Chart Watch

Week Ending June 28, 2009: He’s Still Setting Records

Chart Watch

You've heard the expression, "#1 with a bullet"? The Black Eyed Peas' The E.N.D. is "#1 with an asterisk." The album returns to the top spot on The Billboard 200 with sales of 88,000 copies, but three Michael Jackson albums sold more copies this week. Those albums, Number Ones, The Essential Michael Jackson and Thriller, were excluded from The Billboard 200 because they are classified as "catalog." As a result, they hold down the top three spots on the Top Catalog Albums chart. This marks the first time in Nielsen/SoundScan history (which dates to 1991) that the #1 Catalog album has outsold the #1 current album.

Michael Jackson always liked to set records. He sets quite a few of them this week.

He becomes the first artist to sell more than 1 million song downloads in one week. He far exceeded that total, running up a tally of 2.6 million. Jackson has a record 50 songs on the top 200 Hot Digital Songs chart, combining solo releases and hits he recorded with his brothers in the Jackson 5 and later the Jacksons. (I'm even throwing in "We Are The World," which he wrote and on which he was featured.) Last year, by way of comparison, David Cook and Joe Jonas each put 17 songs on the chart in one week. Jackson kind of leaves them in the dust.

Jackson has six songs in the top 10 on Hot Digital Songs. "Thriller" is #2, kept out of the top spot by the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" (see item below). "Man In The Mirror" is #3, followed by "Billie Jean" at #4, "The Way You Make Me Feel" at #6, "Beat It" at #7 and "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" at #8. Nine of Jackson's songs topped the 100,000 mark in paid downloads this week-those six hits plus "Smooth Criminal," "Black Or White" and "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)."

Jackson has a record nine of the top 10 albums on the Top Catalog Albums chart (again, this counts a Jackson 5 album.) The old record of five of the top 10 was held jointly by the Beatles and AC/DC. Number Ones, first released in 2003, sold 108,000 copies this week. The two-CD The Essential Michael Jackson, first released in 2005, sold 102,000 copies. Thriller, first released in 1982, sold 101,000. It's the first time since at least 1992 that one artist has topped the 100,000 mark with three albums in the same week. Even Garth Brooks at his peak didn't do that. Jackson has a total of 16 albums on the top 200 Digital Albums chart.

Jackson has a record six of the top 10 albums on the Digital Albums chart, including the entire top four. His biggest digital seller, The Essential Michael Jackson, sold 80,000 digital copies. Most of Jackson's album sales this week came in the digital realm. He sold 422,000 albums this week, just counting his solo releases, 58% of them digitally.

Number Ones vaults from #121 to #1 in the U.K., where Jackson was slated to open a 50-date engagement later this month. Jackson is the first artist to top the British chart posthumously since Elvis Presley scored in August 2007 with The King. Number Ones debuted at #1 in the U.K. when it was first released in 2003. (In the U.S., it debuted and peaked at #13.)

Before this week, six catalog albums had sold enough copies to make the top 10 on The Billboard 200, but were ineligible to appear on the chart. These albums were Pearl Jam's Ten in March, Jackson's Thriller 25 in 2008 and the Grease soundtrack in 1998, as well as three resurging holiday titles: Kenny G's Miracles-The Holiday Album in 1995 and 1996, Il Divo's The Christmas Collection in 2006 and Josh Groban's Noel in 2008.

For the record, I think the top 10 on The Billboard 200 should consist of the week's 10 best-selling albums, whether they're current or catalog. (That all-inclusiveness is the great strength of The Billboard 200. The chart includes everything that sells, from Josh Groban to AC/DC; from a digital-only release to an elaborate box set.) In late 2007, Billboard and Nielsen/SoundScan wisely rescinded their policy that barred "exclusive" albums (albums sold in only one retail chain) from The Billboard 200. In the same spirit, I think they should modify their policy that bars catalog albums from the big chart. (The idea behind moving catalog titles off the chart is to give new albums needed visibility.) The ideal solution might be to allow albums that sold well enough to make the top 10 to receive the recognition they've earned. The top 10, after all, is the part of the chart that is reprinted in newspapers and websites around the world.

