Country singer Gary Allan notches his first No. 1 on the Billboard 200 as “Set You Free,” his ninth studio album, debuts with 106,000 sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
It grants him his best sales week ever, surpassing the 99,000 start of “Tough All Over” in 2005. Further, “Set You Free” outpaces the launch of his last studio set, 2010’s “Get Off on the Pain” (65,000) by 63%.
Helping Allan’s cause is his successful single “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain),” which jumps to No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart. It’s his biggest hit at the format since 2004, when “Nothing on but the Radio” spent two weeks atop the list.
On the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 (which combines airplay, sales and streaming data), “Every Storm” jumps to No. 26-marking Allan’s second biggest Hot 100 hit. Only “Man to Man” went higher–No. 25–in 2003.
Also fueling the new album’s start is a performance on NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” (Jan. 23) and sale pricing and promotion at a number of retailers. “Set You Free” sold for $9.99 at Target, Best Buy and iTunes last week while Walmart carried it for a penny more ($10).
“Set You Free” sold particularly well at physical retailers, as CDs make up 64% of the set’s first week. Comparably, physical product accounted for just 30% of the sales of last week’s No. 1 debut-rapper A$AP Rocky’s “Long.Live.A$AP” (42,000 of its 139,000 bow). However, that striking contrast isn’t too surprising. In 2012, physical sales accounted for 75% of all country album sales versus 56% of all rap albums.
Allan first appeared on the Billboard 200 on Nov. 9, 1996, with “Used Heart for Sale,” which ultimately peaked at No. 136. He’s since visited the top 10 five times (including this week), but hadn’t gone higher than No. 3.
Allan had to wait 16 years and three months for his first No. 1–that’s the amount of time between “Used Heart for Sale”‘s debut and “Set You Free”‘s No. 1 bow. While that’s a significant gap, it’s nothing compared with how long Tony Bennett waited for his first No. 1. (He’s the most recent act to have had a wait longer than Allan.) Bennett finally claimed his first No. 1 on Oct. 8, 2011–54 years, seven months and 15 days after he debuted on the list (Feb. 23, 1957).
While it seems like country albums are regularly appearing atop the Billboard 200, it’s not all that common. Allan becomes only the 32nd country act to claim a No. 1 in the Billboard 200’s nearly 57-year history. The vast majority of those (26) garnered their first No. 1 after the chart began using SoundScan data to power the chart on May 25, 1991. Before then, only Johnny Cash, Bobbie Gentry, Glen Campbell, Linda Ronstadt, Olivia Newton-John and Kenny Rogers tallied No. 1s. (Newton-John and Ronstadt collected their chart-toppers in the ’70s, when both were releasing primarily country music and notching No. 1s on Top Country Albums as well.)
Allan’s new album is one of two debuts in the top 10. It’s joined by the “2013 Grammy Nominees” compilation, which bows at No. 4 with 41,000 sold. Last year’s collection also debuted at No. 4, but with 52,000. It went on to tally an even bigger sales week-though not a higher chart rank-when it moved 84,000 in the frame after the Grammy Awards on Feb. 12, 2012. It’s expected that “2013 Grammy Nominees” will also post higher sales after this year’s show (Feb. 10).
The new album is the 12th top 10 in the Grammy compilation series, stretching back to the 1999 edition, which topped out at No. 8 on March 13, 1999. All releases since the 2007 collection have reached the top 10. And while each Grammy album is chock-full of chart-topping artists, not one volume has reached the apex. Ironically, the albums are their own worst enemy. Why? Because even though the sets have a large sales spike the week after the Grammy telecast, they’re usually blocked from the top of the chart by one of the show’s performers. Last year, in the week after the awards (on the chart dated March 3),” 2012 Grammy Nominees” jumped 8-5 but was beaten by big winner Adele, who had two albums ahead of it (21 at No. 1 and 19 at No. 4). Also among the top five: a Whitney Houston greatest-hits album, which surged 6-2 in the wake of her death.