By my count, 2014 has had just three new album releases reliable enough to sell 100,000 copies or more and hit Number One — Bruce Springsteen's High Hopes, Eric Church's The Outsider and, this week, Schoolboy Q's Oxymoron. Something better change, quick, or the year-over-year trend of down 12 percent for track sales and down 15 percent for album sales will continue throughout 2014. I acknowledge it's easy to blame a slow release schedule — certainly the record-industry shift from selling CDs and downloads to licensing music to Spotify and Beats Music for streaming subscriptions has something to do with it — but it's hard to look at this year's release schedule and think of any other word than "dismal."
A GANGSTA-RAP ALBUM BEHIND ITS TIME: Schoolboy Q was born a decade too late. Had the Los Angeles rapper built his career in 2004, his new Oxymoron might be en route to DMX-ville, selling 5 million or 10 million copies. But it's 2014, and his Number One album opens with just 139,000 copies, not to mention 5.8 million YouTube views and 2.5 million Spotify streams for "Man of the Year." So while Oxymoron is Schoolboy's best-selling album by far (2012's Habits & Contradictions sold 48,000) and the biggest hip-hop debut since Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP 2 last November, the poor guy will have to tour, or license songs to movies, to make the big money.
READ THIS SPACE FOR BIG 'THE WIND BENEATH MY WINGS' NEWS!: Frozen singer Idina Menzel (better known in Travolta-ville as Adele Dazeem) won the Oscar for Best Song, but U2 and Karen O may have been Sunday night's big sales winners. According to Shazam data, U2's "Ordinary Love" made up 28 percent of all the music that viewers tagged during the broadcast; Karen O's "Moon Song" (which she performed with Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig) followed with 26 percent; and Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings" (!) landed 16 percent. Menzel's "Let It Go" tags were just 10 percent. On the other hand, Monday's Spotify streams of "Let It Go" increased 24 percent, compared to the previous Monday, and Pharrell's "Happy" went up 25 percent. As for the resilient Frozen soundtrack, it dropped to Number Two on Billboard's album chart, giving way to Schoolboy Q, selling 91,000 copies.
IT DID, HOWEVER, SELL BETTER THAN HIS SHEET MUSIC ALBUM: Beck continues to put his megastar-Nineties sales success behind him — while his subdued new Morning Phase makes its debut at a respectable Number Three, after Schoolboy Q and the Frozen soundtrack, it sold just 87,000 copies. There's no evidence of a single, or radio play, so expect this one to plunge next week. As for Number Four, Kid Cudi attempted a post-Beyonce move, putting out Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon as a surprise digital-only set via iTunes, Google Play and Amazon MP3 — but it sold just 87,000 copies, barely enough for Number Four.