Grammy Album of the Year: How Much Does Being a Billboard No. 1 Help?

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Singer Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons performs onstage during the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards.

Mumford & Sons' 'Babel' is the 37th Billboard chart-topper to win Grammys' top prize

The Grammys are based on quality, not quantity. So artistic merit trumps sales and fan popularity. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, but is it possible to make an informed prediction of who will triumph at the annual awards ceremony by looking at the Billboard charts? Based on the number of winners who have topped the Billboard album chart since the first statuette was handed out in 1959, the answer is a qualified yes. Of the 55 titles to be named Album of the Year, Mumford & Sons -- whose "Babel" debuted at No. 1 on October 2 -- are the 37th have reached the No. 1 spot.



This trend was apparent even in the early years of the NARAS awards. Of the first five albums to claim victory in this category, four achieved top position on the Billboard album chart. Henry Mancini’s “The Music from Peter Gunn,” Bob Newhart’s “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart,” Judy Garland’s “Judy at Carnegie Hall” and Vaughn Meader’s “The First Family” spent an aggregate total of 49 weeks at No. 1. The second album to win in this category, Frank Sinatra’s “Come Dance With Me,” peaked at No. 2. Three more Albums of the Year reached the runner-up spot on the chart: Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto’s “Getz/Gilberto” in 1965, George Harrison’s (and friends) “The Concert for Bangla Desh” in 1973 and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ “Raising Sand” in 2009.

The four most recent albums to claim victory in this division were all No. 1 on The Billboard 200: "Babel," “21” by Adele in 2012, “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire in 2011 and “Fearless” by Taylor Swift in 2010. Of this year's nominees, “Babel” and Jack White’s “Blunderbuss” were the only two among this year’s five nominees to spend time at No. 1. The Black Keys’ “El Camino” and Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” both peaked at No. 2; fun.’s “Some Nights,” peaked at No. 3.

Chart-topping sets took home the Grammy for Album of the Year trophy every year from 2002 to 2007. In chronological order starting with the earliest, those six winners were: the original soundtrack “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me,” OutKast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” Ray Charles’ “Genius Loves Company,” U2’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” and Dixie Chicks’ “Taking the Long Way.”

The last time an album that didn’t register somewhere in the top five won this Grammy was in 2001, when Steely Dan’s “Two Against Nature” was the victor after peaking at No. 6.

Finding a spot in the top 10 is almost a requirement to be named Album of the Year. Only two albums in Grammy history missed this mark: Glen Campbell’s 1969 winner “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” reached No. 15 and Tony Bennett’s “MTV Unplugged” in 1995 stopped at No. 48.

Here is a summary of the top 10 most successful Album of the Year winners, based on the number of weeks spent at No. 1:

Rank/”Title,” Artist (weeks at No. 1) year of Grammy Awards

1 “Thriller,” Michael Jackson (37 weeks) 1984
2 “Rumours,” Fleetwood Mac (31 weeks) 1978
3 “Saturday Night Fever,” Bee Gees/Original Soundtrack (24 weeks) 1979 [tie]
3 “21,” Adele (24 weeks), 2012 [tie]
5 “The Bodyguard,” Whitney Houston/Original Soundtrack (20 weeks) 1994
6 “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” The Beatles (15 weeks) 1968 [tie]
6 “Tapestry,” Carole King (15 weeks) 1972 [tie]
8 “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart,” Bob Newhart (14 weeks) 1961 [tie]
8 “Songs in the Key of Life,” Stevie Wonder (14 weeks) 1977 [tie]
10 “Judy at Carnegie Hall,” Judy Garland (13 weeks) 1962

This year’s nominees for Album of the Year have all peaked in the top three of The Billboard 200, and that’s not uncommon (the same was true last year). Since 2000, only five of the nominees in this category missed the top five – Vince Gill’s “These Days” in 2008 (No. 17), Paul McCartney’s “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard” in 2006 (No. 6), Steely Dan’s “Two Against Nature” in 2001 (No. 6), Beck’s “Midnite Vultures” in 2001 (No. 34) and Diana Krall’s “When I Look in Your Eyes” in 2000 (No. 56).

The last time it was a guarantee that the winner would be a No. 1 album on The Billboard 200 was 2003, when all five nominees were chart-toppers. Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me” claimed the prize that year, competing against Dixie Chicks’ “Home,” Eminem’s “The Eminem Show,” Nelly’s “Nellyville” and Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising.”