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The Billboard 200 is a record chart ranking the 200 most popular music albums and EPs in the United States. It is published weekly by Billboard magazine. It is frequently used to convey the popularity of an artist or groups of artists. Often, a recording act will be remembered by its "number ones", those of their albums that outperformed all others during at least one week. The chart grew from a weekly top 10 list in 1956 to become a top 200 in May 1967, and acquired its present title in March 1992. Its previous names include the Billboard Top LPs (1961–72), Billboard Top LPs & Tape (1972–84), Billboard Top 200 Albums (1984–85) and Billboard Top Pop Albums.
The chart is based mostly on sales (both at retail and digital) of albums in the United States. The weekly sales period was originally Monday to Sunday when Nielsen started tracking sales in 1991, but since July 2015, tracking week begins on Friday (to coincide with the Global Release Date of the music industry) and ends on Thursday. A new chart is published the following Tuesday with an issue post-dated to the Saturday of that week, four days later. The chart's streaming schedule is also tracked from Friday to Thursday.
Friday January 1 – sales tracking week begins
Thursday January 7 – sales tracking week ends
Tuesday January 12 – new chart published, with issue date of Saturday January 16.
New product is released to the American market on Fridays. Digital downloads of albums are also included in Billboard 200 tabulation. Albums that are not licensed for retail sale in the United States (yet purchased in the U.S. as imports) are not eligible to chart. A long-standing policy which made titles that are sold exclusively by specific retail outlets (such as Walmart and Starbucks) ineligible for charting, was reversed on November 7, 2007, and took effect in the issue dated November 17.
Beginning with the December 13, 2014 issue, Billboard updated the methodology of their album chart to also include on-demand streaming and digital track sales (as measured by Nielsen SoundScan) by way of a new algorithm, utilizing data from all of the major on-demand audio subscription and online music sales services in the United States.
Billboard began an album chart in 1945. Initially only five positions long, the album chart was not published on a weekly basis, sometimes three to seven weeks passing before it was updated. A biweekly (though with a few gaps), 15-position Best-Selling Popular Albums chart appeared in 1955. With the increase in album sales as the early 1950s format wars stabilized into market dominance by 45 RPM singles and long-playing twelve-inch albums, with 78 RPM record and long-playing ten-inch album sales decreasing dramatically, Billboard premiered a weekly Best-Selling Popular Albums chart on March 24, 1956. The position count varied anywhere from 10 to 30 albums. The first number-one album on the new weekly list was Belafonte by Harry Belafonte. The chart was renamed to Best-Selling Pop Albums later in 1956, and then to Best-Selling Pop LPs in 1957.
Beginning on May 25, 1959, Billboard split the ranking into two charts Best-Selling Stereophonic LPs for stereo albums (30 positions) and Best-Selling Monophonic LPs for mono albums (50 positions). These were renamed to Stereo Action Charts (30 positions) and Mono Action Charts (40 positions) in 1960. In January 1961, they became Action Albums—Stereophonic (15 positions) and Action Albums—Monophonic (25 positions). Three months later, they became Top LPs—Stereo (50 positions) and Top LPs—Monaural (150 positions).
On August 17, 1963 the stereo and mono charts were combined into a 150-position chart called Top LPs. On April 1, 1967, the chart was expanded to 175 positions, then finally to 200 positions on May 13, 1967. In February 1972, the album chart's title was changed to Top LPs & Tape; in 1984, it was retitled Top 200 Albums; in 1985, it was retitled again to Top Pop Albums; in 1991, it became The Billboard 200 Top Albums; and it was given its current title of The Billboard 200 on March 14, 1992.
In 1960, Billboard began concurrently publishing album charts which ranked sales of older or mid-priced titles. These Essential Inventory charts were divided by stereo and mono albums, and featured titles that had already appeared on the main stereo and mono album charts. Mono albums were moved to the Essential Inventory—Mono chart (25 positions) after spending 40 weeks on the Mono Action Chart, and stereo albums were moved to the Essential Inventory—Stereo chart (20 positions) after 20 weeks on the Stereo Action Chart.
