Don Henley's 'County' Is King of Country Chart
Albums by George Strait and Thomas Rhett also make their debuts in a crowded week.
Henley, a founding member of the Eagles, bows with Cass County, his first solo album in 15 years and his first-ever solo country set. Named for the Texas county where the 68-year-old singer/songwriter/drummer/producer grew up, the album debuts at No. 1 on the list with 87,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen Music (in the week ending Oct. 1), as well as No. 3 on the Billboard 200 (89,000).
Henley and the Eagles have forged a long relationship with country. Many of their classics, like "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "Best of My Love" and "Desperado," have scored play on country radio for years, and the 1993 tribute album Common Thread (which included Travis Tritt, Alan Jackson and Tanya Tucker) spent 13 weeks at No. 1 (and helped spur the Eagles' mid-'90s reunion).
Cass County places Henley in rare company in the Top Country Albums chart's 51-year history, as he has now led as a soloist and with a duo or group; the Eagles' Long Road Out of Eden opened at No. 1 in 2007. Jennifer Nettles scored three No. 1s with Sugarland -- Love on the Inside (2008), Live on the Inside (2009) and The Incredible Machine (2010) -- before reigning on her own with her 2014 solo LP That Girl, and Wynonna followed four No. 1s from 1985-1988 as half of The Judds with three as a solo artist: Wynonna (1992), Tell Me Why (1993) and What the World Needs Now Is Love (2003).
Strait's Cold Beer Conversation starts at No. 2 on Top Country Albums (83,000) and No. 4 on the Billboard 200 (86,000). The 13-song set was a surprise to most, announced abruptly at a Las Vegas press conference on Sept. 22, along with a string of concert dates for 2016. The set is the follow-up studio album to 2013's Love Is Everything (No. 1, 125,000). Meanwhile, the new LP's title track debuts at No. 38 on Hot Country Songs.
Rhett's third album, Tangled Up, brings his strongest sales week, launching at No. 3 on Top Country Albums (63,000) and No. 6 on the Billboard 200 (76,000). His 2013 set It Goes Like This debuted at No. 2 with 36,000. The new album's lead single, "Crash and Burn," topped the Sept. 26 Country Airplay chart, while follow-up "Die a Happy Man" bounds 41-30 (6.5 million in audience, up 120 percent). "It's been a wild week. For the fans to support me like this is really cool," Rhett tells Billboard. "It's been so freeing to hear they're into this new stuff as much as we enjoy playing it." He's also enjoying positive response from radio programmers. "This is exactly what country music has evolved into: a fun, up-tempo, party soundtrack," says WBWL Boston PD Lance Houston. "We went ahead and put ["Man"] right into medium rotation, and reaction has been great."
THREE WEEKS FOR 'DAY': Kenny Chesney's "Save It for a Rainy Day" crowns Country Airplay for a third week, marking the longest-leading hit on the chart since Zac Brown Band's "Homegrown (three weeks in April). Chesney last led for three weeks with "Somewhere With You" in 2011; 12 of his 26 No. 1s have racked at least three weeks on top. "Day" also extends its record, established last week, for the biggest weekly audience in the Country Airplay chart's 25-year history: it's up (by 1 percent) to 51.6 million.
This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.