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Pretty Ricky spoils Shins' Cinderella story

It would have been such a coup for the indie-pop world. With sales close to record lows, The Shins' third album, Wincing the Night Away, was released at the perfect time to make a run at a No. 1 debut. But as it turned out, the R&B teen idols of Pretty Ricky, with second album Late Night Special, thwarted the scenario by outselling The Shins, 132,000 to 118,000 (very close to your second guess, right, Matt from Milwaukee?), according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Last week's No. 1, Daughtry's self-titled album, actually enjoyed a 23% boost in sales but fell to No. 3, followed by the debuts of the 2007 Grammy Nominees anthology and John Mellencamp's Freedom's Road. Rounding out the top 10 were the Dreamgirls soundtrack, Akon, Robin Thicke, the Jump In! soundtrack and Justin Timblerlake.

More vivid detail and chart stats follow.

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Grammy Handicap: Category #3

Thanks for the excellent response to the Grammy Handicap so far. Carrie Underwood has the edge with you so far for best new artist, while Gnarls Barkley is the consensus choice for alternative album. You can still make your predictions in both those categories, as well as guessing who the Grammy voters will choose in category #3: Pop performance by a duo or group with vocal, henceforth referred to as pop duo/group. The choices:

1. My Humps, Black Eyed Peas

2. I Will Follow You Into the Dark, Death Cab for Cutie

3. Over My Head (Cable Car), The Fray

4. Is It Any Wonder?, Keane

5. Stickwitu, Pussycat Dolls.

Can't beat that lineup for a mixed bag. Let the voting begin.

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Guess who's No. 1 on the radio?

And by "guess who" I don't mean the Canadian band of American Woman fame. No, as faithful readers will immediately guess, Beyonce's Irreplaceable is No. 1 again, for the ninth straight week. And it wasn't close: Her lead over No. 2 I Wanna Love You, by Akon & Snoop Dogg, actually widened a little, although both songs are declining rapidly in total audience.

The rest of the top 10, according to Nielsen BDS and Arbitron in association with Radio & Records, is made up of hits by Lloyd, Ludacris, Ciara, Nelly Furtado, Justin Timberlake (My Love), Jim Jones, and newcomers from Omarion (Ice Box) and Timberlake (What Goes Around ... Comes Around).

Much more detail and commentary follows.

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Grammy Handicap: Category #2

For the second category in the Grammy Handicap, we move into specific types of music. Winning this contest means you have to be knowledgeable (or psychic) about a wide variety of genres; it's not for the fainthearted. This time, guess who you think Grammy voters will pick as best alternative album:

Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

Flaming Lips, At War With the Mystics

Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones

Thom Yorke, The Eraser

Same procedure -- post your guess and I'll keep track. (And if you're catching up, no problem; you can vote for the first category, handily numbered for your convenience, at any time through Feb. 10. That goes for all future categories as well.)

This week's playlist: Grammy gems No. 4

This week, Steve Jones concocts a playlist of delights drawn from the Grammy nominations:

> Pick of the week:

Kick, Push, Lupe Fiasco: There aren’t very many fresh ideas in hip-hop these days, but it turns out that Fiasco had quite a few on his Food & Liquor album. The jazzy rhythms on this rap solo/rap song nominee propel his tale of a neighborhood misfit who doggedly sets his own path through life atop his skateboard. The story is metaphoric for the cliche-averse rapper himself.

> The playlist:

Crazy, Gnarls Barkley: Producer Danger Mouse’s bouncy bass-driven beat and Cee-Lo’s soaring falsetto create an insanely infectious groove. The record of the year nominee is also up for the urban/alternative category.

Be Without You, Mary J. Blige: "Real talk" from Mary about the uplifting power of true love earned the hip-hop soul queen four of her eight nominations, including record and song of the year.

Save Room, John Legend: Male pop vocal nominee finds Legend unburdening his cheating heart over the retro-rhythms of the Classic IV’s 1968 hit Stormy.

Promiscuous, Nelly Furtado and Timbaland: Furtado flirts back and forth with producer Timbaland over the wicked dance track of this pop collaboration nominee.

Breezin’, George Benson and Al Jarreau: The jazz-soul stalwarts revamp the instrumental title track (a Bobby Womack original) of Benson’s 1976 album with new lyrics by Jarreau. It’s up in the R&B duo or group category.

Idlewild Blue (Don’t Chu Worry ’Bout Me), Outkast: Andre 3000 swings hard on this guitar-fueled, harmonica-kissed jam from the Idlewild movie soundtrack that’s up for the urban alternative trophy.

Ridin’, Chamillionaire: With Krayzie Bone riding shotgun, the Houston rapper defiantly blasts his car stereo while aggravating racial-profiling cops on this rap duo or group/rap song nominee.

Don’t Feel Right, The Roots: The Philadelphia band earns rap duo or group nod thanks to Black Thought’s searing social commentary punctuated by newcomer Maimouna Yousef’s soulful chorus.

What You Know, T.I.: For pure bravado, it’s hard to top this double nominee (rap solo, rap song) from the South’s self-proclaimed King.

How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You), The Temptations: On their Reflections album, The Tempts put their touches on several Motown classics that they never recorded themselves. The harmonies on this Marvin Gaye gem prove they are as tempting as ever and earned them recognition in the traditional R&B category.

This week's reviews: Norah, Lily, Clap, Paolo, Celtic & Soweto

The third album from Norah Jones leads off this week's review package. (Also -- check out Elysa Gardner's interview with Norah ... ) The capsule verdicts:

> Norah's "sensuality stealthily embedded in her lyrics" is the selling point for Steve Jones, who also finds her writing "witty and insightful."

> UK sensation Lily Allen's "biting humor, gleaming reggae pop and salty urban tales" impress Edna Gundersen.

> Though DIY fave Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is an "acquired taste," Edna hears "quirky pleasures in its willfully lo-fi arty pop-rock."

> Celtic Woman is pretty much "Sarah Brightman meets Riverdance," if you ask Elysa Gardner.

> It's "been awhile since a youthful pop upstart revealed the breadth of talent" displayed by Scottish singer-songwriter Paolo Nutini, says a rapturous Elysa (having recovered from her unhappy Celtic Woman listening experience).

> Australia's Youth Group is a new favorite of Brian Mansfield's -- he's especially impressed with singer Toby Martin's "voice meant to break hearts."

> It's "hard not to get caught up in (Soweto Gospel Choir)'s enthusiastic spirit," Brian testifies.

> Actress Elizabeth Withers "makes an R&B debut that is both refreshing and, at times, stirring," Steve reveals.

Full reviews and clips follow.

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Grammy Handicap: Category #1

Here's the first Grammy category for you to devote precious brain cells to predicting. To recap the handicap, I'll post one category each day (Mon.-Fri.) for the next two weeks, making 10 in all. You post your guesses as to which artist, song or album the Grammy voters will choose, and the person with the most correctly guessed categories out of 10 wins the most precious prize of all: the satisfaction of a job well done (and copious praise from me -- deserved, too; it's a lot harder to pull this off than it would appear -- and the envy of all your peers).

Let's start with a straightforward and prominent category: Best New Artist. The nominees are:

James Blunt

Chris Brown

Imogen Heap

Corinne Bailey Rae

Carrie Underwood

Post your guesses and I'll start keeping track. Good luck! (You'll need it.)

