As you’ll know if you’ve read my feature on Now Dance ( which you can find here), the early Now That’s What I Call Music! spin-offs are a source of great fascination for me. They knew that they had a ‘brand’ of some description, but nothing resembling the faintest idea of how to expand and capitalise on it, and from ‘bugs’ to mugs to sweatshirts, the early years of the franchise are full of bewildering tie-ins that Ashley Abram and Box Music incorrectly assumed everyone would want. With the notable exception of Now – The Christmas Album, none of the attempts at establishing a spin-off series really connected with the record-buying public, and nobody could tell you what song was in what order on what side of Now Dance 86 the same way they could with Now That’s What I Call Music! 7. Which is the best Now! album of the lot, incidentally. Yes it is. Stop arguing.
For a couple of years afterwards, it was quite common to find these albums in bargain bins, albeit not marked down by particularly much. Now, however – largely on account of nobody actually buying them – they’re something approaching collector’s items, with the baffling exception of the suitably baffling Now That’s What I Call Music! ’86, which is in such plentiful supply that we can only assume that all fourteen Compact Disc Player owners at the time bought fourteen thousand copies each. I’d always been especially intrigued by the logic-averse and back then largely impenetrable tracklisting, and… let’s just say that towards the end of that decade, a copy being used as a paperweight in a long-since-musically-moved-on local radio station somehow fell into my suspiciously capacious pocket.
This, however, wasn’t just a straightforward review of the album. It was an attempt to tie that in with how obsessed I was with Smash Hits and with compilation albums in general – believe me, from Hits 5 to Back On The Road to Rap It Up to Glam Slam, I had the lot, whether legitimately or, erm, ‘Home Taped’ – and with the surreally memorable tedium of both family holidays and the seemingly endless weeks of trying to find something to do when it was belting down with rain outside and there was nothing on television but Why Don’t You…?. I’m not sure that this quite worked in the way that I hoped – although in fairness it’s difficult to do that when the advert is more evocative for you than the actual contents of the album – but there’s a lot to enjoy in it regardless. Speaking of which, you can find more tales of mid-eighties holiday hi-jinks in my book Can’t Help Thinking About Me, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Let’s face it, pretty much every issue of Smash Hits for the entire eighties was memorable from start to finish. But for some reason, the one published 16th July 1986 – with, of all people, The Jesus And Mary Chain on the cover – has the edge over all of the others. Well, for one really quite obvious reason.
Although the issue was jampacked with start-of-the-school-holidays hilarity, this reason wasn’t the debate on whether we should keep the Royal Family (against – Bronski Beat, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Sade, Robert Smith, Annie Lennox, Mick Hucknall, Morrissey, Spandau Ballet, OMD, Dr Robert, The Housemartins, everyone involved with Red Wedge basically; for – Gary Numan, Claire Usher). Nor was it the deliberately tedious Cream facts tying in with I Feel Free showing up in “that Renault 21 TV ad where some rich snoot-bloke gets in his motor car and swishes off down country lanes”, or the Sam Fox/Sly Fox-inspired boxout on Great Foxes In Pop (including, inevitably, Bruce “Fox”ton, “bass player with The Jam whose ties were ever a visual “treat” and whose solo “career” has been a blazing inferno of silence”). Nor the ‘Get Smart’ special on The Smiths, Black Type consulting The Party Pop-Up Book Of Unexplained Phenomena by “Dr” Jonathan Miller and Roy Castle (“remaindered” at 95p – a snip!), Cock Robin’s album getting one out of ten, or the utterly pointless and unwarranted ‘Day In The Life’ of Roses-toting One Hit Wonder Haywoode. Not even the rightly snorted-at photo of The Cult posing moodily with some gung-ho American Football players.
No, it was the hilariously flippant attempt by some staff writer – most likely Tom Hibbert and/or Sylvia Patterson – at filling up a particularly threadbare instalment of regular gig listing “Happenings” with a spurious billing for Upper Bubblington Village Fete, featuring such top in-joke derived attractions as Reg “Reg” Snipton And His Banjo Boys, Reg “Reg” Snipton And His Banjo Gals, Mad Goths, The Complete Bastards, Flower Arranging And The Feminist Experience (Group Activity Orchestrated By Dame Margot Riviera), Pepe And Lord Alfred, and Throw A Coconut At Reg “Reg” Snipton. That isn’t really enough to base a full-length feature on, though, so instead let’s turn our suitably summery attention to the other real memory-imprinter in that issue of Smash Hits – the advert for long-forgotten Now That’s What I Call Music! spin-off, Now – The Summer Album.
