Chart Watch

Week Ending Feb. 24, 2008: The Case Of The Missing #2 Album

Chart Watch

For the second week in a row, Jack Johnson's Sleep Through The Static and Michael Jackson's Thriller 25 are the top two albums in the U.S. Or are they?

They are, if you look at the Top Comprehensive Albums chart compiled by Nielsen/SoundScan. Johnson is #1 for the week with sales of 105,000 copies, trailed by Jackson with 63,000 copies. (The gap between the two is wider than it was last week, when just 14,000 copies separated them.)

But Jackson is nowhere to be found on the list of Top Current Albums that is published each week (as The Billboard 200) in Billboard magazine. The top 10 from that chart is reprinted in countless newspapers and websites around the world, including this one. The reason for the omission, as I explained last week, is that Nielsen/SoundScan and Billboard exclude catalog titles-defined as albums that are 18 months old or older-from the main chart. (Continuously running "current" hits are exempted.)

The idea is to make more room on the chart for new albums, which need every break they can get. This week, the rule resulted in 31 older albums being removed from Top Current Albums and shifted over to Top Catalog Albums. Just four of these 31 titles would have ranked in the top 100: Thriller 25, which would have ranked #2; Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' Greatest Hits, #63; Guns N' Roses' Greatest Hits, #64, and Bob Marley & the Wailers' Legend, #84.

The idea of clearing catalog product out to give new titles a break makes a certain amount of sense. But having a top 10 that forever has to carry an asterisk is a high price to pay. Billboard and Nielsen/SoundScan should consider revising their policy so that the top 10, at least, is presented without any modification. They could even present the top 100 exactly as is. This week, as noted, they're opening up only four spots in the top 100 by having this policy. Most of the catalog titles--including such perennial best-sellers as Pink Floyd's The Dark Side Of The Moon, AC/DC's Back In Black and Metallica's Metallica--rank in the second hundred.

In his Over The Counter column, Billboard's Geoff Mayfield reports that Thriller 25 is only the second album to be denied a top 10 spot on Top Current Albums by the catalog-exclusion rule since the Comprehensive chart bowed in late 2003. Il Divo's The Christmas Collection would have placed #10 on the main chart in December 2006 if it had been allowed to compete. Even so, two albums denied a hard-earned spot in the top 10 is two too many.

I know that Michael Jackson, a proud and highly competitive man, is never content to finish second. But he should bear in mind that his album, which won the Grammy for Album of the Year 24 years ago, sold more copies in each of the last two weeks than this year's freshly-minted Album of the Year champ, Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters. River ranked #5 last week and this week dives to #16.

This will be a memorable week for Johnson, who also makes the cover of Rolling Stone for the first time. Johnson was born in 1975, when Jackson was roughly at the midpoint between his initial Jackson 5 smashes and his solo superstardom with Off The Wall.

On Hot Digital Tracks, "Low" by Flo Rida featuring T-Pain holds at #1 for a record 13th consecutive week. It is now just 129,000 copies behind "Crank That Soulja Boy" as the most downloaded track of all time. It will probably take two more weeks to top it. The Soulja Boy Tell 'Em track just keeps adding to its total. It sold 30,000 downloads this week.

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

1. Jack Johnson, Sleep Through The Static, 105,000. This brings the album's cumulative sales to 660,000, which lengthens its lead as the top-selling album so far in 2008. Alicia Keys' As I Am is runner-up with sales of 606,000 in 2008. (Of course, this doesn't count the 2,543,000 copies that Keys sold in 2007.)

2. Alicia Keys, As I Am, 53,000. In addition to spending four weeks at #1, this long-running hit has now  ranked #2 behind five different albums-Josh Groban's Noel (which has dropped off the chart), Mary J. Blige's Growing Pains (now #9), Radiohead's In Rainbows (now #29), the Juno soundtrack (now #6) and now Sleep Through The Static.

3. Amy Winehouse, Back To Black, 52,000. Winehouse dips a notch, two weeks after winning five Grammys. Of this week's sales tally, 8,000 copies are digital downloads. The album has sold 291,000 downloads to date, a total topped by only one album in music history--John Mayer's 2006 release Continuum. (Mayer's download tally for that album stands at 326,000 copies.)

4. Kidz Bop Kids, Kidz Bop 13, 49,000. This is the Kidz' seventh consecutive album (excluding ancillary releases) to debut in the top 10. It's the Kidz' fourth album to debut in the top five. Kidz Bop 9 opened (and peaked) at #2, the high mark for the series to date.

5. Various Artists, Step Up 2: The Streets soundtrack, 43,000. This is the week's top soundtrack, replacing Juno, which held that distinction for seven weeks. The movie was #4 at the box-office in its second weekend, bringing its total take to $41.2 million. The album from the initial Step Up movie was the top movie soundtrack for two weeks in August 2006.

6. Various Artists, Juno soundtrack, 38,000. This is the soundtrack's eighth week in the top 10, the longest run by any movie soundtrack since Hairspray last summer. The Oscar-winning movie was #8 at the box-office in its 12th weekend, bringing its total take to $130.4 million.

7. Sara Bareilles, Little Voice, 37,000. Except for new entries, this was the only album in the top 50 to sell more copies this week than last (when sales were sparked by a post-Grammy uptick and Valentine's Day gift-giving). Little Voice, which is making its first appearance in the top 10, is boosted by the smash "Love Song," which moves back up to #2 on Hot Digital Tracks. The track has been in the top five on that chart for 11 straight weeks.

8. Chris Cagle, My Life's Been A Country Song, 37,000. This is the first top 10 album for the budding country star. Cagle peaked at #15 with an eponymous 2003 album and reached #24 with his 2005 follow-up, Anywhere But Here.

9. Mary J. Blige, Growing Pains, 35,000. This marks 10 straight weeks in the top 10 for Blige, whose album has sold 1,261,000 copies to date. Blige's previous album, The Breakthrough, logged 11 consecutive weeks in the top five.

10. Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift, 33,000. This week's tally is nothing to write home about, but keep in mind that Swift has been selling steadily for 70 weeks. The album's cumulative total is 2,553,000, which was worth celebrating even back in the day.

Three albums drop out of the top 10. Sheryl Crow's Detours dips from #8 to #11, Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters drops from #5 to #16, and Grammy Nominees 2008 drops from #4 to #17.

Nickelback's All The Right Reasons dips from #44 to #48 in its 125th week on the chart. Billboard's Keith Caulfield reports that the album has spent every one of those weeks in the top 50. It's the first album to spend its first 125 chart weeks in the top 50 since Shania Twain's multi-format monster, Come On Over, which was released in 1997. That's no small achievement. Come On Over is the best-selling album in SoundScan history, with sales to date of 15,453,000 copies. (You read that right.) Nickelback's album has sold 6,641,000 copies.

In addition to albums by Kidz Bop Kids and Chris Cagle, four other albums debut in the top 100. Jim Jones' Harlem's American Gangster opens at #19, Secondhand Serenade's A Twist In My Story arrives at #44, K-Paz De La Sierra's En Vivo Desde El Autitorio Nacional opens at #80 and Mike Doughty's Golden Delicious bows at #87. Jones' mixtape album had a limited release last year, but has been remixed, remastered and augmented with new tracks for this wide release.

Janet Jackson hit #1 with five consecutive studio albums from Control in 1986 through All For You in 2001. But she peaked at #2 with her last two releases, Damita Jo and 20 Y.O. Next week we'll see if she can return to her old chart-topping ways with her new album Discipline. Also due next week: Dolly Parton's Backwoods Barbie, Erykah Badu's New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War and Goldfrapp's Seventh Tree.

Alternate Headline for this week's column: Little Ditty 'Bout Jack & Alicia. Around here, I let nothing go to waste.

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