Single propels crooner's album to SoundScan rarity

Toby Keith, whose name shot to prominence when he was prevented from playing a televised July Fourth concert, hit No. 1 in his first week out on sales of 338,000 units of “Unleashed,” his third LP for DreamWorks Nashville.

It marked the eighth time in sales-data collector SoundScan’s 11-year history that a country act has debuted in the top slot.

Keith’s nationalistic single “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (Angry American)” has been a smash at radio — No. 1 during the week of July 4 — and ABC had booked the current singer to open its July Fourth special. After “World News Tonight” anchor Peter Jennings heard the song, he had Keith removed from the telecast. Since then, Keith has enjoyed an avalanche of publicity.

“We had a huge single on this record that just drove people into the stores,” DreamWorks Nashville topper James Stroud said. “As far as DreamWorks is concerned, we feel like we’ve really gotten a handle on who Toby is as an artist and entertainer, and we’re able to capitalize on that now.”

The first-week sales figure nearly tripled that of Keith’s last effort, the double-platinum “Pull My Chain.” The label has already shipped roughly 1.5 million copies of the “Unleashed” out to retailers, the exec added.

“Unleashed” also stole the thunder of “Now 10″ (Epic), the latest installment in the wildly successful “Now That’s What I Call Music” compilations series. “Now 10,” which includes tracks from Britney Spears, Ja Rule and Blink 182, opened in second place and sold just under 288,000 copies in the week ended Sunday.

The two contenders knocked last week’s No. 1, the Dave Matthews Band’s “Busted Stuff” (RCA), down to fourth place. Sales of “Stuff” declined 66% in the album’s sophomore week to 212,000 units.

Coming up sixth in the debut-heavy top 20 was “500 Degreez,” the third LP from Cash Money Records wunderkind Lil’ Wayne. Album sold an impressive 141,000 copies in its first sesh, but fell short of the 230,000-unit performance of his first effort, 1999’s “Tha Block Is Hot.”

Bowing in ninth place was Mario, the teenage protege of J Records founder Clive Davis. The singer’s self-titled LP shifted 91,000 units, barely edging out the 10th-place finisher, “Full Circle” (Arista) from R&B quartet Boyz II Men.

One slot below the Boyz was “Lonely Position of Neutral” (Geffen/Flip) from Trust Company. The Alabama hard-rock quartet — the latest offering from Jordan Schur’s nu-metal hit factory Flip Records — sold 78,000 albums last week.

Just missing the top 20 at 22 was “Monsta Jamz” (Razor & Tie), a hip-hop compilation featuring work from Destiny’s Child, R. Kelly and Aaliyah, which sold just over 43,000 copies.

The soundtrack to “Goldmember”, the third installment of the Austin Powers franchise, logged one of the biggest gains of the week. The Warner Bros. release climbed 23 places to 33 following the film’s record-setting $73 million opening gross.

Toby Keith’s No. 1 debut also had an echo effect further down the charts: the singer’s previous album, “Pull My Chain,” jumped 31 places to 89, posting a sales gain of nearly 24%.

Next week, record buyers will be bowing to the Boss. “The Rising” (Columbia), Bruce Springsteen’s first album of new material in seven years, hit the streets on Tuesday, and is seen as a virtual lock on the top spot for next week. Music analysts are expecting sales in the ballpark of 400,000 units.

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