Got Charts? Britney, Linkin Park Give Peers A Run For Their Sales Figures

A weekly tale of the tape for the statistically obsessed.

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In this week’s chart and sales analysis, we ponder Britney‘s mystery and Spears’ (early) place in pop female history and join Linkin Park’s extended rock and roll joyride on their debut album, Hybrid Theory. We also look at the artist whose top 10 SoundScan debut this week helps predict the next artist to be #1 and revisit the chart phenomenon that is Pink Floyd.

Britney: Building A Mystery

Even though it’s #1 on next week’s Billboard 200 chart, Britney is something of a mystery.

We aren’t quite sure what to make of the first-week sales posted by the soon-to-no-longer-be-a-teen’s new album. With its #1 chart debut (see “Oops! … She Did It Again: Britney Spears Tops Albums Chart” ), Britney becomes Spears’ third straight album to perform that feat, equaling the previous accomplishments of her first LP, … Baby One More Time, which entered the Billboard 200 at #1 in January 1999, and her second effort, Oops! … I Did It Again, which landed atop the album charts in May 2000.

But the real puzzler is in the numbers. … Baby sold some 120,000 copies during its first week in stores to just nudge NSYNC’s self-titled album from the top spot, while Oops! moved a monstrous 1.32 million copies straight out of the gate to become the biggest debut by a female artist in the SoundScan era, which began keeping weekly sales records in May 1991. With 745,000 copies sold, Britney‘s first-week figures are good enough to be the second biggest sales debut by a female artist ever, but the numbers mark a dramatic sales plunge of 43 percent from the history-making first-week heights of Oops!…I Did It Again.

The reasons for such a dip leave us a bit mystified. Was it because of a better lead single for Oops!… I Did It Again (which tapped the title track) than Britney‘s “I’m a Slave 4 U?” Perhaps. Could it be some fans’ fiscal response to Spears’ sex-sational vamp makeover? Maybe. Whatever the case, don’t blame it on a “sluggish economy” as some have suggested. Despite lingering fears of recession, the 200 albums comprising the new Billboard albums chart combined to sell more than 6.58 million copies last week, up 5.7 percent from this same week last year, when the top 200 albums sold a total of 6.22 million copies and featured the #1 debut of R. Kelly’s TP-2.com (with 543,000 copies sold).

While we’re not sure what to make of Britney’s debut week, we’d like to go ahead and give her credit for some of the icon-like sales figures she’s posted during her (gasp) three-year recording career. To date, Spears has SoundScanned a jaw-dropping 8.68 million copies of Oops!…I Did It Again and 10.22 million copies of …Baby One More Time. Those numbers fare considerably well when stacked against milestone albums by female artists such as Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (6.01 million copies sold), Jewel’s Pieces of You (6.95 million), Mariah Carey’s Daydream (7.49 million), Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love (9.1 million) and Falling Into You (10.42 million), and Whitney Houston’s “The Bodyguard” soundtrack (11.68 million). In time, Spears’ …Baby debut could even rub sales shoulders with Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill (13.86 million copies sold) and Shania Twain’s Come on Over (14.06 million).

As a special birthday present for Britney, who turns 20 on December 2, we’d also like to point out how far she has managed to outdistance fellow teen singer Christina Aguilera, whose eponymous 1999 debut has sold some 7.81 million copies, according to SoundScan. And with 19.6 million in career sales to date, Britney has already sold more LPs in just three years than Madonna has done in the last 10, with Mrs. Ritchie tallying just over 19 million in total album sales since January 1991.

Linkin Park’s Extended Play

Linkin Park is in the midst of one hell of a chart and sales joyride. The group’s debut, Hybrid Theory, is one of those rock and roll Horatio Alger stories that we just love. A little over a year ago, few outside of Los Angeles had heard of the Southern California group’s hip metal mix. But thanks to a relentless series of radio singles (“One Step Closer,” “Crawling” and “In the End”) and a series of high-profile tour appearances, Hybrid Theory has sold more than 4.02 million copies since its release last October.

Linkin Park’s debut album has never dipped beneath the #55 spot on the Billboard 200 chart during its run and has spent the last 25 weeks in the Top 20. With 4.02 million sold, Linkin Park has already nestled itself between recent debuts from Papa Roach, whose Infest has sold 3.10 million copies to date, according to SoundScan, and 3 Doors Down, whose The Better Life is currently at 4.63 million copies.

Considering that Hybrid Theory still sells at a clip of more than 100,000 copies a week, a surge in purchases during the upcoming seasonal sales period (which typically runs from the day after Thanksgiving through the first week of January) could easily put it in position to be one of the top three debut albums by a rock band during the last 10 years.

