As we headed back from our family's Summer vacation in Las Vegas in 1999, we stopped at a new outlet cluster north of Phoenix in a town called Anthem. Among the Bose, Nike and dozens of other upscale outlet stores was a CD store, CD Outlet or something like that. I spent most of our time at the outlet mall in the CD store and when the wife and kids finally joined me, I encouraged all of them to pick out a CD to listen to on the three hours left before we got home. Either my daughter (then 11) or oldest son (then 8) soon handed me a disc that instantly reminded me of a K-Tel album just based on the cover art. A closer looked revealed that it was more like a K-Tel compilation than I had first thought, containing 18 Top Hits including many of my children's favorite songs. (This was not my first experience with the Now series.) Noticing it was number 2, we began to search for the first in the series. Someone eventually found it and though I wanna say we bought six or seven discs that day, I only remember the two pictured below because we listened to them on the last leg of our journey and listening to my kids sing along is one of my treasured memories.
By 1999, I had all but checked out of the pop music scene, instead focusing on my passion for hard rock, gangsta rap and classic rock & soul. My three kids loved pop music though and we listened to the local Top 40 station (KRQQ) on the way home from school most days while they indulged me and listened to my music on way to school in the mornings. But that day on the drive home with those first two volumes of Now That's What I Call Music!, I fell in love with a few new songs. Probably my favorite one was track 7 on the first disc, a song by All Saints called "Never Ever" that haunted me for a few days before I eventually bought the group's self-titled CD which featured an even longer version of the gospel-tinged song with an extended spoken intro.
The video above was specially made for American audiences when "Never Ever" was released here in July 1998 after the topping the UK chart for the week of January 17, 1998. The original UK version of the music video for "Never Ever" appears below.
Though I never heard it on our daily KRQQ listens, "Never Ever" eventually peaked at number 4 on Billboard's Hot 100 and ended up being the 42nd biggest hit of 1998. I've listened to it hundreds of times over the past 18 years but only sought the group out on YouTube after hearing their latest album. In addition to the videos above there are other appearances including Top Of The Pops and an a voices only version from the 1998 MTV Europe Awards. Some critics say the song is just an "Amazing Grace" rewrite but I don't hear it though both songs have a similar effect on me - calming, soothing, chill.
Released just a few months after "Never Ever", Divine's "Lately" was more of the same and in that thing I do that links two songs, "Lately" and "Never Ever" are bound together - when I hear one I need to hear the other. A slow grooving ballad with gospel flourishes and some heavenly harmonies, "Lately" topped the Hot 100 in the last week of November 1998 while "Never Ever" lingered at number 22 for the second week in a row in its nineteenth week on the chart. Interestingly, the songs charted adjacently at numbers 15 and 16 on October 10th and at numbers 12 and 13 the following week before "Lately" surged ahead on its way to the top. I first heard the song in a record store and bought the CD single as soon as I laid my hands on it.
"Lately" peaked at number 2 on the R&B chart the week after it topped the Hot 100 right behind Deborah Cox's "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here" which held the top spot for 14 weeks across the end of 1998 and the beginning of 1999. Divine appeared on a few TV shows promoting their single, including Donny & Marie and The Howie Mandel Show (the volume is very soft on this one).
(thanks to EduShyster for the loan of the graphic at top of post)