TONY, WINNER: Just two months ago, I compiled a list of Tony Bennett’s top 20 albums for a special section in Billboard magazine. Today, if I were to update the list, a new album would be sitting on top. That’s because the 80-year-old artist has the highest-charting album of his career, thanks to the No. 3 debut of “Duets: An American Classic” (RPM/Columbia) on The Billboard 200.
“Duets” is only the third top 10 album for the vocalist. In 1962, the LP named after the hit song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” peaked at No. 5. Two years later, an album titled after another hit single, “I Wanna Be Around,” also peaked at No. 5.
Bennett, winner of the 2006 Billboard Century Award, made his first appearance on our album chart the week of Feb. 23, 1957 with an LP simply called “Tony.” That gives Bennett an album chart span of 49 years, seven months and three weeks.
Bennett made his singles chart debut the week of June 23, 1951, with “Because of You,” which ultimately had a 10-week run at No. 1. Bennett was 24 years old when he had that first hit, which gives him a career chart span of 55 years, three months and three weeks.
RETURN OF ‘THE KILLER’: Tony Bennett is not the only artist over 70 years old who debuts on The Billboard 200 with an album of duets and achieves a new career-high position. Entering at No. 26 is “Last Man Standing: The Duets” (Artists First) by Jerry Lee Lewis. “The Killer” makes his return to the Billboard album chart just two weeks after his 71st birthday.
“Last Man” is Lewis’ first album to chart since “Great Balls of Fire!” went to No. 82 in 1989. His highest-ranked album until now was “The Session,” which peaked at No. 37 in 1973. Lewis was already an established star when he made his album chart debut in March 1964 with “The Golden Hits of Jerry Lee Lewis” (which contained re-recorded versions of his hits, including “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” and “Breathless”). His album chart span is thus 42 years, six months and three weeks.
While Lewis started out as a rock star, his chart fortunes dimmed in the 1960s and he made a comeback in 1968 by moving into country music. It was a successful transition, with six No. 1 singles and an additional 20 top 10 hits and a total of 65 chart singles to date.
“Last Man” continues Lewis’ country career, as it enters the Top Country Albums chart at No. 4. It’s been 23 years since an album with Lewis as lead artist appeared on the country chart. “My Fingers Do the Talkin'” peaked at No. 62 in 1983 (three years later, the “Class of ’65: Memphis Rock & Roll Homecoming” album featuring Lewis with fellow Sun recording artists Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash went to No. 15).
Lewis made his debut on the country albums chart in 1968 with “Another Place Another Time,” which peaked at No. 3. His highest-ranked country album is “Jerry Lee Lewis Sings the Country Music Hall of Fame Hits, Vol. 1,” which reached No. 2 in 1969.
‘NASHVILLE’ CAT: He’s younger than Tony Bennett and Jerry Lee Lewis, but 61-year-old Solomon Burke also makes chart news this week. The legendary R&B singer with a chart career that goes back to the 1960s makes his first appearance on Top Country Albums with “Nashville” (Shout! Factory), a new entry at No. 55.
Burke’s 2002 release “Don’t Give Up on Me” impacted on The Billboard 200, Top Independent Albums and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.
BRINGING HOME THE AKON: What’s the opposite of “Smackdown”? That would be “Smack” up, as in the record-setting rise of “Smack That” (SRC) by Akon featuring Eminem. The single travels at warp speed, from 95-7. That 88-point leap is the biggest move in Hot 100 history, surpassing the 86-position jump of the “High School Musical” song “Breaking Free” by Zac Efron, Andrew Seeley and Vanessa Anne Hudgens. That track from the Disney TV movie rocketed 86-4 the week of Feb. 11.
“Smack That” has to move up three more slots to become the biggest hit of Akon’s career. In April 2005 his “Lonely,” a take on Bobby Vinton’s 1964 hit “Mr. Lonely,” peaked at No. 4. “Smack That” is already Eminem’s highest-ranked title since “Lose Yourself” spent 12 weeks at No. 1, starting in November 2002. Two recent Eminem songs peaked at No. 6: “Shake That” in February and “Just Lose It” in October 2004.
YOU CAN CALL HIM AL: He’s run with scissors, had a bad hair day and gone off the deep end. Now “Weird Al” Yankovic is back on The Billboard 200 with the first top 10 album of his 23-year chart career.
“Straight Outta Lynwood” (Way Moby/Volcano), new at No. 10, is Yankovic’s 12th album to chart. He made his first appearance on the album tally in May 1983 with his self-titled set, which only went to No. 139. The highest-charted Yankovic album until this week was “Bad Hair Day,” No. 14 in 1996.
On The Billboard Hot 100, the single “White and Nerdy” debuts at No. 28, making it the second highest-charting song of Yankovic’s career. His only single to achieve a higher position was “Eat It,” No. 12 in 1984.
CLASSICALLY PAUL: Paul McCartney is back on the Top Classical Albums tally for the first time in almost 15 years. In December 1991 he spent one week at No. 1 with his first classical effort, “Liverpool Oratorio.” On the current chart, he bows at No. 2 with “Paul McCartney’s Ecce Cor Meum,” credited to Various Artists.
THERAPEUTIC: Ludacris scores his third No. 1 album on The Billboard 200, where “Release Therapy” (DTP/Def Jam) enters in pole position. “Therapy” is the seventh Ludacris album to chart and follows his previous No. 1 titles, “Chicken*N*Beer” in October 2003 and “The Red Light District” in December 2004. Both of his previous chart-toppers spent one week at the summit, so if “Release Therapy” can remain on top next week, it will be Ludacris’ most successful album to date in terms of chart performance.
The success of “Therapy” denies Janet Jackson the chance to collect her sixth No. 1. “20 Y.O.” (Virgin) opens at No. 2, the same starting mark as her last set, “Damita Jo.” Still, “20 Y.O.” is the eighth consecutive Janet Jackson album to peak in the top three, over the last 20 years. That includes five No. 1 albums (“Control,” “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814,” “Janet.,” “The Velvet Rope” and “All for You”) as well as a greatest hits collection, “Design of a Decade 1986/1996,” that reached No. 3.
TALK ABOUT A HOT 100: Last week I noted that by topping the Top Internet Albums chart, Clay Aiken’s “A Thousand Different Ways” (RCA) was the 99th No. 1 for the “American Idol” franchise, counting all domestic charts compiled by the Billboard Information Group. I speculated which Idol would be the one to earn the 100th No. 1 for the popular television series.
Now it looks like we have a winner, though it may take a couple of weeks for her to move into the penthouse and secure the honor. On Hot Country Songs, Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” (Arista) leaps 11-7 and seems certain to become her second chart-topper on this list following “Jesus, Take the Wheel.”