In a lot of fields, workers over the age of 50 are not in great demand. That's not the case for top recording stars. This is the second week in a row that an artist over 50 has topped The Billboard 200. Reba McEntire, 54, debuts in the top spot with Keep On Loving You. She displaces George Strait, 57, who debuted on top last week with Twang. McEntire is the second oldest woman ever to have a #1 album on this chart. Barbra Streisand was 55 when she achieved the feat in November 1997 with Higher Ground.
McEntire and Strait aren't the only artists over 50 to have topped the chart this year. In February, Bruce Springsteen, 59, debuted at #1 with Working On A Dream. (And of course Michael Jackson, who was 50 when he died, had the best-selling album in the country for six weeks with Number Ones.) Two other artists in their 50s have peaked at #2 this year. R&B star Charlie Wilson, 56, hit the runner-up spot in February with Uncle Charlie. Prince, then 50, scored in April with Lotus Flow3r/MPLSoUND/Elix3r.
This year's charts have even been receptive to artists over the age of (gasp) 60. Robert Plant, then 60, returned to #2 in February with Raising Sand, his Grammy-winning collaboration with Alison Krauss. Bob Dylan, 68, debuted at #1 in May with Together Through Life. Last week, Neil Diamond, also 68, opened at #2 with his latest, Hot August Night/NYC. All of this bodes well for Barbra Streisand, 67. The diva's latest, Love Is The Answer, is due Sept. 29.
What's going on here? Today's fans are staying connected to pop music and their favorite artists far longer than fans used to. Also, "record buyers" of a certain age are among the CD's most loyal customers. They grew up with LPs and enjoy the tactile experience a CD provides (holding it, looking at the artwork, and reading the liner notes). Plus, older fans may be less inclined to illegally download, for two reasons: Cost isn't as much of an issue as with younger fans and they may be more apt to think it's wrong. (I want to thank my over-50 friends for clueing me into the psychology of the older buyer. Otherwise, how would I know?)
This is the third week in a row that a country album has debuted in the top spot. Sugarland's Live On The Inside preceded Twang and Keep On Loving You. This is the second time this year that three country albums have topped the big chart in succession. For three weeks in April, the top spot was held by Keith Urban's Defying Gravity, Rascal Flatts' Unstoppable and the Hannah Montana: The Movie soundtrack.
Keep On Loving You also debuts at #1 on Hot Country Albums. It's McEntire's 11th #1 on this chart, dating back to Whoever's In New England in May 1986. McEntire has had more #1 country albums than any other woman in history. Loretta Lynn is in second place, with 10 chart toppers from 1966 to 1976.
McEntire has amassed 10 million-selling albums since Nielsen/SoundScan began tracking sales for Billboard in May 1991. McEntire has sold 28,692,000 albums in this period. This puts her fifth among all female vocalists, after, in order, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Shania Twain and Britney Spears. But McEntire is a true all-around entertainer. She has also found success starring on Broadway and with a long-running sitcom. (I have one last item on McEntire and Strait at the end of the column.)
Bad News: McEntire's album sold 96,000 copies this week, less than one-third as many as her Reba Duets sold in its first week (301,000) when it bowed at #1 in September 2007. The nature of that album made it more of an "event album," but still... This is the 11th week so far this year that the best-selling album in the U.S. has failed to sell even 100,000 copies. There were 11 weeks in all of 2007 and 2008 combined where the best-selling album failed to reach the 100,000 sales threshold. I'm all for setting new records, but not this kind.
Eight weeks ago, on the last year-to-date chart published before Michael Jackson's death, his 2003 compilation Number Ones was listed at #134, with 2009 sales of 117,000 copies. This week, the album moves into the top spot, with sales so far this year of 1,619,000. It dislodges Taylor Swift's Fearless, which has sold 1,608,000 so far this year.
Number Ones sold 68,000 copies this week and would have held at #2 if catalog albums were eligible to compete on The Billboard 200. The Essential Michael Jackson sold 35,000 and would have slipped from #5 to #9. This is the ninth straight week that Jackson has had two of the 10 best-selling albums in the U.S.
Number Ones tops the Catalog Albums chart for the ninth straight week. It's the first album to top the chart that many weeks in a row since Johnny Cash's 16 Biggest Hits was #1 for 10 straight weeks from March to May 2006. The Cash collection was boosted by the success of the bio-pic Walk The Line.
For the first time since he died, Jackson does not have the #1 album in the U.K. Calvin Harris moves into the top spot with Ready For The Weekend. The Essential Michael Jackson slips to #6. That album's seven week run at #1 was the longest by an American artist since Justin Timberlake's Justified had seven weeks on top in 2003.
Miley Cyrus' "Party In The U.S.A." tops Hot Digital Songs for the second week in a row. The song sold 211,000 downloads this week, bringing its two-week total to 437,000. Cyrus also has the #1 theatrical movie soundtrack for the 21st time in the past 22 weeks. Hannah Montana: The Movie rebounds from #14 to #7 on The Billboard 200 in the wake of the DVD release. It's the best-selling album released in 2009.
Shameless Plug: Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" tops the 3 million mark in paid downloads this week. It's the first song released before 2000 to reach this threshold. On Friday, I'll have a Chart Watch Extra in which I explore the reasons for this song's enduring popularity. I'll also count down the 12 songs from the last century that are listed on Nielsen/SoundScan's running list of songs with the most paid downloads. Michael Jackson and Guns N' Roses each have two of these 12 songs. You have a couple of days to come up with the other seven acts and their songs.
