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NOW! The Christmas Album

Christmas 1985 and for one time only I was allowed to open one present early. It was a copy of ‘NOW! The Christmas Album’ and I was allowed to open it on Christmas Eve. I’m not actually sure why this was, but it did mean that I could play the album right away, meaning that Christmas was filled with music.

The album was a separate strand of the ‘Now! That’s What I Call Music’ series alongside ‘Now! The Dance Album’ and ‘Now! The Classics Album’. The format was the same; 18 tracks by various artists, and it has now been superseded by newer collection which use the title ‘Now! That’s What I Call Christmas’.

The album opened with ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’ the Band Aid song. In 1985 this was still a big deal, the fact that all those people got together and made the song. Then that summer we had Live Aid as well. The 1985 me was thrilled to have a copy of this song.

After Band Aid came the two big hitters of the glam era. Roy Wood & Wizard with ‘I which it could be Christmas everyday’ and the immortal Slade song ‘Merry Xmas Everyboby’. Great songs that appeal to kids but now bring back the nostalgia. I can’t help but smile when I hear Noddy Holder scream “It’s Christmas”.

Then bang up to date with ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham, who were perhaps the most relevant artist on the album, but who would break up the following year to allow George Michael to pursue a solo career.

Back to the 70s for a below par Elton John and urm Gary Glitter. More than a decade before his arrest no one thought twice about the inclusion of ‘Another Rock and Roll Christmas’ and at the time it wasn’t the most controversial inclusion on the album.

One song that always irritated me was Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ partly this could be down to the early use of synthesised vocal tuning, a precursor to autotune that McCartney uses to create the backing vocals, he recorded the song entirely on his own, but also it is one of the lyrics: “A choir of children sing their song, they’ve practised all year long.” I always imagined a group of Liverpudlian kids being slightly cheesed off at having to practice one Christmas song on a boiling hot August day.

It’s John Lennon and Yoko Ono who kick off side two, this side is more of a mixed bag.Plus it includes not one but four anti war songs. Following John and Yoko is Greg Lake with ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’ then paired together are Chris De Burgh’s ‘A Spaceman Came Travelling’ and Jona Lewie with ‘Stop the Cavalry’ The message of peace on earth really was pushed.

Track 15 is Queen with the oft forgotten ‘Thank God it’s Christmas’. Later versions of the album, and the CD issue in 1989, omit this track. Officially because some people found the title offensive although perhaps it had more to do with the revelations about Freddie Murcury’s sexuality.

Rounding out the album are two classics. Johnny Mathis’ ‘When a Child is Born’ and Bing Crosby with ‘White Christmas’. Two timeless songs and perhaps the more normal christmas fare.

Personally I loved the album, and would play it over Christmas for many years. Looking back on it now it is surprising how old most of the songs were in 1985. The vast majority were recorded in the 70s and some even before that. In many ways ‘NOW! The Christmas Album’ seems to have been an attempt to make some money off Band Aid. Only 25p went to the charity so there probably was a nice profit margin for Virgin/EMI.

That said the songs themselves, performed by the original artists, are all classics. The more recent Christmas releases in the ‘NOW’ series have featured covers by contemporary artists, and that doesn’t really work. Although it would have been interesting to hear U2 have a go at ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ or UB40 have a crack at ‘Wonderful Christmastime’.

Most of all this album is the memory of Christmas past, or the tinsel and presents under the tree, as well as that one time I was allowed to open a present early.