Got Charts? Beans, Bleek & Beatles Synch Up Soundtracks

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In this week’s chart and sales analysis, we synch up the “State Property” and “I Am Sam” soundtracks and survey a host of cinema-related albums from the last decade. Then we’ll break out the mixing boards and the petri dishes for a little rumble through the musical lab with the Chemical Brothers.

For The Movies

Considering the rather “still” nature of next week’s Billboard 200, any ripple on the weekly albums chart — no matter how slight — looks like a giant sales wave. Such a “tidal warning” was in effect for two of the (relatively) biggest movers and shakers on the chart, with the soundtracks to the films “State Property” and “I Am Sam” making the biggest splash.

“State Property,” the soundtrack to the Roc-A-Fella feature starring rappers Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek, was the highest debuting LP on the new Billboard 200, as the record sold more than 52,000 copies to lay claim to the #14 spot on the charts. (see “Mary J.’s Reissue The Only ‘Drama’ In Stagnant Billboard Top 10″ ). Those figures should please Roc-A Fella chiefs Jay-Z and Damon Dash (both of whom appear in “State Property” in the guises of characters named “Untouchable J” and “Boss Dame”) especially since, aside from Sigel’s contributions, the album showcases up-and-comers Freeway, Sparks & Oschino and Young Guns Chris & Neef.

The “I Am Sam” soundtrack, which features the likes of Rufus Wainwright, Sheryl Crow, Ben Harper, and Sarah McLachlan covering Beatles classics such as “Across the Universe,” “Mother Nature’s Son,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Blackbird,” has managed to sell more than 158,000 copies during the past month and is firmly entrenched at #21 on the Billboard 200.

While Beatles cover tunes are always in vogue, the fact that this record’s release comes in the wake of George Harrison’s recent passing — not to mention the overwhelming success of the Beatles’ 1 compilation (8.05 million sold to date) — gives the album a sense of sobriety, poignancy and immediacy, and its timing could make it one of the early surprises of the new year. With so few major releases in the next few months, “I Am Sam” could enjoy a healthy run on the charts, and it’s a pretty safe bet that the LP will enjoy a longer life than the Michelle Pfeiffer/Sean Penn tearjerker that spawned it.

To ride the sales wave created by the “I Am Sam” and “State Property” soundtracks and get you primed for the Academy Awards on March 24, we figured we’d go ahead and take a look at some of the biggest-selling soundtracks and other notable movie albums of the SoundScan era, which dates back to 1991.

According to SoundScan, Whitney Houston’s 1992 album for “The Bodyguard” remains the biggest-selling soundtrack, with sales in excess of 11.68 million copies. That figure is good enough to make “The Bodyguard” the fifth best-seller of the last decade, trailing only Shania Twain’s Come On Over (14.17 million), Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill (13.90 million), Metallica (13.01 million) and Backstreet Boys’ Millennium (11.97 million).

Of course, it should come as little surprise that the next largest-selling soundtrack of the last 10 years comes courtesy of “Titanic,” the biggest-grossing film of all time. As we mentioned a few weeks back (see “Got Charts? Linkin Park, Shaggy, ‘NSYNC Are 2001′s Top-Sellers” ), the “Titanic” soundtrack spent four months atop the charts in early 1998 and has gone on to sell more than 9.96 million copies.

Aside from those two, there are only a few other soundtrack LPs during the SoundScan era that have sold more than 4 million copies, as best we can tell: “The Lion King” (7.43 million), “City of Angels” (5.28 million), another Whitney Houston film, “Waiting to Exhale” (4.97 million), “Space Jam” (4.7 million), “Forrest Gump” (4.42 million), “Sleepless in Seattle” (4.15 million), and the “Armageddon” soundtrack (4.11 million).

That list may get a new addition in the next few weeks, as the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack currently stands at 3.8 million sold and is still averaging more than 50,000 copies sold per week. “O Brother” looks as if it could easily rack up another 1.2 million in sales during the next 12 months, especially if it wins the Grammy for Album of the Year. If that happens, the LP may end up as the fourth or fifth best-selling soundtrack of the last 10 years.

Other sizable soundtracks include “Pulp Fiction” (3.3 million), “Dangerous Minds” (3.28 million), “Men in Black” (3.06 million), “Romeo + Juliet” (3.03 million), “Coyote Ugly” (2.95 million), “Hope Floats” (2.71 million), “Aladdin” (2.47 million), “The Preacher’s Wife” (2.39 million), “Friday” (2.35 million), “Tarzan” (2.34 million), “Pocahontas” (2.32 million), “Beauty and the Beast” (2.19 million), “Dr. Dolittle” (2.17 million), “Save the Last Dance” (2.1 million), “Murder Was the Case” (2.03 million), and “Soul Food” and “The Crow” (both 2.01 million).

The massive “Titanic” soundtrack notwithstanding, blockbuster films don’t always translate into blockbuster soundtracks, as evidenced by the album sales for the “Star Wars – Episode 1: The Phantom Menace” LP. The film, the first installment in George Lucas’ six-picture space opera, currently stands as the third highest-grossing film in U.S. history (trailing just “Titanic” and the 1977 original “Star Wars,” according to The Hollywood Reporter), but the soundtrack has just sold 993,000 copies.

