Is there anyone who grew up in the 1970s who didn't
have at least one K-Tel album? You remember those records with the
funky artwork and the power-adjective titles (Dynamite!, Fantastic!,
etc.) that contained twenty of the hottest hits by the day's biggest
artists. On a kid's budget, these collections were a godsend: the
equivalent of twenty singles for the price of one LP.
When K-Tel shuttered its windows in the early 1980s,
no one really jumped into the void for years. In England, though, a
series started in 1983 called Now That's What I Call Music! that
included two disks of hits. The albums were insanely huge hits over
the pond, to the point that the British charts had to be changed because the
series' sales so overshadowed all other releases that Various Artists
compilations were given an entirely different sales chart.
The first four volumes of the original British series
were released domestically in the US in 1983-1984, however sales here were
sluggish and soon the Now series became known only to rabid
collectors who scoured the import racks. Finally in 1998, they US
record labels finally took another shot at the series, though they pared it
down to a single disk for domestic audiences. This time out, they were
a huge success, and a new compilation has been released every six or so
months since. (Now 18 is supposedly the 18th release of
the series in the US, although it is 22 if you get technical; the original
first four don't get recognized in the count.)
Now 18 is like a perfect hits radio station of
the winter of 2005. In fact, the Now series is better than
radio today, because you aren't going to find a Top-40 station with such
diverse musical tastes anymore. On the Now disks, rock rubs
elbows with pop, rap, country and R&B. Just try and find a station
that does that.
As with any hits compilation, the song quality varies
wildly, although surprisingly, most of these songs are pretty good.
There is "Over and Over," the shockingly gorgeous collaboration between
seemingly incompatible artists Nelly and Tim McGraw. New critics'
darling John Legend smolders in the old-school R&B of "Used To Love
U." Howie Day does a sweet folk-rock turn with "Collide." Snoop Dogg waxes
poetic on "Drop It Like It's Hot." Then there is U2's soaring rocker
"Vertigo" (although Bono, what is going on with that Spanish countdown of one,
two, three, fourteen?) There's even a goofy-good cover of Rick
Springfield's classic "Jessie's Girl" by unknown band Frickin' A.
The lesser songs are easily skipped over, like the
horribly pedestrian rap "Balla Baby" by Chingy, the pop-tart stylings of
actress Lindsay Lohan's "Rumors," Destiny's Child's shockingly un-funky
"Soldier" and Lenny Kravitz's Gap ad jingle "Lady."
Like the K-Tel albums they are modeled after, it's a
mixed bag. You get some treasures. You get some trash. All
for the price of one disk. Sounds like a bargain to me.