Chart Watch

Week Ending Feb. 3, 2008: To Quote Flo Rida, Sales Are Low-Low-Low-Low

Chart Watch

Alicia Keys' As I Am jumps back to #1, displacing the Juno soundtrack. As I Am sold 61,000 copies last week, the third lowest total for a #1 album since Nielsen/SoundScan began tracking U.S. album sales in 1991. The only albums to have sold fewer copies while sitting atop the chart were the Dreamgirls soundtrack, which sold 60,000 copies one week in January 2007, and Keys' album, which sold a bit less than 61,000 two weeks ago.

While the recent numbers for this and all other albums have been dismal, As I Am is selling better than anything else out there, so its continuing dominance is still a noteworthy achievement. This is the album's fourth week at #1--the longest that any female artist has remained in the top spot since Norah Jones' Feels Like Home held the lead for six weeks in 2004. It's the longest that an African American female solo artist has held the top spot since Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill had four weeks on top in 1998.

And don't lose sight of the fact that, over the course of its 12-week chart run, Keys' album has sold very well. It has scanned 2,907,000 copies, a higher cumulative total than any other album in this week's top 20. The highest-charting album that has sold more copies during its chart run is Daughtry's debut album at #24--and it has been out nearly a year longer.

This is the fourth week in a row that the #1 album has sold fewer than 100,000 copies--the longest stretch in which that has been the case in the Nielsen/SoundScan era. But let me remind you that just last fall and winter, there was a nine-week run in which the #1 album sold more than 400,000 copies each week. That was the longest such stretch since 2000. Of course, the run-up to the holidays is traditionally a boom time in the industry. And Josh Groban's Noel, which was #1 for five of those weeks, was a phenomenon. Bottom line: The music industry needs more must-own albums. Either that, or more holidays.

One of the key tracks on the Juno soundtrack--and the only one that's discussed in the movie itself--is Sonic Youth's alternative take on the Carpenters' haunting 1971 smash "Superstar." As it happens, this week is the 25th anniversary of Karen Carpenter's sad death. One of the great things about recordings is that artists build legacies that live on even after they pass away. A look at this week's top 50 albums proves the point. Buddy Holly, whose "Dearest" is also included on Juno, died in 1959. Dusty Springfield, who is fondly saluted in a new album by Shelby Lynne, left us in 1999. John Bonham, the Led Zeppelin drummer who is featured on that band's retrospective, Mothership, died in 1980. Ross Bagdasarian, the creator of the endlessly popular Chipmunks, died in 1972.

Two hard rock bands debut inside the top five. The Mars Volta's The Bedlam In Goliath opens at #3, while Bullet For My Valentine's Scream Aim Fire debuts at #4.

"Low" by Flo Rida featuring T-Pain logs its 10th week at #1 on Hot Digital Tracks. The smash has sold 2,500,000 digital downloads, which puts it in fourth place on the all-time list. The champ is "Crank That Soulja Boy" by Soulja Boy Tell 'Em, which this week becomes the first track to top the 3 million mark in paid digital downloads. (That's more than four times as many sales as Soulja Boy's album of the same name, which has scanned 746,000 copies in 18 weeks.) In case you're wondering, the first track to top the 2 million mark in paid digital downloads was Daniel Powter's "Bad Day," which reached the milestone in January 2007. The first to top the 1 million mark was Weezer's "Beverly Hills," which achieved the feat in January 2006. I've got a feeling it won't take a full year for a track to reach the 4 million download mark.

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

1. Alicia Keys, As I Am, 61,000. This is Keys' first album to log four weeks at #1, surpassing her 2001 debut, Songs In A Minor, which had three weeks on top. "No One" finally drops to #15 on Hot Digital Tracks after 18 weeks in the top 10. The song was such a monster hit that it overshadowed Keys' follow-up, "Like You'll Never See Me Again," now at #92.

2. Soundtrack, Juno, 55,000. More than 40% of this album's sales to date have been as paid digital downloads. The album's total sales stand at 320,000, of which 139,000 have come from downloads.

3. The Mars Volta, The Bedlam In Goliath, 54,000. This is the Texas-based band's highest-charting album to date. It is also its third studio album in a row to reach the top 10. Frances The Mute reached #4 in 2005. Amputechture hit #9 in 2006.

