Chart Watch

Week Ending April 20, 2008: Now That’s What I Call A Debut!

Chart Watch

Mariah Carey's E=MC2 opens at #1 with sales of 463,000--the fattest opening-week total of her career. Carey's previous top opening (404,000) was made by her most recent album, The Emancipation Of Mimi. E=MC2 also tops Jack Johnson's Sleep Through The Static for the best opening so far in 2008. Johnson debuted with sales of 375,000 in February. The last album to open with a higher sales number was Mary J. Blige's Growing Pains, which opened with sales of 629,000 in December.

Carey's album sold as many copies as the next 12 albums on this week's chart, combined. And yet, Carey's opening tally is less than half of the first week total of the biggest opener of 2007, Kanye West's Graduation, which bowed with sales of 957,000 in September. In fact, 10 albums in 2007 debuted with higher sales totals. The others were, in descending order, Alicia Keys, the Eagles, 50 Cent, Blige, Linkin Park, High School Musical 2, Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood and T.I.  For Carey to fall short of blockbusters by West, Keys and the Eagles is no shame, but failing to keep pace with more routine hits by Underwood and T.I. raises questions--especially given Carey's all-out promotional effort. She appeared on TV's #1 show, American Idol, and the #1 daytime show, Oprah.

In the end, what you make of Carey's number is a lot like the old philosophical question: Is the glass half empty or half full? 

On the same day that Sen. Hillary Clinton won the crucial Pennsylvania primary, female solo artists locked up the top three spots on Nielsen SoundScan's list of the nation's best-selling albums. Trailing Carey are Leona Lewis and Miley Cyrus. It's the first time that female solo artists have swept the top three spots since January 2003, when Norah Jones, Jennifer Lopez and Avril Lavigne led the chart.

E=MC2 is Carey's sixth #1 album, a total matched by only three female artists in chart history. Barbra Streisand is out front with eight #1 albums. Madonna and Janet Jackson also have six. Carey, 38, is the youngest member of this high-powered group. Streisand is 65, Madonna is 49 and Jackson is 41. Carey also started her career much later than these other women. In 1990, when Carey released her first album, Streisand had already piled up six #1 albums, Madonna had amassed three and Jackson had had two. Carey has had to play catch-up.

This marks a continuation of one of the most dramatic comebacks in recent pop history. It's easy to forget now, but in 2001, when her movie Glitter bombed, Carey became a punch-line. Her behavior was briefly erratic. It wasn't a meltdown of Britney Spears proportions, but it was far from the highly polished persona that Carey had cultivated. Thinking they were cutting their losses, Virgin Records gave her a multi-million dollar payout to leave the label. That would have been a humiliating blow to many artists, but Carey soldiered on.

Her first step was to quickly return with a new album, Charmbracelet. The album has sold 1,149,000 copies, a far cry from her blockbusters, but good enough to prove that she wasn't as washed-up as everyone was saying. And then she came back with The Emancipation Of Mimi, which put her right back on top. The album has sold 5,848,000 copies--third best of all of Carey's albums (behind only Daydream, which has sold 7,547,000 copies, and Music Box, which has sold 7,172,000). Emancipation spawned three #1 or #2 hits and brought Carey three Grammys, her first wins since her debut album.

All six of Carey's #1 albums have spawned at least #1 single on the Hot 100. In fact, her five previous #1 albums all spun off at least two #1 hits. In addition, Carey is the #1 female album seller of the Nielsen/SoundScan era (which began in May 1991). She and Celine Dion are the only women with five albums listed among Nielsen/SoundScan's all-time top 200.

For the first time in nearly five years, there are three movie soundtracks in the top 10. The Best Of Both Worlds Concert is #4, Juno is #7 and Alvin & The Chipmunks is #8. This last happened in June 2003, with The Lizzie McGuire Movie, 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Matrix Reloaded. Note that in both cases, one of the movies was a big-screen spin-off of a Disney Channel TV series.

"4 Minutes" by Madonna featuring Justin Timberlake returns to #1 on Hot Digital Songs, with sales of 202,000 downloads. This is the fifth straight week that the #1 song on that chart has registered more than 200,000 downloads. That's a new record.

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

1. Mariah Carey, E=MC2, 463,000. Four songs from the album rank in the top 100 on Hot Digital Songs. The shimmering "Touch My Body" holds at #6. The ballad "Bye Bye," which Carey performed on American Idol, bows at #11. Also debuting: "Migrate" at #61 and "Side Effects" at #95.

2. Leona Lewis, Spirit, 95,000. Lewis was hyped, in part, as the new Mariah, so it's somehow fitting that she was bumped from #1 by the old Mariah. "Bleeding Love" slips from #1 to #3 on Hot Digital Songs. "Better In Time" drops from #24 to #74.

3. Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana/Soundtrack, Best Of Both Worlds Concert, 47,000. Cyrus' album vaults from #31 last week, as it goes from being a Wal-Mart exclusive to broader retail distribution. Its sales jumped by 162%, which ties the resurgent Juno soundtrack for the biggest gain of any album in the top 200. Best Of Both Worlds Concert is the first live album to crash the top three since Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds' Live At Radio City Music Hall opened at #3 in August. It's also the #1 movie soundtrack for the third time in the past six weeks. "See You Again" holds at #9 on Hot Digital Songs.

4. Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum. 43,000. This is the third week in a row that a country artist has debuted in the top five. George Strait opened at #1 two weeks ago. James Otto bowed at #3 last week. But Strait is a superstar and even Otto had released a previous album. This is Lady Antebellum's debut. "Love Don't Live Here" debuts at #91 on Hot Digital Songs.

