by Margaret Chrystall
A couple of weeks ago, the BBC reported that compilation album sales were up seven per cent – reversing a decline that started when iTunes came along in 2004 and the digital revolution swept through the generations.
Leader of the pack is chart hit brand NOW That’s What I Call Music, celebrating its 30th year.
Bang on-trend with the latest sounds of 2013, Now 86 was released last month.
At the top of the compilation chart with 44 tracks of essential sounds of 2013, it goes from Katy Perry’s Roar to the final must-have track - the Lily Allen version of Keane's Somewhere Only We Know, the soundtrack to John Lewis’s cute Bear & Rabbit Christmas ad.
But there is an avalanche of compilations out now to tempt the Christmas shopper in search of the perfect last-minute gift.
There are choices for just about every music taste, good vlue when it's a double or triple album. Here are a few of the big-hitting compilations on CD and online.
Let's start with …
It's a great way to get a quick fix of the biggest-name tracks that have been all over the radio, TV and stuck as soundbites in your head (that'll be you Katy "Ro- Ro-Ro- Roa-o-o-oar…" Perry).
CD One is more impressive with hardly a dud track on it, Katey's earwormy Roar gives way to One Republic counting Stars and Jason Derulo's number one Talk Dirty and its raunchy boast "I know what girls want from London to Taiwan".
Girl of the year - also responsible for word of the year, twerk - Miley Cyrus sings We Can't Stop with Avicii's Wake Me Up, Storm Queen Look Right Through Me following after. James Arthur, Arctic Monkeys' Do I Wanna Know? sets up the unavoidable New Zealander Lorde who raced in as a top new presence and Royals earned its place as one of the year's big surprises. Bruno Mars' Gorilla, Lady Gaga's Applause, One Direction's Best Song Ever and The Wanted's Show Me Love (America) are just a few more reasons to love CD One.
And though the second batch of tracks can't match it, it does start with Fatboy Slim and Riva Starr featuring Beardyman and Eat Sleep Rave Repeat - a track that will take anyone at RockNess in June right back there to Fatboy's main stage set.
But NOW has a whole suite of titles out - and as well as Disney Princesses, there's the perfect selection of Christmas songs on, yes, you guessed it ...
Struggling to get into the Christmas mood? Then this selection of tunes might be the answer. There's a taste of all the usual favourites (Merry Xmas Everybody, A Fairytale Of New York, Nat King Cole's Christmas Song, Walking In The Air, White Christmas, Last Christmas, Blue Christmas, John & Yoko's Happy Christmas War Is Over). But, you also get loads you haven't heard several million times in the shops. Favourites would be Bing and David Bowie's Little Drummer Boy, Band Aid 20's Do They Know It's Christmas, East 17's Stay Another Day, right up to Coldplay's Christmas Lights and Gabrielle Aplin's Power Of Love.
But if you've had nearly enough of Christmas already, there's a compromise with …
It has every treasured Disney song your junior brain could remember - three CDs that go from When You Wish Upon A Star from Pinocchio to Elton John singing Can You Feel The Love Tonight from Lion King. It's a re-release, first out in 2011, but this year the set comes with a bonus Christmas CD, 21 songs from Jingle Bells to other traditional favourites like The Twelve Days Of Christmas and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Cliff Richard has his share of Christmas classics (Mistletoe And Wine, Saviour's Day).
But it's the rock n roll classic songs from the 50s and 60s that inspired his own career that he performs on his latest album - perfect for your auntie or your gran who lived rock n roll back in their day.
CLIFF RICHARD: THE FABULOUS ROCK N ROLL SONGBOOK
Sir Cliff makes the world feel uncomfortable these days, but the one-time Elvis wannabe has his own legions of loyal fans – and as he proved on his recent Graham Norton Show appearance, asy last he can he can laugh at himself – and still sing and still doesn’t look his 73 years. He’s appealing to fellow young at heart listeners and the nostalgia market with his 100th album devoted to covering some classic tracks from the rock n roll songbook. The songs were recorded live in Nashville. Cliff’s versions pay tribute to Elvis (Teddy Bear), Rip It Up by Little Richard – Cliff’s stage surname was in part a tribute to the American – Buddy Holly (Rave On), Wake Up Little Susie by the Everly Brothers and lots of others. But if you’d been inspired to check out that era of music, you’d probably want to go to the originals rather than start with these Cliffed-up versions. And there's a new Elvis compilation out that takes you straight to the real thing… see below.
