Chart Watch

Week Ending Feb. 28, 2010: Beyond The “Grave”

Chart Watch

As of this week, Johnny Cash has amassed more top 10 albums on The Billboard 200 since he died in September 2003 than he did while he was alive.  American VI: Ain't No Grave opens at #3, becoming Cash's third posthumous album to crack the top 10. It follows The Legend Of Johnny Cash, which reached #5 in 2005, and American V: A Hundred Highways, which hit #1 in 2006. During Cash's lifetime, he made the top 10 with just two albums: Johnny Cash At San Quentin (#1 in 1969) and Hello, I'm Johnny Cash (#8 in 1970).

Cash isn't the first music star to have more top 10 albums after he died than he did in his lifetime. But most of the other stars of whom this is true died years before their time. 2Pac, for example, had just two top 10 albums during his lifetime, and has had nine since he was shot to death in September 1996.

As part of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain had two top 10 albums during his lifetime and three since he took his own life in April 1994. Janis Joplin had two top 10 albums during her lifetime (counting one with Big Brother & the Holding Company) and two since she died of an overdose in October 1970. R&B star Aaliyah had one top 10 album before she died in a plane crash in August 2001 and one afterwards.

Several other stars never reached the top 10 during their lifetimes, but scored repeatedly after they died. These include Jim Croce and The Notorious B.I.G., each of whom had four top 10 albums posthumously, and Selena, who had two.

How to explain this? Why is Cash, who died at 71 of diabetes, the only artist who led a full life in this discussion? Until the advent of Nielsen/SoundScan in 1991, country music was under-represented on the Billboard album chart. If Nielsen/SoundScan had been around since 1958, when Cash first charted, he would probably have had several more top 10 albums during his lifetime.

This is Cash's sixth and final collaboration with Rick Rubin, a two-time Grammy winner for Producer of The Year (2006 and 2008). The first three installments in the collaboration didn't exactly set the chart on fire. 1994's American Recordings peaked at #110, 1996's Unchained stalled at #170 and 2000's American III: Solitary Man made it to #88. But the last three were solid hits. 2002's American IV: The Man Comes Around reached #22 and, as noted above, the fifth and sixth installments both made the top 10.

Sade's Soldier Of Love and Lady Antebellum's Need You Now hold down the top two spots for the third consecutive week. Soldier Of Love sold 127,000 copies, bringing its three-week total to 820,000. It's Sade's longest-running #1 album, topping Promise, which had two weeks on top in 1986.

The #1 album on The Billboard 200 sold at least 120,000 copies every week in January and February. It's the first time that's been true since 2001, when the chart-topping albums in the first two months of the year were the Beatles' 1, Jennifer Lopez's J. Lo and Shaggy's Hotshot. For an industry that has been battered over the past five years, this is very good news.

Need You Now is the first country album to spend its first five weeks at #1 or #2 on The Billboard 200 since Shania Twain's Up! spent its first six weeks in the top two in November and December 2002.

Lady Antebellum also heads Top Country Albums for the fifth straight week, and thus keeps Johnny Cash out of the #1 spot. He debuts at #2. The Man in Black amassed 10 #1 country albums from 1964 to 2006. In fact, Cash had the very first #1 album when this chart debuted in January 1964: Ring Of Fire (The Best Of Johnny Cash).

Cash's album is #1 on the Digital Albums chart, with sales of 16,000 digital copies. That's the slimmest weekly sales tally for a #1 Digital album since George Strait's Twang topped the chart with the same number in August. (It's not that country can't deliver big digital numbers. Carrie Underwood's Play On headed the chart in November with digital sales of 63,000.)

Lady Gaga's The Fame makes news on both sides of the Atlantic. The album logs its 36th week in the top 10, which is the longest run for a debut album by a female solo artist since Norah Jones' Come Away With Me had a 36-week run. If The Fame is still in the top 10 next week, which is a safe bet, it will pull even with Avril Lavigne's 2002 album Let Go.

