Chart Watch

Week Ending April 6, 2008: Van, Mick & Keith, Meet Alvin, Simon & Theodore

Chart Watch

Three pop veterans, each with more than 40 years of history on the Billboard album chart, make noise this week. Van Morrison lands his first top 10 album as Keep It Simple debuts at #10. His previous highest-charting album was Saint Dominic's Preview, which peaked at #15 in 1972. The Rolling Stones' Shine A Light opens at #11, becoming the highest-charting soundtrack from a rock concert film directed by Martin Scorsese. (The soundtracks from Scorsese's first two "rockumentaries"-The Band's The Last Waltz and Bob Dylan's No Direction Home-both reached #16.) Morrison and the Stones are veritable newcomers compared to the third veteran act making waves this week--the Chipmunks. The Alvin & The Chipmunks soundtrack vaults from #16 to #5, putting the novelty act back in the top five for the first time since Let's All Sing With The Chipmunks, which was released way back in 1959.

Shine A Light is the Stones' 10th live album, a legacy which stretches back to 1966's Got Live If You Want It!  Two have reached the top five-Love You Live in 1977 and Still Life (American Concert Tour 1981) in 1982.

Scorsese's growing stature is suggested by the fact that his name is above the title on the Stones' album cover. His name was also on the cover of the Dylan album in 2005, but below the title. It wasn't on the cover of The Band's 1978 album. Scorsese is probably more immersed in popular music than any other movie director. The Last Temptation Of Christ generated a hit soundtrack for Peter Gabriel. New York, New York spawned a signature song for both Liza Minnelli and Frank Sinatra. The King Of Comedy featured the Pretenders' biggest hit, "Back On The Chain Gang." Scorsese's directing credits also include Michael Jackson's 1987 video for "Bad."

George Strait enters the chart at #1 with Troubadour. It's Strait's fourth album to reach the top spot, a total topped by only one country artist--Garth Brooks, who has had eight #1 albums. Three other country artists are tied with Strait with four #1 albums: Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Alan Jackson. Strait was already a country superstar when these other men were still hustling to get record deals. Strait's breakthrough album, Strait Country, hit the country chart in October 1981. Brooks first hit the country chart in 1989, followed by Jackson in 1990, McGraw in 1994 and Chesney in 1995.

Strait, 55, is the #6 album seller of the Nielsen/SoundScan era, with sales of 39,589,000. His best-seller is the Pure Country soundtrack. The album has sold 4,676,000 copies since its release in 1992.

Jack Johnson's Sleep Through The Static crosses the 1 million sales threshold this week. It's the first album to reach that sales milestone in 2008--and we're 14 weeks into the year. That's the longest it has taken for an album to be the first to sell 1 million copies in any calendar year in the Nielsen/SoundScan era. The old record was 10 weeks. That was the case in both 1994, when Mariah Carey's Music Box was the first to reach the threshold, and 2006, when Mary J. Blige's The Breakthrough was the first. At the other extreme, three times in the 1990s an album topped the 1 million mark just four weeks into the new year. It happened in 1993, with Whitney Houston's The Bodyguard soundtrack; in 1995, with Garth Brooks' The Hits; and in 1998, when the Titanic soundtrack and Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love both sailed across the million mark the same week.

"4 Minutes" by Madonna featuring Justin Timberlake moves up from #2 to #1 on the Hot Digital Songs chart, with sales of 217,000 digital downloads. It's Madonna's second #1 on this chart as a lead artist (following "Hung Up") and Timberlake's second as a supporting artist (following Timbaland's "Give It To Me," which also featured Nelly Furtado). Mariah Carey's "Touch My Body" falls from #1 to #4 on this chart. I'll have more to say at the end of the column about Carey's 18 #1 hits on the Hot 100, and how that compares to Elvis Presley's total. If you relish chart history, or just good backstage drama, you may find it of interest.

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

1. George Strait, Troubadour, 166,000. This is the slimmest total with which Strait has topped the chart. His fattest #1 frame came in 2004 when 50 Number Ones debuted with sales of 343,000. Strait's other #1 albums are 1997's Carrying Your Love With Me and 2005's Somewhere Down In Texas. "I Saw God Today" leaps from #106 to #64 on Hot Digital Songs.

2. R.E.M., Accelerate, 115,000. This new chart entry is R.E.M.'s first album to reach the top two in nearly 12 years. The band hit #1 or #2 with four consecutive releases from 1991 to 1996--Out Of Time, Automatic For The People, Monster and New Adventures In Hi-Fi. That's when R.E.M. was vying with U2 as the most critically and commercially successful band in America. Then R.E.M. faltered and U2 surged ahead. "Supernatural Superserious" debuts at #71 on Hot Digital Songs.

