Chart Watch

Week Ending May 11, 2008: Diamond Tops Dylan As Oldest Living Chart-Topper

Chart Watch

Neil Diamond this week becomes the oldest living artist to land a #1 album in the 52-year history of Billboard's weekly album chart. Diamond, 67, achieves the feat with Home Before Dark. The old record was held by Bob Dylan, who was 65 when he last topped the chart in September 2006 with Modern Times.

Only two other solo artists have had #1 albums past the age of 60--Louis Armstrong, who was 62 in 1964 when he topped the chart with Hello, Dolly! and Rod Stewart, who was 61 in 2006 when he rang the bell with Still The Same...Great Rock Classics Of Our Time.

Key group members who had #1 albums past the age of 60 are Ronald Isley, who was 62 in 2003 when the Isley Brothers' Body Kiss topped the chart; Ringo Starr, who was 60 in 2000 when the Beatles' 1 hit #1; and Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmidt, all of whom were 60 last fall when Eagles' Long Road Out Of Eden hit #1.

I know what you're thinking: How about those old-timers who had #1 albums in the early years of the rock era? Surely they were over 60 at the time. Surprisingly, except for Armstrong, they weren't. (People just seemed older back then.) Lawrence Welk was 58 in 1961 when he hit #1 with Calcutta!, Bing Crosby and conductor Enoch Light were both 54 when they landed their last #1 albums, conductor Mantovani was 53 and "Sing Along With Mitch" creator Mitch Miller was 50.

(Two pop legends were older than Diamond when they recorded their final albums, but the albums weren't released until after their deaths. Ray Charles' Genius Loves Company hit #1 in 2005, eight months after the R&B legend died at 73. Johnny Cash's American V: A Hundred Highways hit #1 in 2006, nearly three years after the country giant died at 71.)

(Two other legends who were older than Diamond is now just missed hitting #1 with late-career releases. Frank Sinatra was 77 in 1993 when Duets peaked at #2; Tony Bennett was 80 in 2006 when Duets: An American Classic peaked at #3.)

There is no question that the pop scene is more receptive to older artists than it used to be. From 1966, when Sinatra, then 50, landed his last #1 album, Strangers In The Night, until 1993, when Barbra Streisand, then 51, scored with Back To Broadway, not one artist over the age of 50 topped the chart. But in the last 15 years, it's become commonplace. No one thought twice about it in April when George Strait, 55, hit #1. After all, just last fall, in addition to the aforementioned Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, 58, and Reba McEntire, 52, had #1 albums. In the last five years, we've also seen #1 albums by Barry Manilow, who was 59 at the time, Jimmy Buffett, 57, and Led Zeppelin, whose members ranged from mid to late 50s.

What's going on here? The baby boomer audience is staying connected to the pop scene much longer than their parents ever did. Also, older fans are proving to be the most reliable album buyers. They came of age buying albums and are perfectly content to continue. What's more, if these older fans download an album (Nielsen/SoundScan includes paid downloads in its tallies), they are more inclined to pay than go to a file-sharing site.

I'm not sure how Diamond will react to being called "the oldest living chart-topper." But let's break it down. Certainly, it's good to be living. It's a nice bonus to be a chart-topper. As for being the oldest, well, as they say, it beats the alternative. So take it, Neil, and run with it.

Diamond lands his first #1 album nearly 42 years after he first entered the chart with The Feel Of Neil Diamond. That sets a new record for the longest any artist has had to wait for his or her first #1 album. The old record belonged to Jimmy Buffett, who took a little more than 30 years between first entering the chart in March 1974 and landing his first #1 album, License To Chill, in July 2004.

Diamond's highest-charting album before this week was the soundtrack to Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which reached #2 in 1973. That album also brought Diamond his only Grammy Award to date, for Best Album of Original Score. If you stopped people on the street, most would assume that Diamond has had numerous #1 albums and has won a shelf-full of Grammys. Why he hasn't, I don't know. But maybe that's one reason he has lasted so long: He has never been so white-hot that people got sick of him.

