Chart Watch

Week Ending April 13, 2008: A Big American Welcome For Leona Lewis

Chart Watch

In 1965, when Julie Andrews won an Oscar for Best Actress for her first movie, Mary Poppins, she famously remarked, "I know you Americans are famous for your hospitality, but this is really ridiculous." Leona Lewis probably has a pretty good idea of how the actress felt. Lewis' first album, Spirit, enters The Billboard 200 at #1--three weeks after her first American single, "Bleeding Love," topped the Hot 100. Lewis is the first foreign-born artist to reach #1 in the U.S. with his or her first charted album and first charted single since Spice Girls in 1997. That quintet, which, like Lewis, hails from England, reached #1 with its album Spice and single "Wannabe."

In the past 52 years, only five other non-American artists have received such a hospitable welcome on the U.S. charts. The Singing Nun (from Belgium) scored in 1963 with The Singing Nun and the novelty-edged ditty "Dominique." The Beatles turned the music world upside down in 1964 with Meet The Beatles! and "I Want To Hold Your Hand." Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra (from France) was a throwback to a gentler time with its 1968 album Blooming Hits and instrumental smash "Love Is Blue." Average White Band (from Scotland) scored in 1975 with AWB and the funky instrumental "Pick Up The Pieces." And Men At Work (from Australia) capitalized on strong MTV appeal in 1982 with Business As Usual and "Who Can It Be Now?"

Except for the Beatles, none of these newcomers really lived up to their fast starts. The Singing Nun never even made the Hot 100 again. Mauriat never had another top 40 hit. Men At Work, AWB and Spice Girls basically had two-year chart careers. It seems that artists do better long-term if they build gradually rather than experience overnight success. What does this mean for Lewis? Plainly, early success doesn't guarantee a long and substantial career. But the fact that so many of these other acts flamed out quickly doesn't mean the same thing will happen to her. Talent, drive and luck will play important roles, as they always do, in determining how far she'll go and how long she'll stay in the game.

Vangelis (from Greece) nearly made this list with the Chariots Of Fire soundtrack and the instrumental theme "Chariots Of Fire--Titles," from 1982. But he had had two prior charted albums with Jon & Vangelis, in which he partnered with Jon Anderson of Yes.

"Bleeding Love" returns to #1 on the Hot Digital Songs chart after yielding for two weeks. "Bleeding Love" sold 223,000 downloads this week, its heftiest total to date. This is the fourth straight week that the #1 song on Hot Digital Songs has registered sales of 200,000 or more downloads. That's a new record, topping the old record of three weeks--another indication that this is a fast-growing market. "Bleeding Love" has topped the 200,000 mark in both of its weeks on top. Mariah Carey's "Touch My Body" and "4 Minutes" by Madonna featuring Justin Timberlake also reached that threshold when they topped the chart.

Before the Nielsen/SoundScan era started in 1991, it was unheard of for a debut album to enter the chart at #1. Whitney Houston's 1985 debut album took 50 weeks to hit the top spot. Mariah Carey's 1990 debut took 36 weeks. Even in the early years of SoundScan, it was rare for a debut album to open at #1. Toni Braxton's 1993 debut took 31 weeks to reach the top. But by 2001, when Alicia Keys' Songs In A Minor bowed at #1, it was a fairly common occurrence.

Houston, Braxton and Keys were all signed to their record deals by legendary executive Clive Davis, who also signed Lewis. Braxton and Keys both won Grammys for Best New Artist. Houston surely would have won, but was (foolishly) struck from the eligibility list because she had earlier recorded a duet or two. (Horrors!) Lewis is the instant front-runner to win the award next year. It's only April, so that prediction may seem rash, but she has everything that Grammy voters love--a classy sound, undeniable vocal ability, splashy commercial success and the promise of a long career.

Lewis, 23, is the first British solo artist to enter the weekly pop album chart at #1. She's also the first female solo artist who was born in England to top the chart since Olivia Newton-John scored with back-to-back albums in 1974-1975.

Lewis rose to fame in England after winning that country's X Factor TV talent competition. The show was launched by Simon Cowell of American Idol fame. Lewis is the second act that Cowell has championed that has landed a #1 album. Cowell was also behind Il Divo, which opened at #1 with Ancora in 2006.

Lewis's reign atop the Billboard 200 album chart is expected to be brief. Mariah Carey's E=MC2 is likely to send it packing next week. Two weeks after that, Madonna is due with Hard Candy. If Leona, Mariah and Madonna hit #1 in succession, as I expect, it will be the first time that three female solo artists have debuted at #1 back-to-back-to-back since Monica, Beyonce and Ashanti scored in June and July 2003.

Two of the top three albums this week are by country artists. This is country music's best showing since late October, when the top three spots were held by Carrie Underwood, Robert Plant/Alison Krauss and Gary Allan. (I'm not counting Eagles, who were in the top three in November with Garth Brooks, as a country act, because they transcend the genre.)

Here's the low-down on this week's top 10 albums.

1. Leona Lewis, Spirit, 205,000. This is the third highest weekly sales total of the year, topped only by the opening week numbers for Jack Johnson's Sleep Through The Static and Danity Kane's Welcome To The Dollhouse. Even so, "Bleeding Love" sold more downloads this week, even though it's been out for 11 weeks. Three other songs from Lewis' album rank among the week's top 100 downloads. "Better In Time" bows at #24, "Yesterday" opens at #86 and "I Will Be" opens at #100.