Coming up later today: Grammy Handicap #1

I'm back and scrambling like eggs in a hot pan to catch up (that could be my worst simile in the last six months) on a number of fronts. But I wanted to alert you that later today I'm launching a two-week Grammy Handicap, which will give you the chance to pick the winners in 10 select Grammy categories.

What's in it for you? Any number of potentially character-building, positive reinforcement messages: the chance to prove you can second-guess the sometimes-baffling mental processes of the Recording Academy's voters, an opportunity to look really smart, and the chance to bask in the cordial approval of this highly contentious and knowledgeable blogging community. Some things are more valuable than money. (I'm not saying these things are, mind you, but there is some life-affirming value here.)

Here's how it will work. Each day for the next two weeks, starting this afternoon, I'll post a category and its nominees. All you have to do is send in your guess, preferably with witty, informed commentary about why you think the Grammy voters will go for your choice. (Remember, you're trying to predict who the voters will pick, not your own personal preference, although you can certainly comment about that as well.) I'll keep track and announce the winner Feb. 12, after the Grammys.

(Comments along the lines of "The Grammys are a meaningless establishment ritual" will also be published, but will not count toward winning the contest.)

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Summer big sellers ... and some aren't

For this week's answer to your sales question, I expanded on one from Rick, who wanted to know, among other things, sales figures for the Rush and Kiss catalogs, since they're two of the acts most commonly mentioned in the deluge of should-be-in-the-R&R-Hall-of-Fame threads. I thought that was a great idea, and decided to expand on it a bit by including the other most-mentioned artist, Donna Summer. As it turns out, Donna's numbers came in first, so they'll get the spotlight this week, followed by Rush and Kiss over the next couple of weeks.

Like Rush and Kiss, Summer had her biggest hits before the SoundScan era began in late 1991, and these numbers reflect only SoundScan-tabulated sales. Unlike Rush and Kiss, though, that timing factor really seems to have affected Summer's latter-day sales.

Her biggest post-SoundScan album is Endless Summer, a greatest-hits package that shares a title with a big-selling Beach Boys anthology, at 470,000 units. Next comes the VHI-packaged Live and More -- Encore, at 407,000. Several other hits packages have hit six figures, including On the Radio (392,000), Anthology (219,000), Journey (218,000), Greatest Hits (191,000) and The Millennium Collection (150,000).

That seems to be the way people like to buy their Donna Summer records. Her original albums haven't fared so well. Of the more recent, post-disco albums, 1991's Mistaken Identity has sold 38,000; 1989's Another Place and Time 31,000; 1987's All Systems Go 3,000; 1984's Cats Without Claws 2,400; and 1983's She Works Hard for the Money 15,000, for example.

Of the disco-era hits, 1979's Bad Girls has notched up 89,000 units, but 1975-76's first trio of albums, Love to Love You Baby, Love Trilogy and Four Seasons of Love, have sold 80,000 combined (29, 27 and 24, respectively). 1978's Once Upon a Time sold 26,000; 1978's Live and More sold 32,000. Her SoundScan-era total is 2.7 million, which, without giving away anything from the upcoming Rush and Kiss posts, is a lot less than those two groups have mustered.

None of this has much to do with the artistic merits of Summer's Hall of Fame case, except to suggest that -- outside of her energetic and tireless fans -- she's unlikely to be a top-of-mind candidate.

Chilis, Gnarls talk music

Part of our Grammys coverage, of course, will be critical overviews of key categories and that sort of thing. But we also thought it would be interesting to get best-album nominees (and tourmates) the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Gnarls Barkley together to talk music, Grammys, and such topics. Brian Mansfield conducted a Nashville interview with the artists.

Previews of new stuff; catch-ups on old

It's a pretty barren time for new records coming out, but hang in there -- there's plenty of good stuff on the horizon. I've capsule-described several fine upcoming records in the last two Thursday Lists posts, and have some more here.

Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (out Mar. 6): OK, I concede. I was turned off by all the hype surrounding these Montrealers' debut, and was pretty underwhelmed by the Talking Heads-ish stuff that seemed to dominate it. But this has a lot of big-screen, sweeping rock tunes, really gripping stuff. One to get excited about (although I wonder if the musical shift will alienate some of the core audience, the way so many Killers fans were irked, unjustifably in my book, by their second album).

Backyard Tire Fire, Vagabonds and Hooligans (out Feb. 6): Uneven alt-country/rock but not without strong highlights. Worth a selective listen.

Barenaked Ladies, Barenaked Ladies Are Men (out Feb. 6): Semi-sequel to last fall's Barenaked Ladies Are Me (more songs from the same sessions) is easily as good (and Are Me was one of the Canadian pop whizzes' best ). Some unexpected rocking going on too.

Tim Finn, Imaginary Kingdom (out soon, not sure when): The Split Enz/Crowded House singer/songwriter, one of New Zealand's national treasures, has a welter of deceptively simple, charming songs that resonate long after you're finished listening.

Mic Harrison & the High Score, Push Me on Home (out Feb. 13): Former V-Roy (alt-country faves of mine a while back) plows similar musical ground, with a number of top-notch tunes.

Donna Hughes, Gaining Wisdom (out Feb. 27): Really good bluegrass-oriented stylist. Recommended if you like (shades of CMJ) Alison Krauss.

National Lights, The Dead Will Walk, Dear (out Feb. 27): Some of the most ominous, grisliest songs you'll hear, cleverly concealed by simple, unassuming tunes and mild vocal delivery. Rather fascinating.

Peter, Bjorn & John/Writer's Block (out Feb. 6): Uneven, but when this Swedish trio is on, their pop tunes sparkle. Definitely worth following.

Rich Schroder, Your Kind Words: A catch-up album, another uneven one, verging on the sophomoric at worst, but extremely clever at other times and powerful sometimes as well. Promising alt-singer/songwriter.

Stars of Track & Field/Centuries Before Love and War: Out on a small label last June, picked up for wider distribution. More ambitious, sweeping pop and rock, highly consistent and worth listening to.

Daughtry takes the long road to No. 1

By a margin of 134 albums, Daughtry, the debut album by American Idol finalist Chris Daughtry and band, takes over No. 1 on the Billboard chart, according to Nielsen SoundScan. On the positive side, it's quite rare for an album in its ninth week on the chart to hit No. 1 for the first time, and is generally a sign of a longterm consistent seller. On the less-positive side, the album's total of 65,000 is the second-lowest weekly total for a No. 1 album in SoundScan history.

Dreamgirls falls to No. 2 by the narrow margin mentioned above, but last week's sales were in the books before the Oscar nominations were announced. The rest of the top 10: the Jump In! soundtrack, Corinne Bailey Rae, Akon, Justin Timberlake, Now 23, Nickelback, Carrie Underwood and Beyonce.

More detailed data and commentary follow.

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Beyonce still ruling the airwaves

Another week, another insurmountable airplay lead for Irreplaceable, the Beyonce juggernaut that just captured its eighth week at No. 1 on the Nielsen BDS/Arbitron national radio airplay audience chart. Last week its total audience impressions exceeded those of the No. 2 record, Akon's I Wanna Love You, by about 54 million; this week, the edge is 60 million.

No. 3 is Lloyd's You, and that's moving up, but it needs to almost double its current total audience (about 99 million) to catch Beyonce's 191 million. Of course, Beyonce will be dropping in coming weeks; the pace of its decline will be the main factor in determining when a new No. 1 comes along.

The rest of the top 10 features hits by Ciara, Justin Timberlake (My Love), Ludacris, Jim Jones, Bow Wow, the debut of Nelly Furtado's Say It Right, and Akon (Smack That). More airplay news and commentary follows.

