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Now Presents: The 70s – A Box Full of Joy!

In November 2021, a small “recommended for you” blurb caught my eye on Amazon. Yes, I admit I shop for records on Amazon: their prices are usually very good, the pre-order price guarantee is great, and the shipping is affordable when you live overseas like I do… but I digress.

The makers of that perennial UK compilation “Now That’s What I Call Music” were releasing a 5LP box set of music entitled “Now Presents: The 70s”. This box set was scheduled to be released on 180gr virgin vinyl, and would be limited to only 1000 copies worldwide. A quick look at the track list convinced me that this was going to be a killer compilation full of essentials. In fact, at first glance, the only glaringly obvious omission was David Bowie, but he was notoriously against having his music appear on compilations, so although a slight disappointment, that wasn’t really a surprise.

Allow me to digress again for a moment.

I am a huge fan of the old K-Tel Records compilations, not for their sound quality, obviously, but for the eclectic selection of music available on those little slices pop goodness. I love a compilation that holds “all the hits and more” and I admit to having fallen in love with more than a few of those songs that initially qualified as “and more”. If K-tel suffered from anything, it wasn’t inventiveness or quirkiness; it was the fact that they tried to squeeze 22 tracks onto a single LP. They would massacre the music by speeding it up, or editing it, or just fading it out… all for the sake of being able to say that all the hits were on one record. As a child, I didn’t mind. Even now, as a jaded adult, I still love the sound of a crappy little K-Tel record spinning on a Sunday afternoon. There is just something wonderful about a record that wasn’t ashamed to have the heavy rock of Deep Purple sit smugly beside ass-shaking disco from Donna Summer. In fact, if I stop and think of it, I think the mild schizophrenia of K-Tel Records‘ track-lists probably influenced my own mildly schizophrenic taste in music. I have no qualms about AC/DC sitting pretty on the shelf beside my ABBA collection.

With my love of K-Tel Records in mind, when this blurb popped up on my screen suggesting that I check out the upcoming release “Now Presents: The 70s”. I was intrigued. I love pop music. To be clear: I don’t care for pre-fab by-the-numbers hits, but I do love anything that was made with integrity, no matter how naive or cheesy it might be. Yes, I love Rainy Jane(1971) by Davey Jones and The Candy Man(1971) by Sammy Davis Jr. (two songs that are conspicuously absent from this collection), but I love them because I believe that the artists involved were sincere in their creation of the music and it shows. The melodies and the feelings they evoke are sublime, despite the fact that these songs generally make you roll your eyes when you hear them.

One thing that this new collection has in its favour is that, although it takes the traditional K-Tel route of presenting any number of different styles together on a single collection, it treats each track with respect. The remastering is superb and, unlike K-Tel with their 10 and 11 tracks per side, there is never more that 8 relatively short songs on a single side of the record. True, this is still a few more songs than is generally recommended, but many of them fall into the 3-to-4 minute category so common at the time, they are well mastered, and the mastering volume is not so low as to lose the bass (Paul McCartney and WingsBand on the Run in particular sounds AMAZING!). With so many tracks per side, the songs aren’t exactly “allowed to breathe” but they are given enough room to thrive and still present a gorgeous soundscape.

A quick note about the volume of the mastering: it is low. It’s not so low as to make it unlistenable (like some K-Tel and Ronco albums) but you will nevertheless have to crack up your volume. To my ears, the choice of songs on the collections more than makes up for this minor irritant. There really isn’t a dud among them (well… maybe David Soul‘s 1977 hit Don’t Give Up On Us which is truly cringe-worthy). Even the songs that I am not a big fan of are ones that were significant. The track choices are definitely the must-haves from most of the artists that were represented. I personally felt that some of the chosen tracks were odd choices, but that may be due more to my North American upbringing than to any fault of the compilers. The choices were likely constrained not only by the year of release, but also by their popularity with the UK music buying public at the time of release (it is a UK compilation, after all).

I say that the choices were constrained by their year of release because each side of each album represents the crème-de-la-crème of one year from each year of the 70s. The first LP presents 1970 and 1971: side A presenting only music from 1970, and Side B presenting 1971 and so on… The fifth and final LP in the set collects outstanding tracks from 1978 on side A and 1979 on side B, bringing the decade to a close.

