Neil Diamond nabs the first No. 1 of his career as "Home Before Dark" bows atop the Billboard 200. The set's 146,000 start is his best debut sales week since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking data in 1991. Last week's chart-topper, Madonna's "Hard Candy," slides to No. 3 in its second week with a 66% decline. Mother's Day had its usual effect on the chart, with a bevy of mom-friendly albums taking a bow in the top 10, including new offerings from Toby Keith, Clay Aiken, Gavin DeGraw, Josh Groban, Dierks Bentley and Luis Miguel. In Progress Reports, we have news on the Offspring, Moby and Journey.


FLASH POINTS


• Recent "American Idol" guest Neil Diamond notches his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 as "Home Before Dark" starts in the top slot with a Mother's Day-enhanced 146,000. Though the legendary singer/songwriter has been charting albums since 1966's "The Feel of Neil Diamond," the closest he ever got to the penthouse was when his soundtrack to "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" hit No. 2 in 1973. He's also claimed a pair of No. 3 sets ("Serenade" and "The Jazz Singer") and a trio of No. 4 albums ("Beautiful Noise," "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" and the 2005 set "12 Songs").

• It's easy to think that Diamond would have had a No. 1 album by now, considering the number of hit singles he's collected. On the Billboard Hot 100, he's scored 55 hits as an artist, with 37 of those reaching the top 40. His first No. 1 single was "Cracklin' Rosie" in 1970, and he followed it up with two more chart-toppers: "Song Sung Blue" in 1972 and "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" (with Barbra Streisand) in 1978. And, one cannot forget the hits other acts have had with songs that he has written. The Monkees spent seven weeks at No. 1 in 1966 with "I'm a Believer," and in 2001, Smash Mouth climbed to No. 25 with its version of the tune (recorded for the film "Shrek"). UB40 hit No. 1 with "Red Red Wine" in 1988, while Urge Overkill had a No. 11 Modern Rock hit in 1994 with its take on "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" (from "Pulp Fiction").

• The 146,000 start for "Home Before Dark" marks Diamond's best debut sales week since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking data in 1991. The singer has claimed two bigger sales weeks overall though, when his "The Christmas Album" did 167,000 and 174,000 in successive weeks back in December 1992.

• Last week's No. 1, Madonna's "Hard Candy," falls to No. 3, shifting 94,000 -- with a not-so-sweet 66% decline. That's the third-largest second-week percentage drop for a No. 1-debuting album this year. DAY26's self-titled set (down 73% in its second week) and Janet Jackson's "Discipline" (down 68%) posted bigger erosions. Here is a quick rundown of 2008's No. 1 debuts and their sophomore-frame drops: Mariah Carey's "E=MC2" (61%), Leona Lewis' "Spirit" (54%), George Strait's "Troubadour" (65%), DAY26's "DAY26" (73%), Danity Kane's "Welcome to the Dollhouse" (62%), Rick Ross' "Trilla" (54%), Alan Jackson's "Good Time" (55%), Janet Jackson's "Discipline" (68%) and Jack Johnson's "Sleep Through the Static" (52%).

• With the Mother's Day holiday falling on Sunday, May 11 -- the final day of the SoundScan tracking week -- the top 10 of the Billboard 200 is full of debuts from acts that likely appeal to the female demographic. Toby Keith's "35 Biggest Hits" starts at No. 2 with 103,000 while Clay Aiken's "On My Way Here" lands at No. 4 with 94,000. Gavin DeGraw's self-titled offering begins at No. 7 (66,000), Josh Groban's live CD/DVD warbles at No. 8 (58,000), and Dierks Bentley struts in at No. 9 with "Greatest Hits: Every Mile a Memory" (43,000). Latin superstar Luis Miguel claims his highest-charting album, as "Complices" bows at No. 10 with 32,000. "Complices" also gives Miguel his eighth No. 1 on the Top Latin Albums chart -- the most of any artist in the history of the list. He was previously in a three-way tie for first place with Los Temerarios and Marco Antonio Solis with seven each. (Solis has a new album due this summer, so Miguel's distinction may be short-lived.)



