Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Best Selling Albums of All-Time (Part One)

I came across this last week and have been meaning to do a big post about it. It is a list of the top 52 selling albums of all-time and it is just a fascinating study in buying habits as well as the fact that digital music and piracy has created a world where there will never be a disc that will match these numbers. Remember, Hannah Montana was the best selling disc last year at 3 million. I’ll do one half tonight and the other half tomorrow.

12 million copies sold:
Jewel: “Pieces of You”, Shania Twain “The Woman In Me”, The Rolling Stones: “Hot Rocks 1964 – 1971”, Kenny Rogers: “Greatest Hits”, Various Artists: “Forrest Gump Soundtrack”, Kenny G: “Breathless”, Led Zeppelin: “Led Zeppelin II”, Pearl Jam: “Ten”, The Beatles: “Abbey Road”, Boyz II Men: “II”, Bon Jovi: “Slippery When Wet”, Def Leppard: “Hysteria”, Phil Collins: “No Jacket Required”, Matchbox 20: “Yourself or Someone Like You”, Dixie Chicks: “Wide Open Spaces”

Only one of these that I own is Pearl Jam, which was the epitome of grunge that was commercially successful without losing all of its musical qualities. They were, for a lack of a better term, friendlier than Nirvana. I’m stunned the Dixie Chicks sold that much but I like them so no harm there. And The Beatles are The Beatles. But wow, the rest of the list…

Was Sussudio really that popular? I remember being a Phil Collins fan at the time but I can’t believe that 12 million people decided to purchase that album. I know no one who owns Kenny Rogers Greatest Hits or could name a song other than “The Gambler”. I also don’t know a single song on the Forrest Gump soundtrack. I assume there are a bunch of classic rock songs but I couldn’t name a single one.

But the one that really amazes me is Jewel. 12 million copies of her debut album sold. There were two good singles from that album and it timed in with Lilith Fair but I don’t think it was that big of a hit. Def Leppard and Bon Jovi were massive, arena selling artists in the 80’s. I could not imagine Jewel selling out a venue that size in the mid-90’s.

13 Million Sold
Backstreet Boys: “Millennium”, Whitney Houston: “Whitney Houston”, Prince: “Purple Rain”, Steve Miller Band: “Greatest Hits 1974 – 1978”, Bruce Springsteen: “Live 1975-85”

Well, you knew the Backstreet Boys were going to appear eventually. Notice that they are easily the most recent act on the list so far and they were around seven or eight years ago. It does explain why there was such an abundance of boy bands. That was the only genre that was having super-blockbusters at the time. Outside of that you have an amazing debut album by Whitney Houston and a Prince classic that still holds up today.

There is also the live album / greatest hits collection aspect that needs to be examined throughout the list. Steve Miller’s greatest hits outsells any Steve Miller album. This is due to the people who buy greatest hits packages under the assumption that this disc contains all the songs of the artist that they like. While true, the music fan in me really hates things like this. I grew up on the concept of albums being a cohesive whole and not just a collection of singles. Sadly, thanks to MP3 files that is exactly the direction that music is headed.

14 Million Sold
Britney Spears: “Baby One More Time”, Simon & Garfunkel “Greatest Hits”, Meat Loaf “Bat Out of Hell”, Metallica “Metallica”, Garth Brooks “Ropin’ the Wind”, Backstreet Boys: “Backstreet Boys”

At this level we get Brittney and the Backstreet Boys (who have nearly 30M out of two albums that no one will admit owning). Again, this is why the music industry went bonkers over the teen market in the late 90’s / early 2000’s. Where else were you going to move that type of volume without much effort? Just get some pretty people, add a couple of catchy songs written by a 55 year old man, run the vocals through a computer and sell it to the public.

The whole Meat Loaf thing amazes me. For some reason he always just seems to be one step ahead of Weird Al in terms of public acceptance but with sale numbers like that you probably need to give him a lot more praise. Every metal fan owns that Metallica album, Simon and Garfunkel needs no explanation and Garth Brooks shows that all you need is a cowboy hat to succeed.

Tommorrow, the top half. With a few surprises along the way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

RE: 13 million sold category:
The Springsteen live album selling that many copies is especially impressive, since it was a 5-LP / 3 cassette box set. When it was released in the mid 80s, it sold for like $35-40. To sell over 13 million copies at that price is pretty incredible.