In January 1961, the Action Charts became Action Albums—Monophonic (24 positions), and Action Albums—Stereophonic (15 positions). Albums appeared on either chart for up to nine weeks, then were moved to an Essential Inventory list of approximately 200 titles, with no numerical ranking. This list continued to be published until the consolidated Top LPs chart debuted in 1963.
In 1982, Billboard began publishing a Midline Albums chart (alternatively titled Midline LPs) which ranked older or mid-priced titles. The chart held 50 positions and was published on a bi-weekly (and later tri-weekly) basis.
On May 25, 1991, Billboard premiered the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart. The criteria for this chart were albums that were more than 18 months old and had fallen below position 100 on the Billboard 200. An album needed not have charted on the Billboard 200 at all to qualify for catalog status.
Starting with the issue dated December 5, 2009, however, the catalog limitations which removed albums over 18 months old, that have dropped below position 100 and have no currently-running single, from the Billboard 200 was lifted, turning the chart into an all-inclusive list of the 200 highest-selling albums in the country (essentially changing Top Comprehensive Albums into the Billboard 200). A new chart that keeps the previous criteria for the Billboard 200 (dubbed Top Current Albums) was also introduced in the same issue.
Billboard has adjusted its policies for Christmas and holiday albums several times. The albums were eligible for the main album charts until 1963, when a Christmas Albums list was created. Albums appearing here were not listed on the Top LPs chart. In 1974, this rule was reverted and holiday albums again appeared within the main list.
In 1983, the Christmas Albums chart was resurrected, but a title's appearance here did not disqualify it from appearing on the Top Pop Albums chart. In 1994 the chart was retitled Top Holiday Albums. As of 2009 the chart holds 50 positions and is run for several weeks during the end-of-calendar-year holiday season. Its current policy allows holiday albums to concurrently chart on the Top Holiday Albums list and the Billboard 200.
Beginning with the December 13, 2014 issue, Billboard updated the methodology of its album chart again, changing from a "pure sales-based ranking" to one measuring "multi-metric consumption". With this overhaul, the Billboard 200 includes on-demand streaming and digital track sales (as measured by Nielsen SoundScan) by way of a new algorithm, utilizing data from all of the major on-demand audio subscription services including Spotify, Beats Music, Google Play and Xbox Music. Under the new methodology, ten track sales or 1,500 song streams from an album are treated as equivalent to one purchase of the album. Billboard will continue to publish a pure album sales chart, called Top Album Sales, that maintains the traditional Billboard 200 methodology, based exclusively on SoundScan's sales data.
Billboard's "chart year" runs from the first week of December to the final week in November. This altered calendar allows for Billboard to calculate year-end charts and release them in time for its final print issue in the last week of December. Prior to Nielsen SoundScan, year-end charts were calculated by an inverse-point system based solely on an album's performance on the Billboard 200 (for example, an album would be given one point for a week spent at position 200, two points for a week spent at position 199... up to 200 points for each week spent at number one). Other factors including the total weeks on the chart and at its peak position were calculated into an album's year-end total.
After Billboard began obtaining sales information from Nielsen SoundScan, the year-end charts are now calculated by a very straightforward cumulative total of yearlong sales. This gives a more accurate picture of any given year's best-selling albums, as a title that hypothetically spent nine weeks at number one in March could possibly have sold fewer copies than one spending six weeks at number three in January. Albums at the peak of their popularity at the time of the November/December chart-year cutoff many times end up ranked lower than one would expect on a year-end tally, yet are ranked on the following year's chart as well, as their cumulative points are split between the two chart-years.
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.
All-Time Billboard 200 achievements (1963–2015)
In 2015, Billboard magazine compiled a ranking of the 100 best-performing albums on the chart over the 52 years, along with the best-performing artists. Shown below are the top 10 albums and top 10 artists over the 52-year period of the Billboard 200, through October 2015. Also shown are the artists placing the most albums on the overall "all-time" top 100 album list.
