id anyone have a better 2003 than Toby Keith?

Certainly no one did in the country music business.

His latest album, “Shock’n Y’all” was the top-selling country album of 2003, despite not being released until Nov. 4. It sold 585,000 copies in its first week to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart and finished the year with more than 2.3 million copies sold – the lone country album in the Top 10 in sales.

The Los Angeles Times placed him fourth on its list of 2003 entertainers with $106.6 million earned for album and concert sales. In terms of concert tickets sold last year, only Bruce Springsteen sold more, according to industry bible Pollstar.

The new year hasn’t slowed his momentum. Not only was he recently featured on the cover of Rolling Stone, Keith will perform at the Super Bowl pregame show Feb. 1 with Willie Nelson and Aerosmith.

Next month includes a rare visit to Maine. The Toby Keith caravan rolls into Portland on Sunday, Feb. 22, for a performance at the Cumberland County Civic Center. Tickets for the certain sellout go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 24.

Keith’s rise to the top has not been without controversy. His breakthrough hit, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” is an unabashed patriotic anthem written a few days after 9/11. The song, which took him a mere 20 minutes to write, contain inflamed lyrics such as, “This big dog will fight/When you rattle his cage/And 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.”

The polarizing song was embraced by millions of flag-waving Americans, while others faulted it for its jingoistic theme. Public feuds with Peter Jennings of ABC News and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks only increased his popularity.

The patriotic fever continues with his new album with songs like “American Soldier,” which is soaring up the charts, despite not being released as a single.

Writing that few people have benefited from the war on terrorism more than Keith, Rolling Stone referred to him as “the Halliburton of country music.”

“Shock’n Y’all” has already been certified triple-platinum and is currently No. 5 on the Billboard Top 200. In addition to the No. 1 hit, “I Love This Bar,” the CD includes two of the so-called “bus songs” that Keith wrote to entertain his crew on the road between performances. The two songs – “The Taliban Song,” about an Afghan family cheering the U.S. bombing of its country, and “Weed With Willie,” about partying after a show with Willie Nelson (“I always heard that his herb was top shelf/Lord I just could not wait to find out for myself.”) – have become live show staples.

The video “Beer For My Horses,” a duet with Nelson, was selected No. 1 by the GAC’s Viewer’s Choice Countdown for 2003.

Still, the Nashville community has been reluctant to embrace the singer. Despite 37 nominations from the Country Music Association, he has won only one CMA award.

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