Understanding: Billboard BB200 vs US Album Sales

Earth, Wind and Fire

II) Examples of application

E) Commodores and Earth, Wind & Fire

Here is the case of two acts similar to the Jackson 5 in that they were hugely popular on both sides, Pop and R&B. Earth, Wind & Fire are especially interesting as their catalog was audited in full by the RIAA several times between 1984 and 2001.

Their first 6 albums all gained one Platinum higher than calculated sales. Those awards were obtained many years after the initial run though and they make perfect sense once adding their respective catalog sales.

We notice that, although close to the next certification level, Faces, Electric Universe and Touch The World never made reached it. Those are precisely the only 3 albums among this list with no single reaching even 1 million streams on Spotify, which explains their non-existent catalog sales since the end of their respective promotion. This also confirms that unlike Teddy Pendergrass, and in spite of being a black act, Earth, Wind & Fire was fully regarded as a cross-over act by then as the Billboard’s panel reflected their sales to perfection.

The Commodores truly crossed over with their 1976 hit Sweet Love. Before that, they were deflated by rankings as shown with Machine Gun which barely charted while it sold past half a million units in two years as per Billboard. Following albums fit perfectly with their certifications until Live!.

For the first time, the formula seems wrong with Natural High, showing 1,9 million sales in 8 months while it did 3 million in less than 2 years. Selling over 1 million outside of chart rankings isn’t realistic. We may jump on the conclusion that it sold a lot via urban retailers however, this isn’t the issue. Let’s check its chart run:

   7. NATURAL HIGH
Produced by: Commodores/James Carmichael
Date: 27/05/1978 – Run: 68-24-15- 10-7-4-*3*-3-5-3-3-3-3-3-3-7-6-8-10-13-12-12-18-31-65-64-64-93-113-179-179-179- (32 wsf)
            06/01/1979: 200 (33/16 wks) UK:#8/23/3

We fell into the anomaly category. At the time charts were always waves. An album was climbing until its peak then dropping. It isn’t natural to be that high for so long without climbing higher, e.g. spending 10 weeks inside the Top 5 including 8 at #3 without ever reaching #1/2. The norm would have been:

   7. NATURAL HIGH
Produced by: Commodores/James Carmichael
Date: 27/05/1978 – Run: 68-24-15- 10-7-4-*3*-3-3-2-1-1-1-1-3-7-6-8-10-13-12-12-18-31-65-64-64-93-113-179-179-179- (32 wsf)
            06/01/1979: 200 (33/16 wks) UK:#8/23/3

The question turns out to be which albums blocked it at #3? During its second 6-weeks run there, it was indeed always the same #1 and always the same #2, meaning it outsold every album minus two for 6 weeks in a row, a true real #1 seller in a standard period. The Top 2 albums were the Soundtrack Grease and the Rolling Stones’ big gun Some Girls respectively, which better explains why Natural High had to settle for #3 in spite of sales worthy of a #1 spot. Assuming it sold enough to be #1 in a normal week for 4 weeks, the calculation climbs to 2,5 million, now in line with 3 million shipped after one more year of solid sales.

14 thoughts on “Understanding: Billboard BB200 vs US Album Sales”

    1. Hi Gus!

      Obviously you are correct, I always think about Kenny G when talking about Michael Bolton and vice versa, don’t ask me why! Now fixed 😉

  1. Hello dear MJD it’s really a very interesting article on RIAA certifications.
    From this article it is evident that some artists such as U2 or Michael Jackson were massively inflated.
    This fact will affect on global sales ? For example the U2 in last year’s article have sold about 192.400.000 equivalent album sales with 12x platinum for The Joshua Tree, 8x platinum for Achtung Baby, 5x platinum for Rattle and Hum and War etc..
    Based on this new article for example their US album sales and their world album sales will be lower ?

    1. Hi Anthony,

      No, it doesn’t impact RIAA certifications. Their awards were achieved thanks to catalog sales and CSPC articles took that into consideration already!

  2. Great job man! Are we getting the 2nd part of your Understanding article about download sales vs. streaming? This is the one I’m most excited about, haha.

  3. Hey MJD,
    You’ve done a lot of work on 90’s and 2000’s artists and I think you should consider looking at Ashanti’s discography. She came out with a strong debut and had hit songs in her time

    1. Hi Luca!

      The factor can be easily calculated for post-1990 years using US Sales Database. I avoided it on purpose for two reasons:
      – Soundscan reflects better ups and downs, runs are much less linear, which corrupts the grouping of positions logic. In the past, a standard run was 152-81-55-38-33-32-33-39-60-121-155-187-out. Now you can have 10-39-101-199-out, which would give a much better result than 11-41-101-out.
      – Internet/pre-orders: they massively frontloaded sales which means now a #1 can sell 30k or 1m. This completely corrupts every possible calculation!

  4. Hi MJD!

    Forgive me for being quite ignorant, but I’ve re-read your article a thousand times, and I still don’t know how you input the Xmas factor in your calculations. I know how to calculate without the Xmas factor, but how do you add in the Xmas factor? Does it depends on which positions it charted during December?

  5. Hi MJD!

    Forgive me for being ignorant, but I still don’t know how you add in the Xmas factor in your calculations. Could you elaborate on how to do that?

    1. Hi Raffi!

      You are two that did this comment (with someone at SHF) so I suppose this part is unclear, I’ll amend the text! In the meantime, here is the answer I made to the other comment:
      The Xmas factor ais roughly the same scale as the chart overall, just slightly lower. Here is the weight you should give to an album depending on its average ranking in December:
      At #1 = weight 15 to 20 (depending on how big it was / how long it remained at 1)
      Charting 2-5 = weight 12
      Charting 6-10 = weight 8
      Charting 11-20 = weight 6
      Charting 21-40 = weight 4
      Charting 41-100 =weight 2
      Charting 101-200 = weight 1

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