McCartney also has the most top 10 albums, with 51. This includes 32 with The Beatles (referenced earlier in this article), 7 albums with the group Wings, 1 album credited to him and his first wife Linda McCartney, and 11 solo albums.
The Sound of Music set the record of 109 consecutive weeks in the top 10 from May 1, 1965 to July 16, 1966, but only spent 2 weeks at number one on the Billboard 200.
As of 2008, Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon has been on the charts for over 1,630 weeks, or approximately 31 years. The album spent a record 937 weeks on the Billboard 200. The other weeks were spent on the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart. Its closest rival is Bob Marley's Legend, checking in at over 975 weeks (Billboard 200 and Top Pop Catalog Albums combined).
Tapestry by Carole King holds the record for most consecutive weeks at number one on the Billboard 200 for any one album by a female solo artist with 15 weeks.
In 2001, Britney Spears became the first female artist to have her first three albums debut at number one. She broke this record two years later with a fourth number-one debut. With the number-one debut of her Circus album in 2008, Spears also became the youngest female artist to have five number-one albums. She later beat the record when her seventh studio album, Femme Fatale debuted at number one on April 2011.
Oldest male to debut at number one: Tony Bennett on October 8, 2011 (85 years, 66 days old) with the album Duets II. He was born August 3, 1926. Later, he surpassed his own record when his collaborative album with Lady Gaga, Cheek to Cheek debuted at number one on October 11, 2014 (88 years, 69 days old).
Jackie Gleason, at least for a time, held the record for the most albums to top the Billboard 200 without charting any songs in the top 40 of the Hot 100; five of Gleason's mood music albums topped the Billboard 200 in the mid-1950s.
As of December 18, 2013, Beyoncé became the only female artist to have her first 5 studio albums debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, following the release of her self-titled album Beyoncé.
One Direction became the first group to debut at No. 1 with its first three albums when Midnight Memories debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 dated December 14, 2013. They later became the first group to debut at No. 1 with their first four albums when Four debuted atop the chart on November 26, 2014.
Led Zeppelin hold the record for the longest gap between an album returning to the Top 10. Led Zeppelin first hit the Top 10 on the Billboard Top LP's chart for the week ending May 17, 1969 and returned 45 years and 35 days later at No. 7, on the Billboard 200, for the week ending June 21, 2014.
On May 1, 2016, Beyoncé broke the record she previously set in 2013, by becoming the only female artist to have her first 6 studio albums debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, following the release of her sixth studio album Lemonade. Beyoncé also becomes the first and only artist in Billboard chart history to have all of her studio albums debut at No. 1, breaking a tied record with DMX.
On May 22, 2016, Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper became the first streaming-only album to chart on the Billboard 200, debuting at No. 8, with the album being streamed 57.3 million times in its first week, which was equivalent to 38,000 units sold.
On March 18, 2017, Future made history by achieving back-to-back No. 1 album debuts in successive weeks with Future and HNDRXX for the first time in the chart's history.
On January 19, 2019, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie's Hoodie SZN became the album with the lowest weekly sales figure for a number 1 album - with 1,000 sales. It subsequently did not sell enough to enter the sales-only Top 100 Album Sales chart. A week later the album broke its own record when it stayed at number 1 for a second week, selling 749 copies.
^Lindsay, Jay (September 17, 2009). "Mary Travers Of Peter, Paul And Mary Dead At 72". Billboard Magazine. Billboard Music. Retrieved March 15, 2018. At one point in 1963, three of their albums were in the top six Billboard best-selling LPs as they became the biggest stars of the folk revival movement.
^Gael Fashingbauer Cooper (June 15, 2014). Casey Kasem's 'American Top 40' reached for the starsArchived June 15, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. NBC News. Retrieved June 15, 2014. "An unparalleled storyteller, Kasem loved to drop a teasing question about a song or a band, then cut to commercial, making his trivia so tantalizing that listeners just had to stay tuned to find out the answer. (...) Who had the most No. 1 albums without a Top 40 single? (Comic and mood-music expert Jackie Gleason, at least at the time.)"