In fact, there were two adverts for Now – The Summer Album in that issue; the regular full page full colour launch promotion from Now That’s What I Call Music! themselves (strapline – “You Can’t Imagine Summer Without It”), and another informing readers that it was available for ‘A Cool £6.99’ from John Menzies (‘subject to availability’). The announcement of any new Now That’s What I Call Music! album was always an attention-catching moment, of course, but this wasn’t just any new Now That’s What I Call Music! album. This was a direct conceptual follow-on from the previous December’s massively successful Now – The Christmas Album, and as such it boasted a double-album’s worth of ‘Golden Oldies’ rather than recent chart-toppers. The only factor that unified them was that they were all in some way related to the vague and amorphous concept of ‘Summer’. And, as we shall see, often that really was the only way in which they were related. And sometimes even that didn’t really apply.
Lacking the cohesive precision-targeted line-up of records that at least aimed towards a recognisably similar sound of Now – The Christmas Album, Now – The Summer Album vaulted between decades, moods and musical styles like someone showing off on the trampolines at Pontins, and generated about as much sales excitement as the three days of hot weather we get before it starts throwing it down with rain again. It was, essentially, aspiring towards the kind of summer that we just don’t get over here, where Hot Rods, Holiday Romances, Beach Parties and Sizzlin’ Food Shacks took second place to interminably delayed car journeys, endless imported children’s serials on both channels, extortionately priced Wall’s Big Feast variants, and weather-battered ‘staying with relatives’ seaside breaks where the highlight of the holiday was watching local fishermen helping to right a fishmonger’s white van that had overturned on wet sand. True, many experienced all of the above and more on their actual summer holidays wherever in the Mediterranean was ‘in’ that year, but they preferred to remind themselves of this by bulk-buying the current novelty dance-pop favourites of Europe’s leading discotheques and didn’t we know it (that year’s primary offender – Brother Louie by Modern Talking). The sort of Summer Hits that Now – The Summer Album compiled sort of came and went without ever really lodging in anyone’s memory as a musical reminder of hot fun in the summertime. It was, if we’re being blunt about it, the soundtrack to the sort of summer that the average Now That’s What I Call Music!-album buyer never actually had.
Suppose, though, that you were the sort of average Now That’s What I Call Music!-album buyer who had a keen interest in pop music from ‘them days’ at a time before it was really very easy to actually get hold of any of it. Suppose you’d been fascinated by a tracklisting that even looked esoteric in an advert when you didn’t know what any of the songs sounded like. Suppose you’d even chanced upon a copy in an actual John Menzies whilst seeking refuge from the rain on exactly that sort of holiday, and rued the fact that you were unable to afford it, not least because you’d only just bought Now That’s What I Call Music! 7. Suppose also that, some years later, you’d chanced upon a stray copy abandoned in a by then all-Compact Disc radio station and ensured that it ‘accidentally’ ‘fell’ into your bag. How would this most angular and unlikely of Now That’s What I Call Music!-spinoffs (and that’s angular and unlikely even in comparison to Now Dance) measure up against the promise of that imagination-firing advert?
Well, it’s all such a strange and haphazard arrangement of musical selections that it’s probably worth looking at them in very loose ‘genres’ rather than any kind of sequential order. Though don’t assume from this that they’re grouped in any sort of logical or coherent manner; the actual album zigzags back and forth with such casual disregard for mood, style and tempo that you have to wonder exactly what kind of a barbecue it might conceivably have soundtracked. It’s perhaps surprising, then, to discover that an entire quarter of the double album is given over to what could loosely be described as relatively recent hits. This in itself highlights two of the major issues affecting Now – The Summer Album – the baffling absence of certain tracks that you would have thought would have been first on the list for inclusion, and the fact that even within these narrowly defined parameters, there is little musical coherence or indeed any relation at all between any of them.
