Chart Watch

Week Ending May 4, 2008: Madonna Closes In On Streisand’s Record

Chart Watch

Madonna lands her seventh #1 album as Hard Candy debuts in the lead position. In the 52 year history of Billboard's weekly album chart, only one female artist-Barbra Streisand--has had more #1 albums. Madonna is also second only to Streisand for the longest span of #1 albums. Streisand's span a little more than 33 years, from People in October 1964 to Higher Ground in November 1997. Madonna's span a little more than 23 years, from Like A Virgin in February 1985 to Hard Candy.

The two women would seem to have little in common. Streisand is renowned as one of the most gifted vocalists of all time. Madonna's innate vocal talents are fairly modest. As she has pointed out, she didn't go into music because she thought she had a spectacular voice but because she had something to say.

The two women were received differently from the outset. Streisand's debut album won a Grammy for Album of the Year. By the time she was 27, Streisand had also won an Emmy and an Oscar, representing a rare degree of affirmation by the show business establishment. Madonna, by contrast, had a hard time at the outset even being taken seriously in the music industry. She didn't win a Grammy until 1992, and then only in a lower-profile video category. She didn't have a really good night at the Grammys until 1999, when she won three awards, including Best Pop Album and Best Dance Recording.

For all their differences, the two women also have a lot in common. A friend summed it up by saying they've both got gumption (though he didn't use the word "gumption"). In both cases, their cultural significance was apparent early on. Streisand made the cover of TIME in April 1964, two weeks before her 22nd birthday. Madonna was on TIME's cover in May 1985, a few months before she turned 27.

Madonna famously bowed before Streisand when the veteran diva made a surprise cameo appearance in a "Coffee Talk" sketch on Saturday Night Live in February 1992. (You can watch the video at the end of this week's blog.) Less famously, but significantly, when Billboard ran a special issue saluting Streisand in December 1983, Warner Bros. made a point of taking  the back-cover ad to promote Madonna. The Madonna ad was headlined "A Star Is Born"--the title of Streisand's 1976 movie musical. That week, Madonna's "Holiday"--her first Hot 100 single--was in its first week in the top 40. For such a newcomer to invite any comparisons to the top female star of a generation took a lot of nerve.

Madonna has not equaled Streisand's success in films, despite a critically-hailed performance in Desperately Seeking Susan and a Golden Globe-winning turn in Evita. Nor has Madonna equaled Streisand's success on Broadway in Funny Girl. They've had about equal success in TV, though comparing Streisand's classy, Emmy-winning specials with Madonna's dozens of trend-setting music videos is a bit like comparing apples and bustiers.

While it may be hard to believe, especially given the erotic photo on the cover of Hard Candy, Madonna will turn 50 on Aug. 16. When Streisand was the same age, she was basking in the success of her lavish, four-disk career retrospective Just For The Record. Since then, Streisand has had two #1 albums, Back To Broadway and Higher Ground, but for the most part, she has seemed content to let her recording career wind down. Having recently signed a major deal with Live Nation, Madonna seems likely to remain active as a recording act.

In addition to being second only to Streisand as the female vocalist with the most #1 albums, Madonna is second only to Mariah Carey for most #1 singles on Billboard's Hot 100. Madonna has had 12, to Carey's 18. So you can make a reasonable argument that Madonna is the top female recording act (albums and singles combined) of the rock era. For a woman who is not a great singer to have achieved such a feat says two things--that Madonna has tremendous will and fortitude and that values in pop have changed. Under the new rules (which Madonna helped to write), vision and image matter more than pure vocal ability.

Hard Candy is Madonna's fourth consecutive studio album to reach #1, the longest such streak of her career. It follows Music, American Life and Confessions On A Dance Floor. At her white-hot heyday in the '80s, Madonna reached #1 with three successive studio albums, Like A Virgin, True Blue and Like A Prayer. It's striking that Madonna has had more #1 albums since 2000 than she did in the '80s. (And it's curious that she had none at all in the '90s.)

