Kanye West's "Graduation" achieves the best sales week in more than two years as his third album starts with 957,000 ... The tally is the 15th-biggest sales week since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking data in 1991 ... Coming in at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, on The Billboard 200 are 50 Cent's "Curtis" (691,000) and Kenny Chesney's "Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates" (387,000). Also in Chart Alert ... What do West and 50 Cent have in common with Guns N' Roses? What happened four years ago this week on the chart, and why is it important? Just how many digital downloads did West's "Graduation" sell in its record-breaking week?



FLASH POINTS



• Even though by all indications the race for No. 1 on The Billboard 200 was over as of last Wednesday when first-day sales tracked by Nielsen SoundScan gave Kanye West a solid lead over 50 Cent and Kenny Chesney, it ain't over until the fat lady sings. And she just finished her solo. West's "Graduation" sold 957,000 in its first week -- the biggest sales week for an album since 2005. He's followed by 50's "Curtis" at No. 2 with 691,000 and Chesney's "Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates" at No. 3 with 387,000.

• West's whopping 957,000 week is the 15th-biggest sales frame since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking data in 1991. The big bow of "Graduation" is nestled between the debut of Norah Jones' "Feels Like Home" (1.02 million in 2004) and the entrance of Pearl Jam's "Vs." (950,000 in 1993). Sales for "Graduation" are the largest for any album since 50 Cent's "The Massacre" moved 1.14 million upon its debut in March 2005.

• With West and 50 Cent debuting north of 600,000, this marks only the second time since the establishment of SoundScan that two debuts in the same week started with sales exceeding 600,000. The only other time it happened was in 1991, when Guns N' Roses' "Use Your Illusion II" and "Use Your Illusion I" started at Nos. 1 and 2 with 770,000 and 685,000, respectively -- numbers beaten by this week's rap tandem.

• The nearly 2.2 million copies rung up by the top four albums this week ("High School Musical 2" is at No. 4 with 133,000) outsells the entire Billboard 200 chart from last week. A week ago, the top 200 titles combined sold nearly 2.1 million. However, despite the exciting debuts at Nos. 1-3 this week, overall album sales stand at 9.16 million, down nearly 9% compared with the same week last year (10.05 million).

• West's "Graduation" also begins with 133,000 digital album downloads, the biggest sales week for a digital album, surpassing the previous record of 102,000 earlier this year by the arrival of Maroon 5's "It Won't Be Soon Before Long." West obviously leads our Top Digital Albums chart, with 50 Cent (58,000) and Chesney (36,000) following at Nos. 2 and 3.

• The last time the top three slots on the chart belonged to debuts that sold more than 300,000 came during the week ending Dec. 25, 2005. That's when Mary J. Blige, Jamie Foxx and the Notorious B.I.G. started at Nos. 1-3. Blige's "The Breakthrough" entered with 727,000, Foxx's "Unpredictable" arrived with 598,000 and Biggie's "Duets" bowed with 438,000.

• The Sept. 11, 2007, release slate was unusual not just in the fact that we had three superstar acts releasing highly anticipated albums, but also because the fourth quarter hasn't arrived yet. It's normal to expect three heavy hitters the week of Thanksgiving, let's say. Or the first week of December. But in the middle of September?

• To find a non-fourth quarter week where the top three all sold north of 300,000, you have to scroll back to the week ending Feb. 15, 2004. Thanks to a one-two punch of Valentine's Day shopping and the Grammy Awards that week, Norah Jones' "Feels Like Home" started strong at No. 1 with 1.02 million. West's debut album, "The College Dropout," bowed at No. 2 that week with 441,000 while Chesney spent his second week on the chart with "When the Sun Goes Down" selling 350,000.

• More impressively, the last time we had a non-fourth-quarter week where the top three were all debuts that sold more than 300,000 came the week ending Sept. 28, 2003. That's when OutKast's "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" (510,000), Dave Matthews' "Some Devil" (469,000) and Limp Bizkit's "Results May Vary" (325,000) all bowed in the top three slots.

• With all the hype surrounding West, 50 Cent and Chesney, most people forgot there were actually other albums released last week. The other significant debuts on The Billboard 200 include the "Grey's Anatomy 3" soundtrack (No. 16; 27,000), Trisha Yearwood's "Greatest Hits" (No. 22; 22,000), B5's "Don't Talk Just Listen" (No. 27; 19,000), Cupid's "Time for a Change" (No. 58; 10,000), Pinback's "Autumn of the Seraphs" (No. 69; 9,000), Animal Collective's "Strawberry Jam" (No. 72; 8,000), Iced Earth's "Framing Armageddon" (No. 79; 8,000), Hot Hot Heat's "Happiness LTD." (No. 86; 7,000) and Ani DeFranco's "Canon" (No. 89; 7,000).



