Moving onto the 100 biggest selling albums in the UK:
There’ll be surprises…
and there’ll be more foregone conclusions!
As ever: here’s the Top 10 – with approximate sales – before we get down to business:
Back To Black – 4.2 m
Brothers In Arms – 4.35m
Dark Side Of The Moon – 4.5m
Rumours – 4.5m
Thriller – 4.5m
(What’s The Story) Morning Glory? – 4.94m
21 – 5.17m
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – 5.4m
Gold: Greatest Hits – 6m
Greatest Hits I – 6.9m
The selection comes courtesy of Best Selling Albums.
I can’t say its definitive and 100% accurate, but from cross referencing with other sources it appears as close as possible.
19 of these acts appeared in the UK singles 100.
But we’re also seeing some more big hitters appear. It’s 20 if we allow for Art Garfunkel appearing solo on the singles list with “Bright Eyes,” and here in partnership with Paul Simon.
Beatles watch; it’s not a question of if, it’s how many?
Three is the answer, with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which for many years was the biggest seller but is now down to #3, along with “Abbey Road” (#76) and “1” (#19).
No post-Beatles appearances though; flashes in the pan, the lot of them.
What may surprise you are the acts that outdo the Fab Four for weight of entries, given that their Billboard histories are limited.
The ego has landed and may well be justified, as Robbie Williams heads us up with six albums and his former bandmates Take That following with four. It gets even better for Robbie as he appears on two of Take That’s entries; “Ultimate Collection” (#66) and studio album “Progress” (#64) for which Robbie rejoined as a one-off, having buried the hatchet from his acrimonious mid 90s departure.
Robbie’s debut album; “I’ve Been Expecting You” is his biggest seller (#33) but he remained remarkably consistent. Including those two appearances with Take That he places at 64, 66, 67, 68, 69 and 70.
His biggest US album “Escapology” rounds things off at #98.
There are 16 acts with multiple entries accounting for 44 of the 100. Albums proving a more reliable marker of ongoing popularity than the ephemeral nature of the singles market. That goes up to 17 acts allowing for Paul Simon’s presence solo with “Graceland” (#74) and with Art on “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (#24).
Queen, Adele, Michael Jackson, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay join The Beatles with three entries.
While Robbie’s debut album presaged some hugely impressive ongoing sales figures it doesn’t always work out. 22 of the 100 are debut albums – but only six of those acts follow up their huge debut with a further all timer:
Joining Robbie are: Oasis, Adele, Ed Sheeran, Dido and Coldplay.
At the other end of the scale is Emeli Sande who went from 8X Platinum with “Our Version Of Events” (#61) to Gold certification with follow up “Long Live The Angels,” shedding 2m sales in the process.
Duffy is the closest to a one album wonder as 2008 debut “Rockferry”(#81) was certified 7 X Platinum and followed in 2010 by her only other album “Endlessly” which also sold 2 million copies less, charting in at #9.
In terms of the top performing decade there’s a contrast, in that the 00s are by far the best represented – but feature only twice in the top 20:
Amy Winehouse; “Back To Black” (#10)
And The Beatles; “1” (#19).
It also contrasts with the singles list where the 00s was the 5th ranked decade:
- 1960s = 3
- 1970s = 9
- 1980s = 16
- 1990s = 25
- 2000s = 36
- 2010s = 11
The most recent releases come later than the singles list, 2017 for “The Greatest Showman – Soundtrack” (#63) and Ed Sheeran, “÷” (#16). – the dearth of new entrants emphasising the impact of the streaming revolution. While Adele and Ed’s three entries each are an admirable effort to hold back the tide of progress the drop off in sales for their subsequent releases which come nowhere near this list shows they aren’t immune to progress.
The top 10 is pleasingly diverse with every decade from the 60s to the 10s represented. That’s despite the 60s and 70s appearing underrepresented overall. The classics are there, with Sgt. Pepper joined by “Dark Side Of The Moon,” “Rumours”, “Bat Out Of Hell” and the “Grease -Soundtrack.” But in general, the extra decades allowed for sales hasn’t translated to getting into the top 100.
2004 takes the honours for a single year, its seven entries led by James Blunt; “Back To Bedlam” (#22).
The earliest entry comes from a staple that we saw on the singles list: soundtracks:
“The Sound Of Music” from 1965 comes in at #60, one of six present. Top performer at 36 is “Dirty Dancing” with “The Greatest Showman” (#63), “Grease” (#75), “Saturday Night Fever” (#82) and “The Bodyguard” (#84) rounding us off.
“Grease” and “The Bodyguard” being led by top 100 singles while Bee Gees make up for missing out on the UK singles 100 by placing SNF.
There are, of course, a plethora of “Greatest Hits.”
Otherwise known as:
… Best of, The Very Best Of, The Hits, The Ultimate / Immaculate / Platinum Collection…
…or if you’re really showing off; Legend and 1. Call them what you like: there are 18 of them.
Queen take it to extremes topping the whole list with “Greatest Hits I”, having “Greatest Hits II” at #12.
