Chart Watch

Week Ending Aug. 9, 2009: Better Than A Crystal Ball

Chart Watch

For the seventh consecutive week, Michael Jackson has three of the five best-selling albums in the U.S. Number Ones sold 98,000 copies and would have topped The Billboard 200 for the sixth week if catalog albums were eligible to compete there. The Essential Michael Jackson sold 54,000 and would have held at #3. Thriller sold 47,000 and would have inched up from #5 to #4.

This ongoing success will enable Jackson to make history (or should I say HIStory?) on Nielsen/SoundScan's year-end charts. Do I have a crystal ball? No, I have something better: the tracking company's year-to-date sales chart. Jackson has three albums in the top 15 on that list. Number Ones holds at #2 and will probably pull ahead of Taylor Swift's Fearless, the long-time leader, in two weeks. Thriller jumps to #10, while The Essential Michael Jackson climbs to #15. Jackson is likely to become the first artist to have three albums in Nielsen/SoundScan's year-end top 20 since Garth Brooks achieved the feat in 1992. (All three of Brooks' albums--Ropin' The Wind, The Chase and No Fences, ranked in the year-end top 10.)

Number Ones is vying to become the only the third greatest hits album to rank #1 for the year on either Billboard's "year-end" charts or Nielsen/SoundScan's calendar year rankings. Elton John's Elton John--Greatest Hits was Billboard's leader for 1974. The Beatles' 1 was the magazine's champ for 2001. (On Nielsen/SoundScan, 1 was the #6 seller of 2000.) Number Ones is also likely to become the first catalog album and the first album by a deceased performer to wind up as the #1 album of the year on either list, going back to 1956.

The Essential Michael Jackson is #1 in the U.K. for the sixth straight week. This is the longest continuous run on top in that country since Leona Lewis' Spirit had seven straight weeks at #1 from November 2007 to January 2008. (Coldplay's Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends had six non-consecutive weeks on top last year.)

I'll have more Billboard's controversial policy of excluding catalog albums from The Billboard 200 near the end of the column.

The main beneficiary of that policy this week is Sugarland, which debuts at #1 with Live On The Inside. The title is a play on the duo's last studio album, Love On The Inside, which debuted at #2 in August 2008 and rose to the top spot in its second week. (Love On The Inside resurges from #35 to #21 this week. It has sold 1,745,000 copies.)

Sugarland is the only country duo to hit #1 on The Billboard 200 in the chart's 53-year history--and now they've done it twice.

Live On The Inside couples a DVD with a live collection of covers of such pop and rock songs as Beyonce's "Irreplaceable," R.E.M.'s "The One I Love" and the B-52's "Love Shack." It's the first live album to top The Billboard 200 since Alicia Keys' Unplugged  in 2005. It's the first live set to top the Top Country Albums chart since Kenny Chesney's LIVE: Live Those Songs Again in 2006.

The Sugarland album is the third album available at only one retailer to top The Billboard 200, following Eagles' Long Road Out Of Eden and AC/DC's Black Ice. (Wal-Mart was/is the retailer in all three cases, which shows its dominance in this area.)

Taylor Swift's Fearless logs its 33rd week in the top 10 on The Billboard 200. That's the longest run in the top 10 since Mariah Carey's comeback smash The Emancipation Of Mimi had a 34-week run in 2005-2006. It's the longest run by a country album since Shania Twain's Come On Over had 53 weeks from 1997-1999. Mimi and Come On Over were both Grammy finalists for Album of the Year. Fearless is likely to follow suit when the nominations for the 52nd annual awards are announced later this year.

The Black Eyed Peas top the Hot Digital Songs chart for the 19th consecutive week, but this is the first time in that remarkable streak that the Peas' chart-topping song has slipped below the 200,000 mark in paid downloads. "I Gotta Feelin" sold 197,000 downloads this week, bringing its nine-week total to 1,958,000. Immediately before this nine-week run, "Boom Boom Pow" was #1 for 10 weeks. The Peas' album, The E.N.D., has sold 872,000 copies, not a bad total in this sales climate, but hardly what you'd expect given these back-to-back smash hits.

Drake's "Best I Ever Had" tops the 1 million mark in paid downloads this week. One of the song's hooks is an out-of-nowhere reference to the Andy Griffith theme song. It's the most head-turning namedrop in a pop song since the Helen Keller line in 3OH!3's "Don't Trust Me." Since Drake brought it up, the Andy Griffith theme has been included on two hit albums through the years. The original version was featured on 1985's marvelous Television's Greatest Hits collection. In 1962, Nelson Riddle covered the tune on his album Route 66 Theme and Other Great TV Themes.

Madonna's "Celebration" vaults from #159 to #40 on Hot Digital Songs. It's the first single and title track from Madonna's upcoming greatest hits album, which is due Sept. 29.

Daughtry's Leave This Town slips from #2 to #6 this week, which seems like a big drop. But the sales tallies in the top 10 are so close that if Daughtry's album had sold just 500 more copies this week, it would have held at #2. (The numbers in the top 10 list are rounded off to the nearest thousand.)

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

1. Sugarland, Live On The Inside, 76,000. This new entry is the duo's second #1 album in a row. Three songs from the DVD are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Stay" at #171.

2. Various Artists, NOW 31, 45,000. The former #1 album rebounds from #4 to #2 in its sixth week.

3. Gloriana, Gloriana, 44,000. This new entry is the third debut album by a country act to open in the top five in the past 16 months. It follows eponymous albums by Lady Antebellum and Julianne Hough. The coed quartet has opened for Taylor Swift.

"Wild At Heart" vaults from #92 to #49 on Hot Digital Songs.

