Chart Watch

Chart Watch Extra: The Year That Songs Overtook Albums

Chart Watch

In 2008, for the first time, more fans paid to download the year's #1 song than bought the year's #1 album (as either a CD or a download). In fact, the year's top five songs each rang up more paid downloads than the year's #1 album, Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III, achieved in total sales.

That was the big story in music sales in 2008-the rise of individual song downloads and the continued decline of the album market. Until 2008, no song had ever topped the 3 million mark in paid downloads in a calendar year. In 2008, two songs hit the mark-Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love" and "Lollipop" by Lil Wayne featuring Static Major. Nineteen songs topped the 2 million mark in paid downloads, a huge jump from just four in 2007. A total of 71 songs topped the 1 million mark, nearly double the 2007 tally of 36.

Tha Carter III sold 2,874,000 copies during 2008. This represents the first time since Nielsen/SoundScan took over tracking of album sales for Billboard in 1991 that no albums topped the 3 million mark during a calendar year. The number of 2 million selling albums dropped from eight in 2007 to four in 2008. The number of 1 million sellers dropped from 39 to 25.

Tha Carter III is the third rap album to wind up as the #1 best-seller of a calendar year.  It follows Eminem's The Eminem Show and 50 Cent's Get Rich Or Die Tryin', which were on top in 2002 and 2003, respectively.

Two albums by Taylor Swift made the year-end top 10. Fearless is #3, while her two-year old Taylor Swift is #6. The country star is the first artist to place two albums in the year-end top 10 since Garth Brooks put three albums in the top 10 in 1992. (Eminem came close in 2002. In addition to having the year's #1 album, The Eminem Show, he had four tracks on the 8 Mile soundtrack, which was #5 for the year. But 8 Mile was presented as a Various Artists soundtrack.)

Lil Wayne and Rihanna were the year's most downloaded artists. Lil Wayne has a whopping nine songs on the year-end Hot Digital Songs chart-four as lead artist and five as featured artist (on hits by Kevin Rudolf, T-Pain, Wyclef Jean, The Game and Jay-Z/T.I.). Rihanna has a total of six songs on the chart-four as lead artist and two as featured artist (on hits by T.I. and Maroon5).

I have two lists for you. We'll start with the year's best-selling albums and then turn to songs with the most paid downloads. Here's the low-down on the year's top 10 albums-as well as nine other selected releases. The number directly following the title is the total number of copies the album sold in calendar year 2008.

1. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III, 2,874,000. This album sold 1,006,000 copies in its first week in June, the biggest one-week total in more than three years. Four songs from the album are on the year-end Hot Digital Songs chart: "Lollipop" (featuring Static Major) at #2, "A Milli" at #44, "Got Money (featuring T-Pain) at #52 and "Mrs. Officer" (featuring Bobby Valentino) at #102. Tha Carter III is a Grammy finalist for Album of the Year.

2. Coldplay, Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends, 2,144,000. This is the year's #1 album by a group, by a rock act and by a foreign act. This is the highest that Coldplay has appeared in a year-end top 10. A Rush Of Blood To The Head was the #10 album of 2003. X&Y was #6 for 2005. Coldplay is the first British act in the Nielsen/SoundScan era to appear in the year-end top 10 three times. Two songs from the album are on the year-end Hot Digital Songs chart: "Viva La Vida" is #5, "Violet Hill" is #167.

3. Taylor Swift, Fearless, 2,112,000. This is the year's #1 album by a female artist and the year's #1 country album. This is the highest that a female artist has placed on the year-end chart since Carrie Underwood ranked #3 for 2006 with Some Hearts. It's the highest an album by a core country artist has ranked since Rascal Flatts' Me And My Gang was #2 for 2006. "Love Story" is #26 on the year-end Hot Digital Songs chart. It's the year's highest-ranking country hit.