Despite the vast majority of the songs being spectacular, I admit that a few of the choices left me scratching my head. I would have gone with Love is the Drug (1975) instead of Virginia Plain (1972) by Roxy Music, Take A Walk on the Wild Side (1972) instead of its B-Side Perfect Day (1972) by Lou Reed, Bohemian Rhapsody (1975) instead of Killer Queen (1974) by Queen, and Saturday Night (1975) instead of Bye Bye Baby (1974) by The Bay City Rollers, but that’s just me. The choices used on the compilation are great songs, don’t get me wrong, but in the long run they’re not necessarily the song that truly represents the artist: Saturday Night, for example, is definitely The Bay City Rollers‘ signature track so they really should have squeezed it in there somehow. Maybe they were purposefully trying to present less obvious choices?

Now that I own the album and I have given it a spin, a few more glaring omissions have come to my attention. Besides the aforementioned lack of David Bowie, there is also no Supertramp (1974’s Bloody Well Right, 1977’s Give A Little Bit or 1979’s The Logical Song), no Bee Gees (1975’s Jive Talking and Nights on Broadway or 1977’s Staying Alive) and no Sex Pistols (1977’s Anarchy in the UK or God Save the Queen) to name a few. There was instead David Soul, Wizard, and John Miles. Perhaps those songs were huge in the UK, but I find it a bit hard to imagine that they were bigger than anything from the soundtracks of 1977’s “Saturday Night Fever” or 1978’s “Grease”.

Perhaps it was issues with licensing the songs, or perhaps it was a deliberate choice, but there is no way you can squeeze every essential song from the 70s onto a 5LP set. What they did manage to include is a stunning collection of songs. Take a look at these tracks!

As I mentioned above, most of the songs seem to be between 3 and 4 minutes long. In order to achieve this, rather than going the K-Tel route and massacring the tracks for length, the decision seems to have been made to go with the radio-edits where available. For the most part, this was a welcome surprise. Blondie‘s Heart of Glass single edit is, for example, is a bit more melodic and straight-to-the-point than the album mix. It loses some of the random weird noises that were part of the album track, but unfortunately omits the fantastic line “Once had love and it was a gas/soon turned out to be a pain in the ass”. Despite the slight change in lyrics, I still love it.

Boney M.‘s Rivers of Babylon is another example of a nice single edit. The inclusion of the atrociously mutilated edit of Meat Loaf‘s Bat out of Hell, on the other hand, was a crying shame. It sounds like bits of it were literally cut and pasted back together with scissors and glue. I suppose if that was the version you were familiar with from your childhood, the inclusion of it would be welcome, and I also suppose that the consistency of including the single edits where available made it necessary to include it… but I don’t have to like it. (and TBH I would have preferred Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, Hot Summer Night, or Paradise by the Dashboard Light, anyway, LOL!)

Regardless of these minor hiccups in the track list, the sound of these songs is spectacular. They have very obviously been lovingly remastered. The richness of the music comes through despite the length of the selections per side of the album. It’s hardly surprising: The 70s were an amazing time for recorded music. It was the last decade where the vast majority of the music was still recorded with traditional instruments in the arrangements, as opposed to using synthesizers to substitute brass and strings. And it was also a time when studio productions became pristine and exacting. Synths sounded like synths in the 70s and weren’t trying to sound like anything else. Listen to some of the music produced in the 70s and compare it to music by the same artists from the 60s and the 80s: while the production on music from the 60s suffered from limitations of the available technology, the production in the 80s suffered from the over-use of synthesizers that have really not aged well. In many ways, the 70s really were the golden age of audiophile analog recording.

If you can find a copy of this box set for yourself, I highly, highly recommend it. In the meantime, here is a selection of my favourite tracks from collection. There are 74 tracks on the box set. Clocking in at just over 3 hours, here are 45 of them to whet your appetite:

Have I missed anything? Are there any songs I should have included in our playlist? Drop me a line in the comment section below! Remember to subscribe so that you don’t miss our next monthly (ish) post (We’ll never bother you more than once a month). PLUS! subscribers get a discount on any purchase made from us.

As always: we have received no remuneration or compensation for anything we have reviewed in this article and the opinions expressed are genuine at the time of publication. We do it cause we love it. We are not affiliated in any way with any of the products or services that may be mentioned in this article. Any suggestions or links are for your convenience only!

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