Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sales v critics v fans 1.2: Biggest selling albums of all time - Years

In this post we look at the year of release of the albums in the top 100 - shown in the chart below. (Click on the chart to enlarge.)

  • The first entry is in 1967 - the Beatles with Sgt Pepper. No Sinatra or Miles Davis. The big sellers are products of the modern era beginning in the late 60s.
  • Surprisingly, the biggest year was not in the glory days of the 60s or 70s - but was 8 entries in 1991. Rock, in all its manifestations, was going off - with 2 entries from G'n'R and entries from Metallica, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and U2. Here are the entries for 1991: 

Guns n' Roses   Use Your Illusion 2 
Guns n' Roses   Use Your Illusion 1
Metallica   Metallica (Black Album) 
Michael Jackson   Dangerous
Nirvana   Nevermind
Pearl Jam   Ten 
Queen   Greatest Hits II 
U2   Achtung Baby 
  • Even though 1991 had the most entries, the half way mark was 1987. 49 entries were released in 1987 or earlier. 51 entries were released in 1988 or later.
  • Things die after 2002. There are no entries for 8 consecutive years until the final entry - 21 by Adele.
The bottom line is that the age of the blockbuster album is over and ended in 2002. The causes are probably threefold:
  • the internet era and the unbundling of albums made possible by iTunes and streaming services; 
  • the democratisation of the means of music production with an attendant flood of product, diluting sales over a greater number of releases; and
  • greater competition for the entertainment dollar from entertainment forms that didn't exist in the heyday of the album.
There will be occasional exceptions (witness Adele), but they will be rare.

To conclude on a positive note - Adele's achievement is quite extraordinary. 21 was the biggest selling album in 2011 and 2012. It has continued to sell strongly in 2013. When this list was compiled (Feb 2013) it was already at equal 30th place in all time sales. I suspect that by now it is one of the top 20 biggest selling albums of all time. And she did it while keeping her clothes on.

The only other album from the 2000s and beyond to make the top 20 is 1 by the Beatles.

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