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This week's playlist: Grammy gems #2

Edna Gundersen takes her turn at unearthing excellent tracks from Grammy-nominated albums and songs:

> Pick of the week:

Workingman’s Blues #2, Bob Dylan: This is one of two spellbinding epics served up on Dylan’s Modern Times, criminally overlooked in Grammy’s best album slot but a shoo-in for the contemporary folk/Americana category. Inspired by Merle Haggard, Blues #2 denounces economic policies and lauds the common worker in a gentle tone that proves more devastating than hollered street chants or seething screeds. “The buying power of the proletariat’s gone down,” Dylan laments against music as gorgeous as his most wrenching romantic plaints.

> The playlist:

Is It Any Wonder?, Keane: The famously wimpy piano-propelled band, up for pop duo/group, pulls out electric guitar-like sounds on this bold, vivacious tune, which packs a fat hook, a soaring chorus and genuine excitement.

Looking for a Leader, Neil Young: The Crazy Horse thump underscores Young’s undisguised ire and frustration on this timely rant (a rock song nominee) from protest-themed Living With War (up for rock album).

Nausea, Beck: A massive funk-injected back beat and Beck’s hyperactive flow are the winning ingredients on this solo rock vocal nominee.

Stupid Girls, Pink: Pink targets narcissistic airhead pop tarts on this stinging and thumping pop-rock smackdown, competing for female pop vocal.

You Are So Beautiful, Sam Moore: In his swan song recording, Billy Preston joins the unstoppable soul man, along with guitarists Eric Clapton and Robert Randolph, on a version that’s bracing and emotional. Up for traditional R&B vocal.

Get Together, Madonna: Madonna’s in full command of the club circuit on this heady, hedonistic dancefloor throbber, a synthesizer-stoked standout in the dance recording category.

Lolita, Prince: Straddling the line between sin and salvation, Prince coos on this electronic funk freak-out, “You’re sweetah, but you’ll never make a cheater out of me.” From 3121, up for R&B album.

The W.A.N.D., Flaming Lips: This anti-war slice of magical realism from At War With the Mystics, an alternative album nominee, is simultaneously futuristic and retro, with a solid-funk bottom line.

The View from the Afternoon, Arctic Monkeys: This scrappy, shambolic rocker kicked off last year’s highly anticipated album by the heavily hyped British act, now a favorite in the alternative slot.

Just a Thought, Gnarls Barkley: The whimsy of Danger Mouse is countered by Cee-Lo’s suicidal anguish in this dark electro-soul blend of Brazilian and Motown elements, pummeled by stampeding drums. From St. Elsewhere, up for best album.

This week's reviews: Mellencamp, Shins, Good/Bad/Queen and more

A somewhat lusher crop of new albums than in recent weeks. Here's the lowdown from our critics:

> John Mellencamp's got his "strongest album in years," says an impressed Brian Mansfield.

> There's "much to admire" in The Shins' "gentle and sparkling melodies rooted in '60s pop," Edna Gundersen finds.

> New UK quasi-"supergroup" The Good, the Bad & the Queen are "more smart-rock than art-rock," not to mention a "lean, groove-driven hookfest," according to Edna.

> R&B hit act Pretty Ricky is "riddled with growing pains" on album No. 2, Elysa Gardner is forced to concede.

> Kenny Wayne Shepherd's new live CD/DVD "is a blues fan's dream," both conceptually and in execution, Brian says.

> Sunshine Anderson is back after six years, and her musical persona is "still a woman both scorned and scornful," Steve Jones learns.

> Lee Hazlewood may have released the last album he's going to make, but he "sounds as spry and playful as ever," Elysa is pleased to discover.

> Australian band You Am I has a "desperate, hungry edge that'll make you wonder why you haven't heard them more," says Brian.

Full reviews and song clips follow.

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That Coachella lineup in full

The Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, to give it its seldom-used full name, has become pretty much the biggest American concert event. The lineup just announced for the three-day (April 27-29) event, for which tickets go on sale Saturday (10 A.M. PT), indicates why.

It's a long lineup (and, be warned, it's a "preliminary" lineup, meaning possibly more to come), so I'll divide it into arbitrary alphabetical chunks, following the headliners: Rage Against the Machine (apparently reuniting for a one-time stint, the first time in seven years they will have played together), Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bjork.

Other acts, straddling the musical map as usual: Air; Erol Alkan; Lily Allen; Anathallo; Arcade Fire; Arctic Monkeys; Avett Brothers; Benny Benassi; Andrew Bird; Black Keys; Blonde Redhead; Bojones; Brazlilian Girls; Brother Ali; Busdriver; Circa Survive; Jarvis Cocker (of Pulp fame); Coco Rosie.

Continuing ... Comedians of Comedy; Cornelius; The Coup; The Cribs; Crowded House (also a reunion); CSS; Decemberists; Digitalism; DJ Heather; DJ Shadow; Roky Erickson & The Explosives (not to editorialize, but that's cool);  Evil Nine; Explosions in the Sky; Fair to Midland; Faithless; The Feeling; Felix da Housecat; Lupe Fiasco; The Fields; Fountains of Wayne; The Frames; Fratellis.

Next batch: Ghostface Killah; Girl Talk; Gogol Bordello; Jose Gonzalez; the Good, the Bad and the Queen; Gotan Project; Grizzly Bear;  Happy Mondays; Richie Hawtin; Hot Chip; Infected Mushroom; Interpol; Jacks Mannequin; Junior Boys; Justice; Kaiser Chiefs; Kings of Leon; Klaxons; Kokono No. 1; The Kooks; LCD Soundsystem; Amos Lee; Pop Levi; Manu Chao; Stephen Marley with Jr. Gong.

Not forgetting: Mika; Pharaoahe Monche; MSTRKRFT, Willie Nelson; New Pornographers; Nickel Creek; Nightwatchman; Noisettes; Ozomatli; Peaches; Peeping Tom; Peter, Bjorn & John; Placebo; The Rapture; Mike Relm; Damien Rice; Rodrigo y Gabriela; The Roots; Satellite Party; Silversun Pickups; Sonic Youth; Soulwax; Spank Rock; Sparklehorse; Regina Spektor.

And last but not least: Tapes 'n' Tapes; Tiesto; Tilly & The Wall; Tokyo Police Club; Travis; Paul Van Dyk; Julieta Venegas; VNV Nation; Rufus Wainwright; We Are Scientists; Gillian Welch; Amy Winehouse; Yeva; and everybody's alphabetizing nightmare, !!! (who at least end the list on a suitably exclamatory note). More info at the festival's virtual site.

Customer service is our watchword

TomC, who had a question last week about sales totals for a couple of Hall & Oates albums, gets bonus information. The SoundScan folks were kind enough to send over a whole raft of Hall & Oates sales figures to date, including those for seven more albums Tom asked about in a subsequent question. The answers are ...:

The Atlantic Collection: 15,000

Essential: 74,000

Greatest Hits: Rock 'n' Soul Pt. 1: 1.19 million

Marigold Sky: 173,000

Ultimate: 136,000

Very Best Of: 439,000

VH1 Behind the Music: 127,000

Obviously, Daryl and John are still selling plenty of records.

Got any favorites (or non-favorites) you're curious about? Send 'em to me; as I've said, I have to limit the requests I actually submit to SoundScan for fear of monopolizing their time, but I'll store up the requests and submit them when I can, as we continue to peel back the curtain and advance the cause of actual documented music-biz success.

