For twenty-five years, one month and sixteen days the King has been gone but not forgotten. And if the droves that flock to Graceland aren't sufficient proof, if his cosmic sales milestones of yesteryear aren't enough to wow in the age of first week sales, well, Elvis can now cram some SoundScan girth into his jumpsuit of milestones. Elvis' 30 #1 Hits sold a half-million copies in its first week, according to SoundScan, to put the King back at Number One.
30 #1 Hits is a triumph of marketing. Unlike the Beatles' 1, which anthologized an under-anthologized musical institution, Elvis has as many compilations as he did handguns, from 1959's skinny 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong to the tight and terrific The 50 Greatest Hits (the '68 comeback special of Elvis anthologies) released just two years ago. That collection, apparently twenty hits too many, was met with considerably lesser fanfare. Sure, the recent twenty-fifth anniversary of his death spiked interest. And there's also the boosted sound quality to consider, as well as the inclusion of E's latest Number One, the Junkie XL remix of "A Little Less Conversation." But while it's great to have Elvis back in business, the album's success was practically preordained by cleverly plotted hype. And the September release, rather than mid-August during the actual anniversary of his death, dropped into stores just late enough to fade a smidgen before bounding back towards the top of the charts come the holidays, as 30 #1 Hits finds its way into stockings.
That said, if Elvis isn't dead, he's certainly in midst of a rigid retirement, so if slipping the King to the public through marketing is the spoonful of sugar, then so be it. Much has been made in the past year about a return to rock, led by the "the" bands: Hives, Vines, Strokes, etc. While most of these nouveau rock practitioners have a nostalgic foot planted in the genre's yesteryear, the collection of thirty Elvis hits sounds refreshing -- for some songs even nearly five decades later -- for being rock & roll just for the sake of rock and roll. The King's earliest hits weren't over-thought and contained the essence of rock without pretense, at least beyond the usual: sex, cars and mischief, while dabbling in love, good and bad. Elvis invented his own cool; it grew from being Elvis, not because he dug the MC5.
As for the rest of the charts, sales were up and newcomers were bountiful. India.Arie's second effort, Voyage to India, was the week's second best debut at Number Six with sales of 109,000. She was quickly followed by a trio of other first-week entries: Beck's Sea Change (Number Eight, 90,000 copies sold), Peter Gabriel's Up (Number Nine, 76,000) and Nas' Lost Tapes (Number Ten; 70,000). Pastor Troy's Universal Soldier (Number Thirteen, 52,000), Travis Tritt's Strong Enough (Number Twenty-seven, 28,000) and Ryan Adams' Demolition (Number Twenty-eight, 27,000) all registered solid sales, which is more than can be said for Uncle Kracker's No Stranger to Shame, which, with a 22,000 copy first week, is looking dead in the water compared to the multi-platinum sales of its predecessor.
And for those keeping a patriotic eye on Steve Earle, the shitstorm kicked up more than a month ago by a New York Post story about his first-person song about "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh ("Twisted Ballad Honors Tali-Rat," read the headline) turned out to be neither career suicide, nor a publicity stunt to boost sales, as some speculated. Earle's Jerusalem landed on the charts at Number Fifty-nine, six slots higher than 2000's Transcendental Blues, and with sales of 18,000 (a dip of only 2,000 from the previous album), more likely the result of lower sales nationally than any sort of backlash.
As for next week, it could be a battle of rock & roll iconography. The Rolling Stones have been pounding the pavement in support of their just-released 40 Licks, a luxury that Elvis hasn't had in some time. The album is a double-CD, which might make those with tighter purse-strings skittish, but then, it's the first-ever career-spanning collection for the group as they head towards their fortieth anniversary.
This week's Top Ten: Elvis Presley's 30 #1 Hits; Dixie Chicks' Home; Avril Lavigne's Let Go; Disturbed's Believe; Nelly's Nellyville; India.Arie's Voyage to India; Eminem's The Eminem Show; Beck's Sea Change; Peter Gabriel's Up; and Nas' Lost Tapes.