Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sale of the Century

Do you know what the biggest-selling album released in this century is? It was rather alarming to me to learn that the answer is 1, by the Beatles, which came out on November 13, 2000. It has sold, according to Wikipedia, around 31 million copies worldwide. That an album of material that was all 30-plus years old at the time of its release could be the biggest seller of its time may seem highly unorthodox, but the more you think about it, the more sense it makes.

First of all, the tunes are all real good. For another thing, the Beatles, for reasons I never understood, were rather late to convert to the CD era. Their original albums weren't released on compact discs until 1987, and they never bothered with the compilation albums. The Red and Blue albums came out on CD in 2010; Hey Jude never did come out on disc, and doesn't really exist any more. When 1 was released, it was the first Beatles compilation to be available on CD. So there was a lot of pent-up demand, especially among casual Beatle fans, to have those songs on compact disc.

The other half of the story is that iTunes was foisted on the public on January 9, 2001, just two months after the release of 1. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that since January 10, 2001, no one has bought a CD. The other best-selling albums from this century are all also from 2000: The Backstreet Boys' Black and Blue and Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory have both sold 24 million copies, and Eminem's Marshall Mathers LP sold 22 million. The biggest-selling album released in the past ten years is Adele's 21, which has sold 20 million copies worldwide.

1 is, at this point, the second-biggest Beatles album of all time; the best seller remains Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which, despite the lack of a hit single, has moved 32 million units, as they like to say in Billboard.


  1. As kids, my friends and I were always in the snob crowd who bitterly derided the compilation albums. Calling yourself a Beatles fan, then pulling out the Red and the Blue albums, was regarded as an assault on the senses.

  2. The Red and Blue Albums were the first two Beatles albums I owned, and I feel no guilt about that. They're both better than the White Album.

  3. There's a lot of greatness on the White Album, but it's true that you take the not-so-good with the very, very good. (For example, though it's mathematically possible to like "Honey Pie," the same cannot be said for "Wild Honey Pie.")

  4. a couple of clarifications:

    the beatles' red and blue albums were released on cd in september 1993, so 1 was hardly the first beatles compilation cd. they were on the pricey side, though: something like $32-$34 american each.

    also: it really took a good 3-4 years for the iPod to really put the hurt on the cd biz. remember: you couldn't buy anything through iTunes until 2003. i think a few things led to the initial drop in sales of recorded music between 2001 and 2003 (before the slight rebound in 2004): the move away from teen pop (those britney, n'sync, and bsb fans were getting older); the real beginning of the radio exodus in pop and rock; and 9/11's effects on the economy as a whole.