Papa Denny Doherty dies

As you probably know by now, Denny Doherty of the Mamas & Papas died Friday at the age of 66, from kidney problems. Edna Gundersen wrote an unimprovable appreciation, but bear with me for a few words.

Along with the late Cass Elliot, Doherty was the voice of the Mamas & Papas. When you hear California Dreamin' and Monday Monday, the best-known M&P songs, you're hearing the brilliant songwriting and intricate harmonic arrangements of the late John Phillips, true, but the main voice, projecting that unmatchable combination of loss, regret and hope, is Doherty.

He made some forgettable (though occasionally amusing) folk records with the Halifax Three and some more interesting tracks with The Mugwumps before joining the original Mamas & Papas lineup, and after they broke up he made some sadly ignored solo records. But his legacy will be in those unforgettable Mamas & Papas '60s hits, and he'll be greatly missed.

Some sales questions answered

As you recall, I offered to take requests for sales information on your favorite or least favorite artists, or people you were just curious about, and answer one or two of the requests (so as not overburden my gracious but sometimes-overworked SoundScan contacts).

The time has come to do so. (And if I didn't answer your request, which is likely, since I got a bunch of 'em, I've still got them written down and will submit them at a later date.)

Preston had a whole bunch of questions, but three of them were about albums I could answer offhand, which is the ideal (but rarely achieved) situation. Paula DeAnda's debut album has sold 121,000; Cherish's new one has sold 484,000; and Gnarls Barkley's first has racked up 1.18 million sales, as of this week.

Tom C asked about a couple of recent Hall & Oates albums, which unearthed an interesting anomaly: SoundScan has no sales record for the 2005 Our Kind of Soul album. It's not in the system, weirdly. (The video of the same name is, and has sold 7,600 copies, but that's not what you're looking for.) Anyway, Do It for Love is in the system, and has sold 168,000 copies to date. And Tom, if you have any further questions about other Hall & Oates albums, ask away, because I've got a whole file on them now.

See you next week -- we may have an interesting Rock and Roll Hall of Fame story percolating.

James Brown Apollo Hall's sole inductee

James Brown will be honored by being inducted into the Apollo Legends Hall of Fame June 11, with an all-star tribute concert commemorating his music and life. According to the Apollo Theater Foundation, this will be the first time just one artist will be inducted in to the Hall. (For comparison purposes, last year's honorees were Gladys Knight & The Pips, Little Richard and Ella Fitzgerald.)

New York's Apollo, of course, was the premier showcase for black artists for decades, and gained greater fame when it became the venue for Brown's legendary 1963 Live at the Apollo album. Sounds like a fitting tribute.

Grammy lineup shaping up

I'm not planning to bombard you with every little new detail on who's appearing on the Grammys telecast Feb. 11, but with today's announcement of new performers and presenters, there's enough collective starpower to justify a post.

> Performers so far: Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige, Ludacris, Justin Timberlake and Carrie Underwood have been added to a list that includes Beyonce, the Dixie Chicks, Gnarls Barkley and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. (The Justin announcement is not exactly a surprise, considering he's been trumpeted for weeks as performing with the winner of the "My Grammy Moment" contest, the Grammys' attempt to mimic American Idol by picking an amateur singer to appear on the show with a star -- actually, I guess that's closer to Celebrity Duets, except the winner won't be a celebrity.)

> Presenters so far: The Black Eyed Peas, Ciara and Nelly Furtado join previously announced presenters Terrence Howard, Samuel L. Jackson, Pink and Rihanna.

Ruth Brown tribute Monday

The late R&B pioneer Ruth Brown, who died in November, will be honored with a memorial evening Monday at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, 132 Odell Clark Place, in New York. Contemporaries Little Jimmy Scott, Chuck Jackson and Mabel John will offer tributes. Fitting gesture from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, for which Brown was a strong advocate.

More new albums on the horizon

Most of my time lately is being consumed by American Idol (see the Idol Chatter blog if you're interested), but I'm trying to grab some time to listen to records. I have heard enough lately to compile another list of 10 new albums to look out for.

> Bluetones (out Feb. 13): Veteran Britpop band that I'd more or less given up on, but this is a strong comeback with a lot of catchy, punchy songs.

> Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Calling (out March 6): Not a major departure, but overall it sounded like her best in years, and that -- considering a brilliant track record dating back to the late '80s -- is saying something.

> Joe Ely, Happy Songs From Rattlesnake Gulch (out Feb. 6): Good to hear from this longtime Texas music fave; some strong material.

> The Good, the Bad and the Queen (out Tuesday): Damon Albarn's new group's album is loaded with exotic pop, stronger than recent Blur, different but equal to Gorillaz.

> John Mellencamp, Freedom's Road (out Tuesday): Overall, his strongest in years. Even the Chevy commercial song is different enough to overcome its exposure overkill.

> Graham Parker, Don't Tell Columbus (out March 13): But I don't mind telling you, if you're a fan of this acid-tongued veteran, you won't be disappointed. A couple major highlights included.

> Silos, Come On Like the Fast Lane (out Feb. 20): Around for 20 years or more now, and always good for distinctive, quality rock.

> Summer Wardrobe (out Tuesday): Uneven pop album but the best stuff is really good, and might appear in a future playlist.

> Taylor Swift: Catching up to this teenage country phenom, and she's got something -- nice injection of teen-pop dynamics into country.

> Tommy Womack, There I Said It (out Feb. 20): Nashville rocker whose best songs are insightful, funny and penetrating.

Spaniels singer Pookie Hudson dies at 72

Sad to report the death of Thornton "Pookie" Hudson, lead singer of '50s doo-wop group The Spaniels and writer of their most famous hit, the sweet doo-wop classic Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight. Hudson, a superb and influential singer, was 72 and suffered from cancer. The group had played oldies shows in recent years, and received a well-deserved award from the R&B Foundation in 1991.

Fire devastates Question Mark's home

Anyone with fond memories of the great 1966 hit 96 Tears will be saddened by this story about the fire that destroyed his home and possessions and claimed the lives of his pets. I hope a support drive does happen.

I am curious, though, why they're not using his real name (Rudy Martinez) in the story. Did he change it legally or something? (That seems to be the case, according to several sources.)

(Just for the record, 96 Tears wasn't the only great thing they did -- they had many other less-successful but equally excellent records, ranging from follow-up I Need Somebody to the original Do Something to Me --later a hit for Tommy James -- to more obscure songs such as Make Her Mine and a relatively recent cover of The Jaynetts' classic Sally Go Round the Roses.)

'Dreamgirls' sets another record (no plaques for this one)

Fresh from setting the all-time low sales mark for a Soundscan-era No. 1 album, the Dreamgirls soundtrack broke it by selling 60,000 copies last week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That's 6,000 fewer than last week, but it's still No. 1 on the Billboard chart.

The rest of a lethargically selling top 10: Akon, Justin Timberlake, Daughtry, the debut of the soundtrack to new Disney movie Jump In!, Beyonce, Now 23, The Beatles, Young Jeezy and Nickelback. Total sales for the week were off by 14% compared to the previous week (which was no barnburner) and down by the same margin from the same week last year.

Further grisly details follow.

