Chart Watch

Chart Watch Extra: Sorry Jewel. Love, Gaga

Chart Watch

Jewel received good news when The Billboard 200 album chart was released last Wednesday. Her new album, Sweet And Wild, debuted at #10. That kept Jewel's string of top 10 albums intact (if just barely). Every regular studio album that Jewel has released, dating back to her 1995 debut, has made the top 10. At least that was true until mid-day on Friday, when Nielsen/SoundScan re-ran the chart, adding in sales information from a digital data provider who had missed the initial deadline. With the new information, Jewel's album debuted at #11, which breaks her string of top 10 studio albums.

 

The revision was bad news for Jewel, but good news for Lady Gaga, whose long-running hit The Fame assumed the #10 slot. (On the initial chart, it had dropped from #6 to #11.) This is the 47th week in the top 10 for The Fame, which is closing in on Shania Twain's Come On Over as the album that has logged the most weeks in the top 10 without reaching #1. (Details below.)

The change came too late for the chart to be corrected in the print edition of Billboard magazine. But the magazine has corrected the chart on its website, http://www.billboard.biz/. I also updated my regular Chart Watch column to reflect the change. Here's a link.

Even though the change created confusion and extra work (and, no doubt, disappointment in Jewel's camp), I'm glad Nielsen/SoundScan re-ran the chart. It would have been easy for them to simply sweep the matter under the rug. But if Gaga sold more copies of her album last week than Jewel did, she was more deserving of the top 10 ranking.

It's not unusual for Nielsen/SoundScan to re-run (they use the term "re-process") the charts after they receive late-arriving sales reports or uncover a computer coding glitch. But it is unusual for the changes to push an album out of the top 10.

It could be worse, though. Three times since Billboard began using Nielsen/SoundScan sales data in May 1991, late changes changed the outcome at #1.

This happened most recently in August 2008, when The Game's LAX was initially declared the #1 album by a narrow margin over Slipknot's All Hope Is Gone. Both albums were shown with sales of 238,000 copies (when rounded off to the nearest thousand). Billboard's Keith Caulfield reported that it was the closest race between the #1 and #2 albums since the magazine began using Nielsen SoundScan sales data. He calculated the margin between the two albums at .005%.

But about 12 hours after the initial result was posted, Nielsen/SoundScan reran the numbers. In the revised rankings, All Hope Is Gone came out on top, with sales of 240,000 copies. LAX debuted at #2 with sales of 238,000.

Geoff Mayfield, who was then Billboard's Director of Charts/Senior Analyst, explained the situation in his Over The Counter column that week: "With a very tight race shaping up, SoundScan's retail team worked late into the night to complete processing, even adding sales files from smaller retailers that arrived past its reporting deadline. A fresh look the next morning spotted a small flank of reporters that had not been processed, and that was enough to make a difference. Despite what you might imagine or hear in the rumor mill, the updated processing came at Nielson SoundScan's own initiative and was not motivated by a call from a screaming executive. Instead, the late correction reflects the fervent desire of SoundScan and Billboard to present the most accurate data possible."

In September 2001, Alicia Keys' Songs In A Minor was originally slated to return to #1 in its 11th chart week. A late change gave the top spot to System Of A Down's Toxicity, a new entry that week. In the revised rankings, Toxicity was shown with sales of 222,000, compared to 192,000 for Songs In A Minor.

In a similar scenario, in October 2004, Usher's Confessions was originally slated to return to #1 in its 29th chart week. A late change gave the nod to George Strait's debuting 50 Number Ones. In the revised rankings, Confessions was shown with sales of 343,000, compared to 336,000 for 50 Number Ones.

As someone who cares about the accuracy and reliability of the charts, I'm impressed that Nielsen/SoundScan cares enough to go to these lengths to get it right. Besides, Nielsen/SoundScan has been tracking sales for Billboard for a little more than 19 years. That's close to 1,000 weekly album charts. So for late changes to affect the outcome of the race for #1 only three times is actually very good.

The Fine Print: Since August 1963, when Billboard combined separate mono and stereo charts into one comprehensive listing, only four albums have logged 47 weeks in the top 10 without reaching #1. Shania Twain's Come On Over is the current leader with 53 weeks. It's followed by Wilson Phillips' eponymous debut album (52 weeks), Iron Butterfly's late '60s hard rock staple In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (49 weeks) and The Fame (47 weeks).

And while we're at it, here are Jewel's regular studio albums and their peak positions on The Billboard 200: Pieces Of You (#4), Spirit (#3), This Way (#9), 0304 (#2), Goodbye Alice In Wonderland (#8), Perfectly Clear (#8), Sweet And Wild (#11).

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