Ask Billboard

Keith answers readers' questions on Christmas tunes, Christmas albums and Olivia Newton-John.

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


Hi Keith and Happy Holidays!

My question involves Josh Groban's "Noel." I see that it has now become the top-selling album of the 2007 calendar year. But Billboard has already crowned "Daughtry" as the No. 1 Billboard 200 album of the year.

I do realize your chart year runs slightly different than the calendar year and understand why.However, I am curious as to how much of the 3 million-plus sales of "Noel" will be applied to the 2007 year-end chart, and how much will apply to the 2008 year-end chart.

Since that is a very simple question, might you grant me another holiday wish and give me some idea of how Joni Mitchell's SoundScan-era sales have been? I was absolutely crushed at the general lack of Grammy attention her magnificent opus "Shine" received, despite seemingly good sales and generous critical praise.

I am specifically curious about 1996's "Hits" and "Misses", 2000's "Both Sides Now", and what some of her early 1970's masterpieces have sold.

Thank you so much for an informative and very entertaining weekly read!

George G. Kitchens III
Bloomsburg, Penn.

Hello George,

Indeed, Josh Groban's "Noel" is, at the time of this writing (Dec. 20), 2007's top selling album.

However, for Billboard's year-end charts (which reflects activity on the charts dated Dec. 2, 2006 through Nov. 24, 2007), Daughtry's self-titled album is tops.

That chart year actually reflects activity in the marketplace from about late-November 2006 through mid-November 2007.

Wait, why is it that the charts are dated one thing, but that isn't the real "week ending" date?

Billboard - like many magazines - dates its magazine and charts ahead. So, for example, we just finished compiling the charts dated Dec. 29. However, those charts really reflect information and chart activity for the week ending Dec. 16 or 18, depending on which chart you look at.

Why does our "chart year" end so early?

In order for us to produce year-end charts and a magazine in time to arrive on newsstands and in subscribers hands before the end of the year, we must close out our charts before the end of the year. Otherwise, you'd get year-end charts some time in late January!

Unfortunately, because of how we structure our "chart year," sometimes our year-end No. 1 Billboard 200 album isn't the same as the calendar year's top-selling album according to Nielsen SoundScan.

As for "Noel," it debuted on The Billboard 200 on the chart dated Oct. 27, 2007. It accumulated 385,000 in sales during the five weeks it charted during the 2007 chart year (which ended on Nov. 24). So, for the year-end 2007 Billboard 200 albums chart, "Noel" actually comes in at No. 135.

How much has "Noel" racked up in sales accumulated during the 2008 chart year (which began with the Dec. 1 Billboard 200 chart)? So far, it has moved 2.4 million in the 2008 chart year.

Remember, our year-end charts only reflect activity of titles while they were on the chart.

So, if "Noel" falls off the chart in January (which it no doubt will, as all Christmas albums do), but continues to sell a handful of copies through the rest of 2008, we will not count those non-charting sales towards the year-end charts.


Let's switch gears to Joni Mitchell.

So far, "Shine" has sold 168,000 in the U.S. through the week ending Dec. 16 according to Nielsen SoundScan. It's her biggest selling album since 2000's "Both Sides Now," which has moved 323,000.

Mitchell garnered a Grammy nomination for "One Week Last Summer," a track from "Shine," in the Best Pop Instrumental Performance category. She is up against songs by Beastie Boys, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, Dave Koz and Spyro Gyra.

Here is a brief run down of Mitchell's SoundScan-era (1991-present) releases and how much they have sold in the U.S. through the week ending Dec. 16.

"Night Ride Home" (1991; 238,000)
"Turbulent Indigo" (1994; 311,000)
"Hits" (1996; 488,000)
"Misses" (1996; 60,000)
"Taming the Tiger" (1998; 133,000)
"Both Sides Now" (2000; 323,000)
"Travelogue" (2002; 72,000)
"The Complete Geffen Recordings" (2003; 5,000)
"The Beginning of Survival" (2004; 24,000)
"Dreamland" (2004; 78,000)

Her biggest selling pre-SoundScan release is "Blue," which has sold 733,000 since 1991, while "Court and Spark" is in second place with 514,000.


Hi Keith,

I have a question that I am not sure if you or anyone else can answer!

When I was a child, growing up in the 60s, I distinctly remember a beautiful Christmas LP that we played every single Christmas! It has been bugging me to remember what the name of that album was, and for the life of me, I cannot!

I am 50 years old, and tonight I asked my mother if she remembered that old vinyl LP, and she said that she didn't! I remember it though, clear as day!

Maybe if I describe some of the music that was on it, and the album itself, you or somebody else can tell me what it was!

