By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Country singer Eric Church on Wednesday zoomed past the competition to the top of the weekly Billboard 200 album chart with the best opening sales week of the year.
"The Outsiders," the North Carolina singer's fourth studio album, sold 288,000 copies last week, according to figures compiled by Nielsen SoundScan.
His previous album, 2011's "Chief," was the 36-year-old singer's only other album to top the 200 album chart, which takes into account total album sales across all musical genres.
It was the music industry's best album sales week since Beyonce's self-titled album sold 310,000 copies in its second week of release in December. "The Outsiders" was the only new release in the top 10 this week.
Last week's top album, the hits compilation "Now 49," dropped to third with 77,000 in sales while the soundtrack to the Disney animated film "Frozen" held in second with 100,000 copies sold.
Beyonce's self-titled album rose to No. 4 from No. 7 with 48,000 in sales, edging pop singer Bruno Mars' "Unorthodox Jukebox" by a few hundred in sales.
Mars' album, released in December 2012, continued its strong sales bump after his February 2 televised performance at football's Super Bowl.
Pharrell's song "Happy," which is on the "Despicable Me 2" soundtrack and is nominated for an Oscar, topped Billboard's Digital Songs chart with 329,000 downloads.
Total album sales for the week totalled 5.4 million, down 21 percent from the same week last year, according to Billboard.
Year-to-date album sales are 32.9 million, a 16 percent decline compared to the same period in 2013.
(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and James Dalgleish)