4. Kid Rock, Rock N' Roll Jesus, 2,018,000. This album sold more copies in 2008 than any other album that was released before 2008. Jesus was issued in October 2007. It sold an additional 661,000 copies in 2007, when it ranked #63 for the year. This is the highest that Kid Rock has appeared in a year-end top 10. Devil Without A Cause was #7 for 1999. Rock Heroes' cover version of "All Summer Long" sold 574,000 downloads to rank #136 on the year-end Hot Digital Songs chart.

5. AC/DC, Black Ice, 1,915,000. This is the year's #1 hard rock album. It's the highest that a mainstream hard rock album has placed in a year-end top 10 in Nielsen/SoundScan history. This is the second year in a row that a Wal-Mart exclusive has appeared in the year-end top 10. Eagles' Long Road Out Of Eden was #3 for 2007. AC/DC's 1980 blockbuster Back In Black ranks #116 for the year, with sales in 2008 of 374,000 copies.

6. Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift, 1,597,000. This is the second year in a row that this 2006 release has appeared in the year-end top 10. It was the #9 album of 2007. It's the first album to make the year-end top 10 twice since Evanescence's Fallen in 2003-2004. The album sold an additional 1,951,000 copies in 2007 and 292,000 copies in 2006. Four songs from the album are on the year-end Hot Digital Songs chart: "Our Song" (#47), "Teardrops On My Guitar" (#69), "Picture To Burn" (#115) and "Should've Said No" (#127).

7. Metallica, Death Magnetic, 1,565,000. This is the third time since 1992 (Nielsen/SoundScan's first full year of operations) that Metallica has had an album in the year-end top 10. That's a record for a mainstream hard rock act. Metallica was #9 for 1992. Load was #7 for 1996.

8. T.I., Paper Trial, 1,522,000. This is the year's #2 rap album. This is the first time that two or more rap (or hip-hop) albums have made the year-end top 10 since 2005 when 50 Cent, Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West and The Game all made it. Three songs from the album are on the year-end Hot Digital Songs chart: "Whatever You Like" is #7, "Live Your Life" (featuring Rihanna) is #12 and "Swagga Like Us" (with Jay-Z and featuring Kanye West and Lil Wayne) is #116.

9. Jack Johnson, Sleep Through The Static, 1,492,000. This is the highest-ranking pop album (defined as one that doesn't have a rap, rock or country crossover element).

10. Beyonce, I Am...Sasha Fierce, 1,459,000. This is the fifth time that Beyonce has put an album in the year-end top 10. She made the mark with Destiny's Child in 2000 and 2001 and has now made it three times on her own. Dangerously In Love was the #6 album of 2003. B'Day was #7 for 2006.  Two songs from the new album (which is the only two-disk set in the top 10) are listed on the year-end Hot Digital Songs chart: "If I Were A Boy" at #35 and "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" at #48.

11. Jonas Brothers, A Little Bit Longer, 1,410,000. Jonas Brothers were the opening act on Miley Cyrus' "Best of Both Worlds" tour, but they finish a few spots ahead of her on the year-end chart. Cyrus' Breakout is #14 for 2008. (JoBros have more in common with Hanson, which had the #5 album of 1997 with Middle Of Nowhere.) Jonas Brothers, the act's 2007 album, ranks #27 for 2008. The Jonases are also represented on the Camp Rock soundtrack, which is #19 for the year. "Burnin' Up" is the year's #41 hit song.

12. Various Artists, Mamma Mia! soundtrack, 1,406,000. This was the year's top soundtrack. This is the highest that a theatrical movie soundtrack has appeared on the year-end chart since 8 Mile finished #5 for 2002. The success of the soundtrack boosted ABBA's Gold-Greatest Hits, which sold 392,000 copies during 2008 to rank #111 for the year.

18. Mariah Carey, E=MC2, 1,221,000. This sold reasonably well, but it didn't match the sales punch of Carey's previous studio release, The Emancipation Of Mimi. That comeback smash was the #1 album of 2005 with sales that year of 4,969,000. Usher also had some trouble following a year-end #1 album. Here I Stand is #23 for the year, with sales of 1,120,000. The R&B star's last release, Confessions, was the #1 album of 2004, with sales that year of 7,979,000.

