The third edition of Now That’s What I Call Music! was released in December 1999, a time when some were concerned that Y2K was actually going to happen and the computers were going to take over in only a few weeks time. The fact that it was released only five months after its predecessor during the peak of the holiday season (for context: NOW 2 was released almost a full year after the premiere edition) probably also points to the fact that NOW 2, for all intensive purposes, was a rousing success. A compilation album going 2x platinum and peaking at #3 isn’t too shabby, and that those involved (see: the record labels) saw that, hey, these compilation albums were actually selling really well, and they could actually be a consistent seller in the United States.
NOW 3 starts off as well as any album ever could with Smash Mouth’s “All Star.” It’s kind of baffling how Smash Mouth was one of the most popular bands in the country for a good two years. In fact, “All Star” is a song so ingrained in the psyche of those who grew up in the late nineties and early 00s despite its over-saturation at the time. It’s a song that really never became “unpopular” – it’s still being covered, parodied, and heavily referenced even today. Ask anyone from the ages of 24-30 nowadays to recite all of the lyrics to “All Star,” and I bet every single one of them could with very little trouble. Back then, everyone at the time knew “All Star,” and today, it remains one of the most recognizable songs of the era.
Of course, NOW 3 doesn’t contain “18 chart topping hits” that are on the same level as “All Star,” but it does contain some interesting artifacts from the time. Including a Britney Spears song at the height of her success makes perfect sense, and “Sometimes” holds up pretty well as a good (not great) pop song about a girl who doesn’t want to confess her true feelings to her significant other. One song that has held up surprisingly well, though: “The Rockafeller Skank” by Fatboy Slim. Maybe it’s just me, but the entirety of his 1998 album, You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby holds up remarkably a full twenty years later. I guess sampling never goes out of style. You know what has gone out of style? Nu-metal. Specifically, Limp Bizkit. I’m sitting here in disbelief that Fred Durst’s “piece de resistance,” “Nookie” – even with its five excruciating cookie filled minute running time – was still a major hit, helping Limp’s second effort go 7x platinum.
NOW 3 is similar in the artists it picks hits from to NOW 2, a total of six artists appear on both compilations, which makes sense given the short time period from which compilers could choose songs from. Artists like 98 degrees (“The Hardest Thing”), Backstreet Boys (“All I Have to Give”), Garbage (“Special”), and R. Kelly (the six minute “If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time”) were all at the height of their fame and commercial power, but the inclusion of all these artists definitely makes the compilations nearly identical in overall style, which becomes even more pronounced when you consider the amount of smooth R&B (way too much) included on both collections. There are differences though – the inclusion of Oleander’s “Heart-Shaped Box” rip off “Why I’m Here” is interesting because it represents the last gasp of the first generation of post-grunge, years before bands like Nickelback, Puddle of Mudd, and 3 Doors Down “revitalized” the genre. Meanwhile, blink-182’s “What’s My Age Again” represents the continuing success of pop-punk, while Fastball’s “Out of My Mind” is a tasteful, organ filled straightforward pop-rock song that closes out the compilation on a nice, even keeled note.
NOW 3 ended up having slightly less chart success than NOW 2, peaking at #4, but still going 2x platinum in the process. All told though, NOW 3 is a weaker overall set of songs than either of its predecessors, mainly due to the inclusion of a number of secondary hit singles from the biggest artists of the time. That does not mean that NOW 3 is unworthy of your time if you really want a taste of the music that was at least moderately popular during the second half of 1999, but it does mean that for all intents and purposes, you can skip it.
Songs Added To The Ultimate NOW Playlist (6): All Star, What’s My Age Again?, Bailamos, Sometimes, The Rockafeller Skank, Out of My Head
Listen to the first NOW and my “Ultimate NOW Playlist” below on Spotify: