Chart Watch

Week Ending Feb. 10, 2008: Jack Johnson Helps Celebrate A Chart Milestone

Chart Watch

Jack Johnson's Sleep Through The Static opens at #1 with sales of 375,000 copies, a personal best for the mellow balladeer. The robust total allows us to celebrate a milestone in style: Sleep Through The Static is the 750th #1 album since Billboard's album chart became a regular weekly feature in March 1956. (I'll have quite a bit more to say about that, but first let's take care of business.) Johnson's album sold more than four times as many copies as Sheryl Crow's Detours, which bows at #2 with sales of 92,000. The total for ...Static is more than twice the opening week tally of Johnson's previous album, the Curious George soundtrack, which debuted at #1 two years ago with sales of 163,000.

This is Johnson's fourth album in a row to debut in the top three on Nielsen SoundScan's list of the best-selling albums in the U.S. He also did it with On And On in 2003 and In Between Dreams in 2005. Detours is Crow's third studio album in a row to open in the runner-up spot. She also debuted there with C'mon, C'mon in 2002 and Wildflower in 2005. Alas, except for a 1999 live album, this is Crow's lowest opening week sales total since Sheryl Crow started with sales of 80,000 in 1996. But Crow will probably be pleased to learn she's one of six female artists in this week's top 10. And the highest-ranking, to boot!

There's also good news for two artists who have been chart mainstays since the late 1980s. Lenny Kravitz's It Is Time For A Love Revolution opens at #4, becoming his highest-charting studio album to date. k.d. lang's Watershed bows at #8, becoming her first top 10 album.

On the Hot Digital Tracks chart, "Low" by Flo Rida featuring T-Pain logs a record 11th week at #1. The smash is now #2 on the all-time paid download tally. Only "Crank That Soulja Boy" by Soulja Boy Tell 'Em has sold more downloads. The current total for "Soulja Boy" is 3,055,000. "Low" stands at 2,667,000, which puts it just ahead of two recent smashes-Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry" (2,646,000) and "Apologize" by Timbaland featuring OneRepublic (2,621,000).

This week's survey period ended Feb. 10, the date of the annual Grammy telecast. So expect albums by artists who won and/or performed on the show to move up on next week's chart. Expect big things from Amy Winehouse's Back To Black, which vaults from #54 to #24 on pre-Grammy hype, and Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters, which re-enters the chart at #158. Winehouse's album, which swept five awards, may well surpass its initial peak of #6 last summer. Hancock's release, voted Album of the Year, will most certainly surpass its initial peak of #118 last September.

Billboard began carrying an album chart in 1945, but the listing appeared somewhat sporadically. That changed on March 24, 1956, when the magazine launched Best Selling Popular Albums as a weekly feature. Calypso king Harry Belafonte had the first #1, Belafonte. Six weeks later, he yielded to Elvis Presley's eponymous debut album, the first rock album to reach #1. In the 52 years since then, it has measured sales of mono and stereo LPs, reel-to-reel tape, 8-track tape, cassettes, CDs and now digital downloads.

The list of artists who have had #1 albums since 1956 runs the gamut from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Marilyn Manson. It includes a jazz legend who became famous in the 1920s (Louis Armstrong) and a tween pop star who wasn't even born until the 1990s (Miley Cyrus). It includes two generations of Coles (Nat "King" and Natalie) and two generations of Cyruses (Billy Ray and Miley). The fact that these pairs are of such unequal stature is somehow fitting. Charts are the great equalizer.

That point has been brought home many times over the years. The roster of #1 albums includes universally acknowledged classics (Carole King's Tapestry, U2's The Joshua Tree), as well as albums of such negligible heft that I still find it hard to believe that they made it to #1 (TV sidekick Frank Fontaine's Songs I Sing On The Jackie Gleason Show). Sometimes, high-brow and low-brow releases appear at #1 back-to-back. That was the case in 1958, when classical pianist Van Cliburn's Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 was replaced by TV shlockmeister Mitch Miller & The Gang's Sing Along With Mitch.