Home Before Dark is Diamond's second collaboration with Grammy-winning producer Rick Rubin, following 12 Songs, which opened (and peaked) at #4 in November 2005. Rubin also produced a series of five late-career albums for Johnny Cash, which culminated in the aforementioned chart-topper American V: A Hundred Highways.

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Rihanna, 20, also makes news this week, opening at #1 on Hot Digital Songs with "Take A Bow." Rihanna is the first artist to top this chart four times. She previously led the list with "Pon De Replay," "SOS" and "Umbrella." "Take A Bow" opens with sales of 267,000 downloads. Only two songs have sold that many downloads in their first week. Mariah Carey's "Touch My Body" sold 286,000 and Rihanna's own "Umbrella," featuring Jay-Z, moved 277,000. Ne-Yo, Rihanna's duet partner on the recent "Hate That I Love You," wrote "Take A Bow." This is the eighth consecutive week that the #1 title on the Hot Digital Songs chart has sold 200,000 or more downloads.

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

1. Neil Diamond, Home Before Dark, 146,000. This album is off to a faster start than the first Diamond/Rubin collaboration, 12 Songs, which sold 93,000 copies in its first week. (Maybe it pays to actually come up with a title!) Diamond had 13 top 10 singles on the Hot 100 from the '60s into the '80s, but none of them were from #1 albums. Now, he finally has a #1 album without help from a hit single. Go figure.

2. Toby Keith, 35 Biggest Hits, 103,000. This two-CD set is the latest greatest hits album to tout the number of hits right in the title, the better to position the album as a good value for the money. It follows Elvis Presley's Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits and George Strait's 50 Greatest Hits. Both of those collections reached #1. (George's hit count is largest, so he wins.) The album includes Keith's new hit, "She's A Hottie," which jumps from #115 to #79 on Hot Digital Songs.

3. Madonna, Hard Candy, 94,000. Sales of the album dropped by 66%, the steepest decline of any album in the top 200. Hard Candy had just one week at #1, which has been the case with all four of Madonna's #1 albums in this decade. Her three #1 albums from the '80s all had extended stays in the top spot. Like A Virgin was #1 for three weeks, True Blue for five and Like A Prayer for six. "4 Minutes," Madonna's smash collabo with Justin Timberlake, slips from #3 to #5; "Give It 2 Me" falls from #21 to #74.

4. Clay Aiken, On My Way Here, 94,000. Aiken's solo debut, Measure Of A Man, debuted at #1 with sales of 613,000. His collection of pop covers, A Thousand Different Ways, opened at #2 with sales of 211,000. This third release (not counting a holiday album) continues the downward trend. Unlike most recording stars whose numbers are softening, Aiken has Broadway and TV to fall back on.

5. Mariah Carey, E=MC2, 87,000. Carey drops from #2 to #4 in her fourth week. "Touch My Body" drifts from #11 to #14 on Hot Digital Songs. "Bye Bye" regains some ground, jumping from #41 to #36.

6. Leona Lewis, Spirit, 76,000. Sales of Lewis' album now stand at 555,000, making it the eighth best seller so far in 2008. "Bleeding Love" slips to #2 on Hot Digital Songs after four weeks on top; "Better In Time" drops from #87 to #120.

7. Gavin DeGraw, Gavin DeGraw, 66,000. DeGraw's sophomore album puts him in the top 10 for the first time.  The adult alternative artist debuted in 2003 with Chariot, which was reissued as a two-CD set the following year. "In Love With A Girl" jumps from #19 to #15 on Hot Digital Songs; "We Belong Together" bows at #122.

8. Josh Groban, Awake Live, 58,000. Groban's first release since walking off with the #1 album of 2007 (Noel) is a live revisiting of the songs on his most recent pop album, Awake (which re-enters the chart this week at #87). Groban has released a live album after each of his three pop studio albums, a strategy that is known inside the industry as "milking it." This is the first of Groban's three live albums to reach the top 10.

