Saturday, 4 February 2012
This week, it’s time to see what are the best-selling AAA albums of all time. No surprises here, really, although it’s worth noting that we’ve extended the list from our normal top five into a top ten to include some more unusual names. By the way there’s a bit of a debate with the actual true figure of album sales – the top seven here are all present day but the data for some of the other albums is slightly older so I’ve bumped them up a couple of million sales to keep them in tandem with the figures for how much the top albums on this list have grown. It’s also worth noting that ‘The Monkees’ is actually tied with no less than four other Beatles albums (‘Rubber Soul’ ‘Help!’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘With The Beatles’) as well as follow-up ‘More Of The Monkees’, but we’ve gone with the first Monkees set a) for the sake of variety and b) because the recent CD re-issue of that first Monkees set a couple of years ago sold more copies then the second. The best album of all time though? Surely it can’t possibly be the album I’ve seen listed as no 1 (Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’), which allegedly has double the amount of sales of album no 2 (AC/DC’s ‘Back To Black’, itself a questionable entry). Even more worryingly still, The Spice Girls sold enough copies of their first two albums ‘Spice and ‘Spiceworld’ to make nos 8 and 9 on our list. Please buy some of these AAA albums and overtake them, I’m begging you!...
1) Pink Floyd “Dark Side Of The Moon” (1973) – 45 million:
Every three minutes, someone somewhere buys this album, which is allegedly owned by a third of the world’s population. And yet a little known fact about ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ is that it never actually made it to #1 in the UK – instead it was a word-of-mouth seller that took on a whole new lease of life when ‘Money’ was chosen as a single (albeit only in the US) which gave the album lots of radio airplay. Predecessor ‘Obscured By Clouds’ (1972) was, interestingly, one of the band’s poorest sellers (possibly because it isn’t an album per se but the soundtrack to an obscure French film), although successor ‘Wish You Were Here’ (1975) was another huge and much anticipated seller that only just missed out a placing on this list itself. Does ‘Dark Side’ deserve such huge sales? Well, we haven’t reviewed this album yet but if we had we’d tell you it’s a strong album, with one of the best half-concepts of any album ever made, but it’s far from the Floyd’s greatest hour (as so many fans seem to think) despite containing many songs which are great. Track to download: ‘Us and Them’.
2) The Beatles “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” (1967) – 32 million:
The best-selling Beatles album isn’t a surprise either. In its day Sgt Pepper’s was the best non-musical soundtrack selling album of all time, not just a record release but an event, the first real time that pompous critics and classical music buyers properly discussed a Beatles product. For fans too this was the first release after the end of the band’s touring days and after an unprecedented nine months in the studio fans were more curious than ever to hear what their idols had been up there. ‘Sgt Peppers’ was the album that made most fans buy their own record players instead of borrowing other people’s and it was an album analysed long after the needle had lifted from the grooves. Strangely predecessor ‘Revolver’ had shown a slight downturn in sales from The Beatles’ heyday with ‘Help!’ and ‘Rubber Soul’, despite it’s obvious worth and successor ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ wasn’t The Beatles’ best-selling either, no doubt because it was actually a double-EP in Europe (and an LP only in America at first). Does Sgt Pepper’s deserve to be the best-selling Beatles album? Well, again, we haven’t reviewed it yet but, erm, no. Undoubtedly a huge move forward in it’s day, to contemporary ears it’s the most dated of Beatles albums, with Lennon in a particular slump and with far too much filler to match its reputation (certainly a lot more than on ‘Revolver’). Still a great album cover, though. Track to download: ‘A Day In The Life’.
3) The Beatles “1” (Compilation, 2000) – 31 million:
Every five years sees another onslaught of Beatles releases. This was by far the most successful of all of them, a simple re-tread of every single American #1 single The Beatles ever had, as repackaged in time for the millennium and the end of the century that will arguably be talked about as ‘The Beatles’ century’ in generations to come. What’s odd, though, is the amount of rule bending that’s gone on in some areas and on the other-hand what’s missing: ‘Love Me Do’ is included, despite being only a #17 hit in Britain (issued retrospectively in America two years on), ‘Please Please Me’ is there despite only being a #1 hit on some charts in Britain in 1963 (and again was only a retrospective hit in America and never a #1) and strangest of all ‘Eight Days A Week’, simply an album track from ‘Beatles For Sale’ in Britain’, although it did indeed make #1; ‘Yesterday’ makes more sense despite only being an album track in Britain as at least it nearly made the top of the charts in 1977 – note also the missing single ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Penny Lane’, a #2 hit, although bizarrely ‘Something’ has been added despite making only #3. A mess, in other words, although at least it was cheap – presumably because EMI saved money by not giving this compilation any proper packaging. There isn’t really a follow-up or predecessor, although you could the last previous Beatles compilation, ‘At The Movies’, from 1982 – it’s track listing was even more haphazard but at least the packaging (featuring the ‘I Am The Walrus’ characters passing popcorns to the Hard Day’s Night and Help Beatles) was hilarious. Worthy of being #3 in the list? Hell no, a cash-in in all but name, although at least it did help stave off EMI’s financial problems for a further decade or so. Track to download: ‘Day Tripper’.
