Linkin Park at Number One

Rap-metal men move 810,000 copies of second album in opening week

For all the talk about the dwindling batting averages that are record sales, a few grand slams are still leaving the park in awe-inducing fashion. This week, Linkin Park's Meteora stormed out to a Number One debut with sales of 810,000, according to SoundScan. So in the midst of a monstrous music industry slump, five of the fifteen best first-week sales marks in SoundScan history have been registered in the past twelve months -- the others being Eminem's The Eminem Show, the Dixie Chicks' Home, Shania Twain's Up! and 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin'.

The week's next two highest debuts put up numbers that would've been strong enough for a Number One debut in a week not dominated by a juggernaut like Meteora. Celine Dion's One Heart sold 432,000 copies at Number Two and Now That's What I Call Music! 12 slid in at Number Three with sales of 256,000.

Last week's Number One and Two are still selling. Get Rich or Die Tryin' moved another 193,000 copies to move past 4 million, while Norah Jones' Come Away With Me sold another 149,000 copies. Another pair of debuts followed: Brian McKnight's U Turn sold 109,000 at Number Seven, while rapper Cam'ron's side project the Diplomats jumped in at Number Eight with 92,000 copies of Diplomatic Immunity sold.

The Academy Awards did not prove much of a sales catalyst. The 8 Mile soundtrack, which won the Best Original Song Oscar-winner for "Lose Yourself" actually fell on the charts, from Number Ten to Number Nineteen, selling 12,000 copies fewer than the previous week. The soundtrack to Chicago, which won most of the of other awards, enjoyed a sales increase of 25,000 to 121,000 but fell two spots from Number Four to Six.

Next week's Linkin Park sales will be the more telling indicator of how the record business is doing. Meteora's success jibes with the blitzkrieg releases that register monstrous first-week sales. But such momentum without a string of hit singles tends to result in a quick flameout (see Up!, which is sitting at Number Forty-seven not yet five months after its release).

The flip side to the sales grand slam is steady progress through, um, singles. Kid Rock's Cocky nearly vanished from the charts before clawing its way back as high as Number Four on the strength of the single "Picture" . . . more than a year after it's release. And Cocky is an exception, not the rule. The record is a codger, one of only thirteen releases in the Top 200 that are in the retirement home for albums more than a year old.

And then there's the word-of-mouth plan for success. Be it an initial deep discount at retail outlets (both John Mayer's Room for Squares and Jones' Come Away With Me were sold for as little as $7.99 to built new listener interest) or a grassroots build-up through good press and touring (see Dave Matthews Band), some albums are beginning to sneak in from the fringes. And the White Stripes' Elephant will be as interesting an indicator as is available for a non-mainstream band breaking through to big sales. The band's DIY ethic served it well with 2001's White Blood Cells, a relatively inexpensively produced album that earned extra buzz by a relatively inexpensive video and free critical praise. Quietly that record sold more than 600,000 copies, modest compared to sales pachyderms released by the likes of Eminem, 'N Sync and Britney, but profitable nonetheless. Obviously Elephant won't be stamping on Meteora's first-week figure, but strong six-figure sales should make it a contender for a Top Five debut.

This week's Top Ten: Linkin Park's Meteora; Celine Dion's One Heart; Now That's What I Call Music! 12; 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin'; Norah Jones' Come Away With Me; the Chicago soundtrack; Brian McKnight's U Turn; the Diplomats' Diplomatic Immunity; Evanescence's Fallen; and R. Kelly's Chocolate Factory.