Ask Billboard

Keith answers readers' questions on "Thriller," Carly Simon, Lucinda Williams and more!

Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. Submit your burning music questions to Keith Caulfield at



With three versions of Michael Jackson's "Thriller 25" on sale next week (Feb. 12), how will overall sales of the album be calculated?

Checking on's top seller list, it looks like each version of the album is counted separately in their overall sales chart, as they have different SKUs.

How will Nielsen SoundScan do the math? And taking it even one step further, will sales of the anniversary album added to the overall sales of the original album, bringing it a step closer in overtaking the Eagles' greatest hits album (as the best selling album of all time in the U.S.)?

Joseph Yenish
Scotch Plains, N.J.

Hi Joseph,

All of the 2008 expanded versions of "Thriller" will have their sales combined. (This column was updated on Feb. 12 to reflect new information.)


Hello Keith,

With the wide range of opinions on Lucinda Williams' last album "West" I wonder whether she was able to hold on to the success of her former albums.

I read she has an album track nominated for two Grammys at the moment; however, I have no way of comparing her current sales with her former album sales and I would like to know whether my favorite artist does well.

Would you help me out? Thanks a lot!

Christoph Heidrich
Berlin, Germany

Hello Christoph,

Lucinda Williams is indeed nominated for two Grammy Awards this year: One for best rock song and another for best solo rock vocal performance. In fact, she is the only woman nominated in either category! She's up against the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Foo Fighters, Jack White and Paul McCartney.

Williams has previously won three Grammys. She nabbed a trophy for best country song for "Passionate Kisses" (which was performed by Mary Chapin Carpenter). She later took home an award for best contemporary folk album ("Car Wheels on a Gravel Road") and best female rock vocal performance (for "Get Right With God").

Thus far, "West" has sold 240,000 in the U.S. since the set was released a year ago, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Her last album, 2003's "A World Without Tears," has shifted 415,000. "Essence," released in 2001, has moved 336,000; her breakthrough album, 1998's "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road," has sold 811,000.

There's a decent chance that one of the categories in which Williams is nominated may actually be aired on the Grammy broadcast, so do try to watch the show. (With 110 awards to give out this year, the producers of the show can't possibly fit all of them into a three hour broadcast. So, about 100, give or take,¬ of the awards are handed out at a non-televised ceremony held immediately before the show.)

Also, not to turn this into a personal note or anything, but I visited Munich in the fall of 2006. (Yes, yes, I went to Oktoberfest, but that wasn't the reason why I vacationed there. It happened to be at the same time, so how could I not go?) I traveled to Austria as well. I'm now contemplating a trip to Berlin in the future, so make sure to keep writing in so I can ask you all sorts of questions about your fair city!



I have a question about Carly Simon. She has been very prolific in the new millennium, with two releases on Columbia Records and various greatest hits and anthologies debuting high on The Billboard 200 chart -- but then falling off fast. Her Web site mentions she has another album coming out in May 2008, her first original material since "The Bedroom Tapes" in 2000.

How well have her releases sold, especially the two Columbia releases "Midnight Serenade" and "Into White?" With older artists fleeing major labels, Carly seems to be flourishing with Columbia. I am interested in your opinion on what seems to be a reverse phenomenon.

Kelly Albers
Salt Lake City

Hi Kelly,

I think after her 2004 album "Reflections: Carly Simon's Greatest Hits," sold so well (544,000 and counting), the public was reminded of how great an artist she is. Clearly, that had a lot to do with how well her two following releases were received.

Released in 2005, "Moonlight Serenade" debuted at No. 7 on The Billboard 200, selling 58,000 in its first week. It spent 10 weeks on the chart and has sold 339,000 total. The set was her first for Columbia Records, after having spent 10 years on Arista. Before that, she had recorded for Elektra, Warner Bros. and Epic.

She followed up "Moonlight" with "Into White" in 2007. The latter set bowed at No. 13 on The Billboard 200 with 40,000 and has gone on to sell 212,000.

Why is she doing so well on a major label, when it seems like every other act is running away from the majors? Good question. Perhaps for Simon's specific goals, she feels that Columbia is the right company to support her and her career. At the same time, Columbia likely views Simon as a perfect fit for the label.

Columbia has quite the roster of legends who have been with the label for decades: Aerosmith, Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Barbra Streisand, to name a few. In fact, the latter three artists have spent their entire careers with Columbia. (This answer was updated on Feb. 12. I initially mistakenly wrote that Dylan had been with Columbia his entire career.)

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