Sounds like … most of the most popular artists and their hits from the past year in Christian radioAt a Glance … WoW Hits 2003 puts the series back on track, though there are a handful of conspicuous exclusions.

It's time to be WoW-ed again. Right on schedule comes the release of WoW Hits 2003, the latest installment in the series that's presented the best in Christian music since the release of WoW 1996. It's interesting that the last two WoW releases represent the best and worst in the series. WoW Hits 2001 got it mostly right, focusing on the year's biggest hits and artists as opposed to just including popular artists. This was probably in recognition that the year 2000 featured a slew of new artists, and a few new releases from established artists. In contrast, WoW Hits 2002 was the worst year-end compilation I've heard in quite some time. There's no questioning the quality of the music represented, but WoW Hits 2002 largely focused on "future hits," songs that hadn't been released yet as singles, and as it turns out, never were. It was simply a marketing tool to point to certain key releases without including the radio singles that made the releases worthwhile in the first place. On top of that, the cover art took a completely different direction by showing a man holding an inner tube to represent the "o" in WoW. The WoW creators needed to decide if the series is a sampler of new songs or a comprehensive retrospective of the year's best material.

I was stunned to read press materials from Sparrow concerning WoW Hits 2003, which seem to echo my opinions. The end result is also indicative — WoW Hits 2003 is one of the best compilations yet, representing most of what you'd expect of a "best of the year" compilation. It would be silly of me to list all of the tracks found on the two CDs here — click on the album image or the listen/buy links above to read the full listing. You'll find a collection packed with Top-10 radio songs, including 12 #1 hits and 10 Top-5 singles. If you want to justly acknowledge Michael W. Smith's wildly successful Worship album, you include the album's hit "Above All" (or perhaps "Purified"), but not his cover of "Breathe," which was on last year's WoW. The producers could have included "Breathe" in the case of Rebecca St. James, since it was a popular radio single for her this year, though they wisely decided to include the current single, "Song of Love" from Worship God. Audio Adrenaline's "Ocean Floor," Nichole Nordeman's "Holy," Third Day's "Come Together," Jars of Clay's "I Need You," Steven Curtis Chapman's "Magnificent Obsession," and Newsboys' smash "It Is You" are just some examples of WoW getting it right this year.

It's odd that Paul Colman Trio is included as a "bonus track" with their very popular #1 hit "Turn." The notion of including bonus tracks on a compilation that advertises 30 hits seems rather silly to begin with – are these extras hits or aren't they? Save the new music for new music samplers and give the successful artists their just acknowledgement when it's warranted, regardless of whether or not their album is selling well. That's wishful thinking, unfortunately. Record labels are very protective of their biggest hits, especially if they still generate albums sales for their artists. How else can you explain the absence of Bob Carlisle's "Butterfly Kisses" five years ago, or more currently, the exclusion of Mercy Me's "I Can Only Imagine?" WoW's sole reason for being is to feature the year's biggest Christian hits and artists, yet it's missing the year's biggest hit of them all.