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Beyonce: No. 1 a 7th week, and no end in sight

Good afternoon (weird to be starting the blogging day so late), and here's your radio airplay update. The Beyonce juggernaut rolls on; Irreplaceable continutes to live up to its title with a seventh week at No. 1. Its total audience declined by 4.2%, according to Nielsen BDS and Arbitron figures, but its lead over runner-up Akon's I Wanna Love You increased from 51 million audience impressions to nearly 54 million. That's a huge lead by the national radio airplay audience chart's standards.

Rest of the top 10 comprises hits by Justin TImberlake, Ciara, Lloyd, Bow Wow, Jim Jones, Akon & Eminem, Fergie and the debut of Ludacris' Runaway Love.

Further details, plus pointed (or, alternatively, pointless) observations, follow.

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This week's playlist: Grammy gems from Brian Mansfield

In the second of our five-week series of playlists based on excellent songs you can find on Grammy-nominated albums, Brian Mansfield does the honors:

> Pick of the week:

Heaven, The Klezmatics: Like Billy Bragg and Wilco's Mermaid Avenue before it, contemporary world music album nominee Wonder Wheel sets new music to some of Woody Guthrie's vast catalog of lyrics. A sublime melody from The Klezmatics' Paul Morrissett turns Guthrie's 60-year-old dream into one of pop's finest utopian fantasies, like John Lennon's dreamer with his sleeves rolled up, ready to work.

> The playlist:

Nature of the Beast, Jim Van Cleve: This energetic bluegrass tune from Mountain Heart's young fiddler earns its country-instrumental nomination with impressive solos and a melody filled dark twists and turns.

Who Do You Love, Dion: One '50s rock great honors another with this stripped-down Bo Diddley number from Dion's Bronx in Blue, up for traditional blues album.

Gambari Didi, Ali Farka Touré: This minor-key highlight from the late Malian guitarist's swansong, Savane, competing in the contemporary world-music album category, sounds like a John Lee Hooker groove pulled inside out.

Someday Baby, Bob Dylan: Sharing a key with Touré's tune but shifting the beat, Dylan's nominee for solo rock vocal performance takes the blues from Mali to Minnesota.

Radio Operator, Rosanne Cash: Cash's father worked as a radio operator during his military service, and his spirit infuses this track from Black Cadillac, up for contemporary folk/Americana album.

Laban, Salif Keita: Known as "The Golden Voice of Africa," Malian singer Keita shows his stuff on this seductive song from his contemporary world-music album nominee, M'Bemba.

Everybody Knows, Dixie Chicks: Past the noise and the hype, most of Taking the Long Way -– up for album of the year and best country album –- sounds like this: vulnerable, apolitical, acoustic-based country-rock with exquisite harmonies.

Too Old to Die Young, Linda Ronstadt with Ann Savoy: Cajun singer Savoy gently takes the lead on this rumination on aging and death from traditional folk album nominee Adieu False Heart.

Heaven's My Home, The Duhks: This eclectic Canadian folk quintet may be the dark horse in the country group performance category, but this haunting song makes a strong case for deserving the slot.

Wait a Minute, Alan Jackson: Gordon Mote's somber gospel piano voicings and Jerry Douglas' bittersweet lap steel set the tone for Jackson's performance, part of his best country album entry Like Red on a Rose.

Slight schedule adjustment

Just to let you know -- American Idol season is starting tonight (OK, that will come as news only to that portion of the readership checking their computers by the dim light of their caves). Since that is the prime preoccupation of my other blog, Idol Chatter, I will be adjusting my blogging schedule on Idol telecast nights (mostly Tuesdays and Wednesdays). What that means for you is I'll be posting things later in the day on those days (and may continue posting later than usual as well). It may also mean some of your comments get posted a bit later than they would normally.

In practice, because I post a lot of entries to be published at different odd times anyway, this shouldn't make a whole lot of difference, and all the usual features -- reviews, playlists, news, comments on your comments and questions, lists and other diversions -- will continue to appear.

This week's reviews: Ross, Sexsmith, America and more

It's still not exactly prime time for superstar releases, but there are always records of interest out there. This week:

> Just as Dreamgirls expands, original Dreamgirl Diana Ross is back with an album of romantic standards that finds her "still in fine voice," according to Steve Jones, but making song choices that range from "inspired" to "obvious and cliched."

> Ron Sexsmith's "graceful pop songcraft" entrances Elysa Gardner, who is also fond of his "delightfully idiosyncratic tenor."

> Enlisting loads of trendy collaborators, America's Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell "remain savvy purveyors of wistful, gently buoyant pop," Elysa asserts.

> The "intuition and charm" displayed by Erin McKeown make her standards album one of Elysa's more recent favorites.

> The Holmes Brothers' bluesy eclecticism mystifies Brian Mansfield, but when it works, "they are glorious, full of soul and surprises," he says.

> And Steve Jones rounds up recent gospel releases by Fred Hammond, Dave Hollister and Deitrick Haddon.

Full reviews follow.

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Jazz innovator Alice Coltrane dies

Another notable jazz musician died Friday, but news didn't come out until late Sunday. Alice Coltrane, widow of saxophone immortal John and an innovative, influential pianist, harpist and  composer in her own right, died of respiratory failure at age 69. Again, she will be missed.

Sales questions invitation

The same way as people follow movie grosses, music fans are interested in how their favorite artists are selling. Unfortunately, that information isn't as widely accessible as the movie money data.

I can't publish a huge list of what every artist is selling, not without incurring the righteous wrath of SoundScan, which supports its data-collection efforts by charging people for that information. But feel free to ask me how your favorite -- or least favorite -- artist is selling, whether it's the numbers for a specific album, single, or download track,  or a cumulative total (how many albums have the Moody Blues sold in the SoundScan era, which is post-1991 to the present). I'll pick one request a week and include the answer in my Wednesday sales reports.

Saxophonist Michael Brecker dies at 57

Sad to report the death at 57 of saxophone player Michael Brecker. He died of leukemia, having just completed a final album that will come out this spring.

Brecker played with countless stars, from Bruce Springsteen to Joni Mitchell, Frank Sinatra to James Brown, John Lennon to Quincy Jones, and also made a number of records on his own and with brother Randy. He'll be missed.

The Hall of Comments and other topics

Thanks for the good response to my recent-listening album list Thursday. I realized when I was putting it together that there were more than 10 noteworthy records (gives me some hope for '07), so I hope to do more of these. More personal than a list from a magazine, that's for sure.

Before I get to a topic on which I'm likely to expostulate at length (see, I'm already starting ...), I wanted to try to answer a question from PM about a song Patti Smith wrote about Keith Richards. Only thing I unearthed was a track called Keith Richards' Blues that appears on a bootleg called Paris '78 (and maybe others). If anybody knows more, jump in.

There were a lot of enjoyable and several thought-provoking comments on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame over the week (I wanted to single out Ken Pittman's passionate Van Halen essay, and I found comments on both sides of the "does rap belong in the R&R HOF" interesting).

I was reading a baseball site (in one of my rare non-music-oriented moments and stumbled across an intriguing and possibly relevant concept, which follows.

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Porter Wagoner: A country great returns

Porter Wagoner is one of the most colorful (literally, if you've seen his famous suits) and talented artists in country history (A Satisfied Mind, to name just one song, is a classic, covered by The Byrds, Lindsey Buckingham and countless others).

He's been very ill lately, but he's feeling better and has a new album coming out with the help of Marty Stuart. Brian Mansfield has the story.

