Chart Watch

Week Ending Dec. 14, 2008: It’s The Year’s #1 Album…Or Is It?

Chart Watch

If someone asked you to name the #1 album of the year in Billboard's just-published year-end issue, you might say Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III. That is, indeed, the best-selling album so far in 2008 (with two weeks to go). Or you might remember back to last year's surprise blockbuster, Josh Groban's Noel, and, figuring that Billboard's chart year might not conform exactly to the calendar year, guess that. Noel was the best-selling album of 2007 and, as we approach the holidays, is back in the top five on the weekly "comprehensive" chart (which includes both current and "catalog" product). Both would be good guesses, but both would be wrong. Instead, Alicia Keys' As I Am is Billboard's #1 album of the year. As I Am was #4 on Nielsen/SoundScan's year-end chart for 2007 and is #18 on the firm's year-to-date chart for 2008. Since the Billboard weekly and year-end charts are based on Nielsen SoundScan sales data, you may well wonder how this can be. (I wondered that myself.)

It's a question of eligibility periods. As Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard's director of charts, explains in the year-end issue, the magazine's 2008 chart year runs from Dec. 1, 2007 through Nov. 29, 2008. And in that period, As I Am sold more copies than Noel, which finished at #2 (not to mention Tha Carter III, which ranked #3 on Billboard's recap). Pietroluongo doesn't provide exact sales figures, but in the Nielsen/SoundScan era, with its greater transparency, they're a matter of record. In that year-long period, As I Am sold 3,630,000 copies to 3,486,000 for Noel. But overall, Noel has been an appreciably bigger hit. It has sold 4,205,000 copies to date, compared to 3,651,000 for As I Am.

So how did Keys come out on top? The Billboard chart year strongly favored Keys. The chart year began the very week that As I Am hit the chart, with impressive first-week sales of 742,000 copies. That "start date" cut off the first five weeks of Noel's sales, a period in which it sold 379,000 copies. Groban was also hurt on the back end. In the four most recent weeks (including this week), which are not counted in the year-end tally, a seasonally-reinvigorated Noel has sold 509,000 copies, compared to just 21,000 copies for an out-of-gas As I Am. Noel's uncounted sales on either the front end or the back end are more than enough to offset As I Am's 144,000-copy lead during Billboard's official chart year. (If the chart year had started and ended one week later than it did, Groban would have beat Keys handily. His total would have been 3,341,000 copies, to her 2,892,000 copies.)

Billboard didn't deliberately favor Keys: The 2008 chart year adheres to the magazine's usual practice. Why, you may wonder, doesn't Billboard's year-end issue just conform to the calendar year? It's a matter of production logistics. The year-end issue is typically the magazine's biggest issue of the year (this year's edition runs 178 pages). The staff needs the extra time to assemble the issue and, not least of all, sell ads.

But two weeks from today, Nielsen/SoundScan will release its final set of charts for 2008. At that time, the "year-to-date" charts which I have been mentioning for months will become the final and definitive "year-end" charts. As soon as I file my last regular Chart Watch column for the year, I'll file a Chart Watch Extra in which I look at Nielsen/SoundScan's year-end charts from every conceivable angle--and a few that you may find inconceivable!

(There's something more you should know: The dates that appear on issues of Billboard run 13 days after the Nielsen/SoundScan "Week Ending" date that you see at the top of each week's Chart Watch column. So Billboard's 2008 year-end issue actually ends with the Nielsen/SoundScan chart for the week ending Nov. 16, 2008.)

Divas Times Three: Taylor Swift, Britney Spears and Beyonce hold down the top three spots on The Billboard 200 for the second week in a row (though Swift and Spears switch places). It's the first time that female solo artists have held the top three spots for two weeks running since the spring of 1990, when Bonnie Raitt, Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson held sway for two weeks in a row.

