It's not every day that an ordained minister debuts in the top five on the Billboard 200, but that's what happens this week. Marvin Sapp, the founder and senior pastor of Lighthouse Full Life Center Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., enters the chart at #2 with Here I Am. This is the highest-charting album ever by a gospel artist, topping an eponymous album by God's Property, a group organized by Kirk Franklin, which hit #3 in 1997, and Franklin's own The Rebirth Of Kirk Franklin, which reached #4 in 2002.
Sapp, who was born in Grand Rapids in 1968, has been singing since he was four years old. His focus, however, is on his pastoral work. His website (www.marvinsapp.com) characterizes him as "not a singer that happens to preach but a preacher called by God who is gifted to sing."
Gospel star Fred Hammond gave Sapp his big break in 1991, when he invited Sapp to join the gospel group Commissioned. Sapp went solo in 1995. Here I Am is his eighth solo album. With this week's debut, Sapp has surpassed his mentor: Hammond's highest-charting album, Love Unstoppable, reached #26 on The Billboard 200 in October.
Sapp first reached The Billboard 200 on his own in 2005 with Be Exalted. His album before this one, 2007's sleeper hit Thirsty, has sold an impressive 712,000 copies. (This includes 72,000 copies that were sold in churches and in Christian retail outlets and online sites.) It was the #1 gospel album of 2008, boosted by the top 20 R&B hit "Never Would Have Made It." Sapp recorded both Thirsty and Here I Am live at his church.
Four other gospel albums have reached the top 10 over the years. Aretha Franklin's Amazing Grace hit #7 in 1972. Kirk Franklin's The Nu Nation Project hit #7 in 1998. The duo Mary Mary has reached the top 10 twice. Mary Mary hit #8 in 2005. The Sound hit #7 in 2008.
Gospel music has edged closer to the pop mainstream in recent years. CeCe Winans teamed with Whitney Houston for "Count On Me," a top 10 hit from Houston's movie Waiting To Exhale. Kirk Franklin enlisted superstars Mary J. Blige, Bono and R. Kelly to appear on "Lean On Me," the Hot 100 single from his The Nu Nation Project.
Pop and R&B artists have also moved toward gospel. Pop releases that have had strong gospel elements include Houston's The Preacher's Wife soundtrack, Ruben Studdard's I Need An Angel and The Fighting Temptations soundtrack (which featured Beyonce and Angie Stone, among others).
Several Contemporary Christian artists have reached #1 or #2 on The Billboard 200, but that's considered a different genre than gospel. Contemporary Christian music is mostly pop or rock. Gospel draws on the soul tradition.
Lady Antebellum's Need You Now logs its fourth week at #1 on The Billboard 200. This ties Dixie Chicks' Home for the longest run at #1 by a country group or duo in the chart's 65-year history. Home was released in September 2002, nine months before a cutting comment about President Bush by lead singer Natalie Maines stirred controversy and backlash.
This is the third separate stint at #1 for Need You Now. It's the first album to have three stints at #1 since Taylor Swift's Fearless. It's also the first album since Fearless to be #1 this late in its chart life. Need You Now is in its eighth week on the chart. Fearless was in its 16th chart week when it spent its final week at #1.
On the down side, Need You Now sold just 93,000 copies this week. That's the lowest weekly sales tally for the top-selling album in the U.S. since Chrisette Michele's Epiphany led the pack with sales of just 83,000 in May.
Justin Bieber's first full-length album, My World 2.0, is expected to enter The Billboard 200 at #1 next week, with first-week sales in the range of 250,000. That's about the same as the most recent studio album by Jonas Brothers, which opened with sales of 247,000. But you didn't need me to tell you that Bieber's album is going to open big. You could have deduced that from the string of hits he has had, including "Baby" (featuring Ludacris), which this week becomes only the second song released in 2010 to top the 1 million mark in paid downloads. It follows "Blah Blah Blah" by Ke$ha featuring 3OH!3.
Another tip-off is the success of Bieber's EP, My World. The set, which was released in November, returns to the top 10 this week. It topped the 1 million mark in sales last week, a threshold that only two other EPs in the past decade have reached. They are The Cheetah Girls TV soundtrack, which has sold 1,751,000 copies since its release in 2003, and Miley Cyrus' The Time Of Our Lives, which has sold 1,321,000 copies since its release in August.
Lady Gaga this week becomes the only act in the digital era to top the 5 million sales mark with both of his, her or its first two hits. She accomplishes the feat as her second single, "Poker Face," follows the lead of her debut hit, "Just Dance" (featuring Colby O'Donis). The long-established Black Eyed Peas are the only other act with two songs at or above 5 million.
Gaga is also on fire in the U.K. The Fame logs its sixth week at #1 in the U.K., which is the longest run for an album by an American artist since The Essential Michael Jackson had seven weeks on top last summer. (It's the best showing for an album by a female American artist since Mariah Carey's Music Box had six weeks on top in 1993-1994). Gaga also has the #1 single in the U.K. this week. "Telephone" (featuring Beyonce) is Gaga's fourth #1 song there. It's Beyonce's fifth.
The Black Eyed Peas also have multiple reasons to celebrate this week. The E.N.D. becomes the group's second album in a row (following Monkey Business) to log 28 weeks in the top 10 on The Billboard 200. Also, the group's current hit, "Imma Be," becomes its sixth hit song (and its fifth in a row) to top the 2 million mark in paid downloads. It follows "Let's Get It Started," "My Humps," "Boom Boom Pow," "I Gotta Feeling" and "Meet Me Halfway." These six songs have sold a combined total of 19,466,000 digital copies. As you can see, these tallies can really add up.
