U2, it seemed, was everywhere last week hawking its new album, No Line On The Horizon. All that work pays off as the album enters the Billboard 200 at #1, with first-week sales of 484,000. This is the biggest weekly sales tally so far in 2009. It's more than twice that of the previous record-holder for the year, Bruce Springsteen's Working On A Dream, which opened with sales of 224,000 five weeks ago. In fact, U2 sold more copies in one week than Springsteen has sold in his entire six-week run (459,000). After just one week, No Line is #3 for the year-to-date, trailing a couple of 2008 holdovers, Taylor Swift's Fearless and Beyonce's I Am...Sasha Fierce. No Line registered the biggest weekly sales total in the first quarter, when sales are usually slow, since 2005, when 50 Cent's The Massacre sold 1,912,000 copies in its first two weeks. Here's my most amazing stat: The sales tally for No Line On The Horizon is greater than those of the next 17 albums on this week's chart, combined.
U2 couldn't have done much more to promote the album. They were the opening act on the Grammy Awards last month, performed every night last week on Late Show With David Letterman, performed on Good Morning America on Friday, did live radio appearances this week in Chicago, Boston, and L.A., and are on the cover of the current issue of Rolling Stone. Some find it demeaning for superstar acts to hustle their product so aggressively. Acts used to have the luxury of acting like they didn't care how well their records sold. But I'll let you in on a little secret: Most artists do care and they don't relish the idea of working for months or even years writing and recording an album only to see it debut with an anemic total and quickly slide down the charts. So they get out there and work it, like a nervous presidential candidate in the last weekend before an election. Better to lose a little face by seeming a bit anxious than to lose a lot when your album flops.
No Line On The Horizon is U2's third consecutive studio album to debut with sales north of 400,000 copies. All That You Can't Leave Behind started with sales of 428,000 in November 2000. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb had first-week sales of 840,000 in November 2004.
No Line is U2's seventh #1 album, a total matched by only three bands in history. The Beatles lead the pack with 19 #1 albums. The Rolling Stones have had nine. Led Zeppelin is tied with U2 with seven. U2 are veritable newcomers compared to these other bands. U2 landed its first #1 album, The Joshua Tree, in 1987. These other bands all had #1 albums in the '60s. U2 ranks #13 on Nielsen/SoundScan's running list of the best-selling acts in its history (which dates to 1991). As of this week, the band has sold 33,195,000 albums.
One reason that U2 has done so well is that the band built gradually and organically. The band debuted in 1981 with Boy, which peaked at a mediocre #63. The album spawned no Hot 100 hits and received no Grammy nominations (Sheena Easton took that year's Grammy Award for Best New Artist). U2 took its sweet time in reaching the various benchmarks of success. It landed its first top 20 album (War) in April 1983; its first top 40 single ("Pride (In The Name Of Love)") in December 1984; its first Rolling Stone cover story in March 1985. The band broke wide open in 1987, landing its first #1 single ("With Or Without You"), its first #1 album (The Joshua Tree) and its first Grammy nominations. (If Grammy voters were slow to get on the U2 bandwagon, they have since made up for lost time. U2 has won 22 Grammys, more than any other group.) And after its somewhat slow start, U2 has been a model of consistency. Since 1987, the band has topped the chart with every studio album except All That You Can't Leave Behind (which debuted and peaked at #3).
Nearly 155,000 copies of the new album were sold digitally. This is the second-biggest weekly tally ever for paid downloads of an album. It trails only Coldplay's Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends, which sold 288,000 downloads in its first week in June. To give you an idea how this market has exploded, U2's last studio album, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, sold 30,000 downloads in its first week in November 2004. And that slim total set a new record at the time.
Tomorrow's Chart News Today: Rolling Stone.com reports that U2 has already completed its next studio album, Songs Of Ascent. Bono describes the album, which the band hopes to have out by the end of this year, as "a meditative, reflective piece of work, but not indulgent." (That's also how I describe Chart Watch.) If the album hits #1 before the year is out, U2 will be the first act to top the chart with two albums in one calendar year since 2005, when Kenny Chesney and System Of A Down both achieved the feat.
"Right Round" by Flo Rida featuring Ke$ha sold another 319,000 downloads this week, to finish #1 on Hot Digital Songs for the fourth straight week. This is the fourth week that sales of "Right Round" have topped 300,000 downloads. No other song has ever topped the 300,000 mark more than twice. "Right Round" this week surpasses "Just Dance" by Lady GaGa featuring Colby O'Donis as the top-selling digital download in 2009. "Right Round" has sold 1,750,000 copies, compared to 1,569,000 in 2009 for "Just Dance." (Bear in mind that "Just Dance" sold an additional 1,743,000 copies in 2008.)
Song Scorecard: The Fray's 2006 smash "How To Save A Life" tops the 3 million mark in paid downloads. The band's current hit, "You Found Me," has sold 1,460,000 downloads...The All-American Rejects' lusty current hit "Gives You Hell" tops the 2 million mark, two weeks after the band's 2005 hit "Dirty Little Secret" hit that plateau.