Hard Candy is the third consecutive #1 album by a female solo artist, following Leona Lewis' Spirit and Mariah Carey's E=MC2. This is the first time that three female solo artists have made #1 in succession since Monica, Beyonce and Ashanti scored in June and July 2003. This is also the second time in the past three weeks that female solo artists have locked up the top three spots on the pop album chart. (Men, we're getting whooped here.)

Hard Candy opens with sales of 280,000. That's the third highest weekly sales total of 2008, following E=MC2 (463,000) and Jack Johnson's Sleep Through The Static (375,000).

Lewis' "Bleeding Love" holds at #1 on Hot Digital Songs for a fourth week, with 217,000 paid digital downloads. This is the fifth time that the smash has topped 200,000 in weekly sales, which extends the record that Lewis set last week. And this is the seventh week in a row that the #1 title on this chart has topped 200K, which is also a new record. I see growth in this field!

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

1. Madonna, Hard Candy, 280,000. Madonna's first-week sales are in between the opening numbers posted by her two most recent studio albums. American Life started with sales of 241,000 in 2003. Confessions On A Dance Floor bowed with sales of 350,000 in 2005. "4 Minutes," her hit collaboration with Justin Timberlake, dips from #2 to #3 on Hot Digital Songs. Two other tracks from the album debut this week. "Give It 2 Me" opens at #21, "Beat Goes On," a collaboration with Kanye West, bows at #101.

2. Mariah Carey, E=MC2, 95,000. Carey slips to #2 after spending two weeks on top. "Touch My Body" slips from #8 to #11 on Hot Digital Songs. "Bye Bye" drops from #22 to #41.

3. Leona Lewis, Spirit, 84,000. Lewis slips to #3 after spending one week at #1 and two weeks at #2. In addition to the chart-topping "Bleeding Love," Lewis has a second entry on Hot Digital Songs. "Better In Time" dips from #80 to #87. Spirit also includes a cover of the classic "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," which has now appeared on three #1 albums--Roberta Flack's First Take, Celine Dion's All The Way...A Decade Of Song and this album.

4. Lyfe Jennings, Lyfe Change, 80,000. This is the R&B star's second straight album to debut in the top five. The Phoenix opened at #2 in August 2006.

5. Def Leppard, Songs From The Sparkle Lounge, 55,000. This is the veteran hard rock band's first studio album to reach the top 10 since the chart-topping Adrenalize in 1992. The band subsequently released four studio albums that stalled in the bottom half of the top 20--Slang, Euphoria, X and Yeah!

6. The Roots, Rising Down, 54,000. This is the veteran hip-hop group's fourth album to debut in the top 10, following Things Fall Apart, which opened at #4 in 1999; The Tipping Point, which opened at #4 in 2004; and Game Theory, which bowed at #9 in 2006.

7. Portishead, Third, 53,000. This is the English duo's third studio album, and its first in nearly 11 years. They could have called it What's The Friggin' Rush?

8. Mudcrutch, Mudcrutch, 38,000. This is the l-o-n-g-awaited debut album by the band that Tom Petty was in before he formed the Heartbreakers in the mid 1970s. This is Petty's 17th studio album, a tally that includes 11 albums by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, three solo releases, two albums by the Traveling Wilburys and this release. Petty & the Heartbreakers first made the top 10 in December 1979 with Damn The Torpedoes.

9. Various Artists, Now 27, 31,000. Sales of the Now series are down, along with most everything else. But the series still sells dependably. This is one of only three albums from last week's top 10 to also appear in this week's top 10.

10. Tim McGraw, Greatest Hits-Limited Edition, 29,000.  This two-CD combo pack is available only at Wal-Mart, at a bargain price of $11.88. It combines McGraw's two previously-released greatest hits sets. The first reached #4 in 2000. The second, Vol. 2: Reflected, hit #2 in 2006. (McGraw appears on a second album in this week's top 10. He co-wrote and makes a guest appearance on Def Leppard's "Nine Lives," a track from the #5 album.)

