Which Now That’s What I Call Music! Is The Best?

This week’s Billboard album chart featured few surprises, mainly involving pre-Grammy sales bumps for Justin Bieber and Mumford & Sons (expect more of those increases next week) and a post-Super Bowl surge from the Black Eyed Peas. At the top of the heap was the 37th (!) volume of the Now That’s What I Call Music! series, which collects hits from Eminem (“Love the Way You Lie”), Katy Perry (“Firework”), Ke$ha (“We R Who We R”) and Taylor Swift (“Mine”). It also includes chart-topping smashes like Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are,” Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” and Far East Movement’s “Like a G6,” not to mention chart sensations like Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” and Pitbull’s “Hey Baby (Drop It to the Floor).”

That’s a pretty dense collection of singles, which begs the question: Is Now That’s What I Call Music! 37 the best in the series’ history?

Typically, Now collections are front-loaded with big hits (typically stuff that dominated the charts six to eight months ago) and usually taper off with weaker rock tracks or unknowns toward the back. And while Now 37 certainly has its share of question marks, we count 17 of the 20 tracks to be genuine smashes. That’s a strike rate of 85%, which is a pretty high mark.

Comparatively speaking, previous incarnation Now 36 only contained one chart-topper (Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream”) and had a hit rate of 60%. Now 35? That had two number ones, but only half of its track list could really be considered top shelf (even though 16 of its 20 songs were still in the Billboard Hot 100 at the time of its release).

Of course, some of the older entries in the Now series have the benefit of hindsight, which is why an entry like Now 10 (which features hits from Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue, Jennifer Lopez, *NSYNC, Nickelback and Ja Rule) looks especially impressive now (and perhaps more so than it did when it was released in 2002). Of course, time hurts some of these too (2004′s Now That’s What I Call Music! 17 looks pretty flat today).

But overall, we have to give the nod to Now That’s What I Call Music! 14. It has several hits that were absolutely larger than life (Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” and the Black Eyed Peas’ “Where Is the Love?”), a handful of delightful hip-hop novelties (Chingy’s “Right Thurr,” Murphy Lee’s “Wat Da Hook Gon Be”), a tremendously underrated R. Kelly song (“Thoia Thong”) and a couple of excellent little radio rock tunes for good measure (Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom,” the Ataris’ cover of “The Boys of Summer,” Liz Phair’s “Why Can’t I?” and 3 Doors Down’s “Here Without You”). That’s a lot of big hits spread over a lot of different styles and genres, which makes that particular Now entry one against which all others should be judged.

What’s your favorite entry in the Now series? Let us know in the comments!