Archive forDecember, 2006

CHARTING THE CHARTS: 1 Dec 06

Sound the trumpets! For the music business, Black Friday was…well, in the black, sorta. Sales for the massively important Thanksgiving week were flat with the same week last year – which, in this dismal year, is a kind of triumph; 2006 weekly sales have lagged the year before almost every week since January. And speaking of black…

The Blah Album? His will was done: Jay-Z nailed down the Billboard 200’s #1 spot with Kingdom Come, his Jordan-joins-the-Wizards album. But the victory may have been Pyrrhic. Not only did the disc earn lackluster reviews, it fell considerably short of expectations. A day or two after the album’s release, early forecasts pegged Kingdom Come’s first week at nearly 800,000 copies. The final tally? About 680,000 – while that’s still the best one-week sales total of Jigga’s career, it’s a ways below the biggest sales winners this year. And make no mistake, the Def Jam mogul wanted to own that title (this is a guy who supposedly named his last CD after the day record stores turn a profit). Instead, the one-week record for 2006 sits comfortably with country cutie-boys Rascal Flatts, who nailed it last April with 722,000 in sales for Me And My Gang. Still, for a businessman like Mr. Sean Carter, it’s better to take the long view: this is his ninth #1 album, tying him with the Stones for third place among all chart-toppers. And if J-Hova decides to stay out of retirement, one more #1 disc will tie him with Elvis Presley for second place. Then he’ll just have to post nine more #1s to beat this other little band, who also released a record last week

Rubber Sold. The Beatles’ Love, the band-approved, George Martin–produced mashup revue of the band’s recorded catalog that serves as a soundtrack to Cirque de Soleil’s Vegas extravaganza, debuted at #4 with about 272,000 copies. That’s either mediocre for the biggest pop group of all time or excellent for a strange mishmash of old, much-purchased music. Indeed, there’s not much precedent to draw upon to determine how well Love should have sold. The only other major act to release a label-sanctioned mashup album was – ha ha! – Jay-Z, whose Collision Course debuted at #1 in the fall of ‘04 with similar numbers and an assist from Linkin Park. (And we’ll never know how many copies The Grey Album “sold” – what is it about the Fabs and Jigga and mashups?) The very concept of Love is a little hard to explain to casual record buyers – unlike, say, The Beatles 1, the compilation that dominated Christmas 2000 and kicked off the ’00s trend of best-selling, all-encompassing single-disc greatest-hits albums. If Love is going to sell beyond the hardcore Beatles base – admittedly, a large base – one of two things will have to happen: (a) word of mouth will get around that it’s not only unusual but good – most critics, me included, have been pleasantly surprised by the artistic merit of the circus-show soundtrack; or (b) the Beatles’ promotional army will have to give the CD a big push, which, if the rumors are true, would come in the form of a big Steve Jobs coming-out party. Maybe even a green Apple Corps. iPod?

Last laugh. Standing between Jay and the Fabs on the album chart was the biggest debut by an American Idol contestant so far this year: the goofily titled “band” Daughtry, fronted by Idol ’06’s fourth runner-up Chris Daughtry. The record’s jaw-dropping 304,000-disc first week came just 12,000 copies short of the debut CD by Carrie Underwood last November – and she was the winner of the ‘05 Idol. At the risk of insulting the very manly Chris, he appears to be the next Clay Aiken – a non-winner who exacts revenge on the actual Idol victor months later on the charts, the way Aiken has consistently outsold the man who beat him, Ruben Studdard. Under ideal circumstances, the Idol franchise should have teed up ‘06 winner Taylor Hicks’s CD for the Thanksgiving-week retail slot, but Hicks’s slow-going debut wasn’t ready yet (and if the rumors are true, he very nearly missed the holiday season altogether). Instead, Taylor Hicks the album will appear in an awkward mid-December slot, three weeks after Daughtry enjoyed Turkey Season and the fat sales that go with it.

Immoveable object vs. “Irreplaceable” force. Last week, hip-hop friendly crooner Akon pulled a rare coup on the Hot 100 singles week, nailing down both #1 and #2 simultaneously. He did it not with “Smack That,” his collabo with Eminem that’s been sitting in the top five for a month; but with the Snoop Dogg team-up “I Wanna Love You,” which got a big boost from its iTunes debut and vaulted 16 places into the #1 slot. (I suspect a large chunk of the single’s buyers were enticed by its uncensored title.) The wall of Akon looked unbreachable, but this week one of his two hits falls away, as “Smack” is kicked out of the #2 spot by Beyoncé’s much-beloved single “Irreplaceable.” B’s single has been Billboard’s biggest airplay gainer for the last three weeks, which means we’re looking at a classic airplay-vs.-sales battle for the top of the chart: Akon’s airplay is modest but growing, but his sales are huge; B’s airplay is dominant but her sales fall just shy of Akon’s. It’ll be interesting to see how holiday iPod giving affects sales of both digital songs.

We sold for cheap. Jay-Z will almost definitely repeat at #1 next week – and if he doesn’t, look for haters in the press to point and laugh at him. The week’s biggest debut will likely be the too-long-in-exile Clipse, who just released what is reportedly the best hip-hop album of the year. Seeing them come close to topping Jigga next week – unlikely, but stranger things have happened – would be mind-blowing.

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