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No ‘Problem’: Willie Nelson’s New Album Bows at No. 1

Country legend Willie Nelson's God's Problem Child bounds in atop Billboard's Top Country Albums chart (dated May 20), earning 36,000 equivalent albums, with 34,000 in pure sales, during its first…

Country legend Willie Nelson‘s God’s Problem Child bounds in atop Billboard‘s Top Country Albums chart (dated May 20), earning 36,000 equivalent albums, with 34,000 in pure sales, during its first week (ending May 4), according to Nielsen Music. On the all-genre Billboard 200, the set starts at No. 10, where it is Nelson’s sixth top 10 (and fourth since 2013).

Nelson notches his 17th No. 1 on Top Country Albums (and third to arrive at the summit). He ascends to a solo share of the second-most chart-toppers, passing Garth Brooks and Merle Haggard, each with 16. Among all artists, George Strait leads with 26 No. 1s on the chart, which launched in 1964.

Beyond the new release’s chart-topping status, Nelson adds his record-extending 50th top 10 title on Top Country Albums. Fellow icons Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Strait share second place with 40 top 10s each.

Meanwhile, Nelson updates his status as the oldest living artist to crown Top Country Albums. Born April 29, 1933, he just celebrated his 84th birthday. Nelson last led the list, at age 82, with Django and Jimmie (alongside then-78-year-old Merle Haggard) on June 20, 2015 (30,000 sold). Haggard died in 2016 on his 79th birthday (April 6).


Meanwhile, Lynn, who turned 85 on April 14 and is recovering after suffering a stroke (May 4), debuted and peaked at No. 4 on Top Country Albums with Full Circle on March 26, 2016 (a month shy of her 84th birthday).

God’s Problem Child is Nelson’s first No. 1 on Top Country Albums without another artist since Band of Brothers debuted atop the chart dated July 5, 2014 (37,000 sold). When Brothers crowned the list, it closed a 28-year gap -between chart-toppers for Nelson; before that, he hadn’t reigned since June 7, 1986 (with The Promiseland).

The new, 13-track album was produced by Nelson and Buddy Cannon, with the pair having co-written seven of its songs. A good amount of the material focuses on aging, while “Still Not Dead” was inspired by fake news stories that reported Nelson’s premature demise. During a recent interview with Jeremy Tepper, who programs SiriusXM’s Willie’s Roadhouse channel, Nelson said of the falsehoods, “I always loved them. Everybody’s so glad to see me.”

The last song on the LP, “He Won’t Ever Be Gone,” pays homage to Haggard. “You get to be our age, you see a lot of your buddies and friends pass on,” Nelson told Tepper. “It’s just inevitable. We’re all going to go one of these days… [But] not today.”

A LOT TO ‘LIKE’: Sam Hunt‘s “Body Like a Back Road” dominates Hot Country Songs, Country Airplay, Country Digital Song Sales and Country Streaming Songs simultaneously for a third straight week. The track spends a 13th frame atop Hot Country Songs (which combines streaming, airplay and sales data). It tops Country Digital Song Sales for a 14th week, down 10 percent to 51,000 downloads sold; Country Streaming Songs for a 13th frame (14.7 million U.S. streams, up less than 1 percent); and Country Airplay for a third week (44.9 million in audience, down 5 percent).


NEW TO THE TOP 10: Darius Rucker rises to the top 10 on both Hot Country Songs (15-8) and Country Airplay (11-8; 28.3 million, up 13 percent), scoring his ninth and 10th top 10, respectively, with “If I Told You.” On Hot Country Songs, the track owes its leap partly to a 69-cent sale tag in the iTunes Store, as it surges 126 percent to 18,000 sold and flies 24-8 on Country Digital Song Sales.

Plus, Florida Georgia Line banks its 13th top 10 on Country Airplay (encompassing all of the duo’s proper singles promoted to radio) as “God, Your Mama, and Me,” featuring Backstreet Boys, rises 12-10 (24.2 million, up 9 percent). Backstreet Boys reach the top tier in their first visit to Country Airplay and earn their first top 10 on any Billboard airplay chart since 2005, when the pop group’s “Incomplete” reached No. 4 on the Adult Contemporary tally.