Chart Watch

Week Ending Sept. 6, 2009: A Diva Returns

Chart Watch

Whitney Houston's I Look To You enters The Billboard 200 at #1. It's Houston's first album to top the chart since The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1993. It's her first album to debut at #1 since Whitney in 1987 (which was the first album by a female artist to achieve the feat). I Look To You sold 305,000 copies in its first week, which is the biggest weekly tally so far this year for an album by a female artist. It's Houston's biggest tally since The Preacher's Wife soundtrack sold 330,000 copies in the week before Christmas 1996.

This week's total is solid, but not phenomenal. Five albums have sold more copies in their first week so far in 2009. Houston sold slightly more copies than the Black Eyed Peas did in their first week in June (304,000), but only about half as many as Eminem did in his first week in May (608,000). This isn't even the biggest first-week tally of the year by an R&B artist. Maxwell started with sales of 316,000 in July. (Maxwell's tally was probably boosted by the Michael Jackson catalog resurgence. Number Ones peaked that week, with sales of 349,000 copies.)

So does this mean that Houston is really back on top? One week's sales tally can't tell the whole story. It will take weeks, maybe even months, before we know if this is a real comeback or just a brief return to glory. It will hinge on how many songs step out from the album to become meaningful hits. (Two songs are on their way. "I Look To You" rebounds from #167 to #77 on the Hot Digital Songs chart. "Million Dollar Bill" debuts at #89). Another indication will come in early December, when we learn how well I Look To You does in the Grammy nominations. (The album's release was carefully timed to meet the Grammys' moved-up, Aug. 31 cut-off date for eligibility.)

That's one reason I resisted the urge to headline this week's column "Houston, We Have A Comeback." All we have right now are the beginnings of a comeback. Now it's up to the quality of the music and the loyalty of Houston's fans to determine how far this goes.

This is Houston's 46th week atop The Billboard 200--which is more than any other female artist in the chart's 53-year history. (Mariah Carey is in second place with 30 weeks.) Remarkably, Houston logged 45 weeks in the #1 spot before her 30th birthday, thanks to Whitney Houston (14 weeks on top), Whitney (11 weeks) and The Bodyguard (20 weeks).

Houston was at her peak between 1985 and 1996, a period in which she notched 11 #1 hits on the Hot 100, collected five Grammys and co-starred in three hit movies (alongside such major stars as Kevin Costner and Denzel Washington). In retrospect, Houston may have achieved too much fame and success too early. It's hard to handle mega-stardom any age, but especially at such a young age. Before her 23rd birthday, Houston had had a #1 album and three #1 singles and had won a Grammy (for "Saving All My Love For You"). Houston performed that sultry ballad on the Grammy telecast in February 1986. She was so hot at the time that her performance on the Grammys earned her an Emmy (for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program), the first time that had ever happened.

Houston started to slip with My Love Is Your Love, which peaked at #13 in November 1998 (though it had staying power and has sold 2,759,000 copies). She regained a little chart ground with Just Whitney..., which peaked at #9 in December 2002, though it sold markedly fewer copies than its predecessor (742,000). (The Bodyguard sold more copies than that in its biggest week.)

Houston is fortunate to have had the support and direction of industry legend Clive Davis, who signed her to his Arista label in 1983. Houston is up there with Carlos Santana and Barry Manilow as the artist who has had the longest and most lucrative association with Davis. All three of these artists have had #1 albums in the past decade. Santana rang the bell with the Grammy-sweeping Supernatural (now that's a comeback hit) and its follow-up, Shamen. Manilow scored with The Greatest Songs Of The Fifties.

I Look To You is the third consecutive #1 album by a female solo artist. It follows Reba McEntire's Keep On Loving You and Colbie Caillat's Breakthrough. This is the first time that female solo artists have had three #1 albums in succession since April and May 2008, when Leona Lewis' Spirit, Mariah Carey's E=MC2 and Madonna's Hard Candy rang the bell.

Three of this week's top five albums are by second-generation stars. Houston is the daughter of Grammy-winning soul gospel singer Cissy Houston. Miley Cyrus, at #2, is the daughter of country hit-maker Billy Ray Cyrus. Colbie Caillat, at #5, is the daughter of Grammy-winning record producer Ken Caillat.

Cyrus moves up from #3 to #2 with her EP The Time Of Our Lives. It's the sixth album by or starring Cyrus to reach the top two in less than three years. The EP contains Cyrus' hit "Party In The U.S.A.," which holds at #1 on Hot Digital Songs for the fourth straight week. The song sold 179,000 downloads this week, bringing its four-week total to 806,000.

The Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow" tops the 4 million mark in paid downloads this week. It reached this threshold in just 23 weeks, faster than any other song in digital history. The old record was set by "Low" by Flo Rida featuring T-Pain, which topped the 4 million mark in its 35th week of release. There's more good news for the Peas this week. The group's album, The E.N.D., tops the 1 million mark in sales. It's the group's third album in a row to reach this milestone. The E.N.D. is just the ninth album to top the 1 million sales mark so far in 2009.

Michael Jackson's Number Ones sold 56,000 copies and would have dipped from #2 to #4 if catalog albums were eligible to appear on The Billboard 200. Thriller sold 23,000 copies and would have dropped from #9 to #25. This is the first time since his death that Jackson hasn't had two of the 10 best-selling albums in the country. This is the 11th straight week that Number Ones has been the #1 Catalog Album. That's the longest continuous run at #1 on that chart since Creed's My Own Prison had 16 consecutive weeks on top from December 2000 to April 2001.

