‘NOW 17’ 5th in series to bow on top

Sets have sold almost 50 million copies combined

The 17th volume of the contempo hits package “NOW That’s What I Call Music!” debuted in the top slot, selling 408,000 copies in the week ended Sunday, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

U.S. series launched six years ago, and “Vol. 17” becomes the fifth “NOW” compilation to debut atop the list of the nation’s album sales. Combined, the 17 sets have sold nearly 50 million copies, making it the most successful multi-artist series of all time.

A cooperative project of EMI Music, Universal Music Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment and the Zomba Group of labels, “Vol. 17” was released by EMI’s Capitol imprint. Album contains top 40 tracks from Nelly, the Beastie Boys, Ciara, Franz Ferdinand, Keith Urban and others.

The NOW brand began nearly 20 years ago in the U.K. and between its 56 volumes and the U.S.’ 17, the series has sold 135 million albums worldwide.

“No. 17” handily topped the chart’s second-ranked album, A Perfect Circle’s “Emotive” (Virgin), which sold 142,000 copies. It is the first time this year that EMI’s labels have held the top two slots.

Rhino/Atlantic’s soundtrack to Universal pic “Ray” was the top 10’s biggest gainer, posting a 47% rise in sales to 80,000 and moving up to No. 9. Charles’ final album, “Genius Loves Company” (Concord/Hear Music), passed the 1 million-sold mark by moving 83,000 copies.

At No. 10, former touring mates R. Kelly and Jay-Z debuted with the two-CD set “Unfinished Business” (Def Jam). Album sold 70,000 in a week that saw the release of Jay-Z’s concert film “Fade to Black” and the two performers abruptly end their tour. R. Kelly has sued Jay-Z for $15 million while the latter has continued on with the tour, now billing it as Jay-Z and Friends.

Other debuts include: rappers Ying Yang Twins’ “My Brother and Me” (TVT) at No. 12 on sales of 57,000; Christian rockers Relient K sold 51,000 copies of Capitol disc “MMHMM”; the John Lennon compilation “Acoustic” came in at No. 31 on sales of 28,000; Train’s “Alive at Last” (Columbia) reached No. 48 with sales of 20,000; and the Rolling Stones’ “Live Licks” sold 19,000, bowing at No. 50.

Next week’s chart will look a little different than anticipated. The release date of Eminem’s “Encore” (Interscope) has been moved up four days to Friday, giving it three days of sales to compete with greatest-hits packages from Britney Spears, Shania Twain and Toby Keith. Twain and Keith appeared on Tuesday’s Country Music Assn. kudocast, which should help drive sales above 400,000 for each.

Twain and Eminem will most likely be battling for the top slot, though if Eminem joins the ranks of Usher and Norah Jones as the third artist this year to sell 1 million copies in a sales stanza, the move will certainly be viewed as a victory against Internet piracy for Universal Music.

Meanwhile, despite tracks from U2’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” making it on to the Internet and radio airwaves, Interscope is not expected to move the release from its Nov. 23 street date.

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