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No Longer the Loneliest Number

"There really hasn't been a mainstream pop album to act as a pied piper in the first eight months, and that's been one of the biggest complaints among record retailers," Mayfield says. "What if Beyonce's album had come out earlier in the year? What if the same songs that resulted in 600,000 in sales in the first week were released in February or March? That kind of record could have been number one for a while."

Instead, the eight album charts from February and March featured eight different No. 1's, from Il Divo's "Ancora" and Barry Manilow's "Greatest Songs of the Fifties" to Juvenile's "Reality Check" and Jaheim's "Ghetto Classics."

Still, it only seems like everybody's going No. 1 these days. It remains exclusive company, of course, with only 52 opportunities per year. And a No. 1 album is still a No. 1 album, indicating that this particular title ("Danity Kane") or that one ("LeToya") has outsold the field in a given week.

For the chart dated July 8, that album was "Loose," by the Canadian pop star Nelly Furtado. And it was a Very Big Deal indeed for Furtado, who had never before been No. 1 on the U.S. charts.

"From an industry perspective, you want to be at number one because it's sort of an indicator of pop-culture acceptance," says Furtado's manager, Chris Smith. "Nelly had always visualized herself in that position, so she didn't actually want to hear about the chart. She wanted to see it. . . .

"It might be easier to go to number one now, because the [sales] numbers are lower, but remember they're lower for everybody. It's like a race where everybody is walking. You still have to walk faster or else you won't cross the finish line first. On the easiest week ever, I'd hate to be 10th. You want to be number one. There's only one number one, and that week it was Nelly."

Says Lyric Street's McCarn: "It's absolutely a big, big deal, and it still matters."

And so it's big news that Dylan, at 65, is -- or rather was -- back on top. His triumphant return to No. 1 was partly a gift of scheduling ("Modern Times" was released between a series of major pop records) and partly a result of the artist availing himself to his fans through a memoir, a satellite radio show and his participation in Martin Scorsese's documentary "No Direction Home." Glowing reviews of "Modern Times" certainly didn't hurt. Nor did Dylan's starring role in a widely broadcast TV commercial for Apple's iPod.

But we're sooo over him. Beyonce, too. It's all about next week's chart, on which Justin Timberlake's "FutureSex/LoveSounds" is expected to debut at No. 1. Just don't tell JT himself -- though that's exactly what we did, in a conference call with him and a bunch of writers. Jinx, Justin!

"Well, don't say anything because, you know, I've made it this far with no one really making any predictions in my ear," Timberlake said before admitting that he's looking out for No. 1. "No one puts a record out to say, 'I hope this goes straight to number two.' I think everyone wants to be number one."

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