TobyMac Brings Christian Music Back To No. 1

For the first time since 1997-and only the third time ever-a Christian album is No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

TobyMac lands his first chart-topper, "Eye on It", as it bows with 69,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It simultaneously debuts at No. 1 on the Christian Albums chart.

The last time a Christian set led the Billboard 200 was on Nov. 1, 1997, when LeAnn Rimes' "You Light Up My Life -- Inspirational Songs" spent its third and final week at No. 1. (It debuted in the top slot on Sept. 27.) That effort-which included a fair amount of inspirational tunes (hence its title) -- also led the Christian Albums tally for a whopping 35 weeks.

Before that, the only other Christian effort to crown the Billboard 200 was Bob Carlisle's "Butterfly Kisses (Shades of Grace)". It notched a pair of weeks at No. 1 earlier in 1997 (June 28-July 5), fueled by its hit title track, Father's Day gift-giving and an appearance by Carlisle on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." The album was also a big seller on the Christian Albums list, spending 20 frames at No. 1. The title track peaked at No. 10 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart on June 21, 1997 -- the week before the album soared to No. 1. ("Butterfly" missed the overall Billboard Hot 100, as noncommercially available singles were then barred from charting.)

"Eye on It" also bows at No. 1 on the Digital Albums chart, with 35,000 downloads sold (or, 50% of its overall debut). The album marks the first Christian set to hit No. 1 on the Digital Albums tally since it launched in 2005.

Previous to TobyMac's achievement this week, there have been some recent close calls at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. In 2011, Casting Crowns' "Come to the Well" and Red's "Until We Have Faces" both debuted and peaked at No. 2, while earlier this year, David Crowder Band's "Give Us Rest" also topped out in the runner-up slot.

A significant chunk of "Eye on It"'s sales (27%) were driven by Christian retailers and bookstores. Comparably, "Give Us Rest" amassed 39% of its first-week sales from Christian retail, while "Come to the Well" moved 54% of its debut from the sector. At the other end of the spectrum, Red's "Until We Have Faces" had a much smaller Christian first-week share, with only 9%.

Though this is TobyMac's first No. 1 on the Billboard 200, he isn't a stranger to hits on the chart: "Eye on It" is his ninth entry and third top 10. As part of the trio dcTalk, he claimed five more hit albums on the tally, including the No. 4 set "Supernatural" in 1998.

Matchbox 1: Watch for Matchbox 20 to nab its first No. 1 on the Billboard 200 next week as its new "North" will start, uh, north of 110,000, according to industry forecasters. "North" is the band's fifth studio set, and all four of its previous titles reached the top 10. (The group also issued an EP in 2003, conveniently named "EP", that debuted and peaked at No. 43.)

Richie's Million: Lionel Richie's surprise hit "Tuskegee" squeaks past 1 million in sales this week, marking just the third album to do so this year. "Tuskegee" moved another 6,000 last week (No. 67, down 60%).

"Tuskegee" joins Adele's "21" (3.9 million) and One Direction's "Up All Night" (1.2 million) as the only other million-sellers of 2012. Justin Bieber's "Believe" looks to be the next million-seller of the year, as its sales stand at 836,000.

Comparatively, a year ago this week, four albums had hit the million mark. "21" led the pack with 3.3 million, followed by Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" (1.8 million), Mumford & Sons' "Sigh No More" (1.1 million) and Jason Aldean's "My Kinda Party" (1.1 million).

Last year closed with 13 million-sellers, which still seems like a plausible goal for 2012, considering the heavyweight titles that are still due out later this year.

Of 2011's million-sellers, five were released in September or later, including two holiday efforts: Michael Buble's "Christmas" and Bieber's "Under the Mistletoe". Currently, the biggest Christmas sets on the horizon this year include albums by Rod Stewart and Blake Shelton.

Some of the likely million-sellers yet to come in 2012 are a couple of repeat offenders from last year. Aldean's "Night Train" (Oct. 25) and Mumford & Sons' "Babel" (Sept. 25) both seem like locks for a million before the close of the year. G.O.O.D. Music's "Cruel Summer compilation" (Sept. 18) walks and talks like a million seller, as does (perhaps) P!nk's "The Truth About Love" (Sept. 18). Further down the road, we have One Direction and Taylor Swift. By all indications, the former's second album, "Take Me Home", should be a blockbuster when it arrives Nov. 13, as will Swift's "Red", due Oct. 22.