Ranking Every NOW CD (That Matters) Ever

Close your eyes and let your mind travel back to a place you know all too well. You’re in your childhood bedroom and as you turn your head to the shelf, there sits a stack of NOW CD’s. Probably at least the first ten.

Next month, the latest edition will be released. Any idea what number they’re on now?

Fifty-four.

Fifty…

Four.

NOW 10 was released in July 2002, and it was shortly thereafter that iTunes and digital song downloading began wiping CD’s off the market. Those first ten signified something special. They were the ultimate mix-tapes. Before you could pick and choose exactly what songs you wanted on your playlist, NOW did it for you.

As a series, it was perfectly imperfect; for as many hits, there were equally as many misses.

Naturally, I spent the nicest Saturday of the year so far on my couch putting together an entirely too extensive but 100% necessary look back at those first ten albums.

I had to come up with an objective scale to appropriately grade each one. Here are the categories:

First Song, Best Song, Worst Song, Defining Stretch.

You’ll see why these come into play as we go.

#10: NOW 8

Now 8

First Song: “Bootylicious” (F)

Best Song: “U Got It Bad” (A)

Usher followed up his 1997 album My Way — which produced “You Make Me Wanna” — with 8701, led by “U Got It Bad”.

There’s honestly a reasonable argument for about seven different Usher songs that can say they’re his best ever (I feel another blog post coming!), but I’d go with this one. This is Usher at his best.

Worst Song: “Someone To Call My Lover” – Janet Jackson (D-)

It was hard to pick just one. See below.

Defining Stretch: 

2. “Pop” – NSYNC

3. “I’m Real” – Jennifer Lopez

I’m really reaching here. If I could choose between saving 1,000 starving third-world children or burning every Now 8 CD ever made…I would save the kids. But I’d think about it for a second.

Verdict:

There are honestly more bad songs than good ones on NOW 8. I actually went back to check and see if there was some kind of Producers’ Strike in the music industry around the time this CD came out. It’s like they completely forgot what got them here. It would be like if after the Lakers won three straight titles Shaq decided the next season he was just going to shoot nothing but three’s. That’s how bad Now 8 is.

#9: NOW 1

Now 1

First Song: “Together Again” – Janet Jackson (C)

Best Song: “Mmmbop” – Hanson (A+)

Worst Song: “Never Ever” – All Saints (F)

Defining Stretch: 

8. “If You Could Only See” – Tonic

9. “Mmmbop” – Hanson

10. “Zoot Suit Riot” – Cherry Poppin’ Daddies

Tough to pick a solid stretch on this album, which is honestly one of its biggest flaws. To make a great NOW CD, the whole must be greater than the sum of its parts. It needs flow. The OG NOW had no such flow. But hey, take a timeless classic like “Mmmbop” and sandwich it between two playable tracks and call it a day.

Verdict:

You’re probably hating me while you read this right now, but NOW’s debut just didn’t do it for me. Rome wasn’t built in a day, though, and neither was a Mixtape Empire. These things take time. For example, burying “Sex & Candy” by Marcy Playground in the 17th and final slot was a textbook rookie mistake. You need to close strong, but leaving perhaps your best track until the end on an otherwise clunky set list is just amateur stuff. Maybe they underestimated the song’s staying power. Maybe they thought if they put it at the end, kids may not get that far? I don’t know.

#8: NOW 9

Now 9

First Song: “Get The Party Started/Sweet Dreams” – Pink featuring Redman (C)

Not the best showing from Pink. Covering an 80’s classic and not covering it well. The weakest First Song in this group.

Best Song: “Rollout (My Business)” – Ludacris (A)

LUDA. This song made me feel so much cooler than I really was. You’s a SUPER star boy! That was me!

Worst Song: “Just Push Play” – Aerosmith (F-)

If in 1988 I told you that one day Aerosmith would be on an album with Ginuwine, Ja Rule and Petey Pablo you would have punched me in the groin. Aerosmith would have KILLED the NOW game in its hey-day, but this mid-to-late-life crisis the band went through with this song and “Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” (NOT a good song FYI) should have never seen the light of day.

Keep getting those checks Steven Tyler.

Defining Stretch:

2. “I’m a Slave 4 U” – Britney Spears

3. “Family Affair” – Mary J. Blige

4. “Whenever, Wherever” – Shakira

We bore witness to the beginning of Spears going completely off the reservation, and before we had time to truly process how she got from the Mickey Mouse Club to there, we were bobbing our heads to Mary J. Blige. All was right.