Swift's album, Fearless, returns to #1 for the first time since it debuted on top four weeks ago. Fearless is the first country album to log two weeks at #1 since Dixie Chicks' Taking The Long Way in the spring of 2006. Since then, 10 country albums (11 if you count the hard-to-pigeonhole Eagles) have spent a single frame on top. Fearless is the first country album to regain the top spot after losing it since an earlier Dixie Chicks album, Home, in February 2003.

As of this week, Swift's album has sold 1,519,000 copies, which makes it #5 for the year-to-date. It's the highest-ranking album by a female artist and the highest-ranking country album on that chart. The teen phenom's 2006 debut album, Taylor Swift, is #6 for the year-to-date, with 2008 sales of 1,467,000. Swift is on track to become the first artist to have two studio albums in the year-end top 10 since 1992, when Garth Brooks had three of the year-end top 10.

Beyonce's I Am...Sasha Fierce and the High School Musical 3: Graduation Day soundtrack this week become the 20th and 21st albums to top the million-unit sales plateau in 2008. In the vastly different climate of 2001, 25 albums had topped the 1 million mark in year-to-date sales by the middle of May.

Coldplay's Viva La Vida Or Death And All Its Friends also reaches a milestone this week: The album finally tops the 2 million mark. It only took six months, a superb #1 single, a successful tour, and a publicity-garnering EP to push the album over the top. If music sales were healthier (and the economy itself was stronger) this album would easily be at 3 or 4 million by now.  (One encouraging note: The sales total for the album includes 603,000 paid downloads, more than any other album in digital history.)

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

1. Taylor Swift, Fearless, 249,000. The album returns to #1 for a second week. This is the first country album by a female solo artist to log two or more weeks on top since Shania Twain's Up! spent five weeks in the lead in late 2002. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Love Story," which holds at #8.

2. Britney Spears, Circus, 200,000. The album slips to #2 in its second week. This is Spears' fourth #1 album in a row to surrender the top spot after a single frame. Spears' only album to log multiple weeks at #1 was her 1999 debut, ...Baby One More Time, which spent six weeks in the lead. Four songs from the new album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Circus," which holds at #1 for the second straight week. The song sold 153,000 downloads this week.

3. Beyonce, I Am...Sasha Fierce, 159,000. The album holds at #3 in its fourth week. It's #20 for the year-to-date, higher than any other double-disk album. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)," which holds at #2. Beyonce is one of three artists with two songs in the top 10 on this week's Digital Songs chart. Britney Spears and Kanye West also achieved the feat.

4. Nickelback, Dark Horse, 156,000. The album inches up from #5 to #4 in its fourth week. The album continues to run ahead of where Nickelback's previous album stood at the same point. After four weeks, Dark Horse has sold 794,000 copies, compared to 729,000 for All The Right Reasons. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Gotta Be Somebody," which inches up to #17.

5. Various Artists, Twilight soundtrack, 132,000. The album inches up from #6 to #5 in its sixth week. The movie grossed $8 million at the box-office in its fourth weekend, bringing its total to $150.1 million. Paramore's "Decode" slips to #30 on Hot Digital Songs.

6. Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak, 127,000. The album dips from #4 to #6 in its third week. West's first three albums each won Grammys for Best Rap Album. This album's broader musical approach may lead it to be slotted in the Best Contemporary R&B Album category when the 52nd annual Grammys are presented in 2010. (I guess I'm getting ahead of myself.) Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Heartless," which jumps to #4.

7. Various Artists, Now 29, 114,000. The compilation rebounds from #9 to #7 in its fifth week. The album has sold 637,000 copies in five weeks. Now 26, released exactly one year ago, sold 919,000 copies in its first five weeks.

8. AC/DC, Black Ice, 110,000. The album rebounds from #11 to #8 in its eighth week. The album is #4 for the year-to-date, higher than any other hard rock album. Metallica's Death Magnetic is #8. Black Ice has finished ahead of High School Musical 3: Graduation Day in five of the eight weeks they have gone head-to-head.