In any event, this week marks the first time that any one act has had the three best-selling albums in the U.S. since at least 1963, when Billboard combined its separate stereo and mono charts into one comprehensive listing. The closest anybody came to a clean sweep of the top three before this week was on May  2, 1964, when The Beatles' Second Album was #1, Meet The Beatles! was #2 and Introducing...The Beatles was #4. This is a tremendous achievement, and a great tribute to Jackson.

In death, Jackson has given a boost to the digital music phenomenon. This week's top 200 Digital Songs sold a combined total of 7,003,000 downloads, a big jump from last week, when the top 200 sold 5,361,000 downloads. Likewise, this week's top 200 Digital Albums sold 596,000 downloads, a big gain from last week's tally of 420,000.

This week's sales explosion is the second time that Jackson has come to the music industry's rescue. The industry was also in the doldrums in December 1982, when Thriller was released. Just before Thriller reached #1, Men At Work's Business As Usual topped the chart for 15 consecutive weeks. The Aussie group had a few appealing hits and videos, but the fact that a debut album by a group that left such light footprints on the pop scene was able to spend that much time at #1 suggests that there wasn't much else going on. But the release of Thriller kicked off a two-year period that was among the most exciting in pop music history. By the end of 1984, we also saw hit albums by David Bowie, The Police, Lionel Richie, Cyndi Lauper, Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen and Prince & the Revolution.

I'll have more on Jackson at the end of this week's blog, but we should get to the top 10.

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

1. The Black Eyed Peas, The E.N.D., 88,000. The album returns to #1 its third week. It's the first album to regain the top spot after losing it since Taylor Swift's Fearless. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "I Gotta Feeling," which holds at #1.

2. Jonas Brothers, Lines, Vines And Trying Times, 68,000. The album slips to #2 after debuting at #1 last week. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Paranoid," which falls to #86.

3. Regina Spektor, Far, 50,000. This new entry is Spektor's first top 10 album. She first charted in 2006 with Begin To Hope, which reached #20.

4. Dave Matthews Band, Big Whiskey And The Groogrux King, 47,000. The former #1 album dips from #3 to #4 in its fourth week. "Funny The Way It Is" slips to #129 on Hot Digital Songs.

5. Eminem, Relapse, 47,000. The former #1 album dips from #4 to #5 in its sixth week. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "We Made You," which falls to #114.

6. Dream Theater, Black Clouds And Silver Linings, 40,000. This new entry is the hard rock band's first top 10 album in a career dating back to 1993. The band's previous highest-charting album was 1994's Awake, which peaked at #32.

7. Various Artists, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen soundtrack, 39,000. This new entry is the week's #1 soundtrack, displacing Hannah Montana: The Album. It has already climbed higher on The Billboard 200 than the initial Transformers soundtrack, which peaked at #21 in July 2007. The movie grossed $201 million in its first five days of release.

8. Lady GaGa, The Fame, 37,000. The album dips from #6 to #8. This is its 19th week in the top 10. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Lovegame," which falls to #15. "Lovegame" tops the 1 million mark in paid downloads this week. GaGa is the only hit-maker to sell as many as 1 million digital copies of three different songs in 2009.

9. Ginuwine, A Man's Thoughts, 37,000. This new entry is the R&B star's fourth top 10 album.

10. Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana, Hannah Montana: The Movie soundtrack, 34,000. The former #1 album drops from #8 to #10. This is its 14th week in the top 10. It's the first theatrical movie soundtrack to spend its first 14 weeks in the top 10 since the Eminem-dominated 8 Mile in 2002-2003. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "The Climb," which falls to #39.

Four albums drop out of the top 10 this week. Incubus' Moments And Melodies drops from #5 to #24, Chickenfoot's Chickenfoot falls from #7 to #15, Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown drops from #9 to #14 and Taylor Swift's Fearless dips from #10 to #11.