The Billboard 200

Sales data provided and compiled from Nielsen SoundScan
*1 New NEIL DIAMOND Home Before Dark (Columbia / Sony Music) 11 11 TAYLOR SWIFT Taylor Swift (Big Machine )
*2 New TOBY KEITH 35 Biggest Hits (Show Dog Nashville / UMe) 12 4 LYFE JENNINGS Lyfe Change (Columbia / Sony Music)
3 1 MADONNA Hard Candy (Warner Bros. ) 13 9 VARIOUS ARTISTS NOW 27 (Sony BMG / EMI / Universal / Zomba / Sony BMG Strategic Marketing Group)
*4 New CLAY AIKEN On My Way Here (S / 19 / RCA / RMG) *14 18 GEORGE STRAIT Troubadour (MCA Nashville / UMGN)
5 2 MARIAH CAREY E=MC2 (Island / IDJMG) *15 16 JACK JOHNSON Sleep Through The Static (Brushfire / UMRG)
6 3 LEONA LEWIS Spirit (SYCO / J / RMG) *16 New TYE TRIBBETT & G.A. Stand Out (Integrity )
*7 New GAVIN DEGRAW Gavin DeGraw (J / RMG) 17 13 SOUNDTRACK Juno (Fox / Rhino / AG)
*8 New JOSH GROBAN Awake Live (143 / Reprise / Warner Bros.) *18 23 JORDIN SPARKS Jordin Sparks (19 / Jive / Zomba)
*9 New DIERKS BENTLEY Greatest Hits // Every Mile A Memory 2003-2008 (Capitol Nashville ) *19 19 COLBIE CAILLAT Coco (Universal Republic / UMRG)
*10 New LUIS MIGUEL Complices (Warner Latina ) 20 10 TIM MCGRAW Greatest Hits: Limited Edition (Curb )
* indicates titles with greatest sales gains this week




MARKET WATCH

• Album units, current chart week: 8.12 million units
• UP 6.9% from last issue's charts: 7.55 million units
• DOWN 4.6% from same week, 2007: 8.51 million units
• This week: The top two albums sell more than 100,000 copies.
• This week last year on the Billboard 200: Michael Buble managed the rare feat of going to No. 1 with an album that did not debut there, as "Call Me Irresponsible" skipped from No. 2 to No. 1 in its second week on the chart (145,000). Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's "Strength and Loyalty" entered at No. 2 with 119,000 while Bobby Valentino's "Special Occasion" bowed at No. 3 (92,000). Only the top two albums sold more than 100,000.





BORDERLINES

• The No. 20 album this week, Tim McGraw's "Greatest Hits: Limited Edition" (Curb), sold 23,000.
• The No. 20 album for the same week of 2007, Rush's "Snakes and Arrows" (Anthem/Atlantic/AG), sold 27,000.
• Average total of the No. 20 album for the same week of the year during the past 10 years (1999-2008): 44,831.



PROGRESS REPORTS


• The Offspring earns a career-best debut on the Modern Rock chart as "Hammerhead" opens at No. 5, logging the highest entry point for any title since Linkin Park's "What I've Done" debuted at No. 1 on the April 21, 2007, chart. This marks the fourth consecutive week that the Modern Rock chart has hosted a top 25 debut, following Coldplay's "Violet Hill," Nine Inch Nails' "Discipline" and Weezer's "Pork and Beans." It is the longest streak of top 25 debuts since a five-week stretch of lofty debuts in late summer 1999 ... "Hammerhead" is the first offering from Offspring's new studio effort, "Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace," due June 17. It is the band's first studio set since 2003's "Splinter."

• Journey debuts on the Adult Contemporary chart at No. 28 with "After All These Years," the act's first AC hit since "All the Way" reached No. 22 in 2001. Journey's new album, "Revelation," will be released exclusively through Wal-Mart in June. The set boasts the band's newest lead singer, Arnel Pineda, who was discovered by the band's Neal Schon after he saw Pineda singing covers of Journey's hits on YouTube.


• On the Hot Dance Club Play chart, Moby notches his first top 10 hit since 1999 as "Disco Lies" rises 14-9 in its sixth week on the chart. The artist last reached the top 10 with "Bodyrock," which peaked at No. 9 in June 1999. Moby was a fixture in the Club Play chart's top 10 from 1992 through 1999, charting eight top 10 singles in that span of time. He's reached No. 1 twice, with "Move" in 1993 and "James Bond Theme" in 1997.



A LOOK AHEAD

• Among the titles released this week, due on next week's charts: Death Cab for Cutie's "Narrow Stairs," Duffy's "Rockferry," Jason Mraz's "We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things," Keith Sweat's "Just Me," Iron Maiden's "Somewhere Back in Time," Old 97's "Blame It on Gravity," Frank Sinatra's "Nothing But the Best" and the soundtrack to "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian."

• Next week's Billboard 200 competes with the same week in 2007 when: Linkin Park's "Minutes to Midnight" stormed in at No. 1 with 623,000. New efforts from Tank, Wilco, Gretchen Wilson and Megadeth all started in the top 10 as well. Only the top two albums sold more than 100,000.