And if you don’t like Shakira…

Verdict:

All great dynasties must come to an end sooner or later, and after maintaining perfection for essentially five straight albums from 3-7, NOW 8 sought to destroy everything they had set out to gain before.

NOW 9 rebounded nicely. It won’t go down as one of the greats, but it had enough heavy hitters to give the franchise reason to believe there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

#7: NOW 2

Now 2

First Song: “…Baby One More Time” – Britney Spears (A+)

They cracked the code here. Arguably the best leadoff hitter NOW ever had.

You want to know when this little boy became a man?

HIT ME BABY ONE MORE TIME

Best Song: “Closing Time” – Semisonic (A++)

Some of you know about my Top 100 Songs list. If you don’t, it’s a list of my top 100 songs. Closing Time is Number 1. This song is everything. Age six was by FAR the best year of my life. If I could freeze myself at any point in time, it would be 1996, I’m staring at the Drew Bledsoe poster on my wall and listening to Closing Time on repeat forever. Life would be good.

Worst Song: “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) (Radio Edit)” – Baz Luhrmann (Whatever is worse than F)

I probably listened to this CD 500 times and I had absolutely no idea this song was on it. Who is Baz Luhrmann? I thought for a second this was the band that sings “She’s So High,” – a TERRIFIC SONG — nope, that’s Tal Bachman. This is the moment I realized the only thing this CD needed was Tal Bachman. That’s a hell of a sentence.

Defining Stretch:

14. “Father of Mine” – Everclear

15. “What I Got” – Sublime

16. “I’ll Never Break Your Heart” – Backstreet Boys

17. “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) (Radio Edit)” – Jay Z

You’ve got one of Everclear’s two biggest hits, one of the most iconic 90’s songs ever, a Backstreet Boys song and HOVA. An uneven first half of the CD closed extremely strong with this one….until the whole Baz Luhrmann Experiment. Seriously can we just pretend that never happened?

Verdict:

A much-needed improvement from NOW 1, we started to see the makings of a dynasty with this collection. It wasn’t perfect, but it showed enough flashes of brilliance to let you know an historic run was on the horizon…

#6: NOW 7

Now 7

First Song: “Survivor” – Beyonce Destiny’s Child (A)

NOW went bold with this edition, giving the first five tracks to female artists. You can’t make a move like that and NOT give Destiny’s Child’s greatest hit the lead-off honors. The rest of the first five:

2. “All for You” – Janet Jackson

3. “Baby, Come Over (This Is Our Night)” – Samantha Mumba

4. “In My Pocket” – Mandy Moore

5. “Play” – Jennifer Lopez

Can we talk about Samantha Mumba having two songs make it on NOW CD’s? Samantha Mumba should not have more songs on NOW CD’s than the Beatles, and the Beatles have zero.

Best Song: “Ride Wit Me” – Nelly (A+)

I can single-handedly point to this song as my inspiration for being as rich as possible in my life. Must be the money!

Is now a good time to point out that I’m blogging about NOW CD’s? No? Great.

Worst Song: “Playas Gon’ Play” – 3LW (D-)

The only reason I picked this here is because it reminds me of Taylor Swift and everything about Taylor Swift’s music is horrible.

Defining Stretch: 

10. “Fiesta Remix” – R. Kelly featuring Jay-Z and Boo & Gott

11. “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” – Eve featuring Gwen Stefani

12. “What Would You Do?” – City High

Combine the filthy beat drop in “Blow Ya Mind” with the only song about prostitution that you feel like you could sing along to in the car with your parents, and R. Kelly, and you have a nice little three-song run. When you think of the best songs of the early 2000’s, “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” probably doesn’t come to mind very quickly, but it should. An underrated classic.

Verdict:

This is an extremely popular pick as the greatest NOW CD ever. I’m not ready to give it that title. It’s too sappy.  Between starting off with five straight Girl Power jams and tossing in ballads like “Never Had a Dream Come True”, “Hanging By A Moment”, “This I Promise You”, I’m convinced that there was not a single man in the room when this CD was made. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I can’t crown a CD that has so many slow-dance songs as the best ever.

#5: NOW 10

Now 10

First Song: “Overprotected” – Britney Spears (D)

I was about to say the most unbreakable record on earth is the one Spears holds for Most First Songs on NOW CD’s. It feels like she has 20. She has only three. It’s actually tied for the second-most with Pink and the Black Eyed Peas (Rihanna is on 3, but one of them is just as a featured artist).

Any guesses who’s number one?

