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King of Pop Reigns Over Music Charts

Michael Jackson stopped making records, but he hasn't stopped breaking them.

Less than a week after his death, the singer has stormed the music charts with an unprecedented display of sales clout. He is the first artist to hold eight of the top 10 slots on any Billboard chart and the first to claim six positions, including the top four, in the top 10 digital albums chart.

He has racked up the nation's three best-selling albums, Nielsen SoundScan says. The 2003 compilation Number Ones leads with 108,000 copies, followed by 2005's The Essential Michael Jackson with 102,000 and 2008's Thriller reissue with 101,000.

The Black Eyed Peas' The E.N.D. is fourth with 88,000, but it will top the pop chart because Jackson's titles are too old to be eligible. Instead, he'll dominate the catalog chart, where he becomes that roster's first leader to outsell the No. 1 pop chart entry.

Jackson sold a combined 422,000 albums, 241,000 of which were downloads.

The King of Pop also broke digital barriers. Since SoundScan began tracking downloads in July 2004, no artist has sold 1 million tracks in a single week - until now. Fans downloaded 2.3 million Jackson songs last week. That's nearly double the total tracks he sold in the first 25 weeks of 2009.

Nine Jackson tunes were downloaded more than 100,000 times each. The leader, Thriller, was downloaded 167,000 times. Man in the Mirror, which sold 300,000 digital tracks during the previous five years, was downloaded 164,000 times. Fans also bought 292,000 Jackson 5 tracks, compared with 11,000 the week before.

"If anyone can move mountains and shift charts, even in death, it's Michael Jackson," says Keith Caulfield, Billboard's senior chart analyst. Sales went up "after the passing of big stars, from Frank Sinatra to Jerry Garcia to George Harrison. The impact was felt on the charts but not to this degree. The closest might be John Lennon or Elvis Presley. But the impact was spread out because you had to buy a physical album. With Michael, the impact was amplified because you could get whatever you wanted immediately online."

Sales of CDs might have been greater had stores carried sufficient inventory. Most retailers were low on Jackson titles, particularly vintage stock, and many sold out. It's no coincidence that Jackson's three best sellers last week were recent releases more likely to be on shelves.

"Most stores blew through everything they had Thursday," Caulfield says. "They replenished Saturday and ran out again. You're seeing the large digital sales because you don't have that stock problem at iTunes."

Will a nosedive follow the postmortem rush? Curiosity about Jackson's cause of death and the fate of his children and estate may continue stoking sales, Caulfield says, adding, "Jackson is in a universe of his own when it comes to his influence on pop culture."

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