"Break Your Heart" by Taio Cruz featuring Ludacris tops Hot Digital Songs for the third straight week. The song sold 176,000 downloads this week, bringing its four-week total to 681,000. The gorgeous "Nothin' On You" by B.O.B. featuring Bruno Mars jumps from #4 to #2, with sales of 166,000 copies this week. The richly melodic song is a "My Cherie Amour" for the hip-hop generation. Rihanna's "Rude Boy" slips from #2 to #3, with sales of 163,000.
Here's the low-down on this week's top 10 albums.
1. Lady Antebellum, Need You Now, 93,000. The album rebounds from #3 to #1 in its eighth week. This is its fourth week at #1. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs. "Need You Now" dips from #6 to #8. "American Honey" jumps from #38 to #36.
2. Marvin Sapp, Here I Am, 76,000. This new entry is the gospel artist's first top 10 album. Thirsty peaked at #28. It never sold more than 17,000 copies in any one week. "The Best In Me" enters Hot Digital Songs at #161.
3. Ludacris, Battle Of The Sexes, 61,000. The album slips from #1 to #3 in its second week. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs. "How Low" dips from #14 to #17. "My Chick Bad" (featuring Nicki Minaj) dips from #18 to #21.
4. Various Artists, The Edge, 53,000. This new entry features "the hugest rock hits of the new millennium" by such acts as Bush, Oasis, Sublime and Evanescence. The two-CD, 24-track set was culled from a three-CD, 50-track set that was released in December.
5. Lady Gaga, The Fame, 48,000. The album rebounds from #8 to #5 in its 73rd week. This is its 39th week in the top 10. Six songs from the expanded version of the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Telephone" (featuring Beyonce), which leaps from #11 to #4.
6. Sade, Soldier Of Love, 40,000. The former #1 album holds at #6 its sixth week. The album will top the 1 million mark in sales next week.
7. Jimi Hendrix Experience, Valleys Of Neptune, 39,000. The album slips from #4 to #7 in its second week. Sales to date: 135,000.
8. The Black Eyed Peas, The E.N.D., 39,000. The album inches up from #9 to #8 in its 41st week. This is its 28th week in the top 10. Four songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Imma Be," which dips from #5 to #7.
9. Gorillaz, Plastic Beach, 38,000. The album slips from #2 to #9 in its second week. More than 14,000 copies were sold digitally, making this the weeks' #1 Digital Album for the second straight week.
10. Justin Bieber, My World, 33,000. The EP jumps from #11 to #10 in its 18th week. This is its eighth week in the top 10. Three songs from the EP are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "One Time," which inches up from #80 to #79.
Three albums drop out of the top 10 this week. Gary Allan's Get Off On The Pain drops from #5 to #16, Broken Bells' Broken Bells drops from #7 to #14, and Blake Shelton's Hillbilly Bone drops from #10 to #19.
The White Stripes' soundtrack to their concert documentary Under Great White Northern Lights bows at #11. The 2009 film, directed by music video director Emmett Malloy, chronicled the duo's 2007 tour of Canada. This is the week's #1 soundtrack album, dethroning Almost Alice. It's the second soundtrack to a concert documentary to head the Top Soundtracks chart so far this year, following Michael Jackson's This Is It. "Seven Nation Army," from the Stripes' 2003 album, Elephant, re-enters Hot Digital Songs at #99.
Two other albums enter The Billboard 200 in the top 30. Drive By Truckers' The Big To-Do bows at #22. Dropkick Murphys' Live On Lansdowne Boston MA opens at #25. Dropkick Murphys' 2007 hit "I'm Shipping Up To Boston" re-enters Hot Digital Songs at #86. That song in an interesting case study in the tricky question of what constitutes a hit nowadays. The song never reached the Hot 100 (it bubbled under at #101), but it has sold a formidable 1,044,000 digital copies.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon soundtrack rebounds from #78 to #23 in the wake of the film's release on DVD. It's the week's #2 soundtrack. The DVD sold a cool 4 million copies in its first week. The first Twilight soundtrack rebounds from #72 to #47. The New Moon soundtrack has sold 1,060,000 copies. The first Twilight soundtrack has sold 2,498,000 copies.
Though Almost Alice slips to #3 on the Top Soundtracks chart, the Tim Burton movie Alice In Wonderland was #1 at the box-office for the third straight weekend.
Chris Tomlin's See The Morning inches up from #38 to #37 this week. The 2006 album is #1 on the Catalog Albums chart for the second straight week. It's the fourth album by a Contemporary Christian act to lead that chart in the past year. It follows Point Of Grace's How You Live, Tobymac's Portable Sounds and Casting Crowns' Peace On Earth. In addition, I Can Only Imagine: Ultimate Anthems Of The Christian Faith, a three-disk compilation of Contemporary Christian acts, wound up a 12-week run at #1 one year ago this week.
Heads Up: In addition to Justin Bieber's My World 2.0 (see above item), next week's top releases include Monica's Still Standing and NOW 33. It looks like these three albums will hold down the top three spots, in that order. Also due: She And Him's Volume Two, Goldfrapp's Head First, the Scorpions' Sting In The Tail and Pet Shop Boys' Pandemonium Live.
R.I.P. Alex Chilton was just 16 in 1967 when the Box Tops' "The Letter" (on which he sang lead) reached #1 on the Hot 100, but he sounded like he had had a wealth of life experience. In the early '70s, Chilton formed the group Big Star, which recorded such power-pop gems as "In The Street." Cheap Trick's version of that song later became the theme from Fox's long-running That '70s Show. Chilton died last week at age 59.
Shameless Plug: If you missed my Chart Watch Extra showing the top three albums in every conceivable musical category, here's a link. The column was keyed to this being the 65th anniversary of Billboard's album chart. Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, for example, had the longest run at #1 by any rock album.