CSPC: The Beatles Popularity Analysis

Lonely Hearts

Controversy #1: Sgt Pepper’s UK Album Sales

As stated by the OCC – Official Charts Company – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band sold over 5,1 million units in the UK. As such, it is certified by the BPI – British Phonographic Industry – 17xPlatinum with each Platinum disc representing 300,000 units sold.

Official, but fake. How is it possible that official information is wrong? You most likely noted the 3,29 million units sold in the album breakdown some pages earlier, a gigantic 1,8 million gap.

To understand such issues in official bodies we first need to put them into an historical context. Although founded in 1969, the OCC has been the official charts compiler for two decades only. Their system of sales scanned at retail started in 1994. Thus, their true official data starts from that year. On its side, the BPI started certifying records in 1973 and all sales happening before that date were not eligible for an award until 2013.

As a result, as official as the OCC claim their Sgt Pepper’s sales to be, it is barely an estimation based on old press by their in-house chart expert Alan Jones. The album was first claimed at 2,77 million sales in 1987 before jumping to 4,25 million in 1992. The OCC used those claims to add their own post-1994 figures in order to reach a cumulative tally. Both claims were far from being legitimate yet.

With sales being such a black box in the past, it was easy to claim anything. Easy to factor in as UK sales all units exported to various countries which had yet to develop their local market at the time, easy also to trick on wording by combining sales of distinct packages owning the Sgt Pepper’s track and claiming them to be pure studio album sales.

Although all industry insiders can’t be revealed for obvious reasons, sales of the album are quite well tracked in reality. Its net shipment topped the million mark in pure local sales early in 1973. Moving then more than 50,000 units a year, that number decreased steadily to barely over 10,000 units a year during the 80s with Blue compilation being the primary catalog force. It waited until the 1987 CD release to get relevant anew, shifting 170,000 copies for the year. Adding close to 300,000 more sales from 1988 to mid-1992, its EMI shipments from that date to 2008 are known, amassing an impressive 1,193,000 units. OCC scan system tells us it added over 230,000 copies sold since.

Doing the math, the total is close to 3,3 million with nearly 80% of those units being purely verified tallies, not involving any kind of estimate whatsoever a very little room for error in unknown periods as the album had close to zero chart activity during those years.

The argument of the biggest fanatics to try to maintain the 5+ million claim is the lawsuits that happened between the Beatles and EMI for unpaid royalties. As we will see later, the company used to elude their sales made under various leasing contracts with other labels through the years but UK sales have been controlled and fully reported by the label since day 1, making the argument irrelevant.

At nearly 3,3 million units, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band remains quite by far the biggest selling album in the UK from the 60s though.

30 thoughts on “CSPC: The Beatles Popularity Analysis”

  1. holy moly you guys this is epic!! i knew you were working on something huge!! phenomenal job. wow. i need to read this article a few more times again to fully grasp everything. once again, all 3 of you, BRAVO!!!

  2. Fantastic job! I’ve waited for this moment!!!

    I also noticed these massive sales from Argentina. Their studio albums sold more there than in much larger markets like France, Brazil and Australia, do you know if there’s any particular reason for that?

    1. Hi Al,

      Thanks for your comments and we are very glad you liked the article, that was our purpose!

      As for Argentina, there are a number of reasons, some related to the market’s size and others to the cultural impact made by British groups, starting from The Beatles.

      The first thing to mention is that Argentina isn’t a very strong market now, but it was quite big (let’s say medium-to-big level) until the mid 70s. For instance, 32 million albums and singles were sold during 1975, more than in several key markets like Netherlands, Spain and even slightly bigger than Italy. The Argentinean market was similar, in size, to that of Mexico or Brazil despite the latter two countries being then and now far more populated. If we go further back in time, the mid to late 60s, the Argentinean market was actually the biggest in Latin America. Argentina is almost a unique case in the following sense: the local market was almost in better shape from about 1964 to 1975 than from 1976 to about 1990, which favoured The Beatles.

      The market returned to a big level during the 90s -athough this was a worldwide phenomenon-, in time for the public to start buying The Beatles’ stuff in CD format, whose explosion occurred in 1992/1993.

      And then, of course, we have the cultural reasons, which exceeds the content of the article and would need to be studied more deeply in the future. But Argentina has always had a positive bias toward British groups. The most populated and richer zone of the country is the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, a highly cosmopolitan city and massively open to the music of the world, notably foreign rock/pop and the British one in particular.

