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The Billboard 200 is a listing of the 200 highest selling music albums in the United States, published weekly in Billboard magazine. It is frequently used to convey the popularity of an artist or groups of artists. Often, a musical group will be remembered by its "number ones", those of their albums that outsold all others during at least one week. The chart was first known as Top Pop Albums from the mid-1950s until 1983 when it changed its name to the Billboard 200.
Billboard began publishing album charts on March 24, 1945. The chart expanded to 200 positions for the chart of May 13th, 1967 and adopted its current name on March 14, 1992. Since May 26, 1991, the Billboard 200's positions have been derived from Nielsen SoundScan sales data, currently contributed by approximately 14,000 music sellers. Because these numbers are supplied by a subset of sellers rather than record labels, it is common for these numbers to be substantially lower than those reported by the Recording Industry Association of America when Gold album awards are announced (RIAA awards reflect wholesale shipments, not retail sales).
The Billboard 200 can be helpful to radio stations as an indication of the types of music listeners are interested in hearing. Retailers can also find it useful as a way to determine which recordings should be given the most prominent display in a store. Other outlets, such as airline music services, also employ the Billboard charts to determine their programming.
The chart omits unit sales for listed albums and total recorded sales, making it impossible to determine, for example, if the number one album this week sold as well as the number one from the same period in the prior year. It is also impossible to determine the relative success of albums on a single chart; there is no indication of whether the number one album sold thousands more copies than number 50, or only dozens more. All music genres are combined, but there are separate Billboard charts for individual market segments. The complete sales data broken down by location is made available, but only in the form of separate SoundScan subscriptions.
Milestones and trivia
- As of December 2005, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon has been on the charts for over 1,450 weeks, or just under twenty-eight years. The album spent 741 of those weeks on the Billboard 200. The other weeks were spent on Billboard's Top Pop Catalog Albums chart (for older albums). Its closest rival is Bob Marley's Legend, checking in at over 800 weeks (Billboard 200 and Top Pop Catalog Albums combined).
- The first album to debut at number one was Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy by Elton John. John repeated the same feat with the album Rock of the Westies - the second album to debut at number one - making John the first artist to have two consecutive studio albums debut at number one.
- The first album by an American artist to debut at number one was Songs In The Key Of Life by Stevie Wonder.
- The first album by a non-solo performer to debut at number one was In Through the Out Door by Led Zeppelin.
- The longest running number one album that debuted at number one was Ropin' The Wind by Garth Brooks at eighteen weeks.
- The soundtrack to the musical South Pacific spent thirty-one weeks on top of the Billboard 200 in 1947. They were not all consecutive.
- In 1983, Michael Jackson's Thriller spent thirty-seven non-consecutive weeks at number one, the longest non-consecutive stay to date. Its most consecutive run at the top was seventeen weeks, on two separate occasions.
- With the 2003 release of Britney Spears' album In The Zone, she became the first female performer to score four back-to-back number one studio album debuts on the Billboard 200.
- Rapper DMX earned a similar record in 2003 when his album Grand Champ became his fifth consecutive album to enter the chart at number one. He is the first artist to have his first five releases debut at number one (DMX's five number ones represent his entire Billboard 200 chart history).
- The Beatles have had more number one albums than any other recording act, with nineteen. Elvis Presley has had ten number one albums, more than any other solo artist. Barbra Streisand has eight number one albums, more than any other female artist.
- Whitney Houston has the record for most cumulative weeks at number one for a female. Her albums Whitney Houston, Whitney, The Bodyguard, and Waiting to Exhale spent fifty weeks at number one cumulatively.
- In 1991, Guns N' Roses scored a feat when the band's albums Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II deubted at the two highest spots of the Billboard 200. No other band has ever debuted two records to the two highest spots simultaneously.
- In 2004, Nelly equalled Guns N' Roses' feat by having his albums Suit and Sweat both debut at the two highest spots of the Billboard 200, becoming the first solo artist to do so.
- The Beatles have more consecutive number one albums than any other act, with eight.
- Prince set a record for longest consecutive run at number one, when the Purple Rain soundtrack spent twenty-four consecutive weeks at number one.
- The first number one album of the Soundscan era (1991 to present) is Time, Love & Tenderness by Michael Bolton.
- Forever Your Girl by Paula Abdul spent sixty-four consecutive weeks on the Billboard 200 before hitting number one, making it the longest time for an album to reach the number one spot.
- Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morisette is the only album to spend a consecutive year in the top ten of the chart.
- In 1991, Skid Row became the first heavy metal band to debut at number one with their album Slave to the Grind.