Here are your options:

A) Beyonce

B) Katy Perry

C) Pharell

D) Justin Timberlake

If you guessed B, you win! Katy Perry has FIVE. And that’s including two of the last five. So it’s still the most unbreakable record, but this is Katy’s crown, not Britney’s.

Best Song: “First Date” – Blink-182 (B+)

I was just young enough when this song came out that I had never been on a date. This song was the closest thing I came to one until I was 20…I mean…14. It holds a special place in my heart.

Worst Song: “Girlfriend” – NSYNC featuring Nelly (D)

Not even the worst collaboration Nelly ever had. Looking at you, Tim McGraw.

Defining Stretch:

8. “Move It Like This” – Baha Men

9. “More Than a Woman” – Aaliyah

10. “Uh Huh” – B2K

11. “Always on Time” – Ja Rule featuring Ashanti

Everyone remembers the Baha Men for “Who Let The Dogs Out,” but “Move It Like This” was a quality follow-up. This could spark an entirely new debate: best second-best song for one-hit wonders. That makes sense, right? “Move It Like This” would be a legitimate contender in that argument.

Verdict:

There are a lot of really good songs on this CD, but there isn’t a great one. You need at least one great song to elevate into the discussion of the elite. Without Tom Brady, the Patriots are just the Dolphins. Without a classic hit, NOW 10 is exactly average.

#4 NOW 3

Now 3

First Song: “All Star” – Smash Mouth (A+)

Best Song: “All Star” – Smash Mouth (A+)

Worst Song: “Chante’s Got a Man” – Chante (F)

Putting your own name in a song is like giving yourself your own nickname (Cough…Dwyane Wade. People don’t forget). I think we can all do without ever listening to, or thinking about, Chante ever again. Okay great.

Defining Stretch:

1. “All Star” – Smash Mouth

2. “American Woman” – Lenny Kravitz

3. “What’s My Age Again?” – Blink-182

4. “Bailamos” – Enrique Iglesias

5. “Sometimes” – Britney Spears

6. “All I Have to Give” – Backstreet Boys

Damn. Now 3 coming in HOT. This is easily the most top-heavy NOW CD in history. A perfect blend of feel-good, head-banging jams with breakout stars and mainstays BSB and Spears. By the way, there is no song on earth that gives you an ENTIRELY different feeling the second you turn a certain age than “What’s My Age Again?”. When all of a sudden you’re looking down at 23, this song is ruined. Hold on while I go do the dishes.

Verdict:

There is absolutely a case for this to top the list of greatest NOW CD’s ever. I just can’t bring myself to hand the title to a disc that can claim the bands Ideal, Oleander, Case, and Chante.

…And I just broke the Chante Rule. Yeah, not the best.

#3: NOW 4

Now 4

First Song: “Larger than Life” – Backstreet Boys (A)

“Bow bow bow wow…”

Just a perfect first four beats for a NOW CD. So Electric. So 90’s. So NOW. This was a landmark moment for the franchise. Suddenly, NOW was self-aware. After a bumpy start, NOW truly was larger than life. The best was yet to come.

Best Song: “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” – Eiffel 65 (A+)

Find me one person between the age of 25-35 who can’t perfectly recite the chorus to this song on command. You have a better chance of finding someone who knows the first 100 digits of pi than can’t sing the chorus to “Blue.” There are about five songs on this CD that could have earned this title, but you can’t compete with that staying power. Also, if anyone knows what the hell this song is even talking about that would be great. Tweet me @JoshParcell. 

Worst Song: Tie between “Get It On Tonite” – Montell Jordan, & “This Time Around” – Hanson

Two artists/bands that should have stopped while they were ahead. NOW made the critical mistake of giving Jordan/Hanson another chance after producing ageless one-hit wonders.

(Side note: apparently Hanson has a Christmas album that’s pretty good? Can anyone confirm this?)

Defining Stretch:

10. “Try Again” – Aaliyah

11. “Waiting For Tonight” – Jennifer Lopez

When you dig a little deeper at this album, the biggest criticism is it never really has a murderer’s row. That’s what keeps it from being truly elite. “Try Again” and “Waiting for Tonight” is about as solid of a 90’s female Pop R&B duo you could find. It gets a slight edge over the 1-2 punch of “Larger than Life and “(You Drive Me) Crazy”.

Verdict:

Like I said, a lack of quality flow holds this back from claiming All-Time Great status. With heavy-hitters like “Meet Virginia,” “All The Small Things,” “Blue”, and some others mentioned above, NOW 4 is unquestionably a top-five record. Song order matters, and with a little more thought and effort, this could have been the greatest. Work sucks, I know.