Quick review: Unmistakeably Cliff, the voice adds the singer’s familiar mannerisms – and some subtle tweaks to classic early rock n roll tracks most of us know really well.
Tracklisting: Rip It Up, Wake Up Little Susie, Poetry In Motion, Sealed With A Kiss, Stood Up, Such A Night, School days, Teddy Bear, Don’t Let Go, Dream Lover, Stuck On You, Fabulous, Rave On, Johnny B Goode, One More Sunny Day.
THE NATION’S FAVOURITE ELVIS SONGS
This 20-track selection of Elvis Presley classics was inspired by the ITV programme with viewers voting for their favourite tracks - and they’ve done well.
All the way from early songs like Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes and Hound Dog, right up to the Vegas years with Suspicious Minds and Willie Nelson’s Always On My Mind, there is also a good mix of moods. Rock out doing the young Elvis swivel-hipped dance to Jailhouse Rock or sit back and wallow in that unmistakeable voice twanging the heartstrings with I Can’t Help Falling In Love. There are millions of Elvis collections, but this one’s packed with as many surefire big-hitters from the King as most. But no Love Me Tender, viewers? That’s a shame.
And if you want to know how the songs were voted in, you can see a repeat of the original ITV programme on Boxing Day (STV, 4.30pm).
Tracklisting: Suspicious Minds, Always On My Mind, Love Me Tender, In The Ghetto, Viva Las Vegas, Jailhouse Rock, Hound Dog, Blue Suede Shoes, All Shook Up, Are You Lonesome Tonight, The Wonder Of You, It’s Now Or Never , Don’t Be Cruel, Heartbreak Hotel, If I Can Dream, An American Trilogy, King Creole, Return To Sender, A Little Less Conversation (JXL Remix), Can’t Help Falling In Love.
THE BETA BAND: THE REGAL YEARS (1997-2004)
This could be the perfect pick-me-up for the Highland fans of the unique, much-missed Scottish band who could at least have seen former member Steve Mason play in Inverness earlier this year … if the gig hadn't been cancelled.
For those who missed out on the band back in the day, this generous five album's-worth of material will fill in the missing sounds, story - even pictures, thanks to the booklet inside, plus double-sided fold-out poster packed with photos and artwork.
From Dry The Rain - the single that started it all on debut EP Champions Versions in 1997 - the eventful and often up and down history of one of the most creative sets of minds of the 90s and beyond is here in the milestone tracks that you need to hear to understand the full story.
Though loads of people loved the first self-titled album on Regal, the band didn't feel so positive. The Beta Band Rap that starts off the album is their own story. But it wasn't until January 2000 that the double A-side single To You Alone/Sequinsizer won the hearts of influential press friends like the NME who made it one of their best 50 singles of the year.
Hot Shots II was the second album that strayed a little less through the byways of the boundaries of new music, but that didn't bother fans or stopped Q magazine again adding the band to their own must-see-before-you-die list.
But even though their third album Heroes To Zeroes made it out in the spring of 2004, disagreements behind the secenes with their record label saw the unexpected band split a few months later.
A Best Of DVD and album hustled out 14 months later.
All the members have gone on to be involved with music, but in different line-ups. Steve Mason has been King Biscuit Time, Black Affair and Good Face, as well as presenting his Boys Outside as himself. Gordon Anderson is better-known now as Lone Pigeon, while John Maclean and Robin Jones are The Aliens.
But as a record of who they were and what Beta Band was, the compilation is thorough, has extras like previously unreleased BBC sessions, original demoes from a cassette made in 1997 and Squares from 2002, the Roman Nose mix. Whether that Roman Nose is any relation to the Mexican masked three-piece who blew away the goNorth tent at Belladrum with psychotic electronica this summer - who knows. It might just be another Beta Band mystery.
Quick review: If you've ever heard of the late Scottish mavericks, The Beta Band - or just heard of them, this massive collection has everything you need to hear. Plus more previously unreleased stuff that adds to the legend.
VIRGIN RECORDS 40TH ANNIVERSARY: FIVE THEMED CD COLLECTIONS
You can't really argue with what unites the artists who have featured on Virgin Records in the 40 years since first album, Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, was released.
