Chart Watch

Week Of Nov. 19, 2007: Alicia Gives Kanye A Run For His Money

Chart Watch

Alicia Keys' fourth album, As I Am, debuts at #1 on Nielsen/SoundScan's list of the nation's best-selling albums, with sales of 742,000. That's the second best opening-week sales tally so far this year, trailing only Kanye West's Graduation, which debuted in September with sales of 957,000. It's the best opening week by a woman since Norah Jones' Feels Like Home started with sales of 1,022,000 in February 2004.

This is Keys' best opening-week sales tally to date, which is saying something, given that her previous studio album, The Diary Of Alicia Keys, started with sales of 618,000-the third best opening of 2003. (Kanye West's star is also still on the ascent. Late Registration, his album before Graduation, opened with sales of 860,000.)

All four of Keys' albums have started out at #1. Only one other woman, Britney Spears, has achieved this feat. Keys' other #1 openings are her 2001 debut, Songs In A Minor, (first week sales: 236,000), and 2005's Unplugged (196,000).

This is the fourth consecutive week that an album has debuted with sales in excess of 400,000. Carrie Underwood, the Eagles and Jay-Z also cleared that threshold the past three weeks. It's the first time in five years that an album has debuted with sales north of 400K for four weeks running. This last occurred in November-December 2002, when it happened for five straight weeks, with the 8 Mile soundtrack and albums by Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Shania Twain and Tim McGraw. Does this mean the music industry is on its way back to good health after a steep downturn? Well, no. But it does suggest that new releases by hot acts still hold appeal.

Josh Groban's Noel jumps to #2, the best showing by a holiday album since Celine Dion's These Are Special Times spent two weeks at #2 in 1998. The biggest holiday album of the SoundScan era (which dates back to 1991) is Kenny G's Miracles: The Holiday Album, which topped the chart for three weeks in 1994. A pair of 1992 releases-Garth Brooks' Beyond The Season and Amy Grant's Home For Christmas-also reached #2. Noel sold 223,000 copies last week.

Celine Dion's Taking Chances, the diva's first studio album in three years, opens at #3, based on so-so opening week sales of 214,000. This is slightly less than half the opening week sales tally of Dion's 2003 release One Heart (which opened with 432,000), which itself was down from her biggest opening, 2002's A New Day Has Come (527,000). Dion and Mariah Carey are the only female artists with five albums each on the list of the 200 best-selling albums of the SoundScan era. Will Taking Chances ever make that list? To cite the title of Dion's 2004 release, it would take a Miracle.

Now 26 debuts at #4, with opening week sales of 208,000. It's the first regular installment in the Now series not to open in the top three since Now 3, which debuted at #9 back in 1999. This is the poorest opening week sales figure for a regular Now volume since Now 13, which opened with sales of 171,000 in 2003. The series' opening week sales tallies have been going steadily downhill since Now 22 in July 2006.

Garth Brooks' Ultimate Hits dips from #3 to #5, with sales of 204,000. It pulls ahead of both of the albums that ranked above it last week-Jay Z's American Gangster, which falls from #1 clear down to #8, and the Eagles' Long Road Out Of Eden, which drops from #2 to #6. The Eagles album has sold 1,268,000 copies to date-more than any other album in the top 10.

Much was made last week of the fact that Jay-Z is now tied with Elvis Presley for second place on the list of artists with the most #1 albums (only the Beatles have more). So it's only fair to point out that Jay-Z isn't even in the Top 30 on the list of artists with the most weeks at #1 since 1955. The Beatles lead this list with an eye-popping 132 weeks on top, followed by Elvis with 67, Garth Brooks with 51 and Michael Jackson with 50. Jay-Z's 10 #1 albums have logged a combined total of 17 weeks on top. Jay-Z doesn't even hold the record for most weeks at #1 by a rap star. M.C. Hammer holds that distinction with 21 weeks (all for his 1990 blockbuster Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em), followed by Eminem with 20 weeks (the total of his four albums from 2000-2005).