The Billboard 200

Sales data provided and compiled from Nielsen SoundScan
*1 New KANYE WEST Graduation (Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam / IDJMG) 11 10 LINKIN PARK Minutes To Midnight (Machine Shop / Warner Bros.)
*2 New 50 CENT Curtis (Shady / Aftermath / Interscope / IGA) 12 4 CASTING CROWNS The Altar And The Door (Beach Street / Reunion)
*3 New KENNY CHESNEY Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates (BNA / SBN) *13 26 TIMBALAND Timbaland Presents Shock Value (Mosley / Blackground / Interscope / IGA)
4 1 SOUNDTRACK High School Musical 2 (Walt Disney ) 14 6 SOUNDTRACK Hairspray (New Line )
5 3 MILEY CYRUS Hannah Montana 2 (Soundtrack)/Meet Miley Cyrus (Walt Disney / Hollywood ) *15 17 MAROON 5 It Won't Be Soon Before Long (A&M / Octone / IGA)
6 2 FERGIE The Dutchess (will.i.am / A&M / Interscope / IGA) *16 New SOUNDTRACK Grey's Anatomy 3 (Hollywood )
7 8 NICKELBACK All The Right Reasons (Roadrunner ) *17 20 COMMON Finding Forever (G.O.O.D. / Geffen / IGA)
*8 14 COLBIE CAILLAT Coco (Universal Republic / UMRG) *18 21 RIHANNA Good Girl Gone Bad (SRP / Def Jam / IDJMG)
9 7 VARIOUS ARTISTS NOW 25 (Universal / EMI / Sony BMG / Zomba / UMRG) 19 15 T.I. T.I. Vs T.I.P. (Grand Hustle / Atlantic / AG)
*10 12 JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE FutureSex/LoveSounds (Jive / Zomba) 20 9 AMY WINEHOUSE Back To Black (Universal Republic / UMRG)
* indicates titles with greatest sales gains this week





MARKET WATCH

• Album units, current chart week: 9.16 million units
• UP 24.6% from last issue's charts: 7.36 million units
• DOWN 8.82% from same week, 2006: 10.05 million units
• This week: the top four albums sell more than 100,000 copies.
• This week last year on The Billboard 200: Justin Timberlake's "FutureSex/LoveSounds" bounded in at No. 1 with 684,000. John Mayer's "Continuum" bowed at No. 3 with 300,000. Bob Seger and Lionel Richie also started at Nos. 4 and 6 with 151,000 and 75,000, respectively. The top four albums sold more than 100,000 units.



BORDERLINES

• The No. 1 album this week, Kanye West's "Graduation" (Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam), sold 957,000.
• The No. 1 album for the same week of 2006, Justin Timberlake's "FutureSex/LoveSounds" (Jive), sold 684,000.
• Average total of the No. 1 album for the same week of the year during the past 10 years (1998-2007): 358,889.



PROGRESS REPORTS



• After bowing atop the Hot Country Songs chart dated Sept. 7, Garth Brooks' "More Than a Memory" recaptures its bullet at No. 7 after dipping 1-8 last week. Brooks' single gains 1.9 million audience impressions to draw a total of 28.9 million for the week ... Also noteworthy on Hot Country Songs this week is the return of Country Music Hall of Fame member Dolly Parton at No. 57. "Better Get to Livin'," released on Parton's recently launched Dolly imprint, is the singer/songwriter/actress' first solo chart single since "Hello God" spent one week at No. 60 in November 2002. Amazingly, "Better" is Parton's 105th Hot Country Songs hit -- the most among female artists -- and extends her career chart span to more than 40 years. She first appeared with the No. 24-peaking "Dumb Blonde" in January 1967 ... Parton will perform the single on the third episode of the three-day season premiere of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," which kicks off Sept. 24.

• System of a Down's Serj Tankian makes his first solo chart appearance as "Empty Walls" debuts on Active Rock, Rock and Alternative/Modern Rock charts. "Walls" lands a No. 21 debut on the Active Rock chart, the format's third-best of 2007. The track also arrives at No. 30 at Rock and No. 32 at Alternative/Modern Rock, more than doubling the number of plays it earned last week at both formats ... Tankian's debut album, "Elect the Dead," streets Oct. 23.

• On the Hot Dance Club Play chart, Chaka Khan bows at No. 29 with "Disrespectful," her collaboration with Mary J. Blige. It's the first entry on the Club chart for Khan since her featured role on De La Soul's "All Good?" helped that tune peak at No. 17 in 2001 ... Elsewhere on the Club chart, the Pussycat Dolls' Jessica Sutta occupies two slots in the top 10. "Make It Last" (Dave Aude featuring Sutta) slips from No. 1 to No. 5 while "White Lies" (Paul Van Dyk featuring Sutta) rises from No. 13 to No. 9. It's the first time one artist has had two concurrent top 10 Club Play singles since Paris Hilton managed the feat for three weeks in 2006 (Sept. 2 through Sept. 16).



Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums

Sales data provided and compiled from Nielsen SoundScan
*1 New KANYE WEST Graduation (Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam / IDJMG)
*2 77 50 CENT Curtis (Shady / Aftermath / Interscope / IGA)
*3 4 COMMON Finding Forever (G.O.O.D. / Geffen / IGA)
4 2 PLIES The Real Testament (Big Gates / Slip-N-Slide / Atlantic / AG)
*5 New B5 Don't Talk, Just Listen (Bad Boy / AG)
*6 5 T.I. T.I. Vs T.I.P. (Grand Hustle / Atlantic / AG)
7 3 UGK Underground Kingz (UGK / Jive / Zomba)
8 1 YUNG JOC Hustlenomic$ (Block / Bad Boy South / AG)
*9 New CUPID Time For A Change (Asylum / AG)
*10 7 TALIB KWELI Eardrum (Blacksmith / Warner Bros.)
* indicates titles with greatest sales gains this week
Top Country Albums

Sales data provided and compiled from Nielsen SoundScan
*1 New KENNY CHESNEY Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates (BNA / SBN)
*2 New TRISHA YEARWOOD Greatest Hits (MCA Nashville / UMGN)
3 1 TAYLOR SWIFT Taylor Swift (Big Machine )
4 2 BRAD PAISLEY 5th Gear (Arista Nashville / SBN)
5 3 TIM MCGRAW Let It Go (Curb )
6 4 LYLE LOVETT AND HIS LARGE BAND It's Not Big It's Large (Curb / Lost Highway / UMGN)
*7 6 SUGARLAND Enjoy The Ride (Mercury / UMGN)
8 5 CARRIE UNDERWOOD Some Hearts (Arista / Arista Nashville / RMG)
9 7 TOBY KEITH Big Dog Daddy (Show Dog Nashville )
10 8 RASCAL FLATTS Me And My Gang (Lyric Street / Hollywood)
* indicates titles with greatest sales gains this week
Top Heatseekers

Sales data provided and compiled from Nielsen SoundScan
*1 New ANN WILSON Hope & Glory (Zoe / Rounder)
*2 New THE GO! TEAM Proof Of Youth (Sub Pop )
*3 New 40 CAL. Broken Safety 2 (Dipset / Koch)
4 2 FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS The Distant Future (EP) (Sub Pop )
5 3 DJ SKRIBBLE ThriveMix 04 (ThriveDance / Thrive)
*6 New THE GOOD LIFE Help Wanted Nights (Saddle Creek )
*7 New SHOUT OUT LOUDS Our Ill Wills (Merge )
*8 7 MARK RONSON Version (AllIDo / RCA)
*9 9 PETER BJORN AND JOHN Writer's Block (AlmostGold )
*10 New THE BIRTHDAY MASSACRE Walking With Strangers (Metropolis )
* indicates titles with greatest sales gains this week
Top Pop Catalog Albums

Sales data provided and compiled from Nielsen SoundScan
1 1 TIM MCGRAW Greatest Hits (Curb )
2 2 MICHAEL BUBLE It's Time (143 / Reprise / Warner Bros.)
*3 New KANYE WEST The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam / IDJMG)
4 3 GUNS N' ROSES Greatest Hits (Geffen / IGA)
*5 New 50 CENT Get Rich Or Die Tryin' (Shady / Aftermath / Interscope)
*6 New KANYE WEST Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam / IDJMG)
7 4 EAGLES The Very Best Of (Warner Strategic Marketing )
*8 5 PINK FLOYD Dark Side Of The Moon (Capitol )
*9 New LUCIANO PAVAROTTI The Best: Farewell Tour (Decca / Universal Classics Group)
10 7 AC/DC Back In Black (Legacy / Epic / Sony Music)
* indicates titles with greatest sales gains this week




A LOOK AHEAD

• Among the titles released this week, due on next week's charts: Chamillionaire's "Ultimate Victory," Reba McEntire's "Duets," Paul Potts' "One Chance," Diana Krall's "The Very Best of Diana Krall," James Blunt's "All the Lost Souls," KT Tunstall's "Drastic Fantastic," Barry Manilow's "The Greatest Songs of the Seventies," Gloria Estefan's "90 Millas," HIM's "Venus Doom," Babyface's "Playlist," Twista's "Adrenaline Rush 2007," Motion City Soundtrack's "Even If It Kills Me," Pat Monahan's "The Last of Seven" and the Donnas' "Bitchin.' "
• Next week's Billboard 200 competes with the same week in 2006 when: Justin Timberlake's "FutureSex/LoveSounds" held at No. 1 for a second week, shifting 228,000 (down 67% from its bow). Clay Aiken's "A Thousand Different Ways" started in the runner-up slot with 211,000. Fergie's "The Dutchess" began at No. 3 with 158,000 while Kenny Chesney's "LIVE: Live Those Songs Again" started at No. 4 (146,000). The top five albums sold more than 100,000 units.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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