Chart Watch

Week Of Jan. 7, 2008: Old Habits Die Hard–Radiohead Fans Buy CD

Chart Watch

Radiohead's In Rainbows vaults from #156 to #1 in its second week on Nielsen/SoundScan's list of the best-selling albums in the U.S. The CD sold 122,000 copies, even though it became available for download on the band's website three months ago.


That number represents a sharp drop-off from the first week sales of Radiohead's last three studio albums—which had been steadily increasing. Kid A debuted at #1 in October 2000 with sales of 207,000. Amnesiac opened at #2 in June 2001 with sales of 231,000. Hail To The Thief bowed at #3 in June 2003 with sales of 300,000. Several factors explain the drop. Sales in January are traditionally soft, CD sales in general have been in decline for the past few years, and many Radiohead fans had already acquired the music and didn't feel the need to buy the CD.


This week, nearly twice as many fans downloaded the hottest song on Hot Digital Tracks—"Low" by Flo Rida featuring T-Pain—as bought the week's #1 album. I'll have a lot more to say about that in a minute. But first, here are the week's top 10 albums:


1. Radiohead, In Rainbows, 122,000. This is Radiohead's fourth consecutive studio album to reach the top three. It would have been the band's fourth in a row to debut in the top three were it not for some retailers jumping the gun and selling the album ahead of its Jan. 1 release date. Those 9,000 "street date violations" triggered the album's debut last week at #156.


2. Alicia Keys, As I Am, 112,000. Keys' album this week surpasses the Eagles album in total sales—2,656,000 to 2,644,000. Keys finished #4 for 2007, while the Eagles finished third. If the year had gone on just one more week, those numbers would have been reversed. This is Keys' eighth straight week in the top three. It has been #1 just once, but has appeared at #2 five times. "No One" is #6 on the Hot Digital Tracks chart.


3. Mary J. Blige, Growing Pains, 89,000. Last week this became Blige's fourth #1 album. Of the four, only The Breakthrough managed more than one week on top.


4. Various Artists, Now 26, 54,000. Though this compilation never made #1, it has been remarkably stable. It has ranked #4 in six of its eight chart weeks.


5. Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift, 47,000. Swift finally breaks into the top five in her 63rd week on the chart. Her debut moves up from #8 last week. The teen star has two songs in the top 25 on Top Digital Tracks—"Our Song" at #18 and "Teardrops On My Guitar" at #25.


6.Chris Brown, Exclusive, 41,000. This other red-hot teen star slips a notch in his fifth week in the top 10. Brown is the only principal artist with two songs in the top 20 on Hot Digital Tracks. "Kiss Kiss," which topped the chart for four weeks last fall, is #7. "With You" is #16.


7. Garth Brooks, The Ultimate Hits, 39,000. Brooks holds his position from last week. With the Eagles' album losing ground, Brooks has the highest-ranking double-disk package on this week's chart. In addition, the album is #2 on the country chart. It's right behind Taylor Swift, who wasn't even born when Brooks' debut album, Garth Brooks, entered the country chart in May 1989. (Swift entered the world that December.)


8. Juno soundtrack, 38,000. This is the top soundtrack on this week's chart. It's the first time in five months that the top soundtrack has been from a movie and not one of Disney's TV franchises. (This last happened in August with Hairspray.)  Juno combines alternative pop (six songs by Kimya Dawson, formerly of the Moldy Peaches) with classic rock (the Kinks' "A Well Respected Man," Mott The Hoople's "All The Young Dudes"). It also imports Sonic Youth's cover version of "Superstar" from If I Were A Carpenter, a 1994 alternative tribute album to the Carpenters.


9. Colbie Caillat, Coco, 38,000. Cailatt's debut has sold 1,135,000 copies, largely on the strength of the smash, "Bubbly," which is #10 on Hot Digital Tracks.


10. Eagles, Long Road Out Of Eden, 36,000. This is the album's 10th straight week in the top 10. Even though its sales have fallen off sharply in the past two weeks, its sales over the 10 weeks average a hefty 264,000 per week.


Two albums drop out of the top 10 to make way for Radiohead and Juno. Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus drops from #9 to #14, while Josh Groban's Noel plummets from #3 to #58. Unless Oprah announced on her show that the album isn't all that great after all, the steep drop-off must simply be a reflection that the holidays are truly over. So pack up your decorations, already.


Movie soundtracks are on an upswing, with four titles streaking up the top 40. Juno leads the way, followed by Alvin & The Chipmunks, which leaps from #33 to #13; Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, which surges from #23 to #18; and Once, which vaults from #74 to #38. Alvin & The Chipmunks is boosted by three surprisingly successful tracks. A recording of Chipmunks' creator Ross Bagdasarian's 1959 smash "Witch Doctor" jumps to #36 on Hot Digital Tracks, a version of Daniel Powter's 2005 smash "Bad Day" jumps to #46, and a version of Lipps Inc.'s 1980 smash "Funkytown" jumps to #69.


Download This: "Low" by Flo Rida featuring T-Pain, the current #1 single, notched 232,000 downloads, one week after setting a new one-week record for downloads with 457,000. (The old one-week record was held by Rihanna, whose "Umbrella" was downloaded 277,000 times last May.)


This downloading thing seems to be catching on! Last year, for the first time, there were more digital tracks that reached the 500,000 download plateau than there were CDs that hit the same sales level. A total of 114 digital tracks topped the 500,000 mark, compared to 96 CDs.


The trend lines tell the story. In 2004, 170 CDs topped the 500,000 mark. The number shrank to 148 in 2005 and 134 in 2006 before falling even more sharply last year. By contrast, in 2004, no digital tracks topped the 500,000 mark. A total of 22 hit the mark in 2005. The number jumped to 61 in 2006 before nearly doubling last year.


For the record, CDs were still ahead of digital track downloads in 2007 at other key sales thresholds. But the trend is unmistakable. Last year, there were 15 weeks in which the #1 digital track registered a higher number of downloads than the #1 CD saw in scanned sales. In 2006, there were just four such weeks. In 2004 and 2005, there were no such weeks.


I can see the writing on the wall, and will write more about digital downloads in 2008.


Download This II: The vast majority of downloaded tracks are current hits. But eight of the 200 top digital tracks of all time are golden oldies—that term now referring to anything released before 2000. (Hey, time marches on.)


The oldest song on SoundScan's list of the top 200 digital tracks is Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama," a 1973 track that became a top 10 single the following year. Two other tracks, both by Queen, date from the '70s—"Bohemian Rhapsody" from 1975 and "We Will Rock You" from 1977.


Four are from the 1980s—Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" (1981), Survivor's "Eye Of The Tiger" (1982), Bon Jovi's "Livin' On A Prayer" (1986) and Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" (1987). (Rock—or at least propulsive pop/rock—from yesteryear seems to dominate.)


One track in the top 200 is from the 1990s—Mariah Carey's peppy holiday perennial "All I Want For Christmas Is You" (1994).


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