I Think I've Only Got Five of Them
The Recording Industry Association of America recently published an updated list of the all-time top-selling albums. Here's the new Top 10, in reverse order, including the number of copies sold.
T9. Rumours/Fleetwood Mac. (19 million) Almost every track is pretty crispy from 30 years of continuous airplay, but if you want to know what the 70s sounded like, you still need this.
T9. "The White Album"/Beatles. (19 million) It's a mild surprise that this album ranks as low as it does, given that it's on the short list of music that will always be cool to every new generation. (The other stuff on that list is a post for another time.)
T7. Come on Over/Shania Twain. (20 million) If country is where mainstream rock went to die (more on that below), this is the precise plot where it's buried. Calling this country is mostly a marketing term, thanks largely to Twain's husband and producer, Mutt Lange, who shaped the sound of Foreigner and AC/DC's Back in Black. The polish on Shania's records is out of the old Foreigner bottle.
T7. Double Live/Garth Brooks. (20 million) Industry observers think that many of the albums on this list will hold their high positions forever, as the splintering of the pop market makes mega-million-sellers less likely. If that's true, future generations will wonder who Garth Brooks was--he's less relevant now than anybody else on this list.
T5. Greatest Hits Volumes 1 and 2/Billy Joel. (21 million) This is the one on the list that surprised me the most. It's a good package, but if you spent your money The Stranger and An Innocent Man, you'd have most of it--and better filler.
T5. Back in Black/AC-DC. (21 million) I wrote about AC/DC earlier this summer. You can read it again if you want to.
T3. The Wall/Pink Floyd (23 million) Since I know you're wondering, Dark Side of the Moon has sold 15 million and ranks outside the Top 10, alongside other 15-million sellers including Born in the USA by Springsteen, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and Guns 'n' Roses' Appetite for Destruction. Like most two-disc albums do, The Wall seems padded to me in a way that DSOTM doesn't.
T3. "Four Symbols"/Led Zeppelin. (23 million) In the last couple of months, I have met people aged 25 and aged 9 who think that Zeppelin is the ultimate in cool--and this is as cool as they got.
2. Thriller/Michael Jackson. (27 million) This spawned something like seven Top-10 hits, which was unprecedented then and unlikely to be repeated now. But which ones are still getting airplay now, and on what formats? I wonder.
1. Their Greatest Hits: 1971-1975/Eagles. (29 million) A widely published Denver Post story on the RIAA's new list included a couple of knowledgeable music commentators greeting this with disbelief and outrage, but Don Henley has the simple explanation: "Well-crafted, well-played songs with memorable melodies and decent lyrics." Its success is all the more astounding when you realize it doesn't include anything from Hotel California and The Long Run. All that stuff is on Greatest Hits Volume II, which has sold 11 million to date.
Recommended Reading: I'm a little behind on this, but last week, the AP's entertainment writer, David Bauder, who is probably about my age, decided it was time to get back to his Top 40 roots, so he downloaded the current Top 40 from iTunes and listened to all of them. His conclusions: The dominant subject matter of the Top 40--boy meets girl--hasn't changed since back in the day; the ratio of good songs to bad songs is about the same, too; female vocalists don't have to ask for "Respect," like Aretha did 40 years ago--they assume, as they rightly should, that they're entitled to it; most rap is dull; and "Country is where mainstream rock went to die."