Nevermind was the album of a generation in the US, catapulting Nirvana to super stardom in 1992. Nowadays it’s cult appeal is undoubtable everywhere, but the initial impact wasn’t quite as strong in all countries as it was in the US. It definitely was huge in France yet.
The year 1991 is pretty specific. In fact, a massive amount of strong rock albums got released – Achtung Baby (U2), We Can’t Dance (Genesis), Use Your Illusion 1 & Use Your Illusion 2 (Guns N’ Roses), Black Album (Metallica), Ten (Pearl Jam), Out Of Time (R.E.M.), On Every Street (Dire Straits), Innuendo (Queen), Blood Sugar Sex Magic (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Loveless (My Bloody Valentine), Screamadelica (Primal Scream), Stars (Simply Red), Laughting Stock (Talk Talk). Nevermind wasn’t even the dark horse. It came in from the back door and still crushed them all.
Released after an unnoticed debut album (Bleach, 1989), the Nirvana LP was an instant smash once Smells Like Teen Spirit started to be aired on radio. The album increased from out of charts 32-12-9-1 in the bi-weekly chart, earning three consecutive fortnights at the top. Those six weeks are the last bi-weekly charts ever published as after May 20 1992 they started to be published on a weekly basis. The single was a smash on its own as well, topping charts four weeks and accumulating 19 weeks inside the Top 10. Second one Come As You Are wasn’t quite as big (#12) but was pretty consistent and did what was requested to it, e.g. support the album, which remained 28 weeks Top 10 in a row.
After dominating quarters two and three of 1992, the album dropped against Q4 big releases, being only #30 once Christmas rush came into the picture. Its success was covered on VSD Magazine (no archives available online) summarizing the year biggest albums, revealing its sales of 628,000 copies shipped by the end of 1992. Failing to keep the train going in 1993, the album was still shifting copies every week, pushing its total by February 1994 to 730,763 units.
A couple of months later, the news of iconic lead singer Kurt Cobain suicide sent Nevermind back into charts. Charting 12 weeks inside the Top 50 and 5 more in 1995, the album reached 900,000 copies by the time it was certified 2xPlatinum in February 1995. In fact, this certification is a type, sales were passing 900,000 copies and the album was already awarded 2xPlatinum in the fall of 1992.
By October 1995, In Utero was updated to Platinum while Nevermind wasn’t certified, meaning it was still not over a million. Selling 100,000 copies in 1995 yet close it certainly was, thus, it wasn’t a surprise to see the milestone received on the following update of their catalog in November 1997. It was up to 1,1 million at the time.
From 1998 to 2002, the classic album was adding sales at a 40,000 units a year pace, climbing to 1,3 million when the greatest hits Nirvana was released. This impacted Nevermind but not that much as from 2003 to 2008 it still sold a huge 138,000 units as per GFK. The 50,000 copies sold in 2009-2010 were great but short of the impressive tally of 55,000 it sold for its 20th year, in 2011. The anniversary edition re-entered at an impressive #5 position in weekly chart. It is still charting an average of 30 weeks per year adding 120,000 more units from 2012 to 2015.
Net shipment as of the end of 2015 is estimated at 1,665,000 copies.
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Sources: SNEP, Nielsen, IFOP, GFK, VSD, Le Monde.