4. The Black Eyed Peas, The E.N.D., 44,000. The former #1 album inches up from #5 to #4 in its ninth week. Two songs from the album are listed in the top 10 on Hot Digital Songs for the ninth straight week.

5. Kings Of Leon, Only By The Night, 44,000. In its 46th week, the album jumps from #6 to #5, matching its highest ranking to date. More than 13,000 copies were sold digitally, making this the #1 Digital Album for the third week. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Use Somebody," which holds at #3.

6. Daughtry, Leave This Town, 44,000. The former #1 album drops from #2 to #6 in its fourth week. "No Surprise" dips from #35 to #37 on Hot Digital Songs.

7. Maxwell, BLACKsummers'night, 43,000. The former #1 album drops from #3 to #7 in its fifth week. "Pretty Wings" dips from #110 to #112 on Hot Digital Songs.

8. Kidz Bop Kids, Kidz Bop 16, 38,000. This new entry is the 10th consecutive regular installment in this series to reach the top 10.

9. Taylor Swift, Fearless, 37,000. The former #1 album holds at #9 for the fourth straight week. This is the album's 33rd week in the top 10; its 39th week on the chart. Three songs from the album are featured on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "You Belong With Me," which inches up to #5.

10. Fabolous, Loso's Way, 37,000. The album drops from #1 to #10 in its second week. That's the biggest second-week tumble from the top spot since Modest Mouse's We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank sank from #1 to #11 in April 2007. Two songs from the album are featured on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Throw It In The Bag" (featuring The Dream) at #53.

Three albums drop out of the top 10 this week. Hannah Montana's Hannah Montana 3 soundtrack drops from #7 to #11, Demi Lovato's Here We Go Again slips from #8 to #14, and Lady GaGa's The Fame drops from #10 to #16.

K'Jon's I Get Around bows at #12, with first-week sales of 33,000. In one week, the album has already outsold the R&B artist's 2007 album, Ballroom Xplosion, which has sold 8,000 copies...Modest Mouse's No One's First, And You're Next, a collection of B sides, opens at #15. As noted above, the group's last full album, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, debuted at #1 in March 2007, but fell out of the top 10 in its second week...American Idol, Season 8 EP bows at #17...The soundtrack to the Disney Channel movie Wizards of Waverly Place debuts at #24. This is, as yet, no match for the channel's Camp Rock, which spent its first 10 weeks in the top 10 last summer.

Legends: Creedence Clearwater Revival's Opus Collection, a 16-track album for Starbucks, debuts at #25. The band first charted in 1968. And Frank Sinatra's Live At The Meadowlands re-enters the chart at #52. The album bowed (and initially peaked) at #88 in May. Sinatra first charted in 1946. This is his sixth live album to make the chart. His two biggest were the classic Sinatra At The Sands, which made the top 10 in 1966, and Sinatra-The Main Event Live, which went top 40 in 1975.

Until Sugarland's Love On The Inside debuted at #2 on The Billboard 200 in August 2008, the highest-charting album by a country duo on that chart was Brooks & Dunn's Hillbilly Deluxe, which debuted and peaked at #3 in 2005. So it's a striking coincidence that Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn announced that they are calling it quits the same week that Sugarland sets a raft of records.  One of Brooks & Dunn's records is probably safe: As of this week, they have sold 22,294,000 albums, more than any other duo (from any genre) in the Nielsen/SoundScan era.

The Catalog Controversy: This is the 18th week since February 2008 that the top 10 on The Billboard 200 has excluded at least one of the week's 10 best-selling albums. Here's how that tally breaks down: Jackson's Thriller 25 and Josh Groban's Noel each would have had five weeks in the top 10 last year if catalog albums were allowed to compete on the big chart. Pearl Jam's Ten would have had one week in the top 10 in March. And the three aforementioned Jackson albums would have spent the past seven weeks in the top 10.

The Jackson boom has yet to run its course. And remastered versions of the Beatles' studio albums will be released on Sept. 9, concurrent with the much-anticipated The Beatles: Rock Band game. The current tally of 18 weeks since 2008 where the top 10 excluded at least one album because of the catalog rule could climb to 25 or 30 weeks before the year is out. That's a lot of weeks where the top 10 needed to carry an asterisk.

This is a serious and growing threat to the credibility of The Billboard 200. Those of us who love the charts hope the problem is solved before people's confidence in the charts is undermined.

Changing market realities have led Billboard to revise its chart policies many times over the years. Until Nov. 4, 2007, "exclusive" albums (albums sold at only one retail chain) were barred from The Billboard 200. This rule kept a pair of Garth Brooks albums off the chart and very nearly did the same to Eagles' Long Road Out Of Eden, until the rule was jettisoned. Until Dec. 5, 1998, songs that weren't commercially available as singles were barred from the Hot 100. This kept two dozen songs that made the top 10 on the separate Hot 100 airplay chart from 1991 through 1998 from cracking the Hot 100 until this rule, too, was scrapped.

The current situation has a lot in common with the two earlier ones. In all three cases, the rules probably made sense at some point, but there came a time when the rules were causing more trouble than they were preventing.

Heads Up: George Strait, who has amassed more top 10 albums on The Billboard 200 than any other country artist in history, is expected to debut at #1 next week with Twang. Also due: Cobra Starship's Hot Mess, which features the top 10 smash "Good Girls Go Bad";  country artist Justin Moore's Justin Moore; rap collective Slaughterhouse's Slaughterhouse; Neil Diamond's Hot August Night/NYC; and an eponymous debut album by Jessie James, who had a song on the Confessions Of A Shopaholic soundtrack.


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