In comparison, the more hi-fi sci-fi of the “Matrix” soundtrack has sold more than 1.46 million copies to date, even though it was issued the same year as “The Phantom Menace.” Other movie albums that have outspaced “SW: TPM” include: “Evita” (1.97 million), “The Wedding Singer” (1.95 million), “The Commitments” (1.88 million), “Moulin Rouge” (1.75 million), “Charlie’s Angels” (1.66 million), “Set It Off” (1.59 million), “Batman Forever” (1.58 million), “Selena” (1.56 million), “Mission Impossible 2″ (1.44 million), “Rush Hour” (1.40 million), “Rugrats – The Movie” (1.39 million), “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” (1.37 million), “Romeo Must Die” (1.37 million), “Godzilla – The Album” (1.36 million), “Wild Wild West” (1.35 million), “Pokémon” (1.29 million), “Shrek” (1.27 million), “Bulworth” (1.23 million), “Philadelphia” (1.16 million), “Phenomenon” (1.10 million), “The Player’s Club” (1.02 million) and “The Nutty Professor” (1.02 million), among others.

Even if a film is named Best Picture of the Year at the Academy Awards, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the soundtrack will be as successful — or even get much of a push. Recent Best Picture winners who enjoyed favorable soundtrack returns include the aforementioned “Titanic” and “Forrest Gump” albums, as well as “Braveheart” (1.32 million), “Dances With Wolves” (1.26 million), and, to a lesser degree, “Gladiator” (540,000), “Schindler’s List” (381,000) and “The English Patient” (211,000). Recent Oscar-winning films with soundtrack slackers include “American Beauty” (77,000), “Silence of the Lambs” (45,000) and “Unforgiven” (14,000).

In terms of directors, you can usually count on quality returns from the soundtracks to Cameron Crowe films. Crowe, who wrote for Rolling Stone during the ’70s, has had a hand in shaping several auspicious soundtracks, including the grunge-filled “Singles” LP (1.68 million). His two subsequent films, “Jerry Maguire” (659,000) and “Almost Famous” (662,000), did not fare quite as well — and his most recent flick “Vanilla Sky” has produced a soundtrack that has sold just 115,000 copies during the past two months. However, Crowe can take comfort in the fact that the “Almost Famous” soundtrack is beginning to develop a life beyond first run, as — thanks to the promotional magic of cable and special-edition DVDs — the LP is actually selling more copies per week now than it was five months ago.

As for actors/actresses, several soundtracks from Julia Roberts’ movies have done quite well over the last decade, dating back to “Pretty Woman” (1.40 million), and including “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (1.93 million), “Runaway Bride” (1.42 million) and “Notting Hill” (1.33 million). Of course, not all of Roberts’ film soundtracks have done as exceptionally well, with “The Mexican” selling just 14,000 copies and the “Erin Brockovich” soundtrack — the film for which Robert won a Best Actress Academy Award — notching just 11,000 in sales to date.

Cooking With Chemical Brothers

While Julia Roberts and celluloid make for quite an explosive combination, the U.K. dance-music duo known as the Chemical Brothers have developed a rep for mixing their own potent brand of sound potables. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons have returned to the American (non-periodic) charts with a new album, Come With Us, which sold 30,000 copies last week to define its physical properties at #32 on next week’s Billboard 200.

Come With Us was the third highest chart entry of the week (behind the “State Property” soundtrack and the Essential Barbra Streisand collection at #15) and debuted at the same position the duo’s previous effort, Surrender, did in June 1999. However, Surrender sold more than 42,000 copies out of the gates and has gone on to total more than 402,000 copies — becoming the Chemical Brothers’ second best-selling album in the U.S., behind only 1997′s Dig Your Own Hole (756,000), yet far ahead of their 1995 debut, Exit Planet Dust (331,000) and 1998′s mix album Brothers Gonna Work It Out (165,000).

While it’s hard to gauge what sort of half-life the Chemical Brothers’ Come With Us will have, chart longevity will undoubtedly play a role, as evidenced by the duo’s earlier records. While Exit Planet Dust never managed to crack the Billboard 200, Dig Your Own Hole landed at #14 in April 1997 (after selling 48,000 copies its first week) and went on to log more than six months on the chart, thanks to the singles “Block Rockin’ Beats” and “Setting Sun.”

In contrast, Surrender spent just 14 weeks on the Billboard, 200, despite the nifty, Escher-esque video for “Let Forever Be,” a track that, like “Setting Sun,” featured Oasis’ Noel Gallagher on vocals. As disappointing as that may seem, it marked a significant upward chart swing from Brothers Gonna Work It Out, which debuted at #95 and spent just that one week in the top 100 and one month in the top 200.

If the Chemical Brothers can “dig in” and hold on through the summer with Come With Us, then the album should do at least as well as Surrender. Until then, look for the Chemical Brothers to keep stirring it up in the clubs and on wax until they can finally discover that missing ingredient for platinum-plated starpower — a fluke crossover hit the size of Moby’s “South Side” or Fatboy Slim’s ‘The Rockafeller Skank.”

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