5. Various Artists, NOW 27, 39,000. The compilation has sold 552,000 copies. It's the sixth best-seller of 2008 to date.

6. George Strait, Troubadour, 38,000. Strait, the most durable country superstar of the past 25 years, is bumped from #1 on the country chart by the little-known Lady Antebellum. You just never know what's going to happen next. "I Saw God Today" dips from #91 to #96 on Hot Digital Songs.

7. The Chipmunks/Soundtrack, Alvin & The Chipmunks, 32,000. The soundtrack, which peaked two weeks ago at #5, slips another notch to #7. It's the #10 album of 2008 to this point. It's the year's #2 movie soundtrack, trailing only Juno.

8. Various Artists, Juno soundtrack, 31,000. The soundtrack vaults from #46 last week in the wake of the film's release on DVD. That's a sales increase of 162%, which ties Miley Cyrus' album for the biggest increase of any album in the top 200. Juno has sold 643,000 copies. Counting just its 2008 sales, it's #3 for the year to date.

9. R.E.M., Accelerate, 30,000. This is R.E.M.'s first album to log three weeks in the top 10 since The New Adventures Of Hi-Fi in 1996. The band first reached the top 10 in November 1987 with Document. (OK, the full title was R.E.M. No. 5: Document.) A 21-year span of top 10 albums is pretty impressive for a band that started out as an alternative, college-circuit act.

10. Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift, 30,000. Swift's album jumps from #13 to #10 in its 78th week on the chart. It's the oldest album to appear in the top 10 since Nickelback's All The Right Reasons, which was in its 102nd week on the chart when it made its final appearance in the top 10 in September. Swift's album has sold 2,816,000 copies, more than any other album in the top 10. Taking into account just its 2008 sales, it's #5 for the year to date. "Picture To Burn" vaults from #50 to #30 on Hot Digital Songs.

Five albums fall out of the top 10. Rick Ross' Trilla dips from #8 to #11, James Otto's Sunset Man drops from #3 to #12, Danity Kane's Welcome To The Dollhouse slips from #10 to #14, Ray J's All I Feel falls from #7 to #35 and P.O.D.'s When Angels And Serpents Dance plummets from #9 to #44.

Top 20 Debuts: Thrice bows at #17 with Alchemy Index: Vols. III and IV: Air & Earth. This is the California-based rock group's third straight top 20 album. The band's 2003 breakthrough album, The Artist In The Ambulance, hit #16. Its 2005 follow-up Vheissu, reached #15. And Rush's Snakes & Arrows Live opens at #18. The veteran band's studio album Snakes & Arrows opened at #3 in May. This double-CD set is Rush's sixth multi-disk live album. All have reached the top 40. One made the top 10-1981's Exit...Stage Left.

That Sinking Feeling: Marie Digby's Unfold plummets from #29 to #118, a 68% drop in sales. That's the steepest drop of any album in the top 200.

I Can Only Imagine: Ultimate Power Anthems Of The Christian Faith  returns to #1 on the Catalog Albums chart, again displacing Michael Jackson's Thriller 25. The contemporary Christian collection sold 20,000 copies this week and would have ranked #19 if the older, catalog albums were allowed to compete on the big chart.

Heads Up: This is the eighth consecutive week that an album has debuted at #1. It's the longest such streak since last spring and summer. Then, it took T.I. to break the string of revolving door chart-toppers by logging a second week at #1. Will Carey break the string this time? We shall see. She'll have to fend off Ashlee Simpson's third album, Bittersweet World, which is expected to be next week's top new entry. Simpson's first two albums, Autobiography and I Am Me, opened at #1. Also due next week: Flight Of The Conchords' eponymous full-length debut album. The group's six-track EP The Distant Future reached #116 in August.

Clive Davis: Last Wednesday, Leona Lewis' debut album entered the album chart at #1 and her single "Bleeding Love" returned to #1 on the Hot 100. One day later, Clive Davis was replaced as Chairman/CEO of the BMG Label Group, North America, which encompasses Lewis' label, J Records. (And here I've always thought that a bottle of champagne was the appropriate congratulatory gift.) Clive is staying on as Chief Creative Officer for Sony BMG Music Entertainment Worldwide, but the move was widely seen as an unwelcome one.

Clive has his share of detractors. The man has a touch of ego. OK, maybe more than a touch. Though what some people see as arrogance is a patrician air that is simply his manner. Some say that he is limited-without peer at finding hits for pop artists, but not as adept at other genres. But every music executive has his niche. Nobody ever dissed Berry Gordy for being "limited." Some say that he specializes in music and artists that are ephemeral. The last time I checked, Barry Manilow was doing pretty well, 33 years after his first hit, "Mandy"--a song that Clive brought him.

Let 'em say what they will. Few, if any, executives in the history of the music business have lasted as long at the top as Clive Davis. Clive has been an industry leader since 1966, when he was named Vice President and General Manager of Columbia Records. You've got to give the guy credit for his staying power, work ethic and passion for music.

Credit Roll: This marks six months of Chart Watch. I'd like to thank Rob Sisco and his team at Nielsen SoundScan for letting me play with their data each week; Geoff Mayfield and his team at Billboard, which began publishing a weekly pop album chart 35 years before Nielsen SoundScan set up shop; and Joel Whitburn's Record Research company for publishing a series of first-rate chart reference books. The Nielsen/SoundScan information allows those of us who do this to write with an unprecedented degree of precision and specificity. The Billboard chart data for the pre-1991 period gives the column greater depth and a sense of history. And the Whitburn books allow me to check my facts quickly and get the darned thing posted already. My thanks to all of them, and to you for reading it.

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