This week's Billboard 200 albums chart tells the tale as well as any calendar -- the holiday season has arrived.
In the week ending Dec. 13, 174 of the top 200 albums on the chart showed an increase in sales, as music fans stocked up for gift-giving.
"The day after Thanksgiving is always our strongest day," Andy Phillips, a manager at Philadelphia's HMV record store, said. "But this season has been really strong over the long haul."
The increase in sales includes most of the artists in the top 10.
Country crooner Garth Brooks' Double Live set continued at #1 for the fourth week in a row after the album's sales jumped from 423,332 last week to this week's total of 450,906.
Brooks is followed -- as he was last week -- by pop singer Celine Dion's These Are Special Times at # 2; 'N Sync's self-titled debut at #3; and singer/songwriter Jewel's Spirit at #4.
Meanwhile, on the strength of the single "Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)" (RealAudio excerpt), Southern California punk-rock band Offspring's Americana jumped back into the top 10 after a two-week absence. The album landed at #9 with a 52,000-unit sales increase for one-week total of 192,890.
"I have a love-hate relationship with that song," Offspring fan Melanie Hill, 19, wrote in an e-mail from her home in Phoenix. "On the one hand, you can't get the hook out of your head. On the other hand, you can't get the hook out of your head."
The Offspring's sales jump also may be because of appearances at a number of radio-station sponsored holiday concerts last week. A few other similar acts are seeing substantial sales gains this week as well.
Grunge survivors Hole, for example, saw their Celebrity Skin LP, which has scored hit singles with the title track and the latest single, "Malibu" (RealAudio excerpt), inch up from #87 to #81, while their sales leaped from 29,590 last week to 41,757.
Meanwhile, quirky rockers Cake, who played some radio shows last week as well and have a hit with "Never There" (RealAudio excerpt), remained lodged at the #92 spot while seeing their sales jump from 26,234 to 34,736.
Fellow radio-show performers and techno-rockers Garbage were rewarded with fans sending their Version 2.0 from #164 to #152 on a 5,000-unit sales bump to 18,699.
Former House of Pain frontman Everlast also played some of last week's radio-sponsored concerts and was rewarded for his efforts by breaking into the top 40 with his solo album, Whitey Ford Sings The Blues, after it spent 11 weeks on the chart. The album, which features the hit song "What It's Like" (RealAudio excerpt), inched up from #40 to #37 after his sales leaped from 49,223 to 67,726.
Also seeing a sales jump this week are alternative-rock veterans R.E.M., whose Up moved in just that direction for the first time since it debuted on the chart seven weeks ago in the #5 slot. Thanks, in part, to VH1's "Behind The Music" special about the Athens, Ga.-based band, Up climbed from #100 to #88 on a sales increase to 36,646.
Only two of last week's top-10 albums are among the 26 that experienced sales slumps. Metallica's Garage Inc., a two-disc set of covers of such songs as Queen's "Stone Cold Crazy" (RealAudio excerpt), dropped from #5 to #10 after moving 190,578 copies; that figure marks a drop from last week's total of 204,993.
And the greatest-hits collection from slain gangsta-rapper Tupac Shakur dropped from #6 to #13 after its sales slipped from 184,228 to 178,265.
Most of the albums that didn't see a sales increase this week are, like Metallica's and Shakur's albums, releases from the past few weeks that are continuing a slide down the chart. R&B singer R. Kelly's R. slid from #22 to #28; rapper Method Man's Tical 2000: Judgement Day from #18 to #31; grunge-rockers Pearl Jam's Live On Two Legs from #26 to #38; gangsta-rap vet Ice Cube's War & Peace Vol. 1 (The War Disc) from #30 to #53; and R&B balladeer Seal's Human Being from #65 to #84.
Other notable albums dropping in chart position are Wu-Tang Clan mastermind RZA's RZA As Bobby Digital In Stereo, hip-hop folkie Beck's Mutations and ganja-and-guns rappers Cypress Hill's IV.
As for debuts, there were few on the chart this week. Rapper Redman scored the highest debut, as his Doc's The Name 2000 landed at #11 after moving 182,931 copies. Further down the chart, the No Limit Records compilation We Can't Be Stopped, which features new tracks by Snoop Dogg, Mia-X and C-Murder, landed at #19; the soundtrack to the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film "You've Got Mail" peeked in at #194.
The rest of the top 10: Backstreet Boys, Backstreet Boys (#5); Mariah Carey, No. 1's (#6); 'N Sync, Home For Christmas (#7); and Shania Twain, Come On Over (#8).