Led Zeppelin's Mothership opens at #7. This is Zeppelin's 19th album release, which means they have now released more albums since they broke up in 1980 (three months after the death of drummer John Bonham) than they did in their glory years. Zeppelin ruled the charts from 1969-1979 with nine blockbuster albums-eight studio sets and the double live soundtrack, The Song Remains The Same. It has since released 10 compilations or live albums. This is the third of those to make the top 10, following Coda, a 1982 collection of previously unreleased recordings, and How The West Was Won, a three-CD compilation which debuted at #1 in 2003. Mothership is one of three double-CD packages in the top 10, along with the Brooks and Eagles collections.

Two sophomore albums lose ground, but remain in the top 10. Country starlet Carrie Underwood's Carnival Ride drops from #5 to #9, three weeks after opening at #1. Chris Brown's Exclusive falls from #4 to #10. A full-page feature in the new issue of Newsweek hails Brown as "a showman-the likes of whom we haven't seen since Thriller-era Michael Jackson." (In a related note, Usher just cancelled his Newsweek subscription.)

What becomes of the four albums that were displaced from the top 10 to make way for this week's new entries? Taylor Swift's eponymous debut album falls from #8 to #16, Britney Spears' Blackout tumbles from #7 to #23, Angels & Airwaves' I-Empire crashes from #9 to #53, and Cassidy's B.A.R.S. (The Barry Adrian Reese Story) plummets from #10 to #62. Cassidy's sales fall off by 72%, the steepest percentage drop of any album in the top 200. Maybe a conviction for involuntary manslaughter isn't a great career move, even in these jaded times.

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As I Am will face fresh competition next week from American Idol winner Jordin Sparks' eponymous debut album, which features the top 20 hit "Tattoo"; OneRepublic's Dreaming Out Loud, which features the top 5 smash "Apologize"; country superstar Keith Urban's Greatest Hits; Christian pop group MercyMe's All That Is Within Me; and Latin teen pop group RBD's Empezar Desde Cero.

When Generations Collide: Last week's Chart Watch column about Jay-Z pulling into a tie with Elvis Presley for second place on the tally of most #1 albums created a furor. Your comments mostly fell into two categories-"Who are you kidding? Jay-Z isn't remotely in the same league as Elvis and the Beatles" and "Get over it, you old fogies. It's a new day. Jay-Z rules.

There was a similar generational divide two weeks ago when a last-minute rule change allowed the Eagles to debut at #1. Under the rules that were in place at the start of the week, Britney Spears seemed headed for her fifth consecutive #1 album. It's probably inevitable that younger fans, who have followed Spears' every move for nine years (most of their lives, in many cases), were rooting for her to come out on top. And older fans, who grew up on the Eagles in the '70s, were happy that they took the top spot.

It's interesting when generational icons go head-to-head, but it's nothing new. I've been at this long enough to have witnessed many similar showdowns.

  • In November 1993, Frank Sinatra, just weeks away from his 78th birthday, appeared to be headed for #1 with his career-capping Duets album. It would have enabled the pop legend, who first topped the album chart way back in 1946, to set a new, all-time record for the longest span of #1 albums. But Duets got stuck at #2 for three weeks-behind an album (Vs.) by one of the defining acts of the early 1990s-Pearl Jam. I can't help wishing that Sinatra had slipped into the top spot for at least one of those weeks, but it wasn't to be. Ol' Blue Eyes died in 1998, not having topped the album chart since 1966.
  • In 1964, the Beatles held the top spot on the Hot 100 for 14 straight weeks with three successive singles. The act that finally knocked the Fab Four from the top spot was 62-year old Louis Armstrong, a star since the 1920s, with his amiable version of the title song from the Broadway smash, Hello, Dolly!  Someone had to bump the Beatles from #1, but the fact that it was Satchmo who did it gave many old-timers who felt threatened by rock'n'roll a special kick-and a false sense of hope.
  • In February 1961, the Miracles' "Shop Around" climbed to #2 on the Hot 100. It was vying to become the first #1 hit for the Motown family of labels, which would later promote itself with the slogan "The Sound of Young America." But "Shop Around" was held out of the top spot by Lawrence Welk & His Orchestra's sprightly instrumental hit "Calcutta"-which was very much "The Sound of Old America." Things evened out in the end. Welk never made it back to the Top 40; Smokey Robinson had 35 more Top 40 hits, with and without the Miracles.


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