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McCartney's Starbucks album heats up U.S. charts

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Paul McCartney reached his highest spot on the U.S. pop charts in a decade on Wednesday with his first album for coffee retailer Starbucks Corp., a sign that veteran artists can thrive outside major labels.

In this file photo, Paul McCartney poses for the media before a signing session in London, November 22, 2006. McCartney reached his highest spot on the U.S. pop charts in a decade on Wednesday with his first album for coffee retailer Starbucks Corp., a sign that veteran artists can thrive outside major labels. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

“Memory Almost Full,” the 21st solo album of McCartney’s career, debuted at No. 3, his highest ranking since the No. 2 start for “Flaming Pie” in 1997.

The album’s first-week sales of 160,541 copies marked a 33 percent improvement over those for “Flaming Pie,” which kicked off with 121,000 units sold. The former Beatle’s “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard,” released in 2005, opened at No. 6 with 92,000 copies.

McCartney’s performance is especially notable because the music industry has been in a freefall for much of the past decade. Many artists have seen their chart fortunes fade as consumers turned to online piracy and other forms of entertainment. Labels and retailers have shrunk accordingly.

“Memory Almost Full” marks the first release on Hear Music, the new label formed by Starbucks and privately held jazz specialist Concord Music Group. McCartney, who turns 65 next Monday, had spent most of his 45-year career with EMI Group Plc., which still distributes the Beatles’ catalog.

Starbucks, which aims to turn itself into a leisure destination that does more than sell coffee, signed McCartney about three months ago after learning that his EMI contract had lapsed. Its innovative marketing plans melded with McCartney’s desire to find a fresh way to promote his albums.

Last Monday, the day of its international release, Starbucks played the album all day in its 10,000-plus stores around the world. The album was released the following day in the United States.

In Britain, “Memory Almost Full” arrived at No. 5, surpassing the No. 10 debut and peak of “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.”

Music industry consultant Clark Benson said the partnership benefits both sides. For Starbucks, there’s a “brand benefit” in being associated with an icon like McCartney.

For his part, McCartney can be assured of a better marketing push and probably a more generous royalties deal than he could get at a major label, said Benson, CEO and founder of market research firm Almighty Institute of Music Retail.

A spokesman for McCartney declined to discuss the financial terms of the musician’s deal.

Starbucks helped Concord market the posthumous Ray Charles smash “Genius Loves Company.” But Starbucks has backed developing artists with limited success, while its foray into movies last year with “Akeelah and the Bee” was a flop.

The latest chart was led by new releases from two R&B singers: T-Pain’s “Epiphany,” which sold 171,000 copies in the week ended June 10, and Rihanna’s “Good Girl Gone Bad,” which narrowly beat McCartney with sales of 162,000 copies.

McCartney’s first-week tally compares favorably with the recent debuts of other veteran acts.

Ozzy Osbourne’s “Black Rain” opened at No. 3 last month with over 150,000 copies sold, while the Elton John retrospective “Rocket Man: Number Ones” entered at No. 9 with 49,000 copies in April, and Neil Young’s “Live at Massey Hall 1971” landed at No. 6 in March with 57,000.

Reuters/Nielsen

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