9. Various Artists, High School Musical 3: Graduation Day soundtrack, 107,000. The soundtrack dips from #8 to #9 in its eighth week. This album is giving Mamma Mia! a run for its money as the #1 soundtrack of 2008. Mamma Mia! has sold 1,238,000 copies, 194,000 more than HSM3. But HSM3 is closing the gap fast. Which will prevail? I'm sticking with the ABBA tune-fest.

10. David Cook, David Cook, 104,000. The album holds at #10 its fourth week in the top 10. This is the longest run in the top 10 for a debut album by an American Idol winner since Carrie Underwood's Some Hearts logged 25 weeks in the top 10 in 2005-2006. I know I said the last same thing week, but I figured David might like to read it again. This also matches Jennifer Hudson's four-week run in the top 10 as the best recent showing by a debut album by an Idol contestant. "Light On" jumps to #48 on Hot Digital Songs.

Akon's Freedom is the only album to drop out of the top 10 this week. The album slips from #7 to #18 in its second week. Akon's previous album, Konvicted, spent a total of 21 weeks in the top 10. This is a tough business. There are no guarantees, no matter how big your last album was.

Musiq Soulchild's OnMyRadio debuts at #11. The album features collaborations with Mary J. Blige and Damian Marley, son of reggae legend Bob Marley. This is the R&B artist's fourth straight album to debut in the top 15. But it's a disappointing start, considering that two of Musiq's three previous sets, JUSLISEN (Just Listen) and Luvanmusiq, debuted at #1. Three more R&B artists debut with chart numbers and sales tallies that are running behind their previous marks. Common's Universal Mind Control opens at #12. Brandy's Human bows at #15. Avant's Avant arrives at #26.

'Tis The Season: The Vince Guaraldi Trio's A Charlie Brown Christmas, first released in 1965, sold more downloads (24,000) than any other album this week. This shows how music confers immortality. Guaraldi died in 1976, in the heyday of black-vinyl LPs and 8-track tapes, but here he is at #1 on the Digital Albums chart. Technology changes, but great music lives forever. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs--"Christmas Time Is Here," which has sold 193,000 downloads to date, and "Linus & Lucy," which has sold 184,000.

More than one-fifth of the songs on this week's Hot Digital Songs chart (43 out of 200) are seasonal titles. The five that have sold the most downloads on a cumulative basis (not just this week) are Mariah Carey's zippy 1994 smash "All I Want For Christmas Is You" (1,115,000); the Chipmunks' 1958 staple "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" (538,000, combining two charted versions); Trans-Siberian Orchestra's 1995 release "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)" (454,000); Adam Sandler's 1995 goof-ball hit "Chanukah Song" (388,000); and Brenda Lee's 1958 classic "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" (375,000).

Josh Groban's Noel is the #1 Catalog Album for the sixth straight week. The album sold 159,000 copies this week and would have held at #4 on the big chart if older, catalog albums were eligible to compete there.

Ups & Downs: Last week, Scarface's Emeritus debuted at #24, while The Priests' The Priests bowed at a lowly #170. This week, The Priests vaults to #66, while Emeritus plunges to #82. The Priests registered a 218% sales gain, the greatest for a non-debuting album in the top 200. Emeritus suffered a 64% sales drop, also the greatest in the top 200.

Maroon 5's Call And Response: The Remix Album opens at #73. The group has now released three times as many ancillary titles (six) as regular studio albums (two). Its previous ancillary releases are 1.22.03 Acoustic, Live: Friday The 13th, B-Side Collection, Live From Soho and Live From Le Cabaret (iTunes). I think this is what they call "milking it."

Heads Up: Fall Out Boy and Jamie Foxx, both of whom reached  #1 with their last albums, return to the chart wars next week. Fall Out Boy will debut with Folie A Deux. Foxx will be back with Intuition. Keyshia Cole, whose last album debuted at #2, will return with A Different Me. Plies, whose last two albums have started at #2, returns with Da REAList. Soulja Boy Tell'em, whose last album reached #4 (boosted by "Crank That Soulja Boy"), returns with SouljaBoyTellem. Also due: The All-American Rejects' When The World Comes Down and Anthony Hamilton's The Point Of It All.


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