#2: NOW 5

Now 5

First Song: “It’s Gonna Be Me” – NSYNC (A-)

So follow me along this wormhole for a second. Obviously I was in love with the girl in the music video for this song (same girl who was the puppeteer in “Bye Bye Bye”). It’s easily the biggest takeaway from this song. Man was she perfect.

So, being the Internet sleuth that I am, I decide to dive deep into the burrows of the Internet (meaning I Googled “It’s Gonna Be Me Music Video Girl”) and discover that her name was Kim Smith. Fun fact: she went to the Friday Night Lights High School! Permian High in Odessa Texas.

HOW WAS SHE NOT IN FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.

SHE WENT TO THE FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS SCHOOL. SHE’S AN ACTRESS AND OH YEAH A MODEL.

This is without question one of the biggest “What Ifs” in movie history. She did actually appear as someone named Lauren Davis for three episodes in the TV adaptation, so all is not lost. Still, we missed out on greatness. If I could go back in time and give Derrick Rose bionic knee cartilage at birth or give Kim Smith a starring role in Friday Night Lights I would go with Smith 10 times out of 10.

Now I know what you’re thinking…

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 4.55.10 PM

Damn. Sorry fellas.

Best Song: “Absolutely (Story of the Girl)” – Nine Days

Shout out to anyone who’s ever stopped beside me at a red light when I’ve been singing this at the top of my lungs with the windows down. You’re welcome.

Worst Song: “Faded” – SoulDecision

Literally the only bad song on the album. The only one. It’s the 2013 Mario Chalmers of NOW 5 songs. “Faded” was absolutely carried by a legendary track list that will never be duplicated again.

Defining Stretch:

15. “Back Here” – BBMak

16. “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” – Nine Days

17. “Kryptonite” – 3 Doors Down

18. “Wonderful” – Everclear

19. “It’s My Life” – Bon Jovi

It does not get better than this. If you were seven years old and had fallen so deeply in love with a girl from school that “Back Here” was the only song you listened to for days at a time, this was the perfect CD for you. Not that I know.

What a run, though. I can’t hear “Kryptonite” without wanting to run headfirst through a fencepost. Who doesn’t wish they could count to 10 and make everything wonderful again? Just a beautiful five-song stretch that edges out the rest of a loaded lineup to hold this title.

Verdict:

It’s probably a unanimous pick to make the NOW Mount Rushmore. Even if it’s not your all-time favorite, no one’s dropping it out of the top four. I just can’t give it the top spot. Blame SoulDecision.

#1: NOW 6

Now 6

First Song: “Stronger” Britney Spears (A)

Good song that gets a bump because of the kick-ass siren off the top that drops you off a cliff and straight into the canyon of this amazing collection of 19 early 2000’s pop hits. Put this song anywhere else on the album and its an afterthought. Good roster management by NOW. This was its prime.

Best Song: “It Wasn’t Me” – Shaggy (A++++++)

NOW was in such complete Cruise Control Mode at this point that it could get away with having “Independent Woman Part I”, a song about feminism and ***girl power***, only to follow it up with Shaggy telling the story of how he was caught cheating on his girlfriend on every square inch of their house. And it worked. When you make a song that gets nine-year olds the shout out “saw me kissing on the sofa/I even had her in the shower” without anyone thinking “hey, maybe we shouldn’t let impressionable pre-adolescent children listen to this song” is a modern miracle. You’re a magician, Shag.

Worst Song: None.

Even the Creed song is good.

Defining Stretch:

10. “I Wish” – R. Kelly

11. “Shape of My Heart” – Backstreet Boys

12. “Crazy for This Girl” – Evan and Jaron

13. “Yellow” – Coldplay

14. “Again” – Lenny Kravitz

15. “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” – Fuel

16. “With Arms Wide Open” – Creed

17. “Drive” – Incubus

18. “Beautiful Day” – U2

19. “AM Radio” – Everclear

Again, there’s not a single swing and miss on the whole album, but “Gotta Tell You” by Samantha Mumba is the closest thing to dead weight I could find. That means the back half of this CD gives it the nod over the first nine tracks. You have Coldplay’s top song ever, the last U2 song that was actually good, a top-3 Backstreet Boys ballad, and R. Kelly. THIS CD HAS EVERYTHING.

Verdict:

The best. Stop the fight. If I’m ever placed in solitary confinement for the rest of my life just give me this CD and I’ll be okay.

***

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