The Billboard 200: One lone new entry graced the chart this week -- Alicia Keys' "Girl On Fire," which bowed at No. 1 with 159,000 sold. It was the R&B super star's fifth No. 1 on the tally.
Two steps below Keys this week is Rod Stewart's "Merry Christmas, Baby," which rose 6-3 with 117,000 sold (down less than 1% compared to the previous week).
While the pop icon's set still seems like a sure thing to be the season's biggest holiday album, it might not rise to blockbuster status, a la Michael Buble's unstoppable "Christmas" set from 2011.
"Merry Christmas, Baby" has moved 475,000 so far -- well ahead of the No. 2 holiday seller this year, Lady Antebellum's "On This Winter's Night" (217,000). However, a year ago at this time, the top selling holiday set was Michael Buble's "Christmas" -- and it had already sold a million copies: twice as much as Stewart's "Merry." Meanwhile, the No. 2 seller at that point, Justin Bieber's "Under the Mistletoe," had sold more than three times (674,000) what this year's second-largest seller has moved.
Can Stewart pull it together and move some major units between now and Christmas? Sure. But since he already did a smattering of fairly high profile TV appearances last week (which didn't spark a gain), there's cause for concern. During the current chart's tracking week, his new PBS special debuted (Nov. 26) while he performed on NBC's "Christmas in Rockefeller Center" (Nov. 28), "Today" (Nov. 29) and "Live With Kelly & Michael" (Nov. 30).
It would be fascinating to see if Buble's "Christmas" -- which was last year's second-biggest-selling album overall behind Adele's "21" -- can stage a comeback this season. This week, it rallies 16-7 on the Billboard 200, selling 66,000 (up 24%). It's the first holiday album to return to the top 10 after its initial season since the Billboard 200 lifted its ban on catalog albums in late 2009.
Buble's second NBC Christmas special, "Home for the Holidays," will premiere Dec. 10 and feature guest stars Stewart, Blake Shelton, Carly Rae Jepsen and a virtual duet with Bing Crosby. An encore airing of "Home for the Holidays" is set for Dec. 21. A year ago, his "A Michael Buble Christmas" special earned 7 million viewers in its debut on Dec. 6, according to Nielsen. Also on Dec. 10 this year, Buble will guest on "The Voice," one week after he performed on "Today."
AND IN OTHER NEWS: Let's look at some of the movers and shakers outside the top 10 . . .
-- Christina Aguilera: After three weeks, her "Lotus" album has shifted 140,000. That's eclipsed by the 169,000 that her last studio set, "Bionic," moved in its first three stanzas. This week, "Lotus" slips from No. 17 to No. 47, selling 15,000 (down 72%).
-- Future & Rage Against the Machine: Albums from both acts reenter the chart this week after they were reissued with bonus tracks and extra material. Future's "Pluto" was bolstered with three new songs and two remixes. In turn, it comes back to the list at No. 75 with 11,000 sold (up 136%). One of its freshly remixed cuts, "Neva End," rises 26-22 on Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop this week. As for Rage Against the Machine, the band marked the 20th anniversary of its self-titled debut album by reissuing it with a bonus CD and two DVDs. It sold 8,000 last week and returns to
the list (No. 102) for the first time since 1995, up by 1,119%.
-- James Taylor: First released in 2006 on Columbia, his "James Taylor at Christmas" album was recently rereleased by UMe this year with a handful of additional cuts. This week, with a 26% sales gain, it reenters the chart at No. 103.
-- "Elf" soundtrack: The movie soundtrack has become an annual go-to gift for those looking for holiday music. Since its release in 2003, it has sold 600,000 copies. (This week, it returns to the Billboard 200 at No. 113, selling 7,000 with a 25% gain). In 2011 alone it moved 63,000 -- up compared to the 44,000 it sold in 2010.