Understanding: Music Clubs #1 – Janet Jackson, Celine Dion

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B) The Analysis – Pre-Soundscan (1991) albums

Let start with catalog albums. As BMG Music Club was funded in 1987, albums from 1985 or before can be considered as catalog records in the Club era. Only six of them made it to the Top 100 list:

1976 – The Eagles – Greatest Hits 1971-1975 – 1,520,000
1977 – Fleetwood Mac – Rumours – 1,310,000
1978 – Grease Soundtrack – 899,000
1980 – AC/DC – Back in Black – 1,330,000
1982 – Michael Jackson – Thriller – 923,000
1984 – Madonna – Like a Virgin – 882,000

Isn’t it incredible? The cut-off for the list is at 298,000 and a mere six catalog albums made it, nevertheless all of them sold 882,000 units or more! This shows those six albums, all of which have an undeniable appeal, were the only catalog albums to have been displayed enough to sell relevant amounts, possibly making one of the Club monthly selections.

Moving into the second half of the 80s, following albums are part of the list.

1986 – Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill – 1,130,000
1986 – Janet Jackson – Control – 883,000
1986 – Madonna – True Blue – 301,000
1987 – Dirty Dancing – 904,000
1987 – Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction- 890,000
1987 – Michael Jackson – Bad – 879,000
1987 – Whitney Houston – Whitney – 806,000
1987 – U2 – The Joshua Tree – 779,000

Then, from 1988 to 1990, only two albums in three years made it, Janet Jackson album Rhythm Nation and Madonna compilation The Immaculate Collection. This means that BMG Music Club was still not so big back in the day, with those 1986/1987 albums all belonging to artists popular during the 90s or huge catalog sellers. Thus, those 80s juggernauts most likely sold larger amounts at Columbia House when available. As shown in this Popular Science August 1987 edition and this Ski Magazine from February 1989, all those albums were indeed part of Columbia House listings, most of them pictured in front of ads. The only exception is Dirty Dancing Soundtrack. Only two RCA albums appear inside BMG Top 100 list, Dirty Dancing and Christina Aguilera eponymous debut – both of which were never available at Columbia House except when it got later merged with BMG. This highlights how important it is to deeply analyze each album rather than doing overall gross assumptions that may led to notable mistakes.

In the other side, you may notice albums like U2‘s Rattle & Hum and Tracy Chapman debut were also among Columbia House ads pictured albums despite not appearing inside the BMG Top 100. Those records were most likely exclusive to Columbia House.

For post-1991 albums, rather than listing tons of albums with very generic comments, I’ll instead focus on a few artists which highlight Clubs atypical issues. The first obvious case to study is Janet Jackson

10 thoughts on “Understanding: Music Clubs #1 – Janet Jackson, Celine Dion”

  1. Hi MJD, great article. Thanks for explaining this to us. Music club sales have always been so confusing to me but I’m glad you cleared it up.

    Do you have music club figures for Britney Spears and Madonna?

  2. Of course everybody is waiting for a detailed article on Mariah Carey as her album sales via music clubs remain one of the huge mysteries of the chart debate in several music forums.

    It would be both helpful and a great contribution to the debate if you granted the world an insightful view in Mariah’s history concerning music clubs, especially since she has often been accused of having “fake diamond” albums as both Music Box and Daydream are quite a bit off the 10 million mark on SoundScan.

    I hope you dedicate her a good bit of your time.

    I hope her comprising article is also yet to come.

  3. This is a very good article, thank you! As music clubs mainly targeted a 30+ year-old audience, I wouldn’t be surprised if many easy-listening/jazz/classical music/country singers got to sell high amounts of records with those clubs whereas they were not big sellers in traditional record stores (especially at a time when Billboard record charts only ranked the music sold in big cities). Do you have any information about those over-looked artists ?

  4. I wonder if Janet’s catalog will ever be recertified… she is more than 10 platinum behind of what should be… such a shame.

  5. Hi MJD! I would like to ask how do you come to the conclusion of Janet Jackson’s Control and Rhythm Nation 1814 selling 7m and 8,1m copies in the US respectively?

    The only information we have are SoundScan figures for sales after 1991, their out-of-date certification (5 and 6 times platinum) and their BMG club sales, which are probably already included within their certifications. As a result, can you explain to me how you managed to conclude that they both sold 2m above their certifications?

    Thank You!

    1. Hello Raffi,

      The huge majority of Club sales started to be allowed by RIAA rules from 1994 only, majors weren’t certifying them before. Thus, both Control and RN1814 certifications do not include their BMG sales. To best estimate their sales in an easy way, you then need to sum last certification + full BMG sales + Soundscan sales since last certification minus excess shipment from certification time.

      1. Question MJD,

        What if their labels are late with their certifications? What if Janet’s albums are certified 6 times platinum with 6.7 million shipped? How can certs determine sales?

        1. Hi Fan!

          On some articles I mentioned how fundamental to understand which certifications are date-specific or not. One needs to check the artist other albums or the label remaining albums to study if the cert was specifically targeted to that album or if it was a global audit, on which case the album could have been anywhere from its new certification to the next one.

          Luckily for us most big albums had various certifications over time. The idea is to define a sales timeline which fits with all of them and checking which certification came ASAP after the criteria was reached, then we can use it to gauge remaining awards.

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