Country Albums Sales About Even for 2001

O Brother Tops List

Country music held its own — and then some — in 2001, a year that saw overall album sales in the U.S. drop by 23 million units. But the big surprise is that Nashville’s ugly duckling — the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack — was the only country album to make the year’s Top 10 list of bestsellers. Figures were released Thursday (Jan. 3) by SoundScan, the service that monitors and reports actual retail record sales.

In 2001, country sales amounted to 67,241,000, an increase of 126,000 units –- less than 1 percent –- over the number sold in 2000. While this means that country activity was essentially flat for 2001, it also represents a reversal of fortune for the genre. Country sales declined 3 percent in 2000 and 4.5 percent in 1999.

Country sales for 2001 also represent a rosier result than those for classical, Latin, metal, R&B and rap, all of which suffered decreases in sales. Sales also were up over those of the previous year for Christian/gospel, jazz, soundtrack, new age and catalog (older titles) albums.

2001’s best-selling album was Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory, which moved 4,812,852 copies. O Brother, a collection of “old-time” songs by various artists, came in at ninth place with 3,460,852 units sold. In so doing, it outpaced albums that were released at about the same time or even earlier by Kenny Chesney , Tim McGraw , Alan Jackson , Sara Evans , Lee Ann Womack and Travis Tritt .

In addition to O Brother, country’s Top 10 albums for the year include Garth BrooksScarecrow (2.3 million); Coyote Ugly soundtrack (2 million); McGraw’s Set This Circus Down (1.4 million); McGraw’s Greatest Hits (1.3 million); Toby Keith ’s Pull My Chain (1.3 million); Womack’s I Hope You Dance (1.2 million); Dixie Chicks ’ Fly (1 million); Chesney’s Greatest Hits (1 million) and Faith Hill ’s Breathe (1 million).

O Brother’s Cinderella story arises from the fact that it was recorded by artists most people had never heard of and made up of songs that radio wouldn’t play. But it did spawn two popular music videos and benefit from the accumulation of publicity that each of the many acts involved brought to it. In November, it got a second wind when it won the Country Music Association’s album of the year award, while one of its tracks — “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” — won the single of the year prize.

SoundScan reports these other genre totals for 2001: alternative, 131,542,000; classical, 15,846,000; jazz, 19,514,000; Latin, 20,286,000; metal, 88,106,000; R&B, 195,498,000; rap, 89,279,000; Christian/gospel, 49,965,000; soundtrack, 40,529,000; and new age, 11,573,000.

The other Top 10 albums are Shaggy’s Hotshot (4,507,568); ‘N Sync’s Celebrity (4,421,231); Enya’s A Day Without Rain (4,410,053); Staind’s Break the Cycle (4,242,507); Alicia Keys’ Songs in a Minor Key (4,102,482); Destiny’s Child’s Survivor (3,718,446); Creed’s Weathered (3,581,344); and Various Artists’ Now That’s What I Call Music! 6 (3,133,462).

Shania Twain ’s Come On Over, with 14,147,017 albums counted, is the best-selling album in the U.S. since SoundScan began reporting retail record sales in May 1991.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to