You’ll search in vain for fresh-in-the-memory big-hitters Club Tropicana, Here Comes The Summer, I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, Long Hot Summer or Holidays In The Sun – all of them either on Now That’s What I Call Music!-affiliated record labels or indeed by Now That’s What I Call Music! regulars – on Now – The Summer Album. In their place you’ll find a fair half-dozen Raiders Of The Pop Charts-troubling contemporaries of dubious ‘summer’ credentials and, in some cases, limited appeal. The Level 42 song that non-Level 42 fans ‘quite like’, but that Level 42 fans aren’t that fussed about, The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up) is as much about nuclear paranoia as it is about casual sex with that girl ‘making eyes’ in a fluorescent-and-chrome holiday camp nightclub. It may well have been the breakthrough fairly successful mid-chart hit for the Isle Of Wight funk group, but for all the expected slap bass dexterity it doesn’t really go anywhere and doesn’t feature anywhere near enough high-pitched Mike Lindup vocal silliness or Angus Deayton-lookalike mundanity Boon Gould guitar. And above all doesn’t really have that much obvious to do with ‘summer’.
Similarly, KC And The Sunshine Band’s irritatingly chirrupy Give It Up represented the very last gasp of disco and became a de facto ‘summer song’ by virtue of its chart timing and theme park tannoy-friendly sound, as the lyrics just seem to be a phatic declaration to some girl that she might as well go out with him if she feels like it. Presumably it was the ‘Sunshine Band’ bit that helped swing its inclusion here. In contrast Walking On Sunshine by Katrina And The Waves (only recently featured on Now That’s What I Call! 5) at least makes some effort towards a valid ‘summery’ theme, both in its lyrics and in its studiedly contemporary-yet-retro sound, notably that surftastic one-note guitar solo. Although it was a substantial hit at the time, Walking On Sunshine was one of those records – like its close contemporary The Whole Of The Moon – that subsequently became even more popular still; one of the select few ‘oldies’ that even the up-to-the-minute commercial pop stations kept on playing and playing and playing, and an inevitable choice of accompaniment for roller discos and bouncy castles. In fact, it probably became more of a summer favourite after the release of Now – The Summer Album.
It’s often forgotten that, for all their singalong punchy brass-driven radio-friendliness, Katrina And The Waves had their roots in arty post-punk experimentalism, and the remainder of the ‘current’ acts on the compilation occupy a similarly uneasy middle ground between proto-indie and pop. Not that any of them sound particularly like each other. Nick Heyward and Haircut One Hundred give Fantastic Day a hazy jazzy summery jangly sound with Weekend Break-alluding lyrics to match, though it’s quite surprising to discover that the song was actually a hit much earlier in the year. It also got features an unnervingly similiar chord progression to that of the end theme from Camberwick Green, though cunningly sped up so ‘Clown’ would never suspect a thing. Martha And The Muffins’ somewhat over-lauded Echo Beach opts for sub-Numan yearning for some dystopian futuristic Beach Of Tomorrow rather than holidays in sunnier climes, and is quite icily synth-driven to boot, but it says ‘Beach’ in the title so in it goes. The Barracudas, with their Arthur-Lee-catching-a-wave Pirate Radio-friendly musical sensibilities, always sounded like they’d rather have been anywhere but the early eighties, and their stray hit Summer Fun makes this explicit with its use of an actual sixties American radio ad as an intro (not to mention the slightly less successful follow-up single (I Wish It Could Be) 1965 Again). Ironic, then, that their Ramones-meet-The-Beach-Boys-at-a-leaky-bus-stop number is the closest yet to actually evoking a typical British summer, making no false promises of anything other than an opportunity to make the most of a brief window of sunshine.
Above and beyond their recognisability and obvious commercial appeal, it’s difficult to see what any of these inclusions had to offer thematically to this most thematically ambitious of compilations. The era in which they’d dominated the summer airwaves (and even that wasn’t applicable for Fantastic Day) was still too recent for anyone to feel anything resembling nostalgia towards it; in any case, for certain pockets of the UK, those late seventies/early eighties summers were something that they were most likely in no hurry to look back on. In all seriousness, they would have been better off putting Summer Run, Junior’s reworking of Mama Used To Say as the theme for the short-lived yet seemingly endless TV-am Summer Holiday Morning fill-in Data Run variant of the same name, on there. At least it would have had some semblance of actual summer-related nostalgia value.