First-week sales numbers are interesting, but they don't tell the whole story. Just look at two albums in this week's top 10. Kings Of Leon's Only By The Night was the third-highest new entry on Sept. 28, behind Demi Lovato's Don't Forget and the Pussycat Dolls' Doll Domination. But Only By The Night has sold a healthy 1,176,000 copies, substantially more than the other two albums combined (808,000). Miley Cyrus' Hannah Montana: The Movie soundtrack debuted at #2 on March 29, behind NOW 30. But over the long haul, the Hannah album has sold 1,407,000 copies, more than twice as many as the compilation (677,000).
Here's the low-down on this week's top 10 albums.
1. Reba McEntire, Keep On Loving You, 96,000. This new entry is McEntire's second #1 album in a row. Reba Duets rang the bell in September 2007. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Consider Me Gone," which bows at #140.
3. Third Eye Blind, Ursa Major, 49,000. This new entry is the band's first top 10 album. Its last studio album, Out of The Vein, hit #12 in 2003. More than 25,000 copies of the new album were sold digitally, making this the week's #1 Digital Album.
4. Kings Of Leon, Only By The Night, 45,000. The album inches up from #5 to #4 (its highest ranking to date) in its 48th week on the chart. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Use Somebody," which holds at #5.
5. The Black Eyed Peas, The E.N.D., 41,000. The former #1 album slips from #3 to #5 in its 11th week. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "I Gotta Feeling," which holds at #2.
6. Neil Diamond, Hot August Night/NYC, 39,000. The live album slips from #2 to #6 in its second week. It was the first album recorded at Madison Square Garden to reach #2 since George Harrison & Friends' The Concert For Bangla Desh logged six weeks at #2 in early 1972.
7. Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus, Hannah Montana: The Movie soundtrack, 38,000. The former #1 album rebounds from #14 to #7 in the wake of the DVD release. This is its 15th week in the top 10. Five songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "The Climb," which rebounds from #42 to #34.
8. Taylor Swift, Fearless, 34,000. The former #1 album inches up from #9 to #8. This is its 35th week in the top 10. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "You Belong With Me," which dips from #7 to #8.
Three albums drop out of the top 10 this week. Cobra Starship's Hot Mess plummets from #4 to #30, Maxwell's BLACKsummers'night dips from #7 to #11, and Justin Moore's Justin Moore drops from #10 to #20.
Sean Paul's Imperial Blaze opens at #12. This is Paul's third straight top 15 album, though it failed to match the top 10 bows of Dutty Rock and The Trinity. Paul was a Grammy finalist for Best New Artist of 2003....Another former Best New Artist nominee, Ledisi, bows at #14 with Turn Me Loose. The album sold 27,000 copies this week, more than three times as many copies as Ledisi's previous album, Lost And Found, sold in any one week. Lost And Found reached #78 in August 2007. (Ledisi was nominated as Best New Artist of 2007.)...Mutemath's debut album, Armistice, bows at #18. The album sold 18,000 copies, more than half of them digitally.
"Turn My Swag On" this week becomes Soulja Boy Tell 'Em's second song to sell 1 million or more downloads in 2009. It follows "Kiss Me Thru The Phone" (featuring Sammi). "Kiss Me..." has sold 2,261,000 downloads so far this year, good enough for eighth place on the year-to-date list.
M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" tops the 3 million mark in paid downloads this week. The song was released in July 2008 and went on to receive a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year. It was featured in a key scene in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire. M.I.A. is the first female techno artist who was raised in India to have a 3-million-selling download. (Hey, a first is a first.)
R.I.P.: Larry Knechtel, a top session keyboardist of the late '60s and early '70s who also found success as a member of Bread, died on Thursday. He was 69. In the early '70s, Bread made some of the best pop/adult contemporary hits this side of the Carpenters. The Best Of Bread reached #2 in 1973. A similar collection, The Sound Of Bread, topped the U.K. chart for three weeks in late 1977 and early 1978.
Heads Up: Colbie Caillat and LeToya, both of whom reached the top five with their debut albums, are due back on the charts next week with their sophomore albums. Caillat's album is titled Breakthrough. LeToya's is Lady Love. Skillet's Awake is expected to debut in the top 10, owing to strong sales in Christian bookstores. Arctic Monkeys, whose last album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, made the top 10, will return with Humbug. Queen Latifah, whose last two albums made the top 20, is due with Persona. NOW Country 2 will aim to repeat the top 10 success of last year's NOW Country. Also due: Willie Nelson's American Classic, Imogen Heap's Ellipse, Collective Soul's Collective Soul, Smokey Robinson's Time Flies When You're Having Fun, the soundtrack to the remake of Fame, Love and Theft's World Wide Open, Jack Ingram's Big Dreams & High Hopes, Matisyahu's Light and Ingrid Michaelson's Everybody.
Finally: Reba McEntire and George Strait made their first appearances on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart the very same week (Oct. 3, 1981). McEntire debuted at #44 with Heart To Heart. Strait arrived at #54 with Strait Country. The two stars have been competing on the charts and at award shows ever since. At the annual Country Music Assn. Awards in 1983, both were nominated for the Horizon Award, given to the year's top breakthrough star. Which of these future megastars took home the prize? Would you believe they both lost? The winner was John Anderson, who had a crossover hit that year with "Swingin," but who was no match for these future Hall of Famers. (Strait was voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006. McEntire's future selection is a certainty. I hereby predict that it will happen in 2010.)