Chart Watch

Week Ending Oct. 26, 2008: Headbangers Beat Out High-Schoolers

Chart Watch

Evidently, lots of people decided to pick up AC/DC's Black Ice when they were at Wal-Mart buying their Halloween candy. The album enters The Billboard 200 at #1, with an eye-popping sales tally of 784,000. That's the second biggest debut of 2008, trailing only Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III, which started in June with sales of 1,006,000. Black Ice had a bigger first week than Coldplay's Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends, which started in June with sales of 721,000. AC/DC's tally represents the biggest first-week by a rock album since U2's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb started with sales of 840,000 in November 2004. It's the biggest debut ever by a mainstream hard rock album. (A pair of alternative-metal bands, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, got off to faster starts.)

It's also the biggest debut ever for an "exclusive"--an album sold in only one retail chain. It tops Eagles' Long Road Out Of Eden, which opened with sales of 711,000 in November. Both of these albums are Wal-Mart exclusives. I wasn't sure that AC/DC and Wal-Mart would be a good fit when I first heard about this deal. Garth Brooks and Eagles made perfect sense for the retailer, because those acts all but define the term "mass appeal." I thought AC/DC's appeal was more specific and narrow. This week's debut reminds us (as if previous achievements by Led Zeppelin and Metallica hadn't already made the point) that hard rock is virtually as mainstream as country and rock.

There's a lot of gloom and doom about album sales, but the fact that two albums have had first-week sales in excess of 750,000 in 2008 shows that the album isn't dead yet. This is the first year in which two albums started with sales north of 750,000 since 2005, when 50 Cent's The Massacre and Kanye West's Late Registration both did the trick. (The wealth, however, is concentrated at the top. Black Ice sold more copies this week than the next 13 albums on The Billboard 200 combined.)

AC/DC first topped the chart with For Those About To Rock We Salute You in December 1981. That gives the Aussie band a nearly 27 year span of #1 albums. Only one hard rock band has had a longer span of #1 albums. Led Zeppelin's #1 albums span more than 33 years, from Led Zeppelin II in December 1969 to How The West Was Won in June 2003.

Black Ice sold more than six times as many copies in its first week as AC/DC's last album, Stiff Upper Lip, which sold 130,000 copies in its first week in March 2000. Even without a new album, the band has sold steadily over the last eight years, winning a new generation of fans. At the end of 2000, AC/DC ranked #33 on Nielsen/SoundScan's running list of the top album artists since 1991. The band now ranks #24 on that list. (It pulls ahead of Rod Stewart just this week.)

AC/DC first broke into the top 20 in October 1979 with Highway To Hell. But less than four months later, the group's lead singer Bon Scott died of asphyxiation. The group didn't let that break their momentum. Within six months, they were back with a new studio album, Back In Black. The album reached the top five in December 1980 and remains one of the best-sellers in history. The band faltered in the mid-to-late '80s when three straight studio albums missed the top 10. 1985's Fly On The Wall didn't even crack the top 30. The band got back on track with The Razors Edge, which hit #2 in 1990. Black Ice is its fourth studio album in a row to reach the top 10.

AC/DC has 13 albums in the top 100 of Nielsen/SoundScan's Catalog Albums chart, including a record-setting five of the top six. Back In Black sold 21,000 copies this week and would have ranked #13 on the big chart if older, catalog albums were eligible to compete there. (One reason for AC/DC's strong catalog showing this week is that Wal-Mart priced the band's catalog to sell. The albums are all stickered between $7 and $10. There might be a lesson here for the beleaguered music industry.)

The soundtrack to High School Musical 3: Graduation Day debuts at #2, with sales of 297,000. That's less than half of the first-week tally (615,000) registered by HSM2 when it debuted at #1 in August 2007. But that movie, like its predecessor, HSM, aired on the Disney Channel, where it could be seen for free and repeatedly (by subscribers, anyway). This installment is in theaters, which cuts down on repeat viewings. Still, this tally is the fattest weekly total for a movie soundtrack since Get Rich Or Die Tryin' opened with sales of 317,000 in November 2005.