22. Alicia Keys, As I Am, 1,123,000. This album, which was #4 for the year in 2007, was one of only two albums to finish in the year-end top 25 in both 2007 and 2008. (The other is Taylor Swift.) That explains how it wound up at #1 in Billboard's year-end issue, which tracks sales from mid-November to mid-November.

26. Various Artists, Now 28, 983,000. This was the best-selling Now volume during 2008. This is the first year since 1998, the first year of the Now franchise, that no Now volume sold 1 million copies during the year.

28. Josh Groban, Noel, 915,000. This was the year's top-selling holiday album for the second year in a row. Only two other albums in the Nielsen/SoundScan era have been the best-selling holiday album of two different years. Kenny G's Miracles-The Holiday Album was #1 for 1994 and 1996. Now That's What I Call Christmas! was on top for 2001 and 2002. (The top newly-released holiday album of 2008 was Enya's And Winter Came, which ranked #63 for the year.)

45. Michael Jackson, Thriller, 712,000. The release of a 25th anniversary edition revived this classic title, which sold more copies this year than any other album released before 2006. (This tally combines the regular and anniversary editions.) Thriller outperformed such perennial catalogue best-sellers as Bob Marley & the Wailers' Legend (#87 for 2008) and Pink Floyd's The Dark Side Of The Moon (#194) as well as such more recent smashes as Nickelback's All The Right Reasons (#73) and Carrie Underwood's Some Hearts (#85).

54. Duffy, Rockferry, 666,000. In addition to its solid showing in the U.S., this was the #1 album of the year in the U.K., according to the Official Charts Company. It moved 1,685,000 copies in the U.K., edging out Take That's The Circus. The rest of the U.K. top five for 2008: Kings of Leon's Only By The Night, Leona Lewis's Spirit and Coldplay's Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends.

163. Original Cast, Jersey Boys, 289,000. This was the year's top Broadway cast album. Wicked had claimed the title the past two years, but this year falls to second place. (Among all albums, Wicked is #166 for the year.) In third place: Mamma Mia! Thus, "jukebox musicals" devoted to the hits of pop veterans the Four Seasons and ABBA claimed two of the top three spots on the year-end cast album chart.

Now, here are the year's top 10 songs with the most paid downloads, as well as six other selected songs from the list. The number following the title is the song's total number of paid downloads in 2008.

1. Leona Lewis, "Bleeding Love," 3,420,000. The elegant ballad is a Grammy finalist for Record of the Year. In an unusual occurrence, both of the song's writers have hits of their own in the top 40. Ryan Tedder has two OneRepublic hits ("Apologize" and "Stop And Stare") in the top 40. Jesse McCartney has his solo smash "Leavin'" at #34. Lewis' follow-up, "Better In Time," is #53 for the year. Lewis' album, Spirit, was #13 for the year. It was the best-seller of all debut albums released in 2008.

2. Lil Wayne featuring Static Major, "Lollipop," 3,161,000. This is one of four songs from Tha Carter III on the year-end chart. Lil Wayne and Coldplay are the only artists to rank in the year-end top five on both the album and song charts.

3. Flo Rida featuring T-Pain, "Low," 2,979,000. This smash (which is the song with the most paid downloads in digital history) would have ranked #1, but its sales were split between two years. The song sold an additional 1,552,000 copies in 2007, when it ranked #15 on the year-end Hot Digital Tracks chart. Flo Rida has two other songs on the 2008 year-end chart. "In The Ayer" (featuring is #38. "Elevator" (featuring Timbaland) is #90.  Flo Rida's Mail On Sunday is the year's #126 album.