9. Dierks Bentley, Greatest Hits/Every Mile A Memory 2003-2008, 43,000. This is Bentley's third album to crack the top 10, following Modern Day Drifter and Long Trip Alone. (Memo to Dierks: Amass a few dozen more hits, and then one-up George Strait with 51 Greatest Hits.) The album includes Dierks' newest hit, "Trying To Stop Your Leaving," which enters Hot Digital Songs at #111.

10. Luis Miguel's Complices, 32,000. This is the first top 10 album for the Latin superstar, who has been a fixture on the pop chart for 15 years. Miguel's previous highest charting album was Romances, which reached #14 in 1997. This is the first Latin album to reach the top 10 since Jennifer Lopez's Como Ama Una Mujer debuted at #10 in April 2007. Miguel was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. J Lo was born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents.

Seven albums fall out of the top 10 this week. Lyfe Jennings' Lyfe Change slips from #4 to #12, Now 27 drops from #9 to #13, Tim McGraw's Greatest Hits 1 & 2 falls from #10 to #20, Portishead's Third drops from #7 to #24, The Roots' Rising Down drops from #6 to #28, Def Leppard's Songs From The Sparkle Lounge falls from #5 to #30 and Mudcrutch's Mudcrutch plummets from #8 to #53.

Two songs from Coldplay's upcoming album Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends (that's a mouthful) enter the Hot Digital Songs chart. "Viva La Vida" arrives at #6; "Violet Hill" opens at #18.

Market Indicator: Now 27 logged eight weeks in the top 10 before slipping this week to #13. Alas, only now, after nine weeks of release, has the album equaled the first-week sales (621,000) of the fastest-selling Now volume, Now 7. That album was released in 2001 when the industry was at its peak.

Rascal Flatts' Still Feels Good jumps from #78 to #37 with an 85% sales increase, the week's biggest for a non-debuting album. The album has sold 1,922,000 copies since it debuted at #1 in October.

I Can Only Imagine: Power Anthems Of The Christian Faith holds at #1 for a fourth week on the Catalog Albums chart, with sales of 17,000. The Time/Life collection would have ranked #37 on the big chart if older, catalog albums were eligible to compete there.

Ol Blue Eyes: Hard to believe, but it's been 10 years since Frank Sinatra died--on May 14, 1998. In addition to being a tremendous artist and an eternal icon of cool, Sinatra was one of the biggest recording stars of all time. Sinatra ranks as the #30 album seller of the Nielsen/SoundScan era, with sales of 25,804,000. The remarkable thing about this statistic is that it measures sales only since Nielsen/SoundScan set up shop in May 1991.

Sinatra first hit the Billboard album chart--which was not yet a weekly feature--in 1946 with The Voice Of Frank Sinatra. Only one other artist on Nielsen/SoundScan's list of the top 200 album sellers first entered the album chart prior to 1955. That's Nat "King" Cole, whose jazz trio was #1 on the very first album chart in 1945 with The King Cole Trio. Cole is the #185 album seller since 1991.

Sinatra has sold 14,872,000 albums in the 10 years since his death (a figure that many current artists would be quite content with.) That number will swell with the release this week of Nothing But The Best. The compilation is certain to become Sinatra's highest-charting posthumous album. That title is currently held by Greatest Love Songs. Released just before Valentine's Day 2002, the album peaked at #32.

Which of today's chart-toppers will still be relevant 60 years from now? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Heads Up: Death Cab For Cutie is expected to debut at #1 next week with Narrow Stairs. Other albums due to enter next week's chart include Jason Mraz's We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things, Ryan Cabrera's The Moon Under Water, Keith Sweat's Just Me, Duffy's Rockferry and 10 Years' Division.

It's Here: My favorite song about May is "The Lusty Month Of May," from the 1960 Broadway musical, Camelot. The show was Lerner & Loewe's follow-up to My Fair Lady. Composer Frederick Loewe has many fans to this day, including rapper Flo Rida, who, on his recent smash, chanted, "Loewe, Loewe, Loewe, Loewe."

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