Now for the fun part. You can call it trivia. I prefer to think of it as celebrating America's rich musical heritage. The act with the most #1 albums since 1956: the Beatles, with 19. The male artist: (a tie), Elvis and Jay-Z, with 10 each. The female artist: Barbra Streisand, with eight. The album with the most weeks at #1: the West Side Story soundtrack (54 weeks). The pop album: Michael Jackson's Thriller (37 weeks). The artist with the most weeks at #1: the Beatles, with 132. The male artist: Elvis, with 67. The female artist: Whitney Houston, with 45.

I'll have more on the 750 #1 albums, but I should probably get to this week's top 10 before they release next week's top 10.

1. Jack Johnson, Sleep Through The Static, 375,000. This is the most any album has sold in one week since just before Christmas. It's the fattest first-week tally since Alicia Keys' As I Am opened with sales of 742,000 three months ago. It mercifully ends an almost embarrassing four-week stretch in which an album was #1 with sales of fewer than 75,000 copies. Johnson's "If I Had Eyes" is #43 on Hot Digital Tracks.

2. Sheryl Crow, Detours, 92,000. This seems destined to become Crow's fourth album in a row to peak at #2. C'mon, C'mon and Wildflower both peaked there, as did a 2003 compilation, The Very Best Of Sheryl Crow. While that's got to be a little disappointing for Crow, the fact is that her success has been remarkably steady. Except for that aforementioned 1999 live album, all of her albums have peaked between #2 and #6. That's not a bad range to be stuck in. She's never gotten so hot that people get sick of her, or so cold that she's out of the game. Crow's "Love Is Free" vaults from #161 to #39 in its second week on Hot Digital Tracks.

3. Alicia Keys, As I Am, 80,000. This is Keys' 13th consecutive week in the top three. The album is about 12,000 copies shy of 3 million. Order that cake! Keys' "No One," which she performed on the Grammy telecast, inches back up to #12 in its 22nd week on Hot Digital Tracks. That is what highly-connected industry insiders call a big hit. (What--you thought they had a special term for it?)

4. Lenny Kravitz, It Is Time For A Love Revolution, 73,000. As noted above, this is Kravitz's highest-charting studio album to date. His previous high mark was set by Circus, which reached #10 in 1995. Kravitz's only album of any type to climb higher was a 2000 Greatest Hits set, which peaked at #2. Kravitz's "I'll Be Waiting" opens at #50 on Hot Digital Tracks. Kravitz has had two top 10 singles on Billboard's Hot 100, "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" and "Again."

5. Various Artists, 2008 Grammy Nominees, 52,000. This compilation, now in its second week at #5, is likely to rise in the wake of the Grammy telecast. Last year's edition debuted at #4, then fell backward, and surged to its #3 peak after the telecast. Nine of the 21 tracks on the album, including Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" and Herbie Hancock's "River" (featuring Corinne Bailey Rae), won Grammys.

6. Soundtrack, Juno, 47,000. The film was #5 at the box-office last weekend. It has grossed $117.5 million in its first 10 weeks. And it will continue to do well through the Oscars (where it is nominated for four awards, including Best Picture) and beyond. The cover version of Moldy Peaches' "Anyone Else But You" by the film's stars Michael Cera and Ellen Page, falls to #115 on Hot Digital Tracks.

7. Mary J. Blige, Growing Pains, 45,000. This is Blige's eighth straight week in the top 10. The veteran artist's previous album, The Breakthrough, spent its first 11 weeks in the top five. Blige won a Grammy on Sunday for Best Gospel Performance for a collaboration with Aretha Franklin and the Harlem Boys Choir. Blige's "Just Fine" is #89 on Hot Digital Tracks.

8. k.d. lang, Watershed, 41,000. As noted above, this is lang's highest-charting album to date. Her high mark before this was Ingenue in 1992, which peaked at #18. Ingenue spawned lang's only Top 40 hit, the Grammy-winning "Constant Craving." Lang has been a fixture on the album chart for nearly 20 years, longer than any other artist in this week's top 10. She first hit the chart in May 1988, before Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus had even been born.