For the sake of argument (and historical accuracy), this designation does not take into consideration artists such as Backstreet Boys and ‘NSYNC. While both have undoubtedly posted some incredible sales numbers in their careers, neither could be legitimately referred to as a “rock band.” The second these vocal pop groups become inseparable from their instruments, we’ll consider reclassifying them, but we seriously doubt that’s in the cards.

The “during the last 10 years” phrase is also an important qualifier, as it eliminates Pearl Jam’s Ten, which was released in August 1991, so its 8.75 million copies sold falls just beyond the 10 year calendar range.

Regardless, with a decent enough sales push during the holidays, Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory should easily glide past such debuts as 3DD’s The Better Life, Dave Matthews Band’s first studio LP, Under the Table and Dreaming (4.27 million copies sold), Stone Temple Pilots’ Core (4.59 million), Counting Crows’ August and Everything After (5.57 million), Creed’s My Own Prison (5.60 million) and Bush’s Sixteen Stone (5.62 million).

It’s highly unlikely — if downright impossible — that Linkin Park will usurp Hootie & the Blowfish’s 1994 effort, Cracked Rear View (9.94 million sold, according to SoundScan), as the best-selling debut by a rock group in the last 10 years. However, they do have a realistic shot at eventually displacing the #2 rock debut during the same time period, Matchbox 20′s Yourself or Someone Like You, which has sold 7.53 million copies since its release in October 1996.

Tropical Storm George & Hurricane Garth

Never count out the sales draw of country music on the Billboard 200. Country crooner George Strait nailed yet another top 10 debut with the release of his new studio album, The Road Less Traveled, which sold 120,000 copies during its first week in stores to comfortably mosey its way up to the #9 spot.

The Road Less Traveled becomes Strait’s sixth consecutive studio album to debut in the top 10 (seasonal collections and compilations not included), a feat previously achieved by the singer’s George Strait (which entered the charts at #7 in September 2000), Always Never the Same (#6 debut in March 1999), One Step at a Time (#2 debut in April 1998), Carrying Your Love With Me (#2 debut in April 1997), and Blue Clear Sky (#7 debut in April 1996).

As impressive as Strait’s six pack is, it is only foreshadowing for the hefty chart numbers contemporary country maestro Garth Brooks is going to unload on the Billboard 200 next week with Scarecrow, his first new studio LP (as Brooks) since 1997′s Sevens.

Of the six albums Garth has released since 1992 (also excluding his holiday albums), four have entered the charts at #1: The Chase (402,000 copies sold out of the gates in September 1992), In Pieces (404,000 in September 1993), Sevens (896,000 in November 1997) and Double Live (1.08 million in November 1998).

The only two Brooks LPs in the last 10 years that have failed to debut atop the Billboard 200 are Fresh Horses, which sold 480,000 copies in November 1995 to enter at #2 — behind the #1 debut of the Beatles’ Anthology (and a staggering 855,000 copies sold) — and Brooks’ In the Life of Chris Gaines alter-ego album, which debuted at #2 in September 1999 with 262,000 copies sold, just behind the #1 debut of Creed’s Human Clay (with 315,000 copies sold).

With all due apologies to Jewel and Rob Zombie, look for country to be king on next week’s sales chart.

Pink Floyd’s Never-Setting Moon

The #2 debut of Pink Floyd’s new compilation, Echoes, on the next Billboard 200 chart (with 214,000 copies sold) gives us a chance to revisit one of the greatest and longest-running chart phenomena of all time. We are, of course, referring to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

Originally issued in March 1973, Dark Side spent more than 700 total weeks on the Billboard 200, logging a mind-numbing 591 consecutive weeks on the albums chart from December 1976 to April 1988. At that time, Billboard then modified its chart format to distinguish between current albums and catalog releases.

But when SoundScan began providing audited weekly sales figures for albums and charts beginning in May 1991, Dark Side of the Moon immediately re-established itself as one of the perennial and premier catalog sellers. Since February 1992, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon has spent more than 500 straight weeks on Billboard’s Top 200 Catalogue Albums chart.

Last week, Dark Side of the Moon sold more than 17,000 copies to hold on to #3 on the Catalogue chart, trailing only Lee Greenwood’s American Patriot (28,000 copies sold) and Enya’s Paint the Sky With Stars (20,000 sold). If the Catalogue Albums Chart were folded into the Current Albums chart, Dark Side of The Moon would still be in the Top 100 albums sold — coming in at #83, just behind Dream Street’s self-titled debut and just ahead of the “Training Day” soundtrack.

This year alone, Dark Side of the Moon has sold more than 365,000 copies, according to SoundScan, and the record has sold more than 1.43 million copies in the last three years. “Time” meets “Money,” indeed.

[In SoundScan we trust. All figures, unless otherwise noted, are according to SoundScan's audited sales numbers and reflect sales as of press time.]