And somehow managing to find another 2.1m to buy the same songs all over again on “The Platinum Collection” (#93) which is a box set containing the three volumes of their Greatest Hits.
Just like the success of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the death of Freddie Mercury provided a strong and prolonged sales push. “Greatest Hits I” has spent 1,050 weeks on the album chart, 718 of them posthumously.
Another to put right missing out on the singles list are ABBA, also pushing two versions of their hits; 1992s “Gold” at #2 building on 1975s “Greatest Hits” at #54.
A brief interlude into really irrelevant trivia:
There are five self titled albums:
- Scissor Sisters
- Tracy Chapman
- Robson & Jerome
Arguably there are six, with “The Marshall Mathers LP” (#56) but I’m discounting it on the basis of not matching his recording name.
There are even more self titled albums in the US equivalent to get you thinking ahead of the final chapter.
To no surprise at all there’s a preponderance of white men. There are 44 groups in the 100 who have a combined total of 14 female members – and five of them are Spice Girls (#34). The Corrs with three, Fleetwood Mac and ABBA with two each and Eurythmics and Scissor Sisters with one each.
Solo acts outweigh the bands with an almost even 25 male against 23 female and one non binary; Sam Smith (#49).
The lack of diversity in the album list compared to singles is emphasised in the seemingly implausible fact that only 11 of the artists featured are black or contain a black member. Whereas the singles list does contain representation from rap / hip hop, Rn’B, dance and soul there’s little of that on show here.
Confirming that parochialism rules, British acts dominate and reconfirming that the US, as a centre for modern music…
You guys are runners up. Maintaining the diminished diversity trend the number of nations represented is well down on the singles list, only eight nationalities:
- UK 58
- USA 26
- Canada 5
- Sweden 2
- Ireland 2
- Jamaica 1
- Australia 1
- Barbados 1
The top 10 is even more Anglo-centric with eight UK acts, two US, and ABBA joining the party.
Those with a basic working knowledge of addition will notice that totals 11:
All thanks to Fleetwood Mac – for straddling the Atlantic.
Rooting for the home team doesn’t preclude them from being household names around the world.
Whereas 15 singles appeared on both the UK and US lists, there are 23 albums.
36 of these were US #1s and 62 charted in the US top 10. Only 18 either charted outside the US 100 or not at all (the aforementioned Robbie and Take That doing the heavy lifting here) or weren’t even deemed worthy of a US release – hello again to singles alumni Robson & Jerome (#77). Trust me, you really didn’t miss anything where they’re concerned.
But they hit a real sweet spot of scoring with people of a certain age that hitherto showed little interest in music, e.g. my mum…
,,,but who recognised the duo from that TV show they were in.
Whereas TV singing shows were a great vehicle for propelling debut singles to million+ sales the same isn’t true here.
Only Leona Lewis (#25) and the anomaly that is Susan Boyle (#87) managed it. SuBo going for the same mature demographic as Robson & Jerome.
Speaking of maturity, Susan also takes the honours for oldest artist with a studio album; 48 when “I Dreamed A Dream” was released. At the other end of the scale Rihanna and Adele at 19 are the only two teenagers.
Christmas singles are the gift that keeps giving. But we’re not so keen on a whole album.
Whereas the singles list has 8 of them, the only representative here is the “Now That’s What I Call Christmas” compilation (#86). 71 tracks across three discs: thereby rendering all other Christmas albums redundant.
The “Now” series also supplies the one other compilation to feature.
Though what was so special about “Now 44″ (#94) to get it on the list, I have no idea. Its sales dwarf the releases either side of it in the series.
These are the only two compilations in the 100 and due to a technicality, the only albums not to feature on the standard UK chart. From 1988 compilations were ineligible for the main chart and given their own compilation chart to fight it out in.
They’re two of 11 not to top the album chart.
“Dark Side Of The Moon” may be 8th on the all time list, spending 560 weeks on the chart but it never reached #1.
It debuted at #2, held off the top by the giant that was K-Tel’s “20 Flash Back Greats Of The Sixties.” Creation of the compilation chart came 15 years too late for this classic.
The lowest charting album is “Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of ‘The War Of The Worlds'” – to give it its full title. Never charted higher than #5. Also claims the niche honour of biggest selling musical adaptation of a classic sci-fi novel.
Back to those big names missing from the singles equivalent:
U2 gain entry with “The Joshua Tree” (#40,) though the surprise is that “The Corrs” (#37) beat them to highest placed Irish act.
Madonna makes two appearances with “The Immaculate Collection” (#15) and “True Blue” (#97).
Still no Bruce Springsteen (12 UK album chart toppers) Rolling Stones (11) or David Bowie (11). Elvis is holder of most #1 albums not to make the list with 13, though he did place on the 100 singles.
Come back next time, when I’ll be rounding things off with a look at the 100 Biggest Selling Albums in the US.
Who will take the coveted top spot?
Eagles, Michael Jackson, Fleetwood Mac or LMFAO?
(Spoiler alert; it’s not LMFAO.)
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