9. Miley Cyrus/Soundtrack, Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus, 40,000. Cyrus' Best Of Both Worlds Concert Tour movie was #3 at the box-office last weekend, after topping the tally the week before. It has grossed $53.2 million in its first two weeks. Cyrus' Avrilesque "See You Again" holds at #7 on Hot Digital Tracks.

10. Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift, 39,000. Swift's album has been on the chart for 68 weeks, a total topped by only one album in the top 30. Fergie's hit-studded The Dutchess has been listed for 73 weeks. Swift continues to have two tracks in the top 30. "Teardrops On My Guitar" moves back up to #22, while "Our Song" advances to #24.

Four albums fall out of the top 10 this week. Keyshia Cole's Just Like You dips from #8 to #11, Hannah Montana 2: Non-Stop Dance Party drops from #7 to #22, Bullet For My Valentine's Scream Aim Fire plunges from #4 to #29, and The Mars Volta's The Bedlam In Goliath plummets from #3 to #51. (Would you say The Bedlam In Goliath is a former #3 album or an album that spent just one week in the top 50? This is the chart watchers' version of "Is the glass half full or half empty?")

In addition to the four albums that debut in the top 10, two other albums bow in the top 20. The soundtrack to Step Up 2: The Streets debuts at #13. The soundtrack to the initial Step Up movie peaked at #6 in 2006. Kenny G's Rhythm And Romance, his first album for Starbucks, opens at #14. This is the saxophonist's highest-charting album in more than five years. Kenny G had seven top 10 albums between 1986 and 2002.

Shelby Lynne's Just A Little Lovin' drops from #41 to #84 in its second week. But just by remaining on the chart for a second week, the album sets a record for Lynne. Her three previous albums that made the chart--I Am Shelby Lynne, Love, Shelby and Identity Crisis--all dropped off after just one week.

More On This Week's Chart Milestone: Surprisingly few #1 albums have been tied in to current events of the last 52 years. The short list includes Vaughn Meader's JFK spoof The First Family; Sgt. Barry Sadler's gung-ho, Viet Nam-era Ballads Of The Green Berets; the soundtrack to Woodstock, a film about the historic rock festival; the African famine-fighting We Are The World;  and the post-9/11 God Bless America, which raised money for the Twin Towers Fund.

But, taking the long view, you can definitely see the culture change as you scroll down the list of #1 albums. The first act from outside the U.S. to reach #1 was Italian conductor Mantovani. The most recent was English alternative band Radiohead. The first greatest hits album to top the chart was by romantic balladeer Johnny Mathis. The most recent was by the late rapper the Notorious B.I.G. The first Broadway cast album to hit #1 was Lerner & Loewe's classic My Fair Lady. The most recent was the "tribal rock musical" Hair.

At the current rate of turnover in the #1 spot, we are likely to see the 1000th #1 album somewhere around the summer of 2015. I don't know if CDs will still be widely available for sale in 2015. Maybe the pundits are right and downloading will completely take over or music subscription services will come into their own. But I hope, whatever the delivery method, that the album survives. There will always be a place for the hit single, the hot track, the song of the moment. But, equally, there is a place for albums. Often, artists express the truest parts of themselves when they're not thinking so much about commercial considerations or radio demands. Anybody who has listened to more than a few albums can think of cases where their favorite cut isn't the single but instead that song tucked away deep in the album. It's as if it was meant just for them. It's with those special songs that artists build bonds with listeners that last a lifetime.

A Plug: I couldn't write this blog each week without Joel Whitburn's superb series of reference books chronicling the Billboard charts. (All of the trivia in the "Now for the fun part" paragraph, and much more, appears in the sixth edition of his The Billboard Albums book.) To find out more about Whitburn's books, check out his website. But be forewarned: They're highly addictive.

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