2. George Strait, Troubadour, 59,000. This slips a notch after debuting on top last week. Only one of Strait's four #1 albums managed to hold the top spot for a second week. That was 2004's 50 Number Ones. "I Saw God Today" drops from #64 to #91 on Hot Digital Songs. (Well, the title is merely "I Saw God Today," not "God Promised To Keep My Album #1 For A Second Week.")

3. James Otto, Sunset Man, 58,000. This country singer from Washington definitely wins the prize for Most Improved Performance. His 2004 debut, Days Of Our Lives, logged just one week on the country chart (at a lowly #61), and never dented The Billboard 200. His sophomore album debuts at #1 on the country chart and #3 on the pop chart. "Just Got Started Lovin' You" jumps from #69 to #58 on Hot Digital Songs.

4. Various Artists, Now 27, 47,000. After five weeks on the chart, the compilation has sold 513,000 copies. That's not bad, but three Now volumes debuted with a higher sales total than that. Those were installments 6 through 8, which were released in 2001, when the music business was at its peak.

5. R.E.M., Accelerate, 46,000. This drops to #5 after debuting at #2 last week. This is R.E.M.'s first album to spend more than one week in the top 10 since New Adventures In Hi-Fi in 1996. That album spent three weeks in the winners circle.

6. The Chipmunks, Alvin & The Chipmunks soundtrack, 40,000. The Chipmunks first made the top five with their 1959 album Let's All Sing With The Chipmunks. They returned to the top five last week. This gives the animated trio of rodents a span of top five albums of more than 48 years--longer than any other act in the rock era. Elvis Presley, whose top five albums ran from Elvis Presley in the spring of 1956 to Elvis: 2nd To None in October 2003--more than 47 years--is in second place. (Well, he's 2nd to None among real-life human acts, anyway.)

7. Ray J, All I Feel, 39,000. This new entry is the first top 10 album for Ray J, whose debut album was released in 1997. Ray J's sister, Brandy, had three top five albums in a row from 1998 through 2004. "Sexy Can I," Ray J's collaboration with Yung Berg, jumps from #7 to #5 on Hot Digital Songs.

8. Rick Ross, Trilla, 34,000. Trilla moves back up a notch. It's now listed ahead of the album that followed it into the #1 spot (Danity Kane's Welcome To The Dollhouse)--as well as the album that followed that album to the top (Day26's eponymous debut). After five weeks, Ross has sold 418,000 albums. This continues to run ahead of where Ross' 2006 debut album, Port Of Miami, was at the same point in its chart life. "The Boss," featuring T-Pain, slips from #36 to #42 on Hot Digital Songs.

9. P.O.D., When Angels And Serpents Dance, 34,000. This new entry is the California-based band's fourth straight studio album to make the top 10, following Satellite, Payable On Death (hence their name) and Testify.

10. Danity Kane, Welcome To The Dollhouse, 28,000. The female quintet slips from #7 to #10 in its fourth week on the chart. "Damaged" slips from #13 to #18 on Hot Digital Songs.

Four albums fall out of the top 10 this week. Day 26's Day 26 falls from #4 to #18, Trina's Still Da Baddest dives from #6 to #28, Counting Crows' Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings drops from #8 to #19, and Van Morrison's Keep It Simple plummets from #10 to #38.

Body & Soul: Midnight Fire returns to the chart at #11. The Various Artists collection hit #108 in January 2007. It's the latest release in Time-Life's long-running Body & Soul series, which is devoted to romantic R&B.

Nine Inch Nails' Ghosts I-IV opens at #14. Like Radiohead's In Rainbows, the album was available through the band's website before it made its retail debut. The instrumental album is a departure for NIN, which is the creation of musician Trent Reznor.

Two other albums debut inside the top 40. Marie Digby's Unfold opens at #29. Digby has been a YouTube breakout. Ashes Divide's Keep Telling Myself It's Alright bows at #36. The band was formed by Billy Howerdel, guitarist for A Perfect Circle, which had three straight top five albums from 2000 through 2004.

Daughtry's eponymous debut album vaults from #36 to #16 in the wake of the band's appearance on the Idol Gives Back special. The album registered a sales increase of 44%--a bigger increase than any other album in the top 200. The 2006 release is about two weeks away from topping the 4 million mark in U.S. sales. So it can be done, though it's certainly not as easy as it used to be.

The week's biggest loser was Hawk Nelson's Hawk Nelson Is My Friend, which falls from #34 to #125 with a sales drop of 69%--a steeper drop than any other album in the top 200. Hawk, you may need to expand your circle of friends.

Boy Oh Boy: "4 Minutes" by Madonna featuring Justin Timberlake slips to #2 on Hot Digital Songs. The pairing between the one-time Boy Toy and the boy band alum is Madonna's 54th Hot 100 entry, but only her second billed collaboration. "Me Against The Music," her 2003 collabo with Britney Spears, reached #35. In 1995, Madonna teamed with Babyface for one of her biggest (and best) hits, "Take A Bow." Babyface sang a backing vocal, but didn't receive formal billing. By the way, when Madonna landed her first Hot 100 hit, 1983's "Holiday," Timberlake was all of two.

Michael Jackson's Thriller 25 returns to #1 on the Hot Catalog Albums chart. The pop classic sold 18,000 copies this week, which would have placed it #33 on the main chart if older, catalog albums were allowed to compete there. This is the album's eighth week atop the catalog chart.

Useless Information: James Otto isn't the first "Otto" to put an album at or near the top of the chart. In May 1955, 10 months before Billboard's album chart became a regular weekly feature, a German honky-tonk pianist who went by the stage name Crazy Otto was #1 for two weeks with his eponymous debut album. (I do believe that item lived up to its billing.)

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