RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Think back just a few decades to the 1990s.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL MY LIFE")
K-CI AND JOJO: (Singing) All my life, I've prayed for someone like you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AS LONG AS YOU LOVE ME")
BACKSTREET BOYS: (Singing) I don't care who you are...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAY YOU'LL BE THERE")
SPICE GIRLS: (Singing) Giving you everything...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLY AWAY")
LENNY KRAVITZ: (Singing) I want to get away. I want to fly away. Yeah, yeah...
MARTIN: If you wanted to hear Lenny Kravitz, Backstreet Boys or the Spice Girls on demand, you'd have to go to the store and buy the entire album. If you wanted just the hits, you had to listen to the radio or you could buy a compilation CD, like "Now That's What I Call Music!"
The first "Now!" CD the in the U.S. was released in 1998 and went platinum. And every completion since has been in Billboard's top-10. This past week, the 50th volume was released, a milestone that stands out considering how much has changed since that first album.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY")
PHARRELL WILLIAMS: (Singing) It might seem crazy what I'm about to say.
MARTIN: And I'm not just talk about the music itself, but the way people listen to it. We caught up with Jeff Moskow. He's the head of A&R for "Now That's What I Call Music!" in the U.S.
A&R stands for artist and repertoire, which means he has been in charge of picking the playlist since album number four. So I asked him, in 2014, the age of downloads and streaming services, are compilations like "Now That's What I Call Music!" still relevant?
JEFF MOSKOW: It is absolutely still relevant. People, they don't really have a lot of time to buy songs, put them into a playlist form, connect that in their car. They want someone who they trust to put this curated playlist together for them.
MARTIN: How in the world do you go about making those decisions - yes on this song, no on this song?
MOSKOW: In the past, before digital sales and before streaming, a song would get played. It would move itself up the charts. Then we would select the songs from that list. Now we do use an airplay, but there's also other elements today. Social virality, you know, tracks an artist that have a momentum, and sometimes that happens before the song necessarily gets airplay. And on "Now! 50," we have "#Selfie" by The Chainsmokers, which is getting airplay now, but at the time we selected, it was really a viral phenomenon.
MARTIN: But do you think about how the album hangs together? Does anyone think about that anymore?
MOSKOW: Oh, other than selecting the songs, that's the most important part. I will wring my hands over a quarter of a second in space between one or two tracks because it has to have just the right flow and just the right time. And you're trying to create moments of drama where one song ends and another song begins and consumers are having a great time.
MARTIN: Jeff Moskow puts together the music compilations for the series "Now That's What I Call Music!" in the United States. Jeff, thanks so much for talking with us.
MOSKOW: My pleasure. Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE CHAINSMOKERS SONG, "#SELFIE")
MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.