HSM3 ranked #1 at the box-office in its first week, with a take of $42 million. It set a new record for the biggest opening for a musical. It outpaced this year's Mamma Mia! ($27.8 million) and last year's Hairspray ($27.5 million). Tween heartthrob Zac Efron stars in HSM3 and was featured in Hairspray.

The soundtracks to the two earlier HSM installments both reached #1. HSM wound up as the #1 best-seller of 2006. HSM2 was #2 for 2007. HSM3 probably won't match those feats, but it may well top Mamma Mia! to become the year's #1 movie soundtrack. HSM3 is this week's #1 soundtrack, ending a 15-week run by Mamma Mia!

Beyonce's striking ballad "If I Were A Boy" vaults from #68 to #3 on the Hot 100. It also debuts at #1 on Hot Digital Songs, with sales of 190,000 downloads. It's Beyonce's fourth #1 on this chart, following "Check On It" (featuring Bun B and Slim Thug), "Irreplaceable" and "Beautiful Liar"/"Bello Embustero" (with Shakira). Only Rhianna has had as many or more #1 digital hits as a lead artist. (She has had five.) Toby Gad co-wrote and co-produced "If I Were A Boy." Gad previously co-wrote Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry," a #1 hit on the Hot 100 in September 2007. He has a knack for bringing out the best in female pop stars. Britney Spears' robotic "Womanizer" drops to #2 on Hot Digital Songs after two weeks on top. (Maybe she should give Toby Gad a call.)

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

1. AC/DC, Black Ice, 784,000. After just one week, this is already the #22 best-seller for the year-to-date. Among hard rock albums, it's #2 for the year-to-date, behind Metallica's Death Magnetic. Black Ice sold more copies in its first week than another hard rock album, Disturbed's Indestructible, has sold in its entire run. No songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs.

2. Various Artists, High School Musical 3: Graduation Day, 297,000. This is the second fattest total of 2008 for a non-#1 album. Sugarland's Love On The Inside debuted at #2 in July with sales of 314,000. More than 47,000 copies were sold digitally, making this the week's #1 Digital Album. (HSM and HSM2 also topped the digital chart.) All 12 songs from the soundtrack are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Now Or Never," which vaults from #123 to #36.

3. T.I., Paper Trail, 93,000. The album dips from #2 to #3 in its fourth week. It's #16 for the year-to-date. Among rap albums, it's #2 for the year-to-date, behind Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III. Five songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Live Your Life" (featuring Rhianna), which dips from #2 to #3.

4. Kenny Chesney, Lucky Old Sun, 88,000. The album drops to #4 after debuting at #1 last week. This week's tally combines the deluxe and regular editions of the album. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs. "Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven" (featuring the Wailers) dips from #90 to #101; "I'm Alive" (featuring Dave Matthews) falls from #81 to #182.

5. Metallica, Death Magnetic, 52,000. The album dips from #4 to #5 in its seventh week in the top five. It's #6 for the year-to-date. "The Day That Never Comes" jumps from #132 to #120 on Hot Digital Songs.


6. Kid Rock, Rock N Roll Jesus, 40,000. The album holds at #6 in its 20th week in the top 10. You could argue that after 55 weeks on the chart, 20 of them in the top 10, the album's total sales should be way more than 2,276,000, but I guess 2,276,000 is the new 6,000,000. The Rock Heroes' cover of "All Summer Long" dips from #24 to #31 on Hot Digital Songs.

7. Mary, Mary, The Sound, 37,000. This new entry is the female gospel duo's highest-charting album, and its second studio album in a row to hit the top 10. Mary Mary hit #8 in 2005. No songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs.

8. Ne-Yo, Year Of The Gentleman, 31,000. The album holds at #8 for the third week. This is its sixth week in the top 10. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Miss Independent," which jumps from #20 to #17.

9. Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Hudson, 29,000. The album dips from #5 to #9 in its fourth week. Hudson is also featured in a current top 10 movie, The Secret Life Of Bees, which finished #6 in its second week. This should be a time of celebration for the performer, but the horrific shooting deaths of Hudson's mother, brother and nephew make that impossible. "Spotlight" dips from #61 to #67 on Hot Digital Songs.

10. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III, 25,000. The year's #1 album returns to the top 10 for the first time in five weeks. Five songs from the album are featured on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Mrs. Officer" (featuring Bobby Valentino and Kidd Kidd), which jumps from #35 to #29. This is the 21st consecutive week that five or more songs from the album have been listed on Hot Digital Songs. The most successful, "Lollipop" (featuring Static Major) has sold 2,979,000 downloads. That puts it at #9 on the all-time list of songs with most paid downloads.

Four albums drop out of the top 10 this week. Ray LaMontagne's Gossip In The Grain drops from #3 to #17, Keane's Perfect Symmetry plummets from #7 to #48, Lucinda Williams' Little Honey drops from #9 to #34, and James Taylor's Covers falls from #10 to #16.

Ups & Downs: Adele's 19 vaults from #46 to #11 in its 20th week on The Billboard 200. Sales jumped by 131%, a steeper increase than any other album in the top 200. Two weeks ago, the album ranked #129. It had never climbed higher than #53. Then Adele appeared as musical performer on Saturday Night Live in the same week that Gov. Sarah Palin made her much-anticipated appearance. That's what you call a lucky break. On the down side, sales of Keane's aforementioned Perfect Symmetry fell by 75%, the steepest drop in the top 200.

Hank Williams III's Damn Right Rebel Proud debuts at #18. It's the first top 20 album for this third-generation star. His dad, Hank Williams Jr., has cracked the top 20 twice. He first made the mark in 1965 with the soundtrack to Your Cheatin' Heart, a biopic about country legend Hank Williams, Williams III's grandfather.

Lee Ann Womack's Call Me Crazy debuts at #23. Unless it gains ground in its second week, it will become her first studio album in 10 years to miss the top 20. The country star first made the top 20 with I Hope You Dance in 2000.

LaBelle's Back To Now debuts at #45. It's the R&B trio's first album since 1976 and its highest-charting release since Nightbirds reached #7 in March 1975. That's the album that spawned the #1 smash "Lady Marmalade."

Heads Up: Though Pink has been a pop star for more than eight years, she has yet to have a top five album on The Billboard 200. That should change with the release of Funhouse, which features her recent #1 single, "So What." Toby Keith's That Don't Make Me A Bad Guy and John Legend's Evolver are also due on next week's chart. Keith's last five studio albums have reached #1 or #2. Legend's last two studio sets have reached the top five. Two perennial contenders will release compilations: Rascal Flatts' Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 and Celine Dion's My Love: Essential Collection. Reba McEntire will release a 3-CD box set, 50 Greatest Hits. Also due: the Cure's 4:13 Dream, Celtic Woman's The Greatest Journey, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals' Cardinology and Snow Patrol's A Hundred Million Suns.

Random Thought: Though Britney Spears is nearly 27, the Rolling Stones have not had a #1 album in her lifetime. The Stones' last appearance in the #1 spot (at least to this point) was on Nov. 14, 1981 with Tattoo You. Spears entered this world two and a half weeks later, on Dec. 2.

Happy Halloween: Four songs of the season appear on Hot Digital Songs. Michael Jackson's "Thriller" is #65, Bobby "Boris" Pickett & the Crypt Kickers' "Monster Mash" is #90, Ray Parker Jr.'s "Ghostbusters" is #133 and Warren Zevon's "Werewolves Of London" is #193. "Monster Mash" has been a Halloween perennial since 1962. "Werewolves Of London," a 1978 hit, got a new lease on life through its use in Kid Rock's "All Summer Long." "Thriller" has been with us every Halloween since 1983. "Ghostbusters" joined the party in 1984.

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