There is a good deal more focus, point and purpose shared by the equal number of tracks that had clearly been brought in to represent the so-called ‘Summer Of Love’. Amazingly, for once, the compilers of a mainstream compilation managed to pick out a handful of tracks that, while not quite The Waltham Green East Wapping Carpet Cleaning Rodent And Boggit Extermination Association, still all managed to sit more comfortably on the folky semi-psychedelic half-mind-alter-y side of things than the twaddle they usually pull out of the bag whenever Polly Toynbee starts droning on in short sentences about miniskirts and ‘flower power’ and That Was The Week That Was. In fact, they work so well in this context that you can practically hear Kevin Arnold from The Wonder Years going into a voiceover reflecting ruefully on the lessons he learned from whatever moneymaking ‘chores’ he had been handed in tandem with those three other kids that he hung around with whenever Winnie and Paul went away for the summer.
On Groovin’, those previously clean-cut and presentable Young Rascals start their descent into full-on hippydom, a move that saw them daringly drop the ‘Young’ bit of their name in order to appear more ‘far-out’ (just wait until you get a load of It’s Wonderful, Mr. America!). It’s a strong and inventively-arranged song only slightly marred by its reliance on that Brian Hyland-esque shrill treble-heavy production that too many people inexplicably thought was a good idea in the sixties, and a clip-cloppy home on the range feel that, while certainly ideal for ‘groovin’ on a Sunday afternoon or otherwise in the Midwest, made it somewhat less than sonically relatable for youngsters trying to chat up girls playing tennis in the local municipal park while dark clouds swirled three o’clockishly overhead. While we’re on about unnecessary apostrophes, there’s the ever-splendid California Dreamin’ by The Mamas And The Papas, which may have a suitably summery sound but – and it’s always worth pointing this out – is set in the autumn and spends almost its entire duration complaining about cold weather. And therefore, whatever their intent back in 1967, is inadvertently the most accurate depiction of a British summer that you’re likely to find in a pop song.
This would be all very well and good if it wasn’t for the fact that, but for a couple of misguided souls who drew CND symbols and wrote ‘Imagine’ on their school bags, by the mid-eighties hippydom, ‘flower power’, soft psychedelia and the Summer Of Love itself were all as naff as naff could be. They were the preserve of bores who kept going on and on about how much better everything was in ‘the sixties’, daytime TV presenters dressing up in kaftans and doing ludicrous ‘hip lingo’ for silly features, and impenetrable nostalgia documentaries that sought to draw a clip montage straight line between Thunderbirds and Jean Shrimpton. Crown Prince of these Clown Princes was ‘The Voice Of’ Scott McKenzie’ and his drippy call to whatever the opposite of arms is, San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair). While the media’s insistence on depicting this weedy Walter The Softy Takes Acid folk-pop effort as the high watermark of psychedelia still rankles, and it was decisively trounced by both The Flowerpot Men’s Let’s Go To San Francisco (“where the flowers grow up to the sky”, apparently) and The Animals’ amusingly ridiculous San Franciscan Nights, distance and perspective allows you to appreciate that it’s actually a fairly decent song and that sitar bit is really quite impressive and dramatic. Still, its tinkly and faraway bell-shaking peace and love vibes held little resonance for youngsters for whom ‘summer’ and ‘flowers’ meant either an interminable enforced trip to the garden centre (where they had invariably just sold out of the ice lollies that your parents would not have sodding well bought you anyway), or some live edition of Gardener’s World expanding exponentially into the timeslot of your favourite comedy show. Let’s not even meet these damn hippies halfway.