4. Katy Perry, "I Kissed A Girl," 2,977,000. Perry's smash was clever and provocative, at least until overexposure tested its charms. Her follow-up, "Hot N Cold," is nearly as big and, without the novelty aspects of its predecessor, more appealing over the long haul. It's #11 for the year, with sales of 2,474,000 downloads. Perry is the only artist to single-handedly place two songs in the year-end top 15. (Rihanna also has two in the top 15, but one is a collaboration with T.I.) Perry's One Of The Boys is the year's #42 album.

5. Coldplay, "Viva La Vida," 2,914,000. The majestic track is a Grammy finalist for Record and Song of the Year.

6. Rihanna, "Disturbia," 2,766,000. This hard-driving smash is the highest-ranking of four songs that Rihanna has in the year-end top 20. She is featured on T.I.'s "Live Your Life" at #12 and also has "Don't Stop The Music" at #17 and "Take A Bow" at #20. Rihanna's Good Girl Gone Bad is the year's #16 album.

7. T.I., "Whatever You Like," 2,682,000. This ubiquitous jingle was the biggest hit from the rapper's album, Paper Trail.

8. Jason Mraz, "I'm Yours," 2,655,000. This is a Grammy finalist for Song of the Year. (Perhaps just for working the word "scootch" into the lyric.) Mraz's We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things is the year's #37 album.

9. Jordin Sparks with Chris Brown, "No Air," 2,612,000. This was the biggest collaboration of 2008 in which the partners received equal billing. Sparks has two other songs on the year-end chart: "One Step At A Time" at #63 and "Tattoo" at #72. Brown has three others (not counting records on which he has featured billing): "Forever" at #16, "With You" at #29, and "Kiss Kiss" (featuring T-Pain) at #77. Jordin Sparks is the year's #64 album.

10. Pink, "So What," 2,590,000. This smash gave Pink her first solo #1 hit on both the Hot 100 and Hot Digital Songs charts. Pink's Funhouse is the year's #52 album.

13. Madonna featuring Justin Timberlake and Timbaland, "4 Minutes," 2,370,000. More than three times as many fans paid to download this smash as bought Madonna's latest album, Hard Candy. The album ranks #49 for the year with sales of 699,000 copies. Madonna also had the most lucrative tour of 2008.

15. M.I.A, "Paper Planes," 2,230,000. This smash is nominated for a Grammy for Record of the Year. The song is featured in the film Slumdog Millionaire, a likely Oscar nominee. M.I.A's album, Kala, is #174 for the year.

24. Kanye West, "Love Lockdown," 1,863,000. This jazz-tinged ballad was a major departure for the veteran rapper. West was featured on a second hit in the year's top 40, Estelle's "American Boy," which ranked #33 with 1,582,000 paid downloads. West's album, 808s & Heartbreak, is #25 for the year.

28. Lady GaGa featuring Colby O'Donis, "Just Dance," 1,743,000. This smash sold 419,000 downloads just this week, a one-week total topped by only one song (Flo Rida's "Low") in digital history. I'll have more on that in my last regular Chart Watch column of 2008, which I'll also post today.

43. David Archuleta, "Crush," 1,305,000. Archie came in second on American Idol, but his first single sold more downloads than the first single by the winner, David Cook. "The Time Of My Life" sold 1,045,000 copies to rank #65. (Cook sold more albums, though. David Cook is #36 for the year. David Archuleta is #68.) Bottom line: They both won.

81. Journey, "Don't Stop Believin,'" 917,000. This 1981 smash is the top oldie on the list. Three other oldies each sold more than 500,000 downloads in 2008: Israel Iz Kamakawiwo'ole's "Somewhere Over The Rainbow"/"What A Wonderful World" (589,000) and two classics by Guns N' Roses, "Welcome To The Jungle" (540,000) and "Sweet Child O' Mine" (519,000).

That's it for 2008. I hope the music industry has a better year next year. I hope artists and songwriters are inspired to do their best work. I hope you find music that speaks to your soul, or at least helps you get your groove on. Have a great new year, everybody. 


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