In the U.K., The Fame returns to #1 for a fifth week. The album was on top for four weeks in April and May. This is the longest run at #1 in the U.K. for an album by an American artist since The Essential Michael Jackson was on top for seven weeks last summer. The Fame has yet to reach #1 in the U.S. (it has climbed as high as #2)...Jason Derulo's "In My Head" is the new #1 U.K. single. His "Whatcha Say" peaked at #3 in the U.K.

The Black Eyed Peas' "Imma Be" returns to #1 on Hot Digital Songs, with sales of 187,000. The song first hit #1 three weeks ago, then spent two weeks at #2 behind Artists for Haiti's "We Are The World: 25 For Haiti." This week, that charity single plummets from #1 to #17, which cleared the way for the Peas' resurgence.

The Peas have two more bits of good news this week. "Meet Me Halfway" tops the 2 million mark in paid downloads. It's the group's third single from The E.N.D. to reach (or exceed) this threshold. "Imma Be" is about two weeks away from becoming the fourth. Also, "I Gotta Feeling" jumps to #2 on the list of all-time top digital songs. It sends "Just Dance" by Lady Gaga featuring Colby O'Donis down to #3. Only "Low" by Flo Rida featuring T-Pain has sold more digital copies.

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

1. Sade, Soldier Of Love, 127,000. The album logs its third week at #1. "Soldier Of Love" drops from #82 to #112 on Hot Digital Songs.

2. Lady Antebellum, Need You Now, 118,000. The former #1 album logs its third week at #2. This is its fifth week in the top 10. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Need You Now," which inches up to #3.

3. Johnny Cash, American VI: Ain't No Grave, 54,000. This new entry is Cash's fifth top 10 album. He scored his first, Johnny Cash At San Quentin, in August 1969.

4. The Black Eyed Peas, The E.N.D., 50,000. The former #1 album dips from #3 to #4 in its 38th week. This is its 25th week in the top 10. Four songs from the album are listed in the top 50 on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Imma Be," which returns to #1.

5. Lady Gaga, The Fame, 48,000. The album dips from #4 to #5 in its 70th week. This is its 36th week in the top 10. Six songs from the expanded version of the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Bad Romance," which drops from #7 to #11.

6. Lil Wayne, Rebirth, 38,000. The album dips from #5 to #6 in its fourth week. "Drop The World" (featuring Eminem) dips from #48 to #55.

7. Ke$ha, Animal, 32,000. The former #1 album rebounds from #14 to #7 in its eighth week. This is its fourth week in the top 10. Two songs from the album are listed in the top 10 on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "TiK ToK," which inches up from #6 to #5.

8. Susan Boyle, I Dreamed A Dream, 30,000. The former #1 album drops from #6 to #8 in its 14th week. This is its 14th week in the top 10.

9. Taylor Swift, Fearless, 28,000. The former #1 album inches up from #10 to #9 in its 68th week. This is its 58th week in the top 10. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "You Belong With Me," which drops from #66 to #80.

10. Justin Bieber, My World, 26,000. The EP rebounds from #12 to #10 in its 15th week. This is its seventh week in the top 10; its first since Jan. 10. Three songs from the EP are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "One Time," which dips from #84 to #91.

Three albums drop out of the top 10 this week. Alicia Keys' The Element Of Freedom drops from #7 to #13, Jaheim's Another Round drops from #8 to #15 and Josh Turner's Haywire drops from #9 to #18.

Alkaline Trio's This Addiction debuts at #11, becoming the group's third top 20 album, and its highest-charting release to date. The group reached #20 with 2003's Good Mourning and #13 with 2008's Agony & Irony...Chayanne's No Hay Imposibles debuts at #23. It's the highest-charting Latin music album since Aventura's Last debuted at #5 in June.

