When it comes to Billboard chart history, Miranda Lambert couldn't have picked a better title for her latest album, "Four the Record."
The singer becomes the only artist in the almost 48-year history of Billboard's Top Country Albums chart to debut at No. 1 with each of her first four albums -- a feat she manages as "Four the Record" follows summit-starters "Kerosene" (2005), "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2007) and "Revolution" (2009).
And, that's not even counting her recent No. 1 with side project Pistol Annies, whose self-titled album launched atop the Sept. 10 Top Country Albums tally. Lambert formed the trio with Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley.
"Record" also brings the Texas-born Lambert her top Nielsen SoundScan week, opening with 133,000 copies sold. Her previous best came courtesy of "Revolution," which arrived with 66,000.
For good measure, "Four" sets a new high-water mark for Lambert on the Billboard 200, where it bows at No. 3, topping a No. 6 entrance and peak for "Ex-Girlfriend."
On Top Country Albums, Lambert steps ahead of three other acts - all solo females - who arrived at the summit with each of their first three albums: LeAnn Rimes (1996-97), Gretchen Wilson (2004-07) and Carrie Underwood (2005-09). Underwood will likely match Lambert's accomplishment when her fourth album is released next year. (No release date has been announced for the follow-up to Underwood's 2009 set, "Play On").
Male artists' overall commercial dominance remains one of the long held fundamentals of country music, and outstanding chart performances by women are the exception and not the rule. Developing solo female artists, industry insiders understand, is a much tougher challenge than for their male counterparts. But when women successfully break through, the payoff can often be astronomical.
Each of the aforementioned four women followed different paths to their respective chart successes, and each has a unique story to tell when it comes to country radio airplay.
Underwood was immediately embraced by country radio following her 2005 victory on "American Idol," and it was country radio and video play for the quasi-novelty "Redneck Woman" that hurled Wilson to stardom.
Fans were initially drawn to Rimes, meanwhile, by a quirky, retro-styled lead single that showcased her astonishing vocal power at a tender young age, but concurrently made many country radio programmers nervous; her "Blue" bounded to No. 10 on Hot Country Songs in just seven weeks, but rose no higher. That was July 1996, the same month that her like-titled debut album opened (with 123,000) at No. 1 on Top Country Albums. For all her commercial success, Rimes has led Hot Country Songs just once, with "One Way Ticket" in late 1996.
That disjointed radio-to-sales success ratio is a trait that Rimes shares with Lambert, whose radio chart history looks nothing like her album chart track record.
Lambert's first six radio singles never won the consensus vote at country radio, and she didn't score a top 10 on Hot Country Songs until her seventh release, "Gunpowder & Lead," peaked at No. 7 in summer 2008, nearly four years after her first appearance on the survey. She finally landed her first two No. 1s from "Revolution": "The House That Built Me," which spent four weeks in the peak position last year, and "Heart Like Mine," which led for one week this May.
Ultimately, Lambert may have the last laugh, as "Baggage Claim," the lead single from "Four," bullets at No. 5 this week on Hot Country Songs. Even if it doesn't eventually reach the chart's pinnacle, the song has already outperformed all but three of her 14 solo singles.
And, even if her overall radio chart history continues to be hit-and-miss, Lambert's fans have clearly been miles ahead of the radio gatekeepers all along.