Seven albums fall out of the top 10 this week. Flight Of The Conchords' eponymous full-length debut album drops from #3 to #17, Ashlee Simpson's Bittersweet World drops from #4 to #31, Atmosphere's When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Sh*t Gold falls from #5 to #41, the Juno soundtrack falls from #7 to #13, George Strait's Troubadour drops from #8 to #18, Taylor Swift's eponymous debut album falls from #9 to #11, and Phil Vassar's Prayer Of A Common Man plummets from #10 to #51. Sales of Simpson's album dropped by 64%--the steepest decline of any album in the top 200.

Two other albums debut in the top 15. Steve Winwood's 9 Lives opens at #13. It's his best showing since Roll With It reached #1 in 1988. Carly Simon's This Kind Of Love bows at #15. It's Simon's highest ranking for an album of new material since Boys In The Trees went top 10 in 1978. (An album of standards, Moonlight Serenade, hit #7 in 2005; an album geared toward children, Into White, reached #13 last year.)

Pocketful of Cash: Natasha Bedingfield's Pocketful Of Sunshine vaults from #97 to #24, with a sales gain of 199%. That's the biggest percentage increase for any non-debuting album. The title track jumps from #11 to #4 on Hot Digital Songs.

Celine Joins Exclusive Club: Celine Dion tops the 50,000,000 mark in album sales during the Nielsen/SoundScan era, just five weeks after Mariah Carey reached that same milestone. (Dion's total jumps to 50,010,000. Carey's jumps to 50,811,000.) These are the only female artists in the 50 million club. They're also the only female artists with five albums each on Nielsen/SoundScan's all-time list of the top 200 albums.

While being the second female artist to cross the 50,000,000 plateau is bound to take some of the luster off the achievement, it really shouldn't. And Dion is ahead of Carey in one key respect. Dion is the only woman with three albums in the top 50 of the Nielsen/SoundScan era (Falling Into You at #10, Let's Talk About Love at #22 and All The Way...A Decade Of Song at #44). Carey has just one in the top 50 (Daydream at #46).

Only two artists in Nielsen/SoundScan history have sold more albums than Carey and Dion-Garth Brooks, whose current total is 67,847,000 and the Beatles (56,247,000). All four of these artists first hit the chart before Nielsen/SoundScan set up shop in May 1991, so these totals don't take into account their entire histories. The Nielsen/SoundScan data doesn't include the first four months of Dion's chart history, the first 11 months of Carey's, the first two years of Brooks' and the first 27 years and four months of the Beatles'--during which time I have it on good authority that the group sold a fair number of records!

That Famous Diner Scene: As of this week, Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" has sold more downloads since it was featured on the series finale of HBO's The Sopranos than it did before that memorable episode. It sold 780,000 before the June 10, 2007 series finale and has sold 787,000 since the episode aired. The best part: Steve Perry now gets to write off his HBO subscription as a business expense. Hey, a man's got to track his songs.

Catalog Report: I Can Only Imagine: Power Anthems Of The Christian Faith returns to #1 on the Catalog Albums chart, with sales of 21,000. It would have ranked #22 if older, catalog albums competed on the main chart.

Heads Up: Neil Diamond, who has (amazingly) never had a #1 album, is expected to debut in the top spot next week with his latest, Home Before Dark. Also due: Toby Keith's double-CD 35 Biggest Hits, Josh Groban's Awake Live and Clay Aiken's On My Way Here. Keith has had three #1 albums, Groban has had two and Aiken has had one.

Great Minds: Madonna's previous album was titled Confessions On A Dance Floor. In 1997, Michael Jackson released an album of remixes titled Blood On The Dance Floor. (Do you suppose the pop icons compared notes on possible album titles when they went to the Oscars together in 1991?)

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