Train's "Hey, Soul Sister" jumps to #2 on Hot Digital Songs, its highest ranking to date. This is a sweet comeback story for Train, which had three top 20 hits early in the last decade and then had some hard years. Two of their singles "bubbled under" the Hot 100, which means they showed some signs of life, but never made it. A solo single by front man Pat Monahan experienced the same fate. Bottom line: The group was absent from the Hot 100 for nearly six years. As I've said before, this is a tough business for artists.

A month ago, Nicki Minaj was a virtual unknown. Now, she is on the brink of becoming an international superstar. Maybe I'm overstating things, but Minaj is featured on three songs on this week's Hot Digital Songs chart. She has featured billing on Ludacris' "My Chick Bad," which debuts at #27, Lil Wayne's "Knockout," which inches up to #44 and Mariah Carey's "Up Out My Face," which falls to #153.

Kris Allen's cover of the Beatles' "Let It Be," which he performed on American Idol, enters Hot Digital Songs at #29. Proceeds go to Haiti earthquake relief. Allen's performance is poignant and characteristically understated. But I suspect there are other factors at work, too. A You Tube clip of him performing the song on Idol inspired one poster to write: "hes sooooooooooooooooooooo hotttttttt." This is the second Haiti-inspired cover of this classic to chart, following one by Jennifer Hudson featuring the Roots. Allen's "Live Like We're Dying" jumps to #19 on Digital Songs. It will top the 1 million mark in paid downloads next week.

Song Scorecard: Iyaz's "Replay" tops the 3 million mark in paid downloads this week.

Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel dips from #19 to #22 on The Billboard 200. It's the #1 movie soundtrack for the seventh week...Shutter Island was #1 at the box-office for the second weekend. The soundtrack, helmed by Robbie Robertson, sold about a thousand copies this week, still not enough to put it on the chart.

Michael Jackson's Number Ones dips from #50 to #53. It's the #1 Catalog Album for the 27th week. It helps that the album is widely stocked at Target and Best Buy and other stores that carry CDs. Most other catalog CDs have to be ordered, for example, through Amazon.com.

You may vaguely recall that Beyonce's I Am...Sasha Fierce and Nickelback's Dark Horse entered the chart at #1 and #2 the same week in November 2008. While Beyonce's album has had a far higher media profile, they have been very evenly-matched in terms of sales. Beyonce's album has sold 2,785,000 copies to date. Nickelback's has sold 2,636,000. So Beyonce is 149,000 copies ahead. Now here's the amazing part: Beyonce sold 156,000 more copies than Nickelback in that long-ago first week. If you were to exclude that first week, Nickelback is slightly ahead, by 7,000 copies. And Nickelback did it without a ubiquitous hit like "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)," a six-pack of Grammys and all the other hoop-de-do that (not undeservedly) greeted Beyonce's album. Nickelback just plods along, quietly selling tons of records.

Heads Up: Blake Shelton's Hillbilly Bone is expected to be next week's highest-debuting new title. The six-song EP will probably bow in the top five. Six other albums have a shot at debuting in the top 10: the Almost Alice companion album/soundtrack to the movie Alice In Wonderland; Danny Gokey's My Best Days; Lifehouse's Smoke And Mirrors; Jason Derulo's Jason Derulo; Raheem DeVaughn's The Love And War Masterpeace; and Easton Corbin's Easton Corbin. How many of these will actually make the top 10? Place your bets. Also due: DJ Khaled's Victory, Jamie Cullum's The Pursuit, Peter Gabriel's Scratch My Back, and Point of Grace's No Changin' Us.

Shameless Plug: If you missed my Chart Watch Extra listing all the mixed-gender groups and duos to land #1 albums, here's the link. An alert reader let me know that I left out Smashing Pumpkins, which rang the bell in 1995 with Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. So I inserted them where they belong in the chronology, between Ace Of Base and the  Fugees. Where else are you going to find a list that features such wide-ranging groups?

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