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Getting Booted Not Such a Bad Thing

July 29, 2002

Dump a load of lemons on Toby Keith's front lawn and the country singer would likely have a lemonade stand open for business within minutes.

The beefy Oklahoma singer and writer of such hits as "How Do You Like Me Now?" and his current single "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" has turned his expulsion from ABC-TV's Independence Day special into a rallying point for his fans that may translate into big sales for his new album, "Unleashed."

We'll find out for sure when the new SoundScan figures are released on Wednesday just how effectively Keith's lemons-to-lemonade approach is working, but "Unleashed," released Tuesday, appears certain to debut atop the country album chart, as well as high on the pop tally. Some optimistic executives at his label, DreamWorks Records, suggest that he even has a shot at coming in at No. 1 on the latter.

ABC officials have said that Keith was left off the network's Peter Jennings-hosted July 4 show because they could not accommodate Keith's request to appear early in the program. But Keith maintains he was dropped because Jennings disapproved of the slant of "Red, White and Blue," which celebrates the bombing of the Taliban and includes such lines as "You'll be sorry that you messed with/The U.S. of A./ 'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass/It's the American way."

Fans have been mailing boots to ABC offices in a campaign that's generated more attention for Keith, and since "Unleashed" was released, the singer has been making nonstop promotional appearances around the country, with one set for 7 p.m. today at a Wherehouse store in Irvine.

Based on sales in the first few days, Wherehouse buyers are projecting that the album will debut around No. 5.

"It's neck-and-neck with Lil' Wayne, but it's going to depend on how well it does with the mass merchandisers," such as Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Kmart stores, says Wherehouse Entertainment senior pop music buyer Bob Bell. "It's definitely going to do very well for us. But the wild card is how well it's going to do with those accounts that traditionally do very well with country music."

A spokesman for the Handleman Co., which supplies records to many of those mass merchants, says "Unleashed" is doing so well for its outlets that, "if I were a betting man, I'd bet Toby Keith will be No. 1 nationally."

Keith's previous album, "Pull My Chain," entered the pop album chart at No. 9 in September with first-week sales of 120,000. Among the competition for "Unleashed" is the Dave Matthews Band's "Busted Stuff," which sold 622,000 to enter the pop chart at No. 1 last week, and Nelly's "Nellyville" and Eminem's "The Eminem Show," which have sold more than 200,000 copies a week each since they were released.

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