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The music industry's 2002 hits and sour notes

The music industry’s 2002 hits and sour notes — The year was about whistlin’ Dixie (Chicks) and rolling away from rock heroes like Santana

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Dixie Chicks
Dixie Chicks: Corbis

Certain phrases come to mind when considering the state of the music business in 2002: ”Sinking ship.” ”NASDAQ-like.” ”Cold in herre.” There was little joy in Puddle of Mudd-ville, as album sales fell by 10.7 percent (according to Soundscan) in a second year of decline — despite a fourth quarter that saw new product from an inordinate number of superstars. Even J. Lo, Faith, and Santana’s little helpers couldn’t save Christmas.

Pinpricks of light emerged in this darkness, from Eminem’s unfortunately credible claim that the industry would be nowhere without him to Shania Twain’s ”Up!,” which could eventually surpass the 7.6 million-selling ”Eminem Show” as 2002’s most successful release. And the god of unpredictability sprinkled some magic, from ivory tickler Norah Jones, who sold 10 times as many CDs as anyone dared dream (2.7 million), to Josh Groban (2.6 million).

Country was the only genre to see its sales really improve, with a 12.2 percent ”Up!”-tick. Crossover queens like Twain and the Dixie Chicks had a lot to do with that, but so did Alan Jackson (3 million), Toby Keith (2 million), and Kenny Chesney (2 million), all of whom enjoyed No. 1 debuts with little pop appeal. Rap, though down numbers-wise, was the only other style that seemed ascendant, with one Eminem CD or another in first place for eight weeks and the 5 million-selling Nelly a perpetual show.

The year’s best-selling rock & roller was… Elvis, at No. 15. Rock did okay on the radio; according to Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems’ list of the most-played songs in all formats, Nickelback’s ”How You Remind Me” led the way, followed by tunes from Puddle of Mudd, Linkin Park, and Jimmy Eat World. So how come so few people actually bought the stuff? For one thing, those acts were milking 2001 releases, and bigger names like Metallica sat the year out. Which doesn’t explain the pallid sales of former heavy hitters like Santana, whose ”Shaman” spent just a week in the top 10, and matchbox twenty, who lasted only a week in the top 20. There was no gold medal for Pearl Jam (368,000), Tom Petty (278,000), Lifehouse (258,000), or the Wallflowers (128,000). The sophomore effort from Crazy Town couldn’t even breach the top 100 or 50,000 sales mark. Nor did any garage-rock faves earn platinum discs to frame alongside their magazine covers — though the White Stripes hit 604,000.