It's been "home to mavericks, misfits, rebels, geniuses and nonconformists", claims the blurb - and just a snapshot includes The Sex Pistols, Spice Girls, Magazine, Wilko Johnson, Linton Kwesi Johnson, The Skids, Another Pretty Face (containing The Waterboys' Mike Scott), Robert Wyatt, Giorgio Moroder, Malcolm McLaren and Neneh Cherry (whose first new album in years, Blank Project, is out next February).
There's a sixth collection - more of an overview - also including Soul II Soul, Daft Punk and Enigma, that comes as an add-on to the full box set.
And for those with enough cash to pay for all, you'd also probably need to fork out for a quiet desert island to spend a few months listening to the whole Virgin story.
Losing Our Virginity: The First Four Years 1973 to 1977 goes from Mike Oldfield, Gong, Kevin Coyne, Captain Beefheart, Robert Wyatt to Steve Hillage (It's All Too Much/The Salmon Song) and includes Scottish dark comedy master Ivor Cutler (a show about him comes to Eden Court next year).
Never Trust A Hippy: Punk & New Wave 1976 to 1979 begins with U-Roy and the dub reggae of The Mighty Diamonds and the voice of Johnny Clarke. But the shock from his Roots Natty Roots from March 1977 to two months later - of John Lydon's punk flamethrower of a vocal on God Save The Queen is as powerful as anything on all the sets. It's history happening in your ears.
It's pure pleasure with the odd learning curve attached - for me, Can was a sound heard of but not much heard till checking out I Want More from 1976 on the first of three CDs in the the Methods Of Dance Collection: Electronica & Pop Excursions 1973-1987.
The original compilation vinyl record of the same name had just nine tracks on it, but included BEF, Devo, DAF's jerky dancefloor favourite Der Mussolini, Fingerprintz, Heaven 17- now back playing live plus Japan, Human League, Magazine and Simple Minds' Love Song. So the compilation adds more.
The 70s and early 80s electronic artists Virgin signed is a good spread from the UK history of the sound. From The Human League, Sparks, John Foxx, OMD, DAF to the wobbly-based sound of 1980 that comes free with Japan's bassist Mick Karn and tortured-soul vocals of David Sylvian on Methods Of Dance, the song that gives this set its name.
It also takes in Simple Minds, whose New Gold Dreams gives the title for the 1979 to 1983 Post Punk and New Romantic set of three albums. Highspots here include rehearing Culture Club's Do You Really Want To Hurt Me from 1982 - and Boy George's still devastatingly original voice, his recent album This Is What I Do reminding what a voice it is. But with Magazine, Jah Wobble, Howard Devoto and Martha And The Muffins atmospheric Echo Beach, it's a reminder how fertile a time it was for music.
Fascinating Rhythms: Dancefloor 1988 to 2013 takes you back and forward with an unfolding evolution of the UK's music from the dancefloor.
Inner City's Good Life, Soul II Soul's Back To Life, Public Image Limited, the remixed Heaven 17 Temptation from 1992, Dreadzone's Little Britain, Everything But The Girl's Walking Wounded, The Chemical Brothers' Block Rockin' Beats and up to Swedish House Mafia's Don't You Worry Child and Deadmau5, The Music and Eric Prydz.
OK, up here in the Highlands, we might have missed the London gigs showcasing everyone from Bastille to our own Scots sensations of the year, Chvrches and the exhibition of album covers and artwork.
But the music in these collections does all the talking.
Quick review: Spotlighting five different times and genres from Virgin's 40 years in music, these collections are the sound of history.
TOP GEAR DRIVING ANTHEMS: 50 TURBO CHARGED TRACKS
"It's what the Stig would listen to if he had good taste in music", goes the tagline - and true enough, you'd believe they had traded himand his music taste in for a younger model with a first CD that takes in Bastille's Pompeii, Muse's Hysteria, Biffy Clyro's Many Of Horror, The Vaccines' If You Wanna, ALT-J's Breezeblocks, Tom Odell's Another Love and Ben Howard's Keep Your Head Up.
The next two CDs follow into Primal Scream's Rocks, Iggy Pop's Lust For Life and there's even a few moments when you can see Clarkson and his gang getting stuck in to The Jam's Town Called Malice.. there's even a blast of Glasvegas's Geraldine mid-CD Two for singalong gold and a spot of Champagne Supernova from Oasis to get the party started on CD Three.
Quick review: Great music puts you in the driving seat for singalong heaven - even on the longest and most boring journey you can think of (Jeremy as your co-driver?!).