The algorithm for how the RIAA calculates sales for albums is apt to change from time to time but at the most recent calculation of the all-time best sellers,The Eagles’ Greatest Hits 1971-1975 complication just passed Michael Jackson’s iconic 1982 Thriller for the top spot with 38,000,000 total albums sold. The Eagles’ Hotel California is safely positioned in third place behind Thrillerwith a very respectable 26,000,000 total album sales. Others on the RIAA best-selling list include:Billy Joel: Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II, Led Zeppelin IV , The Wall by Pink Floyd , AC/DC’s Back In Black, Garth Brooks Double Live, Hootie and the Blowfish Cracked Rear View and Fleetwood Mac Rumors all round out the Top 10.
Representatives for the RIAA suggest the players on the list including at the top could change but that’s unlikely in that albums don’t sell like they did when these powerhouse records made their mark. The music industry today is much more about selling singles and or perhaps more importantly, streaming.
This begs the question like when comparing Bill Russell to LeBron James in the NBA: how do you measure success or greatness when the game is so different today? If Thriller can sell 33,000,000 albums – mostly a generation ago when an album meant something different to music fans how do you handicap say “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson (featuring Bruno Mars) on Youtube that’s been played over 3,100,000,000 (that’s over 3.1 BILLION) times?
Jackson’s “Beat It”, which is a short-film as much of a music video, has been seen 400,000,000 plus times on YouTube.com but how do you calculate how many times it’s been seen on MTV back in the day? How do you factor in how many downloads of “Uptown Funk” were sold in an era when most people want the single over the album?. What weight does a downloaded single get versus selling a physical album?
One might make an argument that the rules for selling music are so different now that the comparisons to the past are simply moot. Artists today struggle to make any meaningful money from streaming thus their energies focus on touring. Music sales, for those who actually buy files, have reverted back to a pre-1950s business model where singles rule the sales over full, more expensive albums. And unlike back when the players at the top of the RIAA list made their mark, you couldn’t just go to a peer-to-peer website and steal the record. Going into a Sam Goody and trying to walk out with an LP was a far more dangerous proposition. And don’t get me started on those long, narrow cardboard boxes that Compact Discs used to come in to prevent theft. What a nightmare they were.
Is the RIAA top selling album list a gleaming example of how great rock music was in the 1970s and its lasting appeal or is it a list based on a time long gone by that little to do with the way music is consumer, enjoyed or purchased today?
How does this make you feel? Old? Young? Or just don’t care…