This week's list: A humble thing, yet my own

Since I would probably be ridden out of cyberspace on a virtual rail if I offered one more year-end retrospective list (not that I was planning to do so), I wanted to shift this week's list into more of a forward gear. So I've put together a simple list of 10 of the more interesting albums that have crossed my CD players in recent weeks. (Some of them haven't come out yet, which I'll denote.)

Aly & AJ, Acoustic Hearts of Winter: Best new Christmas album I heard this year.

Eminem Presents the Re-Up: Pretty spotty; I had a similar reaction to Steve Jones' -- it made me want to hear a new Eminem album instead.

Fountains of Wayne, Traffic and Weather (out April 3): Really impressive and consistent set of new songs.

Butch Hancock, War and Peace (out Jan. 23): At his best, this veteran Texas singer-songwriter is up there with top-grade Dylan. This is uneven but the highlights are eminently worth investigating. Brian Mansfield will be reviewing it.

Jesse Malin, Glitter in the Gutter (out March 6): How this guy stays so under the radar baffles me. One of the best rock-oriented singer/songwriters out there.

Son Volt, The Search (out March 6): I'm a Jay Farrar fan, and this is really strong.

Southern Culture on the Skids, Play Countrypolitan Favorites (out Feb. 20): The title is a witty and mildly misleading nod to Nashville's early crossover efforts of the late '50s and '60s -- misleading because while some of the songs on this covers album fit the countrypolitan concept (Wolverton Mountain, Rose Garden, Oh Lonesome Me, even The Kinks' Muswell Hillbilly), others don't (including a snarling version of Creedence's early incarnation The Golliwogs' great Fight Fire and possibly the two download-only bonus tracks you can get on the band's site -- The Byrds' Mr. Spaceman (well, that sort of fits too) and the Velvet Underground's I'll Be Your Mirror).

Lewis Taylor, The Lost Album (out Jan. 30): This semi-unclassifiable British soul-pop artist is really interesting -- the harmonies he constructs are amazing at times.

Lucinda Williams, West (out Feb. 13): Lately I've been inclined to the view that Lucinda's been becoming a parody of herself, but first listening to this suggests it's a return to Car Wheels form.

Youth Group, Casino Twilight Dogs (out Jan. 30): Australian band who I first heard, like most Americans, I would imagine, covering Alphaville's Forever Young (one of those schlocky songs I'm a sucker for) on The OC. That's included, and so are a bunch of interesting, emotional originals.

Stagecoach filling up

Stagecoach, the country equivalent of Coachella at the same Indio, Calif., location (the Empire Polo Field) May 5-6, has announced a ton more artists. Here's the lineup as of now:

Saturday, May 5: George Strait, Alan Jackson, Sara Evans, Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams, Neko Case, Robert Earl Keen, Richie Furay, Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen, David Serby, Earl Scruggs, Nickel Creek, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Grascals, the John Cowan Band, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Riders in the Sky, Red Steagall, Waddie Mitchell, Sons of the San Joaquin, Cowboy Nation.

Sunday, May 6: Kenny Chesney, Brooks & Dunn, Sugarland, Gary Allan, Pat Green, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Raul Malo, Junior Brown, Drive-By Truckers, Alejandro Escovedo, Railbenders, Ricky Skaggs, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Marty Stuart, the Del McCoury Band, Abigail Washburn with the Sparrow Quartet featuring Ben Sollee, Sasey Driessen and Bela Fleck, The Flatlanders (Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock), Garrison Keillor, Baxter Black, Cowboy Celtic, Don Edwards, and Katy Moffatt.

More info at the festival site (the virtual one, not the polo field in the desert).

'Dreamgirls': Worst-selling No. 1

The post earlier today was just a quick hit off the raw numbers. Here's a more detailed look at the week's sales, which were dismal.

The first week of the year is always sluggish at best, but this week was 18% lower than last year at this time. Downloads outsold albums by way more than double: 21.5 million to 9.4 million. And to top off the downer news, this week's No. 1, the Dreamgirls soundtrack, put up the worst sales numbers for a chart-topper since SoundScan began tracking record sales in 1991: 66,000. (However, it could have easily avoided this fate if the "collector's edition" of the soundtrack, which is counted separately, had been counted together -- the 18,000 additional sales racked up by the CE would have made a big difference.)

The top 10 is in the earlier post, but read on if you want more details on those albums and other chart happenings.

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The siren call of a Police reunion

Lots of rumors swirling about a Police reunion and tour. Nothing concrete to report, but here's an arguably illuminating statement from the record company:

"As the 30th anniversary of the first Police single approaches, discussions have been underway as to how this will be commemorated. While we can confirm that there will indeed be something special done to mark the occasion, the depth of the band's involvement still remains undetermined."

Interpretations welcome.

A different hall of fame: New Grammy HOF entries

The Grammy Hall of Fame differs from your favorite, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in that it inducts songs or albums, not artists. (It does have the same basic 25-years-old requirement.) And it differs from everything else by inducting the widest variety of songs and albums imaginable. 2007's class includes everything from classical to weird Christmas novelties.

Among the more contemporary artifacts voted in by a Grammy organization committee are: The Turtles' Happy Together, Elvis Presley's Are You Lonesome Tonight, Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl, Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You (the original, 1974 version), Desmond Dekker's great early reggae hit Israelites, Big Brother & the Holding Co.'s Cheap Thrills album, the first albums by Elvis Costello and The Ramones plus The Clash's London Calling and The Miracles' sublime The Tracks of My Tears.

The full list follows for your examination and analysis.

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This week's sales preview

More data coming later, but here's a quick run-through on this week's top 10, which in the normally dismal first week of the year was an exercise in whose sales slid the least.

The Dreamgirls soundtrack jumps from No. 3 to No. 1, selling 66,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Following are Akon (2-2, 64,000), Daughtry (11-3, 56,000), Justin Timberlake (8-4, 52,000), Now 23 (6-5, 48,000), Hannah Montana (10-6, 46,000), Young Jeezy (5-7, 45,000), Nas (4-8, 45,000), Beatles (13-9, 44,000), Omarion (1-10, 42,000).

Everything was way off the previous week's level, with the smallest decline (-27%) belonging to Daughtry.

Beyonce hits a new high

Irreplaceable is now nearly inescapable. The Beyonce ballad collected its largest weekly total audience number yet -- 201.9 million audience impressions (number of plays on stations across the country times the number of people listening at the time of the plays). Only one song has ever topped that number in the four-plus-year history of this Nielsen BDS/Arbitron chart: Mariah Carey's We Belong Together, which topped out at 223.0 million in July '05 and exceeded Beyonce's high in six other weeks.

Well, if a song's going to be omnipresent, it's a bonus when it's as good a song as Irreplaceable. Although by now, I wouldn't be surprised if many of you disagreed.

The rest of the top 10 is pretty static, encompassing hits by Akon & Snoop Dogg, Justin Timberlake, Akon & Eminem, Bow Wow, Ciara, Jim Jones, Fergie, Lloyd and The Fray. More detail follows.

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Burritos steel man Sneaky Pete dies

Sad to report the death of "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow, the great steel guitarist most famous for his stint with country-rock pioneers the Flying Burrito Bros. Kleinow was 72 and had been suffering from Alzhimer's.

There were a lot of great steel players making the country-rock transition around the late '60s (Tom Brumley, Rusty Young, Red Rhodes and more), but Kleinow's style was mesmerizing and innovative, sounding little like the classic weeping steel style predomiant in mainstream country and more like music from outer space (if they had fuzztone effects in outer space). Like the chronically unsung Glenn Campbell from The Misunderstood (not the Wichita Lineman singer), Kleinow pioneered bold new pathways for the steel guitar.

