Got Charts? The Long Road To #1 — And Those Who Rocked It

A weekly tale of the tape for the statistically obsessed.

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In this week’s chart and sales analysis, we pursue the extended, chart-topping travels of the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack and compare it with some other lengthy runs to #1 made by the likes of Live and No Doubt. We’ll also go dancing in the Full Moon-light with Brandy and examine why debuting at #2 on the Billboard chart is not always a bad thing.

The Chart Odyssey Of ‘O Brother’

What a long, strange trip it’s been for the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack.

More than a year after its chart debut, the album will finally lay claim to the #1 spot on next week’s Billboard 200 after selling more than 159,000 copies last week (see “Brandy Blocked From #1 Slot By ‘O Brother’ Soundtrack” ). Much like the Homeric poem upon which the Coen Brothers film is based, the soundtrack for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” made a long and winding expedition to its ultimate chart destination.

Released in December 2000 a few weeks before the movie hit screens, the “O Brother” soundtrack didn’t crack the Billboard 200 until the turn of the century, when the LP sneaked in at #192. But whereas the flick enjoyed modest box office success, the album has emerged as something of a roots and bluegrass revival phenomenon.

According to Variety, the “O Brother” film grossed $45.5 million before being withdrawn from screens in August 2001. The “O Brother” album has enjoyed its greatest chart success since the flick’s theatrical run ended, spending most of the last six months in the top 20 and tallying 4.36 million copies sold.

The “O Brother” LP’s unexpected chart twists and turns culminated in last month’s surprise Album of the Year win at the Grammy Awards. That victory has helped the soundtrack sell 368,000 copies alone in the last two weeks, sending “O Brother” to the top of the Billboard 200.

But what’s truly remarkable about the soundtrack’s #1 trek is the duration of the trip. It took 63 weeks for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” to complete its chart-topping jaunt, making it the longest climb to #1 on the Billboard 200 during the SoundScan era, which dates back to 1991.

To the best of our knowledge, the previous longest chart climb to #1 (during the last 12 years) was made by Live’s Throwing Copper, which took a full year to top the Billboard 200. After debuting on the charts at #38 in April 1994, Throwing Copper would later ascend to #1 in April 1995 — exactly 52 weeks later — as the band’s “Lightning Crashes” was embraced by a country still reeling in shock from the Oklahoma City bombing.

Although Throwing Copper would only spend one week at #1, the LP would continue to hover around the top of the charts for the next few months, logging a total of five other weeks at #2. With more than 5.57 million copies sold, Throwing Copper remains the best-selling record of Live’s career and one of the pivotal, if often overlooked, albums from the mid-’90s.

The next longest chart-topping climb belongs to No Doubt, whose Tragic Kingdom took 49 weeks to reach #1 on the Billboard 200. Released in October 1995, Tragic Kingdom would not enter the albums chart until the first week of January 1996.

Building upon the strength of the “Just a Girl” and “Don’t Speak” singles and videos, Tragic Kingdom was eventually crowned #1 on the charts in December 1996. As mentioned in a previous Got Charts? (see “Got Charts? Creed, Eminem, No Doubt, ‘NSYNC Have Something In Common” ), Tragic Kingdom went to rattle off eight straight weeks at #1 through January 1997 and has sold over 7.75 million copies to date.

After the “O Brother” soundtrack, Live’s Throwing Copper and No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom, the next longest chart climb to #1 was made by none other than Hootie & the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View. After debuting at #127 on the Billboard 200 in July 1994, the record would take 44 chart weeks to reach the top of the Billboard albums chart.

Cracked Rear View spent four consecutive weeks at #1 and would dominate the charts for much of the summer, with the LP earning four additional weeks at #1 through September 1995. At better than 9.96 million copies sold, Cracked Rear View remains the best-selling debut by a rock band — although Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory (and its 6.49 million copies sold) could make it interesting (see “Got Charts? Britney, Linkin Park Give Peers A Run For Their Sales Figures” ).

And despite the heroic 63-week chart-topping feat of the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack, sometimes it’s not always best to have the #1 album — just ask Shania Twain. Despite debuting at #2, her Come on Over. — the best-selling album of the SoundScan era (at 14.2 million copies sold to date) — never reached #1 on the Billboard 200 during its two-year run on the charts, and that certainly impresses us much.

Brandy — Almost Does Count

Maybe Brandy can take some chart solace in Twain’s non-#1 example. The singer’s new album, Full Moon, sold 156,000 copies last week to enter the albums chart at #2, falling short of the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack by less than 4,000 copies.

While Brandy is likely to be a tad disappointed after being denied the first #1 album of her career, there is still much for the singer to celebrate and get all full-moon feverish about. Most importantly, Full Moon marks the highest chart debut yet for the 23-year-old singer. Her previous LPs, 1994′s Brandy and 1998′s Never Say Never, entered the Billboard 200 at #94 and #3, respectively, even though Never Say Never sold more copies (nearly 160,000) than Full Moon did out of the gates.

Brandy can also feel comfortable knowing that Full Moon should be orbiting around the Billboard 200 for many lunar cycles to come, as her Brandy LP logged 89 weeks on the charts, while Never Say Never spent a total of 72 weeks — 28 of which were in the top 20. There’s also a slight chance that Full Moon could actually rise on the charts next week, something Never Say Never managed to do in its second week.

After debuting at #3, Never Say Never managed to climb up to #2 on the chart the following week, even though the LP’s sales had dipped slightly to 152,000 copies. Figure that Brandy stands a decent shot at repeating the second-week climb — especially if she can hold off new releases by B2K and N.E.R.D.

Lastly, even though Full Moon didn’t debut at #1, Brandy can be consoled by how she has set the bar even higher for her one-time collaborator and friendly rival, Monica. Though the two shared a Best R&B Performance Grammy for their joint effort, “The Boy Is Mine,” Brandy has clearly gotten the better of Monica in terms of album sales and chart positioning.

To date, Brandy has sold 2.12 million copies of her self-titled debut (which peaked at #20) and a healthy 4.4 million copies of Never Say Never (which peaked at #2). As for Monica, the Atlanta-born singer has sold just 1.35 million copies of her 1995 debut, Miss Thang (which peaked at #36), and another 1.96 million copies of The Boy Is Mine (which peaked at #8).

Coming Attractions

March Madness is in full bloom, and by next week the NCAA basketball tournament will have whittled its way down to the Sweet 16. Brackets (and space) permitting, we’ll try and help fans size up potential Final Four match-ups with the help of some representative music artists and their SoundScan numbers. But, please, this is all for fun — so no wagering in the chat rooms.

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