WINNER OF THE WEEK: Single sales. The record industry’s shift from selling albums to selling singles first kicked in, chart-wise, three or four years ago, but it has rarely been so starkly obvious as this week on the charts. Album sales (see below) are disappointing. However, One Direction’s “Live While We’re Young” sold 341,000 downloads, Taylor Swift’s new single, “Red,” sold 312,000 and Adele’s James Bond theme “Skyfall” sold 261,000. Can anybody, other than Adele, sell albums for a sustained period anymore? We’ll find out in 12 days, when Swift’s Red arrives; my theory is that Adele and Swift are the only blockbuster album-sales artists in the record business at the moment. Single-selling stars, on the other hand, are everywhere, from Katy Perry to Maroon 5 to Flo Rida to Justin Bieber to Rihanna to Psy. It’s like the Motown Era all over again.
LOSER OF THE WEEK: Album sales. The 2nd Law may be Muse‘s best performance ever on Billboard‘s Top 200, but it sold just 101,000 copies, which even a few years ago would have been an absurdly small amount for a Number Two showing. Also, while Mumford & Sons’ Babel was the year’s best-selling debut last week, with 600,000 copies, and it’s still Number One, it dropped 72 percent, with just 169,000 copies. Seven albums made debuts this week on the charts, including Miguel’s superb R&B-crooning Kaleidoscope Dream at Number Three with 71,000 copies, which is good news. The downside is that all the albums the new releases have replaced on the charts, such as Green Day, No Doubt and Lupe Fiasco, all strong last week, are out of the Top 10.
THE SILVER LINING: Ten years ago, an album had to sell hundreds of thousands of copies in order to place into the Top 10. Today, an album can squeak by in the tens of thousands – which is a great thing for artists, young and old, who need exposure. Van Morrison’s Born to Sing: No Plan B may have sold a dinky 29,000 copies this week, but it was a slow week, and the great R&B singer and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer reached Number 10 on the Billboard album charts. Last month, ZZ Top scored its highest-ever chart debut, with 31,000 copies of La Futura (Number Six); also last month, Cat Power’s excellent Sun pulled off the same trick, at Number 10, with 23,000. And of course, Bob Dylan’s new Tempest was able to debut at Number Three. Chart-anomaly-spotting has become an exciting new sport here at Chart Watch HQ.