There was a time when virtually all major album releases were in stores by Thanksgiving. Now, record companies drop big releases deep into December. T.I.'s No Mercy is due on Dec. 7. Michael Jackson's MICHAEL is slated for release on Dec. 14. Jamie Foxx's Best Night Of My Life and Keyshia Cole's Calling All Hearts are due on Dec. 21. Akon's Stadium is expected before the end of the year. And that's just for starters.
There are a couple of reasons for big releases edging closer and closer to Dec. 25. For one thing, the increased use of sampling has made publishing clearances increasingly complex and time-consuming. Also, hit-starved record companies will work miracles to get albums that are delivered late out in time to capitalize on the biggest sales weeks of the year.
Taylor Swift's Speak Now kicked off the fourth-quarter with a bang when it sold 1,047,000 copies in its first week in October. Susan Boyle's The Gift followed two weeks later. The album, which is dominated by Christmas songs, has topped 300,000 in sales in each of its first two weeks.
Boyle's previous album I Dreamed A Dream dramatized how fourth-quarter releases can pile up big sales in a hurry. It sold 3,104,000 copies in the last six weeks of 2009 and finished as the #2 album of the year. Andrea Bocelli's My Christmas, which was also a November release, finished #5 for the year.
Kanye West's fifth album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, led a strong lineup of albums that were released on Monday. Each of West's four previous albums debuted with first-week sales of 400,000 copies or more.
Other albums that were released on Monday that are expected to debut powerfully on next week's chart include Nicki Minaj's debut album, Pink Friday; My Chemical Romance's first regular studio album in four years, Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys; the soundtrack to the Cher musical Burlesque; Ke$ha's EP Cannibal; Ne-Yo's fourth album Libra Scale; Jesus Culture's Come Away; a remastering of Nine Inch Nails' 1990 album Pretty Hate Machine and a pair of greatest hit compilations, Jay-Z's The Hits Collection Volume 1 and Alan Jackson's 34 Number Ones.
Tuesday is the customary release day for new releases, but the schedule was advanced by one day this week because of the Thanksgiving holiday. But numerous imports were released on Tuesday, including Pet Shop Boys' Ultimate Pet Shop Boys: Special Edition, Justin Bieber's My World Acoustic, Westlife's Gravity and Take That's Progress.
The Black Eyed Peas' The Beginning and Glee: The Music, Volume 4 lead the list of albums due in stores next Tuesday. The Peas' last album, The E.N.D., debuted at #1 and produced three #1 hits. This is the eighth collection from Glee in a little more than a year (the tally includes three EPs and a Christmas album). The first seven all made the top 10.
Other key Nov. 30 releases include Tim McGraw's Number One Hits, Chrisette Michele's Let Freedom Reign, Jazmine Sullivan's Love Me Back, El DeBarge's aptly-titled comeback album Second Chance, Eric Benet's Lost In Time, Bryan Adams' Bare Bones and Ron Isley's Mr. I.
Also due on Dec. 7: Daft Punk's Tron Legacy, Duffy's Endlessly, Charlie Wilson's Just Charlie, Natasha Bedingfield's Strip Me, Hinder's The All American Nightmare, Plain White T's' Wonders Of The Younger, Deadmau5's 4X4=12, Christian Kane's The House Rules and the soundtrack to The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader.
Michael Jackson's MICHAEL is the top Dec. 14 release. The soundtrack to last year's Michael Jackson's This Is It debuted at #1. Other key Dec. 14 releases include R. Kelly's Love Letter, Ciara's Basic Instinct, Crystal Bowersox's Farmer's Daughter, Ryan Adams & the Cardinals' III/IV, Phish's Alpine Valley 2010 and Tank's Now Or Never.
Jamie Foxx's Best Night Of My Life and Keyshia Cole's Calling All Hearts are the leading Dec. 21 releases. Foxx's last two albums, Unpredictable and Intuition, were both platinum sellers. Cole's three previous albums all made the top 10.
Also due that day:, Keri Hilson's No Boys Allowed, Ghostface Killah's Apollo Kids, Yo Gotti's Live From The Kitchen, Avant's The Letter and the soundtrack to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1, Limited Edition Collector's Box Set.
Jesse McCartney's Have It All is due Dec. 28.
Michael Jackson's Vision, which was released on Monday, will probably be the season's top DVD title. Selena's Selena: Performances was also released Monday. Other key fourth-quarter DVD releases include Beyonce's I Am...World Tour (Nov. 30), Music Videos and Performances from The Twilight Saga soundtracks, Vol. 1 (Dec. 4), John Lennon/Yoko Ono's Lennon NYC (Dec. 7), Feist's Look At What The Light Did Now (Dec. 7) and Frank Sinatra's Concert For The Americas (Dec. 14).
If money is no object, there are several pricey items you may want to consider. Film composer Danny Elfman and director Tim Burton will release a 25th Anniversary Music Box on Dec. 28. Amazon.com has it for $505.73. (But you get free shipping!).
The Rolling Stones will release two box sets containing remastered vinyl copies of their albums. The earlier set, covering the years 1964-1969, will set you back $277.02. The later one, covering 1971-2005, costs $362.98. (A wise man once said, "you can't always get what you want.")
A Bob Dylan vinyl collection, Dylan: The Original Mono Recordings, costs $219.99.
Classical buffs with deep pockets can choose between Jascha Heifetz's Complete Original Jacket Collection, an import, and a box set of DVDs by conductor James Levine, Celebrating 40 Years At The Met. Both are selling in the $225 range.
The trend toward fourth-quarter releases scoring heavily on the year-end sales chart has been building for a few years now. Three of the four best-selling albums of 2007 were fourth-quarter releases. They were Josh Groban's Noel (an October release that finished #1 for the year), Eagles' Long Road Out Of Eden (an October release that finished #3) and Alicia Keys' As I Am (a November release that finished #4).
Four of the 10 best-selling albums of 2008 were released in the last quarter of the year. They were Taylor Swift's Fearless (a November release which finished #3 for the year), AC/DC's Black Ice (an October release that finished #5), T.I.'s Paper Trail (an October release that finished #8) and Beyonce's I Am...Sasha Fierce (a November release that finished #10).