This week's playlist: Grammy gems #1

For the next few weeks, up until the Grammys Feb. 11, we're adapting the weekly playlists to encompass the coolest songs -- in our critics' opinions -- that can be found among the singles and albums nominated for the Grammy awards. Elysa Gardner kicks things off with this list:

> Pick of the week:

The River In Reverse, Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint: The British pop bard and the New Orleans soul icon had worked together before, but in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina their partnership took on a new musical and spiritual depth. The Costello-penned title track of their majestic CD, up for best pop vocal album, offers a piercing reminder of the singer/songwriter’s distinctive punch — and that pop music can still say something candid and meaningful.

> The Playlist:

Breathless, Corinne Bailey Rae: This dreamy, soulful tune from Rae’s self-titled debut is argument enough for her nabbing the best-new-artist prize.

Black Sweat, Prince: Leave it to Prince to remind us, with this delirious candidate for male R&B vocal, that sex isn’t a four-letter word.

God Bless the Child, George Benson & Al Jarreau, featuring Jill Scott: A couple of old-school virtuosos enlisted Scott’s nouveau soul savvy for a cover that’s at once fresh and knowing, and nominated for traditional R&B vocal.

Tomorrow Is Forever, Solomon Burke and Dolly Parton: Another pair of old pros, in top form, demonstrate the indelible link between country music and R&B on this contender for country collaboration.

For Once in My Life, Tony Bennett and Stevie Wonder: One of many endearing musical conversations from Bennett’s much-nominated Duets: An American Classic unites two more much-imitated but inimitable masters, who now share a nod for pop collaboration.

My Love, Justin Timberlake featuring T.I.: Nominated for rap/sung collaboration, this is also one of the best tracks on Timberlake’s impressive sophomore CD, with a keening melody and a percolating groove, via Timbaland.

I Was Doing Alright, Diana Krall: There’s not a single dud on Krall’s From This Moment On, up for traditional pop album, but this characteristically elegant, sexy take on a classic is one of several standouts.

Jenny Wren, Paul McCartney: From McCartney’s superb Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, this entry for male pop vocal confirms the veteran rocker’s still-unrivaled knack for blithe, buoyant pop.

Ooh La La, Goldfrapp: Singer Alison Goldfrapp and multifaceted muso Will Gregory continue to pump out some of the coolest, most stylish electro-pop around, as this nominee for best dance recording proves.

My Friends, Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone: Though the stripped-down Sweeney Todd that's up for best musical show album lacks the lushness of the original Broadway cast recording, Stephen Sondheim’s score is forever glorious, and Cerveris and Lupone summon the dark passion this searing ballad demands.

Canadians are cool

What a manic day for comments, thanks to our pals at the R&R Hall of Fame. I did want to assure the couple of people who questioned whether Canadian artists were eligible that, yes, they are. After all, it's not called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for American and British Artists Only -- No Canadians, Australians, Jamaicans or Irish Need Apply.

I am a little perturbed at the few comments that suggest that rap doesn't belong in a hall of fame that seemingly, in their minds, should be reserved for longhaired classic rockers of the '70s and '80s. For very good reasons, it's not called the Rock Hall of Fame. Rock 'n' roll encompasses the music back to its roots, and those roots are principally in various forms of black music -- the blues, jazz, ragtime, etc.  To suggest that later forms of black music should somehow be excluded is a truly wrongheaded viewpoint.

End of sermon. Look forward to more comments.

This week's reviews: Omarion, Switchfoot, Sloan, Simon & more

They're back -- the Listen Up album reviews from our critics, that is. Things start off slow in the music realm, so we get a chance to spotlight a few more deserving smaller-label records. Here are the pithy summaries:

> Omarion is "surely moving forward" as he puts his R&B teen-idol days behind him, Steve Jones reports.

> Switchfoot may still be questing lyrically, but they're sounding catchier than ever, says Brian Mansfield.

> Sloan "recalls the days when rock stars wore thigh-high space boots ... but without the music excesses," Brian contends.

> Carly Simon has yet another covers album out, but this one's exceptional, says Elysa Gardner.

> The Spanic Boys, a father-son guitar duo cherished by a dedicated cult, are back after a long absence and sound like "some lost '60s garage band with the chops to match its enthusiasm," Brian enthuses.

> John Waite revisits his catalog and pulls off the rare feat of improving some of it, says Brian.

Full reviews and clips follow.

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Rock Hall reactions

Nothing like a little mention of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to drive traffic around here. As always, I'm impressed with the eloquence with which a lot of you make your points, even when I totally disagree.

But all those rattled by the Rush omission (gratuitous Pavement reference for indie cred purposes) or the lack of Kiss, Yes, the Moody Blues, etc. -- remember, they weren't even on the ballot. I'm always happy to publish comments bemoaning the injustice of such and such an act not being inducted, but it's a little off topic at the moment, when we have five acts on the ballot who did make it and four who didn't to debate.

Still, keep the comments -- on anybody -- coming.

Also, for those interested, here's an audio montage our online team has put together on behalf of the inductees.

Rock Hall admits five

So, the votes are finally in for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class of 2007. Set for induction March 12 are Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, R.E.M., The Ronettes, Patti Smith and Van Halen. Losing out are Chic, Dave Clark Five, The Stooges and Joe Tex.

As readers of this blog know full well, we've had lengthy discussions about the merits of these acts (and many, many more), so most of you know my take. I will, however, take this opportunity to sound off once more, artist by artist.

> Winners:

Grandmaster Flash: The impulse to represent early hip-hop is commendable, and these guys were pioneers before they recorded. Their actual recorded legacy is on the thin side, but the groundbreaking Wheels of Steel and spinoff act Melle Mel's The Message are monumental creations that justify their inclusion.

R.E.M.: As if there were any doubt ... Standard-bearers for the alt-rock legions.

The Ronettes: Great records, and more than you might think if all you've heard is Be My Baby or maybe Walking in the Rain. Ronnie Spector has a distinctive voice, but I'm still torn on this one because I give just as much or more credit to producer Phil Spector. However, if The Ronettes' inclusion leads to more artists from the sadly under-represented girl-group era making it (the Shangri-Las and Lesley Gore, for two), I'd be happy.

Patti Smith: Probably overdue. Unique artist, powerful records, great influence, still active so nicely timed.

Van Halen: We all went around and around on this one, with me eventually concluding that they had a solid case (for the Roth era, anyway; the rest is pretty dispensable). So I'm at peace with this, but wonder if both Dave and Sammy will show up (probably, right?).

Comments on the non-winners follow.

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Comments on your comments

First, a comment of my own. The blizzard of year-end tallies for airplay, album sales, digital tracks, mastertones, popcorn and raisinettes is over (well, I still have to work on some Broadway year-end statistics Sunday, but I won't burden you with those). So we can start the new year for real, with more commentary on music itself (new records, old records, all kinds of stuff), more participation from the USA TODAY music reporters, and a lot of surprises (probably including several things that surprise me).

I mentioned this earlier, but I was pleased to see some affirmation for some of my more obscure favorites in my personal year-end top songs and albums list. (I know the song lists were tomes, but believe me, they could have been lengthier.)

I was especially gratified by profB's rave for Nerina Pallot, whose Everybody's Gone to War was my favorite song last year. He wanted to know when her album (it's her second, and contains that song) was coming out in the States.