4) = Dire Straits “Brothers In Arms” (1986) – 30 million:
This was the album that, more than any other, launched the age of the compact disc. Legend has it that you couldn’t buy this record in any other format (not true – I used to have this on a cassette) but whatever the sales of other formats most people converted to CD to hear this album because it had such crisp, clean, clear sound. All previous Dire Straits studio albums had sold well (they’d all be comfortably in the top 50 had this list continued, barring perhaps second album ‘Communique’) and had been growing in size bit by name as their reputation spread. The fact that this album had a near record four singles released from it (the most of any album on this top 10 barring ‘Morning Glory’) and that they all charted in the top 20 undoubtedly helped. Predecessor ‘Love Over Gold’ also sold well, although successor and final Straits album ‘On Every Street’ didn’t – perhaps because of the six year gap that allowed all the fuss to cool down (this album’s success had a heavy toll on main star Mark Knopfler, who never attempted this rock style again in order not to ‘disappoint’ anybody expecting a follow-up). Worth a place in this list? Yes and no – actually it’s the little known tracks that makes this album such a delight, whereas many of the singles haven’t aged that well. Certainly it’s not as groundbreaking or as lovely to listen to as ‘Love Over Gold’ in our humble opinion. Track to download: ‘The Man’s Too Strong’.
4) = Pink Floyd “The Wall” (1979) – 30 million (counting it as a double album – ie the sales are counted twice over):
The ‘other’ Floyd albums the general public owned in the 1970s was in fact the last #1 of the 1970s and the first #1 of the 1980s. It’s also the highest selling true ‘concept album’ in history, following the fading rock star ‘Pink’ and all his difficulties, with sales no doubt boosted by the first Floyd single for 11 years ‘Another Brick In The Wall’. Fan reverence and awe for the majesty of ‘Comfortably Numb’, recognised as the best Floyd track in years and the thrilling concert shows (with a real wall made of cardboard bricks built across the stage) undoubtedly helped sales too. Those points aside, though, it’s hard to see why such an uncomfortable, uncompromising and – for the day – expensive album sold so well though, especially as predecessor ‘Animals’ hadn’t sold too well at the height of punk and an anti-Floyd backlash, or why successor ‘The Final Cut’ became one of the band’s worst sellers (despite making it all the way to a UK #1). Worth a place on this list? I’m surprised to see it there for all the reasons above, but yes – album no 76 on our main list is an exhilarating roller-coaster ride that’s just autobiographical enough to sound honest and just fictional enough to relate to every man. Track to download: ‘Nobody Home’.
4) = The Beatles “The Beatles” aka “The White Album” (1968) – 30 million (counting it as a double album – ie the sales are counted twice over):
Again, this is a double album so back in the days when it came out the album sales were counted as being for ‘two’ LPs per one sold (simply because it cost double the price of a single record). By and large that still counts for the album on CD as well, although to be fair it costs more like half as much as a single CD as double in most shops. Seen as the true follow-up to ‘Sgt Peppers’ (with the EP ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ and film soundtrack ‘Yellow Submarine’ distractions), it’s no wonder ‘The White Album’ - released in time for the lucrative Christmas market, which played a much bigger part in record release dates than it does now -sold so well. The success of tie-in single ‘Hey Jude’ didn’t do any harm, either. We’ve already discussed predecessors - the successor was the forthcoming ‘Abbey Road’. A worthy winner of this list? Again yes and no – our review no 25 is a real grab-bag treasure trove full of The Beatles’ highest and lowest moments, all cobbled together into an appetising stew that takes much digesting but makes more sense of each track when heard together. Track to download: ‘Mother Nature’s Son’.