Let us be thankful, then, for The Lovin’ Spoonful, who show up with two consecutive tracks on side four (which still looks a tad incongruous even now, though as we shall see they are far from the only act to get two songs on the album) and offer a somewhat more robust Electric Jugband glimpse of the moment just before ‘flower power’ broke; when there was definitely something in the air, but on this evidence it was anyone’s guess whether it would be a blissful heat haze or hammering hailstones. This is especially true of Summer In The City, a traffic-paced stop-start ode to the lack of joys of gainful employment in the sweltering heat as contrasted with ‘skirt’-pursuing nighttime balminess, embellished with enough ear-infuriating rush-hour sound effects to make Michael Douglas snap in Falling Down all over again, and which accurately evokes the sheer annoyance and discomfort of not being free to groove, wear flowers in your hair or even live it up until the sun goes down on a swelteringly hot day. It also, it’s worth pointing out, bears more than a passing resemblance to the theme song from Children’s BBC migrane-inducer Stop-Go!, and indeed Paul Weller’s entire solo career. On the other side of the coin, there’s the loping whistly anthem for lounging around doing fuck all (apart from, erm, falling on your face on somebody’s new-mown lawn) Daydream, which occupies similar territory to Groovin’ but with a more abrasive sound and a drier sense of humour.
It’s odd to think that, despite their huge success only a relatively short while earlier, The Lovin’ Spoonful were virtually forgotten by 1986 and were probably the second most ‘…who?’ inclusion on Now – The Summer Album (we’ll be coming to the ‘most’ one later). The same could not be said, however, of The Monkees, not least on account of the fact that the BBC had been repeating their series relentlessly over the past couple of summer holidays (and you can hear more about that here). This was especially true of 1986, when the scheduling of episodes of The Monkees seemed to stretch gloriously on into infinity, alongside an equally if less glorious stretching on into infinity of youngster-aimed ‘make your own entertainment’ show Why Don’t You…?, and those moments when the actual schedule itself seemed to stretch on into infinity (which once again you can read more about here). This Nesmith-driven tempora-spatial disruption assumed even further mind-blowing dimensions if you were prone to spending your school holidays at a local pool’s ‘swim club’ which habitually included A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You in the cheery backstroke-assisting sounds pumped out across the tannoy. As you’re by now expecting, Daydream Believer has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with ‘summer’ (not that you should pay much attention to anyone claiming that it does have any particular ‘meaning’), but its presence here finally gives us something tangible and recognisable that we can latch on to as specifically ‘summery’ for the sort of people who would have been buying this album if they had actually been able to afford it. If only it had come accompanied by Hazel O’Connor singing Get Set For Summer.
Moving on from The Monkees and The Lovin’ Spoonful, and indeed thankfully Woodstock-fixated didacticism, to ‘The Sixties’ in general, Do It Again is often fanfared as a triumphant return to The Beach Boys’ ‘classic’ sound, but actually feels a tad polite, restrained and apologetic when compared to their actual ‘classic sound’. They were always at their best when Brian Wilson and Mike Love were waging an art-vs-commerce creative war that culminated in the SMiLE-related studio dustups, and no matter who you feel ‘won’, the fact remains that once the battle was over they were never quite the same again. Unluckily for Do It Again, California Girls is on hand elsewhere on the album to demonstrate just how that ‘classic’ sound actually sounded, with the rug pulled from under Mike Love’s ode to the comparative average arse size in varying American states by Brian Wilson tacking on one of the most peculiar intros in pop history. It’s not difficult to see how barely six months later, they were squaring up to each other in the studio about a song sung from the perspective of a crow. Stitch that, ‘Murs’.
By 1986, of course, The Beach Boys had become ‘hip’, at least with the too-cool-for-school types in school more normally to be found practising their high fives in letterman jackets. This was largely on account of the cheap and easy availability of SMiLE-averse compilation 20 Golden Greats in all of its fuzzy sound quality glory, though more cynical types might teasingly suggest that they all knew California Girls better from sendups like Russ Abbott’s hilarious Upper Norwood Girls and that not at all remotely sexist British Caledonian advert. Less fortunate in this regard were The Beatles, who – despite a sneaking upsurge of interest in Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – were at that point still roundly dismissed as being as naff as, well, Scott McKenzie. Perhaps that’s partly why, oddly, EMI briefly began allowing their songs to appear on high-profile compilations in the mid-eighties, in the hope of luring in a whole new generation of punters who could be persuaded to pay full price for the same songs seventeen million times. These included the Music For Pleasure collection 20 Fab No.1’s Of The Sixties (and, erm, Savile’s Time Travels – 20 Golden Hits Of 1963), and – perhaps more surprisingly – two songs on Now – The Summer Album.