Last I heard, nothing was set yet. Warner Bros. had the U.S. rights and was undecided about the whens and ifs. So it's very much up in the air, and I hope it's resolved in a way that's best for Nerina's career.

See you next week.

More sales info to impress your friends

There's a lot of info in the Nielsen SoundScan year-end music sales report that I don't have room for in the paper, but that's why they invented cyberspace. (Or maybe not.) So here's some more info:

> Three of the four best-selling album artists of the year are country: Rascal Flatts, Johnny Cash and Carrie Underwood. Nickelback is No. 3, just ahead of Carrie, and The Beatles are No. 5. The rest of the top 10 is Tim McGraw, Andrea Bocelli, Mary J. Blige, Keith Urban and Justin Timberlake. That's five country artists. Yet country, according to SoundScan's sometimes-fuzzy genre breakouts, accounts for less than 13% of total album sales. (By sometimes-fuzzy, I mean two things: 1) the artist definitions are not broken down and are obviously subjective, and 2) albums can appear in more than one category, so you can't really calculate the percentage of total sales each genre represents.)

> Speaking of genre statistics, SoundScan just started breaking out rock as a separate category. (It used to be divided between alternative and metal, which are also still separate categories. Yet there is no pop category ...) Anyway, in its first year as a separate category, it was the No. 1 genre by a mile, with 171 million units sold. Second was R&B at 117 million, followed by alternative at 110 million and country at 75 million. Soundtracks, led by top 10 year-enders High School Musical and Hannah Montana, jumped 19%; less easily explained is the 22.5% jump for classical music, although it's still a tiny percentage of the total (approximately 3%).

> R&B and hip-hop massively dominate the exciting new world of mastertones (the higher-quality, more-expensive ringtones that are eclipsing the old, cheaper, tinnier polyphonic ringtones). Nine of the top 10 mastertone songs are R&B/hip-hop or pop that leans strongly in that direction. And sales levels are very high, often exceeding download totals for many songs.

The mastertones top 20 plus a few other stray facts follow.

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Year-end music sales: A mixed bag

Following is a quick and dirty summary of Nielsen SoundScan's 2006 music sales stats -- more details and updates are in the paper's year-end music sales report and digital music chart.

As no one who's been following these types of reports each week will be surprised to learn, album sales were down and digital track sales were up. It's not an overnight revolution, but the purchase of tracks continues to rise and albums continue to decline (although digital album sales more than doubled). Here's the statistical breakdown over the last four years:

> Album sales 2006: 588.2 million (down 4.9% from 2005)

2005: 618.9 million (down 7.2% from 2004)

2004: 666.7 million (up 1.7% from 2003)

2003: 656.2 million

> Track downloads 2006: 581.9 million (up about 65% from 2005)

2005: 352.7 million (up about 151% from 2004)

2004: 140.9 million (up about 630% from 2003)

2003: 19.2 million

More nuggets follow.

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Coming later today: The year-end sales report

I'd hoped to get the official 2006 music sales data Wednesday night, but fate decreed otherwise. I should have it later today, and will try to slice it and dice it as interestingly as possible. I'll also be doing similar data-crunching for the paper, so it should be a real fun-with-numbers day. 

See you then.

This week's top 10 albums: Short version

I've got partial info on this week's album sales (no download info, no weekly totals, a few stray things like that yet), so I thought I'd at least give you the quick top 10 news. As usual in the week after Christmas -- and this week was probably worse than usual because the dates for the sales data were Dec. 25-31 -- album sales plunged. (Download sales went way up, thanks to holiday iPod and Zune gifts needing to be filled up with music, but as I said, I don't have the exact figures yet.)

No. 1 for the week was Omarion's 21, making its debut with 120,000 units sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Akon rebounded (one of many records to do so) from No. 10 to 2, selling 112,000, down slightly more than 50% from the previous week, a relatively mild drop compared to most. The Dreamgirls soundtrack shot from 31 to 3, selling 104,000 (down 20% from the previous week). If you added in the 26,000 sales for the deluxe version (which SoundScan does not, tabulating them separately), Dreamgirls would be No. 1 for the week.

Nas falls from No. 1 to 4, selling 101,000 compared to 355,000 in its first week (about 72% off). Young Jeezy roars back from 18 to 5, selling 92,000 (half of what he sold the previous week -- see what I mean about reduced sales levels; they made for some wacky chart moves). Now 23 drops from 3 to 6 on 89,000 sales, down about 72% from the previous week. Eminem's Re-Up re-ups from 24 to 7, netting 84,000 sales, only 45% less than during the pre-Christmas week. Justin Timberlake hangs in there, moving 9-8 and selling 83,000 (off about 64%). Ciara returns to the top 10 (from 11), selling 79,000 (also off about 64%). And Hannah Montana snags another week in the top 10, barely, dropping from 2 last week on sales of 78,000 (about 78% off).

One other major debut: Switchfoot's Oh! Gravity came in at No. 18, selling 63,000.

Another delayed sales week

The usual sales report that I post on Wednesdays will be delayed, owing to the New Year's holiday and SoundScan production schedules. Don't know when yet -- I might get the new info toward the end of the day (ET), and will post it this evening. Otherwise, sometime Thursday.

Also coming at some indeterminate time: SoundScan's year-end figures, so I'll get those to you as soon as I can as well. Then, that should finally do it for year-end wrap-ups and we can focus on the new music year.

Radio's biggest songs of 2006

The stats are in from Nielsen BDS and Arbitron, and we have radio's top song of 2006 (based on airplay during the calendar year, all formats). Mary J. Blige's Be Without You cruised easily to the top spot.

Check out further statistical breakdowns and analysis. And, as a bonus, following is a longer list of the nation's most-heard songs: the top 100. Feel free to rail about radio's collective taste, or ask me where anything else peaked this year ...

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'Irreplaceable': It's still reigning out there

Sorry I've been tardy in getting this (or anything, for that matter) posted today -- I've been buried in year-end airplay statistics, some results of which you'll see later tonight (top hits of the year, that sort of thing).

Anyway, thanks to radio inertia (very few new singles being released or promoted to stations, lots of year-end countdowns, and so forth), the top 10 is identical to last week's. That would be the familiar hits by Beyonce, Akon & Snoop Dogg, Justin Timberlake, Akon & Eminem, Bow Wow, Ciara, Fergie, Jim Jones, The Fray and Lloyd.

There is a bit of movement in total audience among those records, and that plus other oddball facts follows.

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New Year's salutations

Thanks for a number of really kind comments over the weekend, and I will toss a few back your way. I've been very moved by a number of the James Brown comments, especially from those who grew up with his music, went to see him in his prime, and bought the records. Very touching.

I've also enjoyed the comments about my best lists of albums and tracks, and, as I figured, you've already pointed out some stuff I really should have had on my lists and neglected (or forgot) to do so. Matt D, you're right about Nina Gordon, that's an album I liked a lot and should have listed, but instead added to the overwhelming critical apathy with which it's unfairly been greeted. Great list of your own, too.

Here are a few other albums I thought of belatedly that should have been on my list (artists only for brevity): Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins, Nas (just heard it over the weekend), Sam Roberts, the Keene Brothers, The Pipettes, Ella Guru, Dierks Bentley and Eleventh Dream Day.

In general, I'm awed, as always, by the unbelievably wide range of tastes you collectively display. That's what I'd hoped when this blog started, and the diversity is really flourishing now. Looking forward to a new year of stimulating discussions.