      It is a combo that perfectly benefitted The Beatles, I would say.

      1. Thank you for the answer!

        Do you know if The Beatles are the best selling artist of all time in Argentina? (in album sales)

        1. Counting foreign music not sung in Spanish, they are the very best selling act ever and by a huge margin.

          Counting all sort of acts, disregarding the language, then Luis Miguel is likely to have sold a similar amount or even slightly bigger. That would take some research and no doubt that Luis Miguel will eventually be covered on Chartmasters.

          Julio Iglesias and Sandro (local singer) are both very strong selling artists, but highly unlikely to rival The Beatles in albums sales.

          So The Beatles are likely to be either the very best selling act in Argentina or the second best selling, easily the best selling non-Spanish act.

    1. Yes I can’t see either topping The Beatles. I’d also imagine that while MJ (if analysed) will not be an easy or quick task to undertake, Presley (if analysed) would be an absolute nightmare given the plethora of different titles released under his name, globally and locally. I certainly wouldn’t like to undertake the that mission lol

  3. I appreciate your work. Thanks for showing how amazingly well the Fab Four did! The orphan album is just so massive, wow!

    I am hoping for you to finally cover Mariah Carey for her birthday on the 27th of March! See ya!

  4. I was wondering, have you tried putting these figures on Wikipedia, I know the editors there are pretty strict but if these figures are correct (or at least in the same ballpark) then why not put them there?

  5. Very interesting reading and historical overview. Enormous amount of work and documentation are involved here.
    Anyway, I am very surprise by the amount of record sold in south america, especially if the sixties and seventies are concerned.
    This is what I found in Cashbox 1968-7-6 :
    “Sales figures in Argentina remained at the same level of 66/67, with strong hits selling between 60.000 and 100.000 (singles), LP’s ranging from 30.000 to 60.000 and many best sellers lits not surpassing the 15.000 mark.”
    This is about the same than Spain when per hit “Delilah” by Tom Jones did 125.000.

    1. Hi Grendizer!

      In all countries, including in Latin America, sales during the 60s represent only a small fraction of their albums sales to date. Their albums have been tremendous catalog sellers ever since the first day.

  6. Amazing job!

    you have a new follower in latin america . Could you please post the BONUS: Total Album (all types) Sales per Country for the Beatles? please!!

    Thank you so much in advance!

    1. Hi John,

      There is an entire page (25) demonstrating the real sales of Sgt Pepper’s in the UK. The 5 million plus figure is pure fantasy from Alan Jones.

    1. Hi John,

      All countries aren’t listed, which doesn’t mean they have been ignored – in fact if you add detailed countries numbers and the Worldwide total you will be able to see the difference.

      As for Africa or India, their markets are tiny / non-existent depending on the period. Up to the mid-80s their records weren’t issued in most Asian / African countries. Even in latter years, only South Africa, Turkey and Israel developed some kind of an album market, the rest of the continent was relying exclusively on pirated records and a few imports.

  7. Hello MJD !!!
    Due to keep blocking or removal Apple many videos on YouTube have been removed, so imagine that YouTube streaming of The Beatles is disappointing,insignificant or irrelevant.
    What do you think about it ? I’m curious about your opinion !!

    1. Hi Pelvis,

      The lack of continuity of songs on streaming services in general is obviously an issue. I try to collect as many streams as possible – and manage to access in direct to disabled pages of Spotify to get streams of currently unavailable songs – but if a video is suddenly deleted from YouTube before I log its views they will be effectively “lost”. Very often, the same videos are re-uploaded, plus YouTube equivalent sales are still kind of irrelevant for historical artists like the Beatles so the impact is quite minimal still. I’m confident that all songs will be consistently available on YouTube / Spotify in the future when it will be impossible to ignore streaming for labels.

      1. Hello MJD, would it be possible to add total albums per country
        and records and achivements for The Beatles ?..Thanks in advance
        for your work on this site 🙂

      2. Thank dear MJD for the full answers, then noticing the section of the orphane songs I saw that 2 songs are missing : All Things Must Pass (demo) which is present in the Anthology 3 and Fly On The Wall (Interview – Let it Be…Naked) (Medley).
        I think you upgrade the Beatles with their respective YouTube streaming towards the beginning of March 2018. Did I Guess ?

  8. Then when you will see their respective videos on YouTube I noticed that some videos find them without putting the article The preceding into the word Beatles.

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