4. Bullet For My Valentine, Scream Aim Fire, 53,000. This represents a huge improvement over the showing of the Welsh band's first chart album, The Poison, which peaked at #128 in 2006.

5. Various Artists, 2008 Grammy Nominees, 50,000. This is the third time in five years that a Grammy Nominees CD has opened in the top five. The 2004 and 2007 editions both opened at #4.

6. Mary J. Blige, Growing Pains, 47,000. This is Blige's seventh album to sell more than 1 million copies. Her 1992 debut, What's The 411?, remains her best-seller, with sales of 3,236,000.

7. TV Soundtrack, Hannah Montana 2-Non-Stop Dance Party, 40,000. This album consists of remixed versions of the 10 songs from the Hannah Montana disc of the two-disc album at #10 this week. One of the tunes, "Rock Star," jumps to #42 on Hot Digital Tracks.

8. Keyshia Cole, Just Like You, 36,000. Cole's sophomore album has spent just four of its 19 weeks in the top 10, but it has steadily amassed big sales. Its current total is 1,096,000.

9. Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift, 36,000. Expect this album to turn around following the Grammy telecast on Sunday. Swift is in the running for Best New Artist. While Swift's two hits, "Teardrops On My Guitar" and "Our Song," are receding, they're both still in the top 30.

10. Miley Cyrus/TV Soundtrack, Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus, 35,000. Cyrus' "See You Again" jumps to #7 on Hot Digital Tracks, which should keep this album high on the charts.

Four albums drop out of the top 10 this week. Chris Brown's Exclusive slips from #7 to #11, Garth Brooks' The Ultimate Hits dips from #9 to #12, Radiohead's In Rainbows dives from #5 to #15, and Natasha Bedingfield's Pocketful Of Sunshine tumbles from #3 to #21.

Two women who starred in smash Broadway musicals enter the chart with albums of their own. Sarah Brightman, whose most famous role was in the 1987 blockbuster Phantom Of The Opera, opens at #13 with Symphony. Idina Menzel, who became a star in Wicked in 2004 (after previously making waves in Rent), debuts at #58 with I Stand.

Other key debuts include Vampire Weekend's eponymous debut album at #17 and Andrea Bocelli's Vivere Live In Tuscany at #22. This is Bocelli's 11th album to crack the top 40 since Romanza made him a star a decade ago.

Shelby Lynne's Just A Little Lovin', a warm and understated salute to Dusty Springfield, opens at #41. That's higher than Springfield ever climbed in her long career. Springfield's highest-charting album was her 1964 breakthrough, Stay Awhile/I Only Want To Be With You, which peaked at #62. Springfield's classic 1969 album Dusty In Memphis (which includes the title song from Lynne's project), topped out at #99. (Springfield had better luck on the singles chart, where she amassed a dozen top 40 hits between 1962 and 1988.) But it's worth noting that one of the most highly regarded female singers of the modern pop era never had a top 40 album. Moral of the story: Climbing high on the charts is great, but it ain't the be-all and end-all.

In the incestuous world of various artists projects, both Springfield and Lynne are featured as a duet partners on Anne Murray's Duets: Friends & Legends, which ranks #72. There's good reason for that: Both the Lynne and Murray albums were produced by Grammy winner Phil Ramone.

Just A Little Lovin' joins a long line of tribute albums in which one vocalist records the works of another. Barry Manilow, who brought the idea for the Springfield salute to Lynne, got into the game in 1998 with Manilow Sings Sinatra, a tribute to the pop legend, who had died earlier that year. He also produced a pair of winners for his pal Bette Midler, in which she covered the songbooks of Rosemary Clooney and Peggy Lee. Tony Bennett has won Grammys for two salutes, Perfectly Frank and On Holiday--A Tribute To Billie Holiday. The most successful tribute album to date is Natalie Cole's Unforgettable With Love, in which she sang songs made famous by her father Nat "King" Cole. The collection logged five weeks at #1 in 1991 and swept the Grammys.

Speaking of Grammys: You might want to check out my Grammy forecast in the And The Winner Is... blogon this very same site. If you follow my picks and make a pile of money in your office pool, good for you. If you lose your rent money and become destitute, sorry about that.

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