At this point, you’re probably running through the entire Beatles discography in your head and trying to work out which two songs were actually about the ‘summer’. Well, the answer is that there aren’t any, but that didn’t stop Ashley Abram and Box Music from marching straight on with their track selection. Presumably sidestepping I’ll Follow The Sun on account of its somewhat negative ‘Dinners’-goes-walkabout vibes, and Sun King because they wanted listeners to keep hold of whatever remained of their sanity, they opted instead for the rather more popular choices of All You Need Is Love and Here Comes The Sun. Although its only tenuous connection with the theme of this album is that it was Number One for the majority of the ‘Summer Of Love’, All You Need Is Love is an interesting inclusion here in the sense that, while on actual Beatle albums it’s invariably swamped by more inventive, psychedelic and melodically/instrumentally interesting numbers, when presented in isolation you realise what a deceptively clever (and wittily performed) song it really is. Here Comes The Sun, which if we’re being honest about it never even really sounded that much like it was by the actual Beatles and not just George, can’t help but stand there doing an I Have A Horsey Neigh Neigh number next to its more illustrious counterpart, but in fairness at least it actually mentions the summer.
Far more deserving of a place on this album, both on account of its subject matter and its redolence of a lost era when everyone would politely head off for seaside towns for a week and join in with all manner of uncool holidaymaking hilarity, rather than get stressed about going to, staying at and coming back from some ‘sophisticated’ destination interspersed with gallons of Jägerbombs, is Summer Holiday by Cliff Richard And The Shadows. For anyone who doesn’t know, this was the theme from the 1963 film of the same name in which Cliff, The Shadows, Lauri Peters, Una Stubbs and Jeremy Bulloch borrow a double-decker bus for a spot of European sightseeing, and was knocked off the top of the charts by the also-from-the-same-soundtrack Foot Tapper by The Shadows. It should be emphasised that at no point do they have cause to shout “LOOK OUT! VYYYYYYYVYAN!”, though they are joined at one point by a stowaway that Cliff is especially cross to find out is actually a fully grown woman in disguise and not a young boy after all. Moving rapidly on, Summer Holiday was exactly the sort of film that anyone listening to this compilation would have seen a million times on interminable Summer Holiday afternoons while trying to work out what a ‘Bachelor Boy’ was and what was so good about being one, and so this jaunty, likeable and fantastically arranged number is a very welcome inclusion here. Even if it is hard to avoid the temptation to shout “it’s raining, nyeh-hehhhh” over the top. More of a surprising inclusion, but an even more welcome one, is The Day I Met Marie, Cliff’s Hank Marvin-penned Baroque Pop ode to how he’ll not forget that happy night he chanced upon some young lady in a haystack. They didn’t send a camera crew to cover that.
Beyond that, there are a couple of Nostalgia Souvenir Spread-friendly sixties-ish types who get a single song on the compilation; and all of them, oddly, with a reason why they don’t quite fit. Mungo Jerry’s jugband-goes-prog ode to going ha ha this a way ha ha that a way when the weather’s fine and you got women you got women on your mind In The Summertime was probably inescapable back in 1970 and deservedly so, but by the time it showed up here was about to fall very rapidly from favour owing to a certain unfortunate line (though the less said about that radio edit that went “have a drive have a drive” the better). Nowadays, you’re only marginally more likely to hear it than their famously airwave-eluding chart-topper Baby Jump. As fantastic as it is, someone presumably missed the sarcasm in The Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon, and there are those that believe that the narrator may even be deluding himself about the good weather anyway. Lazy Sunday by The Small Faces is up there with The Lovin’ Spoonful and The Day I Met Marie as an inspired inclusion, not least because it was still some years before their ‘rediscovery’ and it probably hadn’t been heard that much between 1968 and then. It’s an amazing song, but yet again one that – those lengthy Coach Trip To The Centre Of The Mind psychedelic bucket-and-spade interludes (which in themselves make you wonder why we didn’t get Good Vibrations instead of Do It Again) aside – doesn’t really seem to have very much to do with the summer at all. Well not any more than The Universal at any rate.
