Chart Watch

Week Ending Nov. 30, 2008: West’s Numbers Head South

Chart Watch

Kanye West's fourth album, 808s & Heartbreak, debuts at #1 with first-week sales of 450,000. That's less than half of what West's last album, Graduation, sold in its first week in September 2007. Graduation sold 957,000 copies out-of-the-chute, boosted by West's high-profile face-off with rival 50 Cent and by a monster single, "Stronger," which hit #1 on the Hot 100 the same week the album debuted at #1. West's second album, Late Registration, opened with sales of 860,000 in September 2005, boosted by similar factors. West had stirred national controversy on Sept. 2 with explosive comments ("George Bush doesn't care about black people") during a post-Katrina telethon on NBC-TV. Also, his single "Gold Digger" hit #1 on the Hot 100 the week the album topped the chart.

West hasn't picked a fight with anybody lately, and his recent singles, while successful, haven't reached #1 on the Hot 100. "Love Lockdown" has climbed as high as #3; "Heartless" has reached #4.

The fall-off can't be attributed solely to an industry slump. West's first-week number is down in both absolute and relative terms. Late Registration debuted with the second-biggest weekly sales total of 2005, topped only by 50 Cent's The Massacre. Graduation opened with the biggest weekly total of 2007. But 808s and Heartbreak is only the 10th biggest weekly sales total so far in 2008.

There is, of course, another factor that I haven't really addressed in this space yet. The nation's economy went off a cliff in September (perhaps you heard). People are being far more cautious in their discretionary spending. That's bound to make people think twice about whether they really need the new album by Kenny Chesney or Beyonce, to name two other artists who have debuted at #1 in recent weeks with smaller first-week totals than they achieved last time out.

All four of West's albums have started with sales north of 400,000 units. West's debut album, The College Dropout, debuted at #2 in February 2004, with first-week sales of 441,000. To have four consecutive albums start with sales of 400K or more over a nearly five year span is nothing to sneeze at.

The title, 808s & Heartbreak, refers to the album's split focus. West constructed some of the tracks on a Roland TR-808 drum machine. The other tracks reflect recent losses-a breakup with his fiancé and his mother's death. Rolling Stone's Jody Rosen likens the album to two other famous breakup albums--Bob Dylan's Blood On The Tracks, which topped the chart in 1975, and Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear, a Top 30 album in 1979.

Nearly one-quarter of West's first-week sales total came in the digital realm. The album sold 103,000 downloads. That's the second biggest first-week digital tally ever for an album by a rap or hip-hop artist. Only Graduation surpasses it, with first-week digital sales of 133,000. Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III is third with first-week digital sales of 100,000.

West's album edges out Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy, which opens at #3. It's somehow fitting that the two acts should debut in the same week. GN'R front-man Axl Rose was known in his heyday almost as much for his brash personality, flashes of ego and sometimes politically incorrect views as for his music. Gee, who does that sound like?

Chinese Democracy is GN'R's first studio album of new material in more than 17 years.  It debuts with sales of  261,000, which is less than one-fifth of the band's combined first-week sales bounty for its simultaneous September 1991 releases, Use Your Illusion II (which started with 770,000) and Use Your Illusion I (which bowed with 685,000). GN'R's only releases in this long gap are a 1993 album of covers, a 1999 double-disk live album and a 2004 greatest hits set.

Each of the top 10 albums sold more than 100,000 copies this week. It's the first time that's been the case since the week before Christmas last year, when each of the top 23 albums sold 100K or more. Here's why music industry executives love the holidays: This week's #20 album, Pink's Funhouse, sold more copies this week than the #1 album did during the week ending Jan. 20. Funhouse sold about 61,000 copies, which is slightly more than Alicia Keys' As I Am managed to sell that week.

Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" holds at #1 on Hot Digital Songs for the second straight week. It sold 228,000 downloads this week, a 12% increase over last week's tally of 204,000.

Mariah Carey's zippy 1994 gem "All I Want For Christmas Is You" this week becomes the first Christmas song to sell 1 million downloads. The next two in line, in terms of cumulative paid downloads are Trans-Siberian Orchestra's 1996 release "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)" (398,000 paid downloads) and Brenda Lee's 1958 classic "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" (334,000 paid downloads).

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

1. Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak, 450,000. This new entry is West's third straight album to debut at #1. This is the third biggest debut of the year for a rap or hip-hop album, behind Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III (1,006,000) and T.I.'s Paper Trail (568,000). Eight songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "See You In My Nightmares" (featuring Lil Wayne), which debuts at #8.

2. Taylor Swift, Fearless, 267,000. The album rebounds from #4 to #2 in its third week. It has topped the 1 million sales mark in just three weeks. Swift's 2006 debut album, Taylor Swift, took 38 weeks to reach 1 million in sales. This album is already #19 for the year-to-date. Swift is the only artist with two albums in the top 20. Taylor Swift is #6. Five songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Love Story," which jumps to #7.

3. Guns N' Roses, Chinese Democracy, 261,000. This new entry is the band's seventh album to reach the top five, its entire output except for a 1999 double-live album. Chinese Democracy, a Best Buy exclusive, sold just one-third as many copies in its first week as AC/DC's Black Ice, a Wal-Mart exclusive, did just five weeks ago. Is AC/DC more relevant to today's music fans than GN'R or is Wal-Mart just better at selling tonnage than Best Buy? "Better" enters Hot Digital Songs at #127.

