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Sugarland tops the chart, but not without controversy

August 12, 2009 | 11:42 am


Country duo Sugarland has another No. 1 album with the CD/DVD package "Live on the Inside," but in a slow sales week, the emphasis shifts to how the product was sold rather than how many copies have been sold. 

For the live follow-up to last year's "Love on the Inside," Sugarland took a page from the likes of AC/DC, Guns N' Roses, Christina Aguilera, the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen and Prince to go the exclusive retail route. Initial returns for Sugarland are modest, as Wal-Mart-exclusive "Live on the Inside" sold 76,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. 

But the Atlanta-area band drew some heat earlier this week from its local indie shop Decatur CD. The store's owner, Warren Hudson, criticized the band on the company blog, writing to Sugarland that  "by shutting the door on independent record stores, you’re in effect shutting the door on your hometown."

"We’re not trying to put the band in the cross hairs, by any means," Hudson said to Pop & Hiss this morning. "I have no doubt that Wal-Mart is one of the best avenues for this band. We just happen to be in the town where the band got their start. We didn’t start the band, by any means, but we supported them from Day 1."

Retail exclusives remain a controversial topic. For bands and labels, it's an instant payday, as retailers pay for the exclusivity, plus sales to the retailer are often one way, meaning they are not returnable to the distributor. Yet the practice blocks mom-and-pop, music-specific outlets from selling the CD, and limits a fan's buying options. 

Additionally, the corporate partnerships often seem -- at least on the surface -- to go against rock idealism. Springsteen, for instance, told the New York Times that selling a Wal-Mart-exclusive greatest hits package was a "mistake," adding that “given [Wal-Mart's] labor history, it was something that if we’d thought about it a little longer, we’d have done something different.”

Pearl Jam, for its upcoming "Backspacer," due Sept. 20, walked a careful line. The album, the band's first outside the major label system, is a Target exclusive, with qualifications. The album will continue to be available at indie shops and Apple's iTunes store -- just not at Best Buy and Wal-Mart.

Hudson points to such a solution as a workable arrangement, and chided Sugarland for not going a similar route. Sugarland's Kristian Bush appears to have heard Hudson's complaint, as a user named "Kristian" responded on the blog, writing that Hudson was right, and that he would come by the store with a couple boxes of CDs and "peel off the Wal-Mart stickers together while we catch up."

Hudson says he hasn't made an effort to verify whether or not Bush was the one who did indeed post. Pop & Hiss reached out to Sugarland's management, but has yet to receive confirmation or denial. Nevertheless, Hudson has no doubt it was indeed Bush who wrote in, and says he will not be upset if the artist isn't able to make it to the store.

"I’m pretty sure that was him," Hudson said. "He’s been in this store. But we haven’t heard a thing, and it’s completely up to them -- how they want to do it. I wouldn’t think less of them, regardless of what they did. The principal of the idea has been put out there now."

"Live on the Inside" isn't on par with Sugarland's recent numbers, but that likely has more to do with the lack of new studio material than the album's availability at retail. About a year ago, the act's "Love on the Inside" debuted at No. 2 on the U.S. pop charts after it sold 314,000 copies in its first week. The album sold 485,000 copies in its first two weeks in stores.

Elsewhere on the charts:

-- Country quartet Gloriana lands at No. 3, selling 44,000 copies of its debut. With Taylor Swift's "Fearless" still at No. 8, this gives the U.S. top 200 three country artists in the top 10. "Fearless," for its part, has now sold 3.6 million copes.

-- Look for more country on next week's tally. George Strait's "Twang" should debut high, and it is currently the top-selling album on iTunes, according to Big Champagne data. Also expected to debut high -- and someone to watch for an industry push to receive a best new artist nod at the 2010 Grammy Awards -- is pop newcomer Jessie James. The singer falls somewhere between Katy Perry and Swift.  She has a top-selling album on iTunes. A lot of old-school music biz entities are behind the artist, who's had MTV and radio support, but her single "Wanted" has been a consistent top-100 stream on MySpace, according to Big Champagne.

-- Just a few weeks ago, Miley Cyrus appeared to be following in the footsteps of her pal Swift, and released the country-tinged single "The Climb." This week, she showed she may no longer be safe for Nashville, what with some controversial pole dancing on the kid-focused Teen Choice Awards. If the goal was to simply sell singles -- reputation be damned -- then early returns for Cyrus are strong, as her goofy single "Party in the U.S.A." is the top-selling song on iTunes since its release Tuesday.

-- On the catalog chart, Michael Jackson still dominates. His hits package "Number Ones" sold an additional 98,000 copies this week. That'll push the collection over the 1.4 million mark for 2009 alone, as it continues to close in on Swift's "Fearless" as the year's top-selling album, thus far. 

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Sugarland. Credit: Los Angeles Times