There have been a number of similarly-titled compilations through the years, both in Britain and America, all of them with very different track listings. So, in case there's any confusion, this review refers to the British triple CD originally released in 2006.
Many of these songs have appeared on previous compilations, not just in the Now series but in the Best Christmas in the world ever series and on other compilations. Nevertheless, as a package containing Christmas music from the fifties to the new millennium, this one is hard to beat. The obvious rival is another British compilation, Christmas Hits, which is now a 4-CD set including a CD of carols sung by choirs.
You'll find plenty of songs that have become familiar during the festive season in Britain as well as some less obvious selections. Some obvious classics are missing; you'll find most of them on Christmas Hits, though I can`t help noticing that some classics (one example being Roy Orbison's Pretty paper) don`t appear on either, but they are not too difficult to find if you really want them. Comparison with Christmas Hits shows some duplication of songs, but usually featuring different versions, so the original appears on one with the other featuring a cover. Four tracks appear in their original versions on both compilations, these being Fairytale of New York (Pogues and Kirsty MacColl), Rockin' around the Christmas tree (Brenda Lee), Stop the cavalry (Jona Lewie) and Power of Love (Frankie Goes to Hollywood) Here, you'll find the original versions of Merry Xmas everybody (Slade), The Christmas song (Nat King Cole) and White Christmas (Bing Crosby), cover versions of which appear on Christmas hits. Meanwhile, the other compilation has original versions of Santa baby (here performed by Kylie Minogue rather than Eartha Kitt), All I want for Christmas is you (here performed by Samantha Mumba rather than Mariah Carey), Mary's boy child (here performed by Matt Monro rather than Harry Belafonte or Boney M), Driving home for Christmas (here performed by Michael Ball rather than Chris Rea) and Last Christmas (here performed by State of the Heart rather than Wham), so there`s not a lot to choose between them overall. Another interesting song is Walking in the air. First performed by Peter Auty (in The snowman), it later became a UK hit for Aled Jones. You'll find the original version on Christmas Hits and the hit version here.
Do they know it`s Christmas?, a number one UK hit originally for Band Aid but later for Band Aid 20, is represented here by both versions. You may remember another version of the song from the late eighties that made the UK top 3, but I can't ever remember seeing that version on a compilation (though I could have missed it) and it`s not here; it's not as good as the original but I prefer it to Band Aid 20`s version, which I don`t particularly care for. Cliff Richard, who sang on that elusive version, is represented by three songs here (Mistletoe and wine, Little town, Saviour's day); you'll find Millennium prayer on Christmas Hits. Other popular songs include Happy Xmas war is over (John Lennon), I wish it could be Christmas everyday (Wizzard), Little Saint Nick (Beach Boys), Lonely this Christmas (Mud), Wonderful Christmas time (Paul McCartney) and Step into Christmas (Elton John) to name just a few.
There are tracks here that happened to be UK hits at Christmas in the year of their release as singles, but which otherwise have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, but so does Christmas hits. Conversely, I suspect that some of the tracks that obviously have a Christmas theme may not actually have been hits, but most of the tracks here are genuine Christmas songs that were hits in the UK singles charts, just as on Christmas hits.
If you don't have any compilation of Christmas pop and rock music and you only want one, you may have a hard choice deciding between this one and Christmas Hits, but if you can afford to, you could buy both as there are only four duplicated tracks, though there is plenty of duplication of songs. I prefer this one, but only marginally; however, if I'd chosen to buy only one, I'd have bought Christmas hits because it contains more material that I didn't already have.