The Mars Volta's Octahedron opens at #12. This represents a sub-par opening for the band, which has had three top 10 albums, including last year's Bedlam In Goliath. (Memo to The Mars Volta: Please have mercy on writers. No more album titles like Octahedron and Amputechture where we always have to double-check the spelling. Thanks.)

The 2009 Broadway cast recording of Hair re-enters the chart at #63. The show won a Tony last month for Best Revival of a Musical. This is the third time that an album of the Hair score has made the top 100. The original Broadway cast album logged 13 weeks at #1 in 1969 (longer than any other album that year).  The movie soundtrack, released in 1979, when the idea of a hippie-era musical seemed hopelessly dated, reached #65. (Often, what seems woefully dated 10 years down the line is enormously appealing a few decades later. See: "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," etc.)

The Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" is #1 on Hot Digital Songs for the third straight week, with sales of 203,000 downloads. This is the 13th consecutive week that the Peas have headed this chart, which enables them to tie the record for the longest continuous run at #1, which was set by Flo Rida featuring T Pain in 2007-2008. (The Peas, of course, needed two hits to stay on top this long, while Flo Rida did it with just one hit, "Low."). But the Peas have Flo Rida beat in one respect: The Peas have topped the 200,000 mark in paid downloads in all 13 of these weeks. Flo topped that mark in only two of his 13 weeks on top with "Low." (I've been telling you that the download market is exploding.) The Peas' initial hit, "Boom Boom Pow," tops the 3 million mark in paid downloads this week.

Song Scorecard: "Don't Trust Me" by 3OH!3 tops the 2 million mark in paid downloads this week. The song, with its irreverent line about Helen Keller, is one of the loopiest songs ever to become a smash. And I mean that in a good way.

A reissue of the Woodstock soundtrack, keyed to the upcoming 40th anniversary of the fabled festival, enters Top Catalog Albums at #10. It's the week's highest-ranking non-Jackson title, which means it would have debuted at #1 were it not for the Michael Jackson buying spree. The original soundtrack logged four weeks at #1 in 1970. It was the #1 movie soundtrack for 23 weeks in 1970-1971.

More Michael: Jackson ranks #8 among the hit-makers of the rock era in the upcoming 12th edition of Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-2008. Joel was kind enough to give me a preview of the top 10 list for his next edition, which is due in late August. The list is based on the artists' chart performance on the Hot 100. Here's the list: 1) Elvis Presley, 2) The Beatles, 3) Elton John, 4) Madonna, 5) Mariah Carey, 6) Stevie Wonder, 7) Janet Jackson, 8) Michael Jackson, 9) James Brown, and 10) The Rolling Stones. And here's a link to Joel's site.

You may be wondering if Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley ever appeared in the top five on the Hot 100 at the same time. Only once. On Oct. 14, 1972, "Ben" hit #1, while "Burning Love" climbed to #4. Both were milestone hits for these pop legends. "Ben" was Jackson's first #1 solo hit; "Burning Love was Presley's last top 10 hit. And both songs capture the performers' essences-Michael's child-like yearning and Elvis' sensuality and energy.

Last Friday, I posted a Chart Watch Extra in which I recounted Jackson's lifetime spent on the charts. If you missed it, here's a link.

Heads Up: Look for Rob Thomas and Brad Paisley to debut in the top 10 next week. Thomas is in line to pick up his sixth top 10 album (counting Matchbox Twenty releases) with Cradlesong, his follow-up to his chart-topping solo debut, ...Something To Be. Paisley is expected to pick up his fifth top 10 album with American Saturday Night, his first regular vocal album since 5th Gear hit #3 in 2007. Wilco, which has had two top 10 albums, may be back in the top 10 with Wilco (The Album). Also due: NOW 31, Killswitch Engage's Engage, Maino's If Tomorrow Comes, Jeremih's Jeremih and Ace Hood's Ruthless.

Shameless Plug: This week marks the end of the first six months of 2009. On Friday, I'll have a Chart Watch Extra in which I count down the top 10 albums and the top 10 digital songs for the first half. I won't spill the beans just yet, but I will tell you that only two acts appear in the top 10 on both mid-year lists: Lady GaGa and Miley Cyrus.


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