3. Various Artists, Now 27, 60,000. The compilation rebounds from #5 to #3. Its sales total after four weeks on the chart is 466,000. Not bad, but four Now volumes debuted with sales greater than that.

4. Day26, Day26, 51,000. The R&B group falls to #4 after bowing at #1 last week. "Got Me Going" slips to #94 on Hot Digital Songs.

5. Soundtrack, Alvin & The Chipmunks, 51,000. The soundtrack finally cracks the top 10 in its 18th week on the chart. The rodents' only previous top 10 album, Let's All Sing With The Chipmunks, reached #4. The current album features the original version of "The Chipmunk Song," which was featured on that 1959 album. Another Chipmunks oldie, "Witch Doctor," debuts at #115 on Hot Digital Songs.

6. Trina, Still Da Baddest, 47,000. This new chart entry is Trina's first top 10 album. The rapper made the top 15 with Diamond Princess and Glamorest Life. Only two female solo rap artists have topped the chart. Both achieved the feat in 1999. Foxy Brown reached #1 with Chyna Doll. Eve followed suit with Ruff Ryders' First Lady. (Missy Elliott has reached #2 twice and #3 twice, but has yet to go all the way.)

7. Danity Kane, Welcome To The Dollhouse, 47,000. The female R&B group drops from #4 to #7  after debuting at #1 two weeks ago. The group's eponymous 2006 debut album had sold more copies after three weeks on the market--434,000, compared to 372,000 for the new album. "Damaged" inches up to #13 on Hot Digital Songs.

8. Counting Crows, Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, 43,000. The veteran band falls to #8 after debuting at #3 last week.

9. Rick Ross, Trilla, 41,000. Trilla dips from #6 to #9 in its fourth week on the chart. Its cumulative sales are ahead of where Ross' 2006 debut, Port Of Miami, was at the same point. Trilla has sold 382,000 copies to date, compared to 367,000 at this point for his prior album. Ross should share his secret. "The Boss" climbs to #36 on Hot Digital Songs.

10. Van Morrison, Keep It Simple, 37,000. Morrison's top 10 breakthrough comes 40 years and six months after he first hit the pop album chart with Blowin' Your Mind! His all-time best-seller is the 1990 compilation The Best Of Van Morrison, which has sold 5,091,000 copies since 1991. You know Van's song, "Blue Money"? With sales like this, believe me, his money is green.

Five albums drop out of the top 10 this week. Panic At The Disco's Pretty.Odd. falls from #2 to #12, Jack Johnson's Sleep Through The Static drops from #8 to #13, Flo Rida's Mail On Sunday slips from #9 to #15, Sara Bareilles' Little Voice falls from #10 to #17 and the Raconteurs' Consolers Of The Lonely drops from #7 to #18. Panic At The Disco experienced a 74% drop in sales. That's a steeper decline than any other album in the top 200.

Sleep Through The Static topped the 1 million sales mark in nine weeks of release--faster than any previous Jack Johnson album. His previous personal-best was his 2005 album In Between Dreams, which took 14 weeks to reach the million mark. The Curious George soundtrack took 30 weeks. His 2003 album, On And On, took 60 weeks.

Three other albums debut inside the top 25. Black Keys' Attack & Release opens at #14, Sevendust's Chapter VII Hope And Sorrow bows at #19 and George Michael's Twenty Five arrives at #23. This is Sevendust's fourth top 20 album, following Home, Seasons and Next.  This is Michael's second two-disk greatest hits album, following 1998's Ladies & Gentlemen--The Best Of George Michael. The title of the new album refers to the number of years that have elapsed since "Bad Boys," Michael's first hit with Wham! (Yikes.) Incidentally, what are the chances that that Twenty Five, Day26 and Now 27 would place in the top 25 the same week?

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street vaults from #192 to #99, with a 130% sales increase. That's a steeper increase than any other non-debuting album. As with Alvin & the Chipmunks, the reason for the soundtrack's resurgence is the arrival of the film's DVD.

"Low" by Flo Rida featuring T-Pain this week surpasses "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" as the song with the most paid downloads in the history of the Top Digital Songs chart. "Low" surpassed "Soulja Boy" several weeks ago on the Digital Tracks chart. It is now the biggest digital song of all time no matter how you slice it. But music fans do seem to prefer to acquire Mr. Rida's artistry on a song-by-song basis. His three current hits, "Low," "Elevator" and "Roll," have sold a combined total of 4,126,000 downloads. After three weeks, his debut album, Mail On Sunday, has sold 148,000 copies.

I Can Only Imagine: Ultimate Power Anthems Of The Christian Faith replaces Michael Jackson's Thriller 25 at #1 on Top Catalog Albums. The Various Artists collection sold 27,000 copies this week, and would have ranked #16 if catalog albums competed on the main chart. The 3-CD set features two artists who have had #1 catalog albums in their own right, Todd Agnew and Point Of Grace.