Going back slightly further in time, to the bit in Summer Holiday before it goes into colour if you want to be cinematic about it, there area handful of songs that hail from a long-lost era when holidaymaking was more innocent and simplistic a pursuit, and ‘summer fun’ was literally just being outdoors. As if to underline this, Eddie Cochran’s still thrilling Summertime Blues is a lament for how annoyed he is by ‘The Man’ (who in all manifestations still seems to talk with the same third-Muppet-from-the-left voice) preventing him from lazing around doing nothing; he even takes his problem to Plastic Bertrand and those Eurocrats in Brussells who regret to inform him that are unable to help, which doubtless struck a chord with a young Nigel Farage. The Drifters’ Under The Boardwalk effortlessly captures the tinkly charms of a time when a stroll and an ice cream were high entertainment on a summer’s day, though the compilers must have been kicking themselves when only twelve months later, The Drifters and Bruce Willis came up with an updated version that seemed to stay in the charts into the autumn and beyond. Long-forgotten Kramer lookalike Jerry Keller was the man behind hotrods-and-soda-pop celebration of taking your best girl to the park Here Comes Summer, one of those ‘golden oldies’ that the Radio 1 Roadshow would always insist on foisting upon a Duran-hungry audience, but which – surprisingly – actually turns out to be quite likeable.
Then there’s the deepest darkest seventies – a time of summers crammed with droughts, social unrest, Punks glowering at trestle tables and The Learning Tree that few will have been in a tremendous hurry to revisit – represented here by a procession of slick bolted-together pop-soul anthems tailor-made for Alan Partridge’s year where they had barbecues every single night and for poorly tune-in car radios in true and-they-wonder-why-punk-happened fashion. One of those songs where you can never quite make your mind up whether it’s any good or not, The Isley Brothers’ Summer Breeze sees Psychedelic Soul take a bit of ‘me time’ after all that early seventies stuff about taking to the streets, stopping instead to smell the roses (well, jasmine) and take in the scenery, including those oh-so-summery ‘newspapers’, but still throwing in a bit of untamed fuzz guitar to scare any passing Republicans. Much the same is true of Lovely Day by Bill Withers, mercifully presented here in its original incarnation and not that hideous ‘Woo! YEAH’-heavy ‘Sunshine Mix’ that blighted the charts shortly thereafter. Mind you, that note he famously holds for ages; it’s hardly Captain Beefheart destroying a high quality studio microphone by singing into it, is it. 10cc’s (cough) ‘problematic’ yet inexplicably popular Dreadlock Holiday should not even be allowed on the same holiday island as the rest of their output, and even Elton John himself probably can’t remember how Island Girl went. Somewhere, The Barracudas were sharpening their Rickenbackers.
So… what, apart from all the highlights that we’ve already picked out, are the real highlights of Now – The Summer Album? Well, oddly enough, it’s the two that don’t really fit even into any of the loosely-assembled stylistic brackets we’ve identified along the way. Both must have seemed bafflingly off at a Private Beach-occupying tangent at the time, and to be honest they still do now. And they’re both fantastic.
The Girl From Ipanema appears here credited to Astrud Gilberto alone, rather than the two blokes who insisted their name went on the label in a jaw-dropping display of ‘stand back luv, the men are in charge’-ness, and sure enough it’s a severely truncated edit omitting much of their hoo-hah. It would be tempting to say that music’s loss is feminism’s gain, except that this does mean that we get to fully concentrate on the gap-toothed first lady of Bossa Nova getting a bit ‘and then they lez up’ about some hottie strolling along the beachfront while each one she passes goes “aaaaah”. At the time that Now – The Summer Album came out, the other sixties selections seemed remote and rarely-heard enough; The Girl From Ipanema, and other similar esoteric stray hits from other non-pop genres, were so far off the average pop fan’s radar that they may as well have been from another planet. And perhaps that’s part of the reason why, a couple of years later, so many of them started raiding charity shops for unlikely-looking albums hiding similarly exotic grooves. After all, you could always guarantee finding so many of them on holiday that you had trouble carrying them all home.