4. Beyonce, I Am...Sasha Fierce, 257,000. The album drops from #1 to #4 in its second week. The album has sold 741,000 copies in its first two weeks, which puts it at #30 for the year to date. It's the top-selling double-CD of 2008, surpassing a 2007 carryover, Miley Cyrus' Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus, which is #35. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs. "Single Ladies" is #1. "If I Were A Boy" is #3.

5. Ludacris, Theater Of The Mind, 213,000. This is the rapper and film star's sixth consecutive album to crack the top five, discounting a 2005 collaboration with DTP (Disturbing Tha Peace). But the five other albums all peaked higher than this. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "One More Drink" (with T-Pain), which jumps to #34.

6. The Killers, Day & Age, 193,000. This is the band's third top 10 album. Hot Fuss reached #7 in 2004 (and spawned the top 10 hit, "Mr. Brightside.") Sam's Town hit #2 in 2006. "Human" jumps to #38 on Hot Digital Songs.

7. Nickelback, Dark Horse, 178,000. The album drops from #2 to #7 in its second week. The band's last album, All The Right Reasons, spent its first six weeks in the top five in 2005. Five songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Gotta Be Somebody," which dips to #17.

8. Various Artists, Twilight soundtrack, 162,000. The soundtrack drops from #6 to #8 in its fourth week. Carter Burwell's album of original score debuts at #110. The movie was #2 at the box-office in its second weekend. Total gross to date: $119.7 million. Paramore's "Decode" jumps to #19 on Hot Digital Songs.

9. Various Artists, Now 29, 145,000. The compilation drops from #7 to #9 in its third week.

10. David Cook, David Cook, 112,000. The album drops from #3 to #10 in its second week. It's the first debut album by an American Idol finalist (winner or runner-up) to log two or more weeks in the top 10 since Carrie Underwood's Some Hearts, which was released in November 2005. Since then, debut albums by Bo Bice, Taylor Hicks, Katharine McPhee, Jordin Sparks, Blake Lewis and David Archuleta all logged a single week in the top 10. "Light On" jumps to #67 on Hot Digital Songs.

Four albums drop out of the top 10 this week. Il Divo's The Promise drops from #5 to #13, High School Musical 3 dips from #8 to #11, Enya's And Winter Came drops from #9 to #18, and AC/DC's Black Ice dips from #10 to #12. The HSM franchise is showing its age. The first HSM soundtrack logged 25 weeks in the top 10 in 2006. The second logged 16 weeks in the top 10 in 2007. This installment spent just five weeks in the top 10.

Josh Groban's Noel tops the Catalog Albums chart for the fourth straight week. The album sold 124,000 copies this week and would have held at #10 on the big chart if older, catalog albums were eligible to compete there. The album tops the 4 million mark in total sales this week. Where does it rank among the best-selling Christmas albums of all time? Funny you should ask. On Friday, I'll have a Chart Watch Extra in which I count down the top 40 Christmas albums of all time, from the days of Bing Crosby and Nat "King" Cole to recent hits by Charlotte Church and Trans-Siberian Orchestra. If you just can't wait until Friday for an answer to that question, Noel is #9.

Barry Manilow's The Greatest Songs Of The Eighties bows at #14. This is Manilow's 14th album to reach the top 20. He first made the mark in February 1975 with Barry Manilow II. Manilow had one of the biggest surprise hits of 2006 when The Greatest Songs of The Fifties debuted at #1. It was his first studio album ever to reach the top spot. Sequels devoted to the '60s and '70s also did well, opening at #2 and #4 respectively. This debut isn't bad (look who's one rung below him), but it's a bit of a let-down. Maybe the formula is just starting to wear thin. Incidentally, this is the second '80s celebration to reach the top 15 this year. The all-star Now That's What I Call The Eighties opened at #11 in March.

Coldplay's Prospekt's March debuts at #15. The limited-time, eight-track EP includes five new songs. It's a postscript to Viva  La Vida Or Death And All His Friends, which rebounds from #54 to #25 on The Billboard 200. The album is #2 for the year-to-date (though it still hasn't hit the 2 million mark. It probably will next week.)

Two albums by Linkin Park debut this week. Road To Revolution opens at #41. Songs From The Underground bows at #95. Road To Revolution is the band's second live album. Live In Texas reached #23 five years ago.

Paul McCartney's Electric Arguments debuts at #67. This is McCartney's 35th chart album apart from the Beatles...Tom Jones' 24 Hours bows at #105. This is the Welsh star's highest-charting album since Say You'll Stay Until Tomorrow hit #76 in 1977...Stephen Colbert's Colbert Christmas bows at #119. The Emmy-winning Comedy Central star beat his mentor Jon Stewart to the Billboard chart.

Ups & Downs: Steven Curtis Chapman's This Moment, which first charted in October 2007, re-enters the chart this week at #178. Its sales jump by 189% compared to last week, more than any other non-debuting album. On the down side, two albums in their second week see sales slide by 64%. Dido's Safe Trip Home drops from #13 to #64, while Slim's Love's Crazy drops from #32 to #102.

Heads Up: Britney Spears is likely to land her fifth #1 album next week with Circus. The resilient pop star just missed hitting the top spot last time out when Blackout peaked at #2. Akon, who also reached #2 with his last album, Konvicted, is also on deck with Freedom. Also due: the Cadillac Records soundtrack, Panic At The Disco's Live In Chicago and Scarface's Emeritus.

Shameless Plug: Check back Friday for my Chart Watch Extra listing the top 40 holiday albums of all time. Who has the most albums on the list? I'm not telling, but it's one of these four: Elvis Presley, Kenny G, Amy Grant, Mannheim Steamroller. Place your bets.


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