The latest force on the pop charts is ... Lionel Richie?
Going country has turned out to be a rather shrewd move by crooner Lionel Richie. This week the artist scores his first chart-topping album in more than 25 years, as his twang-enhanced "Tuskegee" scoots into the top spot after a 35% sales jump. "Tuskegee" sold more than 128,000 copies over the past week, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and surpassed releases from Nicki Minaj and Adele in its ascent to the pole position.
On "Tuskegee," Richie revisits his hits from the '80s with country stars, including Shania Twain, Willie Nelson, Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, Kenny Chesney, Blake Shelton and others. The last time Richie topped the Billboard chart, in fact, came in 1986 courtesy of his "Dancing on the Ceiling," reports the keeper of the U.S. pop charts. Now in its third week on the boards, "Tuskegee's" sales burst was inspired by last week's CBS special "ACM Presents: Lionel Richie & Friends in Concert." Thus far, the album has sold 423,000 copies.
Minaj, who topped last week's tally with her "Pink Friday ... Roman Reloaded," is at No. 3 this week, having sold an additional 81,000 copies. Thus far, Minaj's latest has sold 874,000 copies. Meanwhile, the album's single, "Starships," has sold more than 1.6 million downloads.
Minaj thus far is faring much better than Madonna with her new release. It was the latter, of course, who drafted Minaj for a cameo during her Super Bowl halftime show, but Madonna's "MDNA" has drifted out of the Top 10 in its third week on the chart. "MDNA" is at No. 18 this week with 21,000 sold. Thus far, it has sold 428,000 copies.
Raitt's "Slipstream" lands at No. 6, having sold 63,000 copies in its first week. "Slipstream" marks the first album of new material from the bluesy rock 'n' roller in seven years. Her upcoming tour will bring her to the Greek Theatre on Sept. 22. This is the first time, reports Billboard, that Raitt has appeared in the Top 10 since 1994, when her "Longing in Their Hearts" spent multiple weeks near the top of the tally.
Soulful newcomers the Alabama Shakes hit the Top 10 this week with its debut, "Boys & Girls." The album was released two weeks ago via iTunes, and hit all retailers last week. As an iTunes-only album, "Boys & Girls" sold 25,000 copies. In wide release, it sold 43,000 copies.
Momentum also continues to increase for the latest from Belgian-Australian singer-songwriter Gotye, "Making Mirrors." The album, in its 15th week on the chart, bolts from No. 15 to No. 7, benefiting, in part, from an appearance on "Saturday Night Live." The album sold 54,000 copies over the past week and has sold 298,000 copies to date.
Gotye, of course, is on the bill at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and his "Somebody That I Used to Know" is reaching near-ubiquitous status. The single is the top-selling digital download this week, racking up 542,000 online sales. Thus far, it has sold more than 2.5 million downloads.
-- Todd Martens
Image: Lionel Richie in 2010. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times