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    Usher No. 1 in 2004? Yeah!

    How's this for a stat: The combined sales of Norah Jones' Feels Like Home and Eminem's Encore still doesn't best 2004's top seller, Usher's Confessions.

    Usher decimated all comers as Confessions sold a hair under 8 million total copies, according to year-end data released by Nielsen SoundScan today. That topped both the 2003 and 2002 champs, 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' and The Eminem Show, which sold 6.5 million and 7.6 million copies, respectively. Usher also dominated at radio as his hits "Yeah!" and "Burn" were the first- and fourth-most played singles of the year. For digital download tracks, "Yeah!" also finished at five for 2004.

    Usher's fifth album started off strong last March, selling 1.1 million first-week copies. This marked the best debut sales week since 'N Sync's Celebrity sold 1.88 million copies in 2001 and the best single-week sales since The Eminem Show moved 1.3 million in 2002 during its second week out. Overall, Confessions had the third-largest debut for a solo album and the largest ever by an R&B artist.

    Still in the Top 10 over nine months after its release, Confessions has an excellent shot at making the Top 10 all-time bestselling list. Britney Spears' ...Baby One More Time currently holds up the rear of that list with 10.5 million. Usher move ahead next month if he converts his eight Grammy nominations into wins.

    When Confessions first topped the charts last spring, the disc dethroned the year's runner-up, Norah Jones' Feels Like Home. The Starbucks fave finished the year selling more than 3.8 million copies of her sophomore disc, a total jumpstarted by her 1.03 million-copy first week. (Jones' debut disc, Come Away with Me, finished second to 50 Cent in 2003, selling 5.1 million for the year.)

    Eminem's Encore, currently the number one album in the country, wrapped up 2004 as the number three seller. The disc sold more than 3.5 million units for the year.

    After a steady decline in sales the past four years, 2004 finally reversed course. Total sales--including CDs, singles and digital tracks--topped 817 million copies, compared with 687 million in 2003, an increase of 2 percent. It also marks the first time overall sales topped the 800 million mark since 2000.

    Helping boost total sales was the iPod Factor. In 2003, 19.2 million digital tracks were downloaded--a figure dwarfed last year as 141 million were downloaded. Proving that digital sales are picking up momentum, in the final week of 2004, 6.7 million tracks were sold online--a single-week record. Leading the digital way in 2004 was Hoobastank's "The Reason," with nearly 380,000 downloads.

    Thanks to the likes of Usher and Jones, R&B led all genres, moving 162 million copies in 2004. Alternative music accounted for 132 million in sales, followed by rap (81 million), country (78 million) and metal (75 million).

    Meanwhile, a trio of country artists also made the year-end Top 10. Kenny Chesney's When the Sun Goes Down sold 3.07 million at four, newcomer Gretchen Wilson sold 2.9 million of Here for the Party at five, and Tim McGraw's Live Like You Were Dying landed at six with 2.8 million.

    The remaining Top 10 finishers ended 2004 within 150,000 copies of each other. Maroon 5's 2002 album, Songs About Jane, finished at seven with 2.7 million; Evanescence's 2003 album, Fallen, landed at eight with 2.6 million; acid-reflux queen Ashlee Simpson's 2004 debut, Autobiography, came in at nine with 2.57 million; and Now That's What I Call Music! 16 took the 10 spot with 2.56 million. For Evanescene, it was the second year in a row the band finished in the Top 10 after selling 3.4 million in 2003.

    Usher and Maroon 5 were the only artists to appear on the Top 10 year-end lists for both album sales and digital tracks. They also join Evanescence as the only three to make the Top 10 album sales and the radio single airplay lists.

    Other notable stats for 2004 include double digit growth for country and Latin albums as well as for mass merchant music outlets. As far as genres, Usher helped make R&B the top seller once again with 162 million total sales, followed by alternative with 132 million and rap music with 81 million.

    To recap, the Top 10 bestselling albums of 2004 were as follows:

    1. Confessions, Usher, 8 million
    2. Feels Like Home, Norah Jones, 3.8 million
    3. Encore, Eminem, 3.5 million
    4. When the Sun Goes Down, Kenny Chesney, 3.1 million
    5. Here for the Party, Gretchen Wilson, 2.9 million
    6. Live Like You Were Dying, Tim McGraw, 2.8 million
    7. Songs About Jane, Maroon 5, 2.7 million
    8. Fallen, 2.61 million
    9. Autobiography, Ashlee Simpson, 2.57 million
    10. Now That's What I Call Music! 16, various, 2.56 million

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