After a few weeks of Ashlee Simpson and Now That's What I Call Music! 15 toggling between the #1 and #2 spots, four new albums will enter next week's Billboard albums chart to make their duke-out moot.
Tim McGraw will bow in at the top spot with authority, nearly doubling the sales of his closest competitor. The country superstar's eighth album, Live Like You Were Dying, sold more than 765,000 copies last week, according to SoundScan, making it the third highest first-week total of the year, behind Usher's Confessions and Norah Jones' Feels Like Home, which each moved over a million copies. The extraordinary opening week is also McGraw's personal best, topping the more than 601,000 copies his last album, Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors, sold in its first week two years ago.
Having sold more than 403,000 copies, R. Kelly will take the #2 spot with his double album, Happy People/ U Saved Me. The placement keeps up the R&B singer's six-album streak of alternating between debuting at #1 and #2, which began when his self-titled LP landed at #1 in 1995. Happy People/ U Saved Me, Kelly's eighth album overall, also gives him his third-biggest opening week, behind 2000's TP-2.com and last year's Chocolate Factory, which each sold more than half a million copies.
Young Buck's Straight Outta Cashville couldn't quite follow the glorious path blazed by fellow G-Unit members Lloyd Banks and 50 Cent by having a #1 debut, but at #3, Buck still commands respect. Juiced by the single "Let Me In," the Southern rhyme slinger sold more than 261,000 copies of his first LP.
And bringing up the rear of chart debuts is Mase's return to the game, Welcome Back, at #4. The blessed MC's first album in five years sold more than 188,000 copies thanks to its "Welcome Back, Kotter"-sampling title track and a legion of fans who patiently waited for the onetime Puffy protégé to preach some more rhymes as well as the Gospel.
The monthlong battle pitting Now against Ashlee continues to rage on, with the hits compilation besting Simpson's Autobiography for the second week in a row. Now That's What I Call Music! 15 came in just behind Mase (with more than 186,000 copies sold) at #5, while Autobiography, at #6, added another 133,000 copies to her six-week total of more than 1.5 million.
Next week's top 10 will also see Prince's Musicology falling four spots to #7 (with more than 78,000 copies sold); Maroon 5's Songs About Jane dropping two places to #8 (70,000); Usher's Confessions moving from #5 to #9 (68,000); and Big & Rich's Horse of a Different Color (66,000) maintaining its #10 spot but increasing its weekly sales slightly.
It's been an exciting week for Pitbull. Fresh from his VMA pre-show performance, the Miami rapper's debut album, M.I.A.M.I. (Money Is A Major Issue) will come in at #14, thanks to the club-banging single "Culo." Four spots further down, Diplomat and Cam'ron pal Jim Jones will come in with his debut, On My Way to Church.
Another big ascent comes courtesy of the "Garden State" soundtrack. With contributions from Coldplay, the Shins and Nick Drake, the album will have gone from #125 to #71 to #25 in the three weeks it's been out. On the flipside, Saliva's Survival of the Sickest didn't have much life in the upper reaches of the chart. In its second week, the band's fourth album will dive 43 spots, from #20 to #63.
Other notable debuts on next week's chart include 12 Stones' second album, Potter's Field at #29; Jump Back: The Best of the Rolling Stones at #30; Jason Mraz's live Tonight, Not Again at #49; Boyz II Men's covers album Throwback at #52; O.A.R.'s concert LP 34th and 8th at #80; G. Love's Hustle at #100; Further Seems Forever's Hide Nothing at #122; the Drive-By Truckers' Dirty South at #147; Saves The Day's Ups & Downs: Early Recordings at #160; and hit producer/former Marvelous 3 frontman Butch Walker's Letters at #171.