Here's the low-down on this week's top 10 albums.
1. U2, No Line On The Horizon, 484,000. This new entry is U2's fifth album to debut at #1. As noted above, 155,000 copies were sold digitally, making this the week's #1 Digital Album. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Magnificent," which bows at #67.
2. Taylor Swift, Fearless, 52,000. The album dips to #2 after 11 weeks on top. This is the album's 17th consecutive week in the top five. It's the first album to spend its first 17 weeks in the top five since Mariah Carey's 2005 comeback smash The Emancipation Of Mimi spent its first 22 weeks there. Five songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Love Story," which dips to #15.
3. Neko Case, Middle Cyclone, 44,000. This new entry is Case's first top 10 album. She climbed as high as #54 with her previous album, 2006's Fox Confessor Brings The Flood. Before that, she was a member of the New Pornographers, whose 2005 album Twin Cinema hit #44. No songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs.
4. Lady GaGa, The Fame, 42,000. The album jumps from #7 to #4. The album took 19 weeks to break into the top five. The last album to take this long to reach the top five was Taylor Swift's debut album, which finally cracked the top five in its 63rd chart week. (Herbie Hancock's subsequent River: The Joni Letters cracked the top five in its 21st week of release, but that was only its fourth chart week.) Four songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Poker Face," which holds at #2.
5. Nickelback, Dark Horse, 36,000. The album holds at #5 for the second week. This is its 15th week in the top 10. Dark Horse is Nickelback's third album to have a months-long run in the top 10. 2001's Silver Side Up logged 22 weeks in the top 10. 2005's All The Right Reasons hung tight for 29 weeks. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Gotta Be Somebody," which dips to #40.
6. Jamie Foxx, Intuition, 32,000. The album rebounds from #9 to #6. This is its 11th week in the top 10. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Blame It" (featuring T-Pain), which jumps to #11.
7. The Fray, The Fray, 32,000. The former #1 album inches up from #8 to #7. This is its fifth week in the top 10. "You Found Me" inches up to #13 on Hot Digital Songs.
8. Beyonce, I Am...Sasha Fierce, 31,000. The former #1 album dips from #6 to #8. This is its 15th week in the top 10. Four songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)," which dips to #20.
9. A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack, 24,000. The album slips from #4 to #9. This is the first time that Slumdog has been the week's #1 soundtrack. In its first 10 weeks, it finished behind Twilight and movies devoted to the music of The Notorious B.I.G. and Jonas Brothers. The movie grossed $6.8 million at the box-office, to rank #4 for the week. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Jai Ho! (You Are My Destiny)," which dips to #21.
10. T.I., Paper Trail, 24,000. The former #1 album inches up from #11 to #10, which puts it in the top 10 for the first time since November. This is the album's eighth week in the top 10. Four songs from the deluxe edition of the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by the first-rate "Dead And Gone" (featuring Justin Timberlake), which dips to #5.
Three albums drop out of the top 10 this week. Lamb of God's Wrath falls from #2 to #12. Jonas Brothers' Music From The 3D Concert Experience soundtrack slips from #3 to #15. Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak dips from #10 to #11. JoBros' movie remained in the top 10 on the box-office chart, but just barely. It ranked #9, with a second-week take of $2.8 million.
Total Dance 2009 bows at #13. The album is off to a faster start than Total Dance 2008, which bowed at #21 in August.
The soundtrack to the movie Watchmen debuts at #36. The movie opened at #1 at the box-office this past weekend, with a take of $55.2 million. The eclectic soundtrack ranges from Billie Holiday's "You're My Thrill" to K.C. & the Sunshine Band's "I'm Your Boogie Man." The Watchmen score album, composed by Tyler Bates, enters the chart at #140.
Rush's Retrospective 3 opens at #47. The Canadian band's Retrospective 1974-80 has sold 170,000 copies since it was released in 1997.
Mary J. Blige's Mary J. Blige & Friends tops Hot Catalog Albums for the second straight week. The album sold 16,000 copies and would have ranked #26 on the big chart if older, catalog albums were eligible to compete there. The album was a Circuit City exclusive. Its price was slashed as the retailer liquidated its merchandise. Of all the ways to wind up with a #1 Catalog Album, this has to be the worst. (Well, outside of dying.)
Heads Up: Kelly Clarkson's All I Ever Wanted will be next week's top new entry. Clarkson's three previous albums all debuted in the top three with first-week sales north of 250,000 copies. Can she keep her streak going, even in this era of diminished album sales? Check back next week and see. Also due on next week's charts: The-Dream's Love Vs. Money, J. Holiday's Round 2, Chris Cornell's Scream, Taylor Hicks' The Distance, Ballas Hough Band's BHB, Nat King Cole's Re-Generations and Sarah Brightman's Symphony: Live In Vienna.