Most of the music on the album was vocal, but had organ and bells in the background. I remember that Norma Zimmer was one of the vocalists for several of the songs, including "The First Noel." There was also "O Little Town Of Bethlehem," sung by a woman, not sure if it was Zimmer or not. "Joy To The World" was sung by a man with a deep bass voice. "Good King Wenceslas" was sung by a group of people. All of this music had organ (and in some songs, bells) accompanying the vocalists.

The album cover was green and black, I believe, with a cherub or an angel on the front. I distinctly remember that, and I know that I'm not

Can you help me figure this out? And if you can, do you know where I could possibly get a hold of this album? I sure would love to listen to it again!

Thanks so much!

Robyn Mace
Lake Park, Fla.

Hello Robyn,

We were stumped by your question, so we reached out to a blog dedicated to Christmas albums of the past (and present) -- A Christmas Yuleblog.

The blog's author, who goes by the name of Captain, responded thusly with a suggestion:

“I'll give it the old college try. You gotta love budget releases of the 1950s and 1960s! Your answer is "The Pied Pipers Sing Favorite Christmas Carols" (Tops Records - L-1650) (1958). The man who had the deep voice is Thurl Ravenscroft - the voice of Kellogg's Tony the Tiger and singer of 'You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch!' If you don't want to dig around in Salvation Army vinyl bins, Musicstack has four copies of this album for sale while GEMM has two copies available. Hope this helps! Happy Holidays to you and all your readers!”

Captain also blogged about this album in 2006, and you can read more about it and see the cover on his Web site.

Hopefully this is the album you were looking for Robyn! Captain also provided us with the LP's tracklist. Here it is:

Side A:
1. "White Christmas," Pied Pipers
2. "Silent Night," Bill Reeve
3. "Good King Wenceslas," Pied Pipers
4. "The First Noel," Norma Zimmer
5. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," Pied Pipers
6. "Joy to the World," Thurl Ravescroft

Side B:
1. "Jingle Bells," Pied Pipers
2. "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," Norma Zimmer
3. "O Come, All Ye Faithful," Pied Pipers
4. "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," John Gabriel
5. "The Christmas Song," Doris Drew
6. "Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly," Pied Pipers



I went to buy the new Olivia Newton-John "Christmas Wish" album at Target and they were sold out and now it is for sale on the Internet for $20.00. (Target and Newton-John signed a deal to have the retailer exclusively sell the album through its stores. However, the consumer can still buy the album online or digitally through many sellers.)

When an artist signs an exclusive deal do they sign on for a certain quantity? And if so how could she enter so low on the charts and Target be out of stock?

Wal-Mart bombarded the market with Eagles albums ads and we haven't seen the Eagles anywhere performing but Target has really done no advertising for Newton-John but she has been everywhere promoting the disc. These exclusive deals are great when they are working for the artist, but it seems to me that this Target deal with Newton-John is just like a bad record deal, leaving everything on the artist's shoulders and big business is just cashing the check.

James Ian

Hello James,

Every "exclusive" album deal is unique. Perhaps Newton-John and Target agreed on a specific number of albums to be manufactured and sold only for a limited time. We are unaware of the terms between Newton-John and Target.

If your local Target has run out of the album, you can still purchase it through Newton-John's official Web site for only $11 or via digital services like iTunes for $11.99.

Clearly, the Wal-Mart deal with the Eagles is very different. Wal-Mart purchased millions of albums to sell and the set is likely a cornerstone of the retail giant's holiday marketing push.

Keep in mind, that with deals like this, even if the artist sells a relatively small number of albums, they are still making a lot more money than they would if they sold their album through a traditional major label distribution system.

Normally, an album sells for about $12 wholesale to retailers and the artist actually earns between $2 to $3 from each album. However, if the artist is an independent act, which Newton-John is, and they strike a direct deal with a retailer, which she did, she makes a much higher amount per album. These exclusive albums perhaps sell for $7 to $8 wholesale and there's a good chance that a high percentage of that wholesale price comes back to Newton-John's pocket.

So, if Newton-John sells 30,000 of this album, which she could, she may earn $180,000. (Granted, we're just using imaginary figures here. We have no idea what the wholesale price of her album is, nor what her actual revenue is.)

If Newton-John had sold this album through, let's say, her old label, Universal, then she'd have to sell about 72,000 (or more) in order to make the same amount of money.

Again, these are all just pretend figures. They are only being used as an example.

As it stands, "Christmas Wish" has sold 22,000 in the U.S. according to Nielsen SoundScan. It debuted at No. 187 on The Billboard 200 chart dated Dec. 29. It also bowed at No. 21 on the Top Independent Albums chart.

It's her first album to reach The Billboard 200 chart since 2001's "Magic: The Very Best of Olivia Newton-John" peaked at No. 150.