Madonna scores her eighth No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart with the debut of her "MDNA," while Lionel Richie's all-star country collaborations covers album "Tuskegee" bows in the runner-up slot -- his highest-charting album since 1986.
Madonna remains in second place among women with the most No. 1 albums. She now needs only one more No. 1 to tie Barbra Streisand, the leader among women with nine chart-toppers.
"MDNA" sold 359,000 copies according to Nielsen SoundScan, and is Madonna's fifth straight studio album to debut at No. 1. It follows 2008's "Hard Candy," which moved 280,000 in its first week. "MDNA's" opener is her best sales week since 2000's "Music" shifted 420,000 when it debuted at No. 1.
Meanwhile, Richie's "Tuskegee" starts with 199,000 -- his best sales week since SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991. His previous largest frame in that span of time was when 2006's "Coming Home" started with 75,000 at No. 6 in 2006. Richie was last higher on the Billboard 200 in 1986, when "Dancing on the Ceiling" spent two weeks at No. 1.
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Like other veteran acts before him, Richie opted for a creative way to reach consumers with "Tuskegee." Not only did he go the covers route (see: Tony Bennett, Rod Stewart, etc.) but he also brought in a gaggle of A-listers (again, Bennett with his "Duets" albums, or, Santana's "Supernatural"). Further, he isn't just covering old tunes -- he's covering his own familiar hit singles, but with a country slant.
Richie also was the focus of an hour-long concert special on the Home Shopping Network on March 16. Sales generated from the broadcast amounted to about 20,000 sold, says Richie's record label, Universal Music Nashville.
A traditional studio album from Richie would have likely never sold as well as "Tuskegee," which targets multiple demographics all in one tidy package. Case in point: In one week, "Tuskegee" moved more than twice what his last studio album did in total -- 2009's "Just Go" has done 95,000.
In terms of release-week promotion, Madonna was basically off the radar, instead focusing her energy on rehearsals for her upcoming world tour. That stands in contrast to Richie, who worked the TV circuit hard in the past week.
He was the focus of multiple CMT specials and was interviewed on NBC's "Weekend Today" (March 25), appeared on "The Voice" (26, the album's release date), performed on "Today" (27), "The Late Show With David Letterman" (27), chatted with CNN's "Piers Morgan" (27) and finally, performed on CBS' "Academy of Country Music Awards" (April 1).
As for Madonna, since headlining the Feb. 5 Super Bowl halftime show, she's been laying low. Her only significant recent media appearances have been via a live Facebook chat with Jimmy Fallon (March 24) and a brief drop-in at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami the same night.
"MDNA's" sales were aided by a successful album sales promotion involving Madonna's upcoming world tour. U.S. customers who bought a concert ticket had the option of also receiving the album as part of their purchase. The only sales that count towards Billboard's charts are those where the customer opted to receive "MDNA."
This sort of ticket/album promotion has been used in the recent past by such acts as Bon Jovi and Tom Petty. The latter's "Mojo" album saw a No. 2 debut on July 3, 2010 -- thanks to a fair number of customers who got the album via a ticket purchase. The same goes for Bon Jovi's 2007 No. 1 album "Lost Highway."