The album, Twenty Centuries Of Hits, is bound to generate heated debate among musicologists and fans; it ranges from fragments of the music of ancient Greece through medieval plainsong and the courtly dance of "Green- sleeves" to Bing Crosby and the rock 'n' roll anthem "Louie Louie".
Cary Ginell, an American musicologist who advised the Los Angeles-based label Rhino on the project, said: "It's a selected history of the development of music in the western world over 2,000 years. It's not meant to be definitive, but the selections represent major musical trends that became historically significant."
The last 200 years proved so diverse and controversial that the compilers broke the one-track-per-century rule and allowed two selections. The 19th century is represented by the Stephen Foster song "Swanee River" and a spiritual, "Amazing Grace".
This century is typified by the insistent beat of the Kingsmen's 1963 hit "Louie Louie" - a song which now boasts at least 1,200 latterly recorded cover versions - and Bing Crosby's rendering of Hoagy Carmichael's "Star Dust". David McLees, vice-president of Rhino, said: "The early half of the 20th century is crooners, and the second half, rock. We thought "Louie Louie" encapsulated rock more than any other choice we could make. The modern stuff was incredibly difficult to choose. The ancient stuff was easier because there is so little that has survived."
But selecting from earlier centuries generated its own problems. "One of the most controversial subjects is what music sounded like before notation began around the 9th century," Mr Ginell said.
"Anything disseminated orally can be affected by distortions and inaccuracies, but there were rudimentary patterns that have been preserved in one form or another."
The first three centuries are all represented by music from ancient Greece, but Christian tradition takes over in the 4th century with "Te Deum Laudamus", reputedly the first great hymn and, according to legend, once sung by saints Ambrose and Augustine.
By the 6th century, Gregorian chant had established itself, and church music dominates the collection until the inclusion of troubadours in 12th- century southern France. "A L'Entrada del Temps Clar" is believed to be one of the earliest written secular songs, and one which arose quite separately from ecclesiastical tradition.
Things became even more secular after the Dark Ages, with "Greensleeves" (16th century) and the emergence of folk songs, including "Barbara Allen" and "St James Hospital" in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Mr McLees said: "It's the ultimate concept, and with the millennium approaching, we thought there would be some interest."
Further millennium albums planned by the label include Great Moments Of The 20th Century, a collection of historical soundbites, and Great Voices of The 20th Century, featuring the top vocalists of the past 100 years.
TWENTY CENTURIES OF HITS
"Epitaph of Seikilos"
Anonymous words of an ancient Greek drinking song, found on a tombstone
"Hymn To The Muse"
Mesomedes of Crete
"Oxyrhynchus Hymn Fragment" Anonymous Greek words and notation to the first Christian hymn, found on a papyrus document in 1922
"Te Deum Laudamus"
Anonymous early plainsong
"Pange Lingua Gloriosi
"Verbum Caro Factum Est" Anonymous Gregorian chant
"Urbs Ierusalem Beata"
Anonymous early English hymn from Salisbury
"Ave Maris Stella"
"Hymn To The Virgin Mary" Anonymous
"Victimae Paschali Laudes" Wipo Of Burgundy
"A L'Entrada del Temps Clar" Anonymous troubadour's song
"Edi beo Thu Hevene Quene" Anonymous early polyphony
"Gloria from Notre Dame Mass" Guillaume de Machaut
"Quam Pulcra Es"
Attrib Richard Jones
"Barbara Allan" Traditional
"St James Hospital"
"Swanee River" Stephen Foster
John Newton/William Walker
"Star Dust" Bing Crosby
"Louie Louie" Richard BerryReuse content