NOW That’s What I Call Music! turns 40

Sepia photo of Richard Branson with long hair, sitting down in a suit in a relaxed fashion whist listening to music
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Richard Branson's signature
Published on 1 December 2023

What do a pig, a chicken, a record label and a marriage have in common?

As NOW That’s What I Call Music! turns 40, I’ve been looking back at the illustrious history of the most successful compilation series of all time.

It all started in the early 1980s, when I walked into a bric-a-brac shop in Westbourne Grove. I’d fallen in love with a beautiful woman who worked there, and had to buy something each time I went in so I could talk to her. One day a Danish Bacon poster caught my eye. It had a pig leaning over a fence while a chicken squawked after laying an egg, and the caption Now, That’s What I call Music.

I took the poster back to the Virgin Records office as a gift to Simon Draper, who ran our label with me. We were riding high in the charts with everyone from Phil Collins to Culture Club, UB40 to The Human League. But we were tired of third party labels using our hits and making money out of our success. We knew we could do it better, so we decided to make our own compilation albums. We convinced EMI to partner with us on it, so we could get all the biggest hits of the day onto one record.

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Now, all we needed was a name. There on the wall was the Danish Bacon poster. Suddenly, we had our name: NOW That’s What I Call Music! We released it in time for Christmas, selling one million copies in the process.

The compilations have become iconic, representing so many emotions and memories for people all over the world. NOW albums always capture a particular moment in time, with smart curation and great design helping them remain popular for decades.

To see NOW turning 40 has brought back so many wonderful memories.

The woman who sold me the poster in the bric-a-brac shop? Her name was Joan. She’s now my wife.