA MCA1299)
Neneh CHERRY Buffalo Stance (Circa YR21)
Kylie MINOGUE and Jason DONOVAN Especially For You (PWL PWL24)


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