Chart Watch Extra: The Fastest-Rising #1 Albums
By now, you've all heard that Taylor Swift's Red sold 1,208,000 copies in its first week, the highest first-week total since Eminem's The Eminem Show sold 1,322,000 copies in its first full week in 2002. It's hard to imagine now, but before Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales for Billboard in 1991, sales tallies were rarely divulged (and when they were, by the record companies themselves, they were no doubt inflated).
All we had to go on was The Billboard 200 chart itself. Until 1991, it was rare for albums to debut at #1. Even the biggest artists had to climb through the ranks to reach #1. Artists earned bragging rights not by the number of albums they sold in the first week, but by reaching #1 faster than any other album that year.
I've gone back through the charts and determined the album that rose to #1 the fastest in every year from 1956, when the chart became a weekly feature in Billboard, to 1990, the last year before Nielsen SoundScan's arrival made sales tallies public information and #1 debuts commonplace.
The Beatles had the year's fastest-rising #1 album (or one of them, in the case of ties) for six straight years, from 1964 through 1969. The Rolling Stones had the fastest-rising #1 album of four years. Bruce Springsteen grabbed the honor three times. Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin and Elton John each scored twice. (These are six of the greatest stars of the rock era. Now you know how they got that rep: They earned it).
Let's go back in time. I'll tell you the album (or albums, in the case of ties) that rose to #1 the fastest in each calendar year from 1990 to 1956.
1990: New Kids On The Block's Step By Step. The boy band's album shot to #1 in just two weeks. It hit the top on June 30, as the title track reached #1 on the Hot 100. It was New Kids' second studio album in a row to reach #1, following Hangin' Tough.
1989: Madonna's Like A Prayer and Prince's Batman soundtrack. Both superstars reached #1 in just three weeks. Madonna made it on April 22, as the gospel-infused title track reached #1. Prince scored on July 22, as "Batdance" jumped from #6 to #4. The movie, starring Michael Keaton, opened June 23. This was Madonna's third studio album in a row to reach #1, following Like A Virgin and True Blue. This was Prince's second #1 soundtrack, following Purple Rain.