Five albums in this week's top 10 (Ready, Breakthrough, Rebelution, Fearless and Artwork) have one-word titles. Is that a record? Not even close. On Jan. 16, 1988, seven of the top 10 albums had one-word titles. The albums: Faith, Tiffany, Bad, Whitesnake, Whitney, Hysteria and Kick. (Thanks to Joel Whitburn's Top 10 Album Charts 1963-1998 for this tidbit.)

This just in: there are two "Black" groups in this week's top 15, and neither is a black group. Thoroughly confused? The Black Eyed Peas dip to #11. The Black Crowes debut at #12.

Here's the lowdown on this week's top 10 albums.

1. Whitney Houston, I Look To You, 305,000. This new entry sold nearly 40,000 downloads, which makes it the week's #1 Digital Album. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "I Look To You" at #77.

2. Miley Cyrus, The Time Of Our Lives, 153,000. Cyrus' EP, a Wal-Mart exclusive, jumps from #3 to #2 in its second week. The title song tops Hot Digital Songs for the fourth straight week.

3. Trey Songz, Ready, 131,000. This new entry is the R&B artist's first top 10 album. Trey Day hit #11 in October 2007. "LOL :-)" (featuring Gucci Mane and Soulja Boy Tell'em) enters Hot Digital Songs at #43.

4. Insane Clown Posse, Bang! Pow! Boom!, 50,000. This new entry is the rap act's first top 10 album 1999's The Amazing Jeckel Brothers, which also reached #4. (I would have thought that the success of "Boom Boom Pow" would have prompted a title change, but what do I know?)

5. Colbie Caillat, Breakthrough, 47,000. The album slips from #1 to #5 in its second week. "Fallin' For You" holds at #11 on Hot Digital Songs.

6. Chevelle, Sci-Fi Crimes, 46,000. This new entry is the rock trio's second top 10 album. It first made the mark in 2004 with This Type Of Thinking (Could Do Us In). "Jars" enters Hot Digital Songs at #174.

7. Kings Of Leon, Only By The Night, 45,000. The album drops from #4 to #7 in its 50th week. This is its ninth week in the top 10. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Use Somebody," which holds at #6.

8. Pitbull, Rebelution, 41,000. This new entry is the first top 10 album for the Latin rapper, who first charted five years ago. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Hotel Room Service," which jumps from #9 to #7.

9. Taylor Swift, Fearless, 35,000. The former #1 album holds at #9 in its 43rd week. This is its 37th week in the top 10. The album also regains the #1 spot on the country chart. This is its 22nd week atop that list. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "You Belong With Me," which dips from #10 to #12.

10. The Used, Artwork, 35,000. This new entry is the group's third top 10 album, following In Love And Death (#6 in 2004) and Lies For The Liars (#5 in 2007).

Six albums drop out of the top 10 this week. Skillet's Awake dives from #2 to #22, Imogen Heap's Ellipse plummets from #5 to #29, Reba McEntire's Keep On Loving You falls from #6 to #17, George Strait's Twang drops from #7 to #16, the Black Eyed Peas' The E.N.D. dips from #8 to #11 and NOW Country 2 falls from #10 to #21.

The Black Crowes' Before The Frost...Until The Freeze debuts at #12. This is the veteran band's second album in a row to make the top 15. Before The Frost... comes with a code that allows purchasers to get a free, download-only companion album, ...Until The Freeze.

Chris Young's sophomore album, The Man I Want To Be, opens at #19. The country singer's 2006 eponymous debut hit #22...Arctic Monkey's Humbug plummets from #15 to #50 in its second week. The album is faring better in the U.K., where it holds at #1 for the second week.

John Fogerty's The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again debuts at #24. This is already far higher than the Blue Ridge Rangers' original The Blue Ridge Rangers album, which peaked at #47 in 1973. That album, Fogerty's first project after leaving Creedence Clearwater Revival, spawned a top 20 hit with an update of Hank Williams' 1952 classic, "Jambalaya (On The Bayou)."

George Jones' Old Country Store debuts at #88. Jones, who will turn 78 on Sept. 12, first charted in 1965. He was voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992.

Billie Holiday's Complete Billie Holiday debuts at #122. Holiday had dozens of hits in the '30s and '40s, but didn't have a charted album until the release of the 1972 bio-pic Lady Sings The Blues. That movie lifted the two-disk The Billie Holiday Story to #85. (The soundtrack to the movie, which starred Diana Ross, hit #1.) Holiday, who ranks with Ella Fitzgerald as the most widely respected jazz vocalist of all time, died in 1959. She was 44.

Country Watch: Three of the five nominees for Album of the Year at the Country Music Assn. Awards reached #1 on The Billboard 200. Taylor Swift's Fearless topped the chart for 11 weeks. Sugarland's Love On The Inside and Keith Urban's Defying Gravity each had one week on top. Brad Paisley's American Saturday Night peaked at #2. Jamey Johnson's That Lonesome Song reached #28.

Song Scorecard: "Good Girls Go Bad" by Cobra Starship featuring Leighton Meester tops the 1 million mark in paid downloads this week.

Heads Up: Jay-Z topped The Billboard 200 with his first two Blueprint albums. Can he go three for three? Find out next week when The Blueprint 3 makes its debut. Also, the Beatles' mono and stereo box sets will debut on The Billboard 200, which should put the Fab Four back in the top 10. (The individual albums, however, will compete on the catalog chart.) Also due: Brooks & Dunn's #1s...And Then Some, Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., Vol. 2, Boys Like Girls' Love Drunk, Barlowgirl's Love And War, Howie Day's Sound The Alarm and There Might Be Giant's
Here Comes Science.

The Fine Print: In addition to her four #1 albums, Houston had three tracks on the chart-topping Waiting To Exhale soundtrack in 1996. But that was marketed as a Various Artists album, so I didn't count it in Houston's tally.


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