This is the sixth consecutive week that an album has debuted at #1. That's the longest period of revolving-door #1 albums since early last summer, when an album debuted at #1 for eight straight weeks. It took T.I.'s T.I. Vs. T.I.P. to hold on to the top spot for a second week. Which album will be the first this time around to claw its way to a second week at #1? I'm guessing Mariah Carey's E=MC2. (See next item).

Heads Up: Leona Lewis is expected to debut at #1 next week with Spirit, which features the #1 hit, "Bleeding Love." But its reign will likely be short-lived. Mariah Carey is due the following week. E=MC2 will probably have two weeks on top before yielding to Madonna's Hard Candy. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Also due to enter the chart next week: P.O.D.'s When Angels And Serpents Dance, Nine Inch Nails' Ghosts I-IV, Ashes Divide's Keep Telling Myself It's Alright and Marie Digby's Unfold.

Chart Drama: If you read my column last Wednesday, you learned that Mariah Carey had just tied Elvis Presley for second place (behind the Beatles) for most #1 singles in the rock era. If you saw it on Thursday, you read my revised lead about how Mariah had just surpassed Elvis to become the solo artist with the most #1 hits. Did I just make a simple mistake? No. I unknowingly stepped into a furious debate over just many #1 hits the King of Rock'n'Roll had.

Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-2006, the veritable Bible of chart statistics, carries a list of the artists with the most #1 hits. The Beatles are on top with 20, followed by Elvis with 18 and Mariah with 17. I have great respect for Whitburn and his work, so I went with it, and merely bumped up Mariah's total to include her new #1. On Thursday, I saw that Billboard was saying that Elvis had just 17 #1 hits.

Here's the discrepancy: Whitburn counts Elvis' 1956 smash "Hound Dog"/"Don't Be Cruel" as two #1 hits. The double-sided smash hit #1 on two of Billboard's key charts of the period--Best Sellers in Stores and Most Played in Juke Boxes. Two other charts back then--The Top 100 and Most Played by Jockeys--measured individual "sides." "Don't Be Cruel" reached #1 on both of those charts. "Hound Dog" peaked at #2 on the Top 100 and #4 on Most Played by Jockeys.

Whitburn's rationale for counting Elvis' smash as two #1 hits is that, when the record first reached #1 on Best Sellers and Most Played in Juke Boxes, "Hound Dog" was listed first, backed by "Don't Be Cruel." Later, while the record was still #1, Billboard reversed the order. (A legend on the chart indicated that "the leading side (is) on top.") I did a little checking on my own. Between the start of the rock era in January 1955 and the introduction of the definitive Hot 100 chart in August 1958, 14 two-sided hits (in which both A and B sides were enjoying significant action) reached #1 on Best Sellers In Stores. Elvis' smash was the only one in which both sides had a turn as the A side.

I was starting to lean Whitburn's way when I noticed that Elton John's 1997 smash "Candle In The Wind 1997"/"Something About The Way You Look Tonight" experienced a similar fate. "Candle In The Wind 1997" was the lead song for the single's first three weeks at #1, but then "Something..." took the lead for the remaining 11 weeks that the smash held the top spot. But Whitburn counts that as only one #1 record.

In an exchange of emails, Whitburn also pointed out that both "Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel" were included in Rolling Stone's 2004 critics' poll ranking the Top 500 Songs of All Time. Fair enough. But that was a ranking of songs, not singles. (For what it's worth, both sides of the record have also been voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.)

Whitburn also noted that the Recording Industry Assn. of America has certified "Hound Dog"/"Don't Be Cruel" quadruple platinum. It's unusual for the RIAA to list both sides of a single in its certifications, but it's not unprecedented. Elvis has three other multi-platinum singles in which both sides are listed: "Heartbreak Hotel"/"I Was The One," "Love Me Tender"/ "Any Way You Want Me" and "Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear"/"Loving You."

"Hound Dog"/"Don't Be Cruel" is probably the most gargantuan two-sided hit of the rock era. But it's one two-sided #1 hit, not two #1 hits. If the songs had been released separately, I have little doubt that both would have reached #1. But that's conjecture on my part. They weren't released separately. Their points were combined on those two charts 52 years ago and there's no way to separate them. Chart statistics have to be based on hard, provable facts. As much as I respect Whitburn, I'm going to call this one record.

So does this mean there's an error in "The Bible"? Perish the thought! I think it shows that these matters can get complicated and even experts can disagree. If you've read this far, you probably have an opinion on whether "Hound Dog"/"Don't Be Cruel" should count as one #1 hit, or two. Hit that message board.

(If the Supreme Court had given Bush v. Gore this much due deliberation in 2000, we might have had a different President the last eight years.)

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