7) Simon and Garfunkel “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (1970) – 25 million:
Recently re-issued on CD for what must be the 10th time of the CD age, no doubt this album will keep logging up sales with re-issues for some time to come. The last re-issue was the one to have by the way – after several near-tries Warner Brothers (the current owners of the S and G catalogue) finally got things right, with a fascinating making-of, a period TV special I’d been salivating to own for years and a period live CD. In fact all these extras rather eclipsed the original album, which must be the worst Simon and Garfunkel ever did as a duo and is showing it’s age more with every year. The reason this album sold so well is simply down to the success of the title track as a single, the prestige the duo earnt from single ‘The Boxer’ (released a full year before the album) and a growing word-of-mouth fanbase that had been rising ever since ‘The Graduate’ film three years before. Predecessor ‘Bookends’ was, naturally enough, the duo’s best-selling album up to that time and – as every fan knows – there sadly never was a follow-up, despite aborted attempts in the 70s, 80s and 00s. Does this album deserve to be here? Not really, it’s ‘Bookends’ and ‘Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme’ that are the artist’s best work – by contrast ‘Bridge’ is a series of solo songs with some truly horrible up work alongside two fine singles and a forgotten gem in ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’, our recommended track to download.
8) Oasis “(What’s The Story?) Morning Glory” (1995) – 22 million:
The most modern studio album on this list, I’m actually amazed it’s not higher – and that predecessor ‘Definitely Maybe’ didn’t make the list either (It would have been no 17 I think, had the list continued, after a whole load of Beatles albums). The group of the 1990s in spirit, in fact more people bought the first Spice Girls LP than this – a shocking comment on our times. Looking at it another way, though, Oasis outsold every single Beatles LP barring two with only their second effort – and with three decades’ less time to add up such sales! ‘Morning Glory’ was the pinnacle of the Oasis story and seemed to be everywhere when it came out, no doubt helped by three #1 singles (‘Wonderwall’ ‘Some Might Say’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ – ‘Roll With It’ only made #2!) As discussed predecessor Definitely Maybe almost did as well, whereas successor ‘Be Here Now’ has had one of the most curious journeys of any AAA album; hailed as a masterpiece on its release it initially sold even more copies than ‘Morning Glory’ but then went out of fashion and a backlash started that Oasis never quite recovered from. Does Morning Glory deserve its place in the list? Well, in terms of keeping up the spirit of the first successful album while appealing to a wider audience then yes, with some amazing album highs, although what this album lacks is consistency, with a few ugly tracks left in that should have been left on the cutting room floor (opening tracks ‘Hello’ and ‘Roll With It’ bring the album to a halt before it even starts). Track to download: the gorgeous ‘Champagne Supernova’.
9) The Beatles “Abbey Road” (1969) – somewhere around 18 million:
Our final Beatles album was another huge seller, no doubt boosted by 2010’s re-issue of all the studio albums (it surprised many that initially ‘Abbey Road’ was the biggest initial seller). Rumours of the band’s break-up, sadly true, boosted sales as the world took a last chance to say goodbye (we didn’t know if ‘Let It Be’ would ever come out back then), although surprisingly there was only one (double-sided) single released and by Beatles standards that did very badly indeed (‘Something’/’Come Together’ #3). The iconic cover, a favourite of many record stores to stick in their windows, undoubtedly helped too. We’ve mentioned the predecessor (The White Album) already – successor ‘Let It Be’ didn’t do half so well. Does Abbey Road deserve a place on the list? Most fans would say yes, but to these ears it’s a muddled mess, with only George Harrison up to form and the much celebrated medley at the end is more a chance to tie up loose ends than a thrilling journey in it’s own right. Track to download: ‘Because’.
10) The Monkees “The Monkees” (1966) – somewhere around 15 million:
Most readers are probably reeling in shock right now, but if so they’ve forgotten (or never realised) how big The Monkees were. After all, what better advertisement for a record is there than a television shows – and who couldn’t love the band after seeing that? Popular single ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ and the chanced to own the TV theme undoubtedly boosted sales, while a timely Christmas release made this the desirable xmas gift for people of a certain age in 1966. Successor ‘More Of The Monkees’, the only other album released before the ‘don’t-play-their-own-instruments’ backlash, sold equally well (and would have been =10 on this list with this record and four other Beatles records). Does this album deserve to be on this list? Well, that depends on whether you see this album as a ‘record’ on its own, made by studio musicians and two Monkees vocalists and mainly written by outside writers (to be fair, not that unusual back then) or as the tip of a workload-filled iceberg and pioneering multimedia experience that included an amazing TV series. Not as worthy as later albums like ‘Headquarters’ or ‘Pisces Aquarius’, but a worthy one all the same. Track to download: ‘Saturday’s Child’.