Then there’s Summer (The First Time) by Bobby Goldsboro. Wikipedia believes that this tale of balmy evening horseplay with an ‘older lady’ belongs firmly in the ‘Adult Contemporary’ genre, but its piercing Test Card F-esque one-note string section, Casio test-tone piano riff, heat-haze synth tones, overpowering sound effects and crashing orchestral interlude designed to denote their ‘getting it on’ seem to exist outside anyone’s established norms of musical genres, coming across as a very expensive lo-fi bedroom recording using highly paid session musicians. It’s also got effortlessly brilliant lyrics, descriptive and elliptic yet highly sexually charged and very much to the point – in fact it’s surprising it actually got enough radio play to become a hit back then – with much dwelling on heaving knockerage and, erm, ‘helping hands’; although his insistence on emphasising the prominence of her facial features does make his conquest sound alarmingly like unseen Father Ted character Father Bigley. And then at the end, the lyrics simply loop back to the start, as though he’s caught in some kind of sexual time loop to rival the opening of Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song. Doubtless this drove Mary Whitehouse into short-lived radio-berating paroxysms of outrage, but there are few listeners who won’t find that this strikes a chord and stirs up memories of that boy with the summer job at the local newsagents or that girl playing tennis in the park that time. Or, if raining, and it probably WAS fucking raining, whoever you fancied on Home And Away at that point.
Of course, there’s every chance that Mr. Goldsboro’s tales of scoring were every bit as exaggerated as those lurid yet unverifiable accounts of holiday romances in the Mediterranean that the more loudmouthed types in school would venture forth whether asked to or not come September. Yes, we’re at the end of Now – The Summer Album, and the end of the school holidays, and the return of, well, school, looms close on the horizon. You’re back from your family holiday, you’re in that weird end of August limbo with nothing to do (especially if those scrooges at the BBC ended their daytime programming a week early), and Melissa from Great Yarmouth will never write back. What’s worse, everyone from home has come up with a new running joke in your absence that you can never quite get to the bottom of. And that copy of Now – The Summer Album remained steadfastly in John Menzies. Ahead lie autumn evenings, Telly Addicts and the interminable stretch towards the next major school holiday… but that’s a whole different Now That’s What I Call Music! album.
There’s no getting away from the fact that Now – The Summer Album singularly failed to do whatever it was that it set out to do in the first place, but in its marketing-led desperation to fill enough sides of vinyl to actually constitute a releasable album, it somehow became a work of accidental genius. Even on the most lazily slung-together ‘Summer’ compilation – and there have been many thousands of them since (oh and Summer Chart Party) – you would never find such a baffling and coherency-free collection of mismatched pop songs from mismatched genres and mismatched eras. If Bobby Goldsboro was a themed compilation, then this dates from the very start of that hot afternoon in the first day in June when the sun was a demon. By the time that Now That’s What I Call Summer! came out in 2014, he’d seen the sun rise as a man, and frankly we’d lost something a bit more than virginity along the way.
As for Smash Hits, they would continue to mercilessly ridicule anyone who came along with a gimmicky summer smash for many years thereafter. In 1991, highly touted post-New Kids On The Block American act The Party – Chase, Damon, Tiffini, Deedee and Albert – saw fit to inflict a particularly lightweight bit of pop rap named Summer Vacation on the post Now – The Summer Album populace in the hope of scoring a UK chart breakthrough. Their review ran as follows: “Scientific Fact! The Sun is a huge burning ball of gas which one day will burn out and take most of the Solar System with it. How’s about that then, ‘Albert’?”.
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If you’ve enjoyed this, you can find more about ridiculous Summer-related compilation albums in The Camberwick Green Procrastination Society, a collection of columns and features with an emphasis on seventies television. The Camberwick Green Procrastination Society is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
You can find out what happened when I actually won a Smash Hits competition in The Dance Floor Monsters That We’re All Getting Down To Right Now here.
2 Hours Of Wicked Mixes To Keep You Dancing All Night Long is a feature on the first ever Now That’s What I Call Music! spinoff, 1985’s Now Dance, which you can find here. We Are Very Quiet Persons Who Do Not Like To Brag is a look at the influence that Smash Hits and Sylvia Patterson in particular had on me as a writer, which you can find here.
Time Will Crawl is a feature taking a look back at that strange point towards the end of the BBC’s Summer Holiday morning television schedules where time appeared to actually stand still; you can find it here.
The original Now – The Christmas Album is under discussion in the Looks Unfamiliar Christmas Extra with Ben Baker, which you can listen to here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.