In addition, AC/DC’s long-rumored first new studio album since 2001 is currently being recorded with producer Brendan O’Brien and is expected for the fall.

HAIL COLUMBIA!: STRINGER’S MASTER PLAN TAKES EFFECT

Pairing of Steve Barnett and Rick Rubin Produces Neil Diamond Chart-Topper
When Sony Music head Rob Stringer first paired veteran record exec Steve Barnett and producing icon Rick Rubin a little over a year ago at the top of the Columbia Records hierarchy, industry eyebrows were collectively raised. Could the pair co-exist?

And while the odd couple may have taken some time to get going, next week’s chart-topping debut for the Rubin-produced Neil Diamond album, Home Before Dark, is a signal that things are starting to kick into gear. Current estimates have the album selling between 130-135k in its first week.

Not a bad legacy to have given both Diamond and Bob Dylan their first-ever #1 debut albums.

Barnett was named Chairman of Columbia in December, 2005, succeeding Will Botwin in one of Don Ienner’s last moves as Sony Music chief before being replaced by Stringer in June 2006.

This week, the label produced a #4 debut for R&B star Lyfe JenningsLyfe Change album and a #13 bow for veteran Steve Winwood’s Nine Lives, the best of his career. Mark DiDia has been instrumental in coordinating the efforts of Team Columbia and running their day-to-day marketing and promotion efforts.

The Offspring’s new single, “Hammerhead,” from Rise and Fall, Raise and Grace, their first studio album since 2003’s Splinter, has been added to 140 stations this week, while Oscar-winning Memphis rappers Three 6 Mafia’s “Lolli, Lolli (Pop That Body)” is exploding at Rhythm radio, with their last label release, 2005’s Most Known Unknown, selling 1.1 million to date.

The label also boasts singles from John Mayer, whose Continuum album is up to 2.1 million in U.S. sales, as well as a pair of promising newcomers in The Ting Tings and Metro Station, in the Top 15 at iTunes.

Meanwhile, Stringer’s deal with Nickelodeon is about to bear fruit with the June 10 release of the The iCarly Playlist, the soundtrack from the #1-rated ‘tween show in the country, featuring star Miranda Cosgrove, the label’s answer to Miley Cyrus.

Then label is also building red-hot buzz artist Adele, who bowed at #1 in the U.K. with her album 19, following in the footsteps of fellow Brit sensations Amy Winehouse and Duffy, as well as Black Kids, a Jacksonville, FL, rock band already causing a sensation in Britain whose debut album, Partie Traumatic, hits stateside retail July 22, produced by former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, the man behind Duffy. Cool Brooklyn art-rockers MGMT are also generating critical and fan attention, recently being named NME’s Breakthrough Artist of the Year.

In addition, AC/DC’s long-rumored first new studio album since 2001 is currently being recorded with producer Brendan O’Brien and is expected for the fall, along with new albums from superstars Beyonce after her 2006 release B’Day sold 3.2 million to date in the U.S., and John Legend, whose Once Again has sold 1.2 million since its 2006 release.

The label is also releasing the soundtrack to the highly touted, Sundance-winning Paramount Vantage documentary American Teen, which opens July 25.

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