Different ways, same results. Tracy Chapman debut and eponymous album did just as well in France than it did in both US and UK, both during the promotional campaign and as a catalog item. The song behind those successes is not the same yet.
When released in early 1988, Tracy Chapman was unknown. The promotion was hardly a big one too so sales first struggled. The album hasn’t even debuted on charts upon release, it did so from the lower positions several weeks / months after the street date. In both the US and UK, lead single Fast Car gained high rotations during the summer.
The album responded insanely well, coming from out of the Top 200 / Top 100 respectively to #1 within’ a few months. The song completely failed to make the same kind of impact in France yet, so the album remained out of charts during the entire summer too.
Second single Talkin’ Bout A Revolution bombed hard in English-speaking countries (US #75 ; UK #85) but became a solid #22 hit in France with huge airplay to back it up. The album responded exactly the same way it did to Fast Car elsewhere, coming from out of charts in September to #2 a fortnight later. After two months inside the Top 5, Tracy Chapman lost traction, closing the year 1988 with a Platinum award representing 300,00 sales still.
Although no new hit took over during 1989, the incredible word of mouth and praise from critics kept the set alive for most of the year, featuring inside the Top 50 until November. Sales were up to 500,000 units when the record left charts.
While this is still a very long way to the million mark, the album became a perennial seller. In 1993, it was certified 2xPlatinum (600,000) along with various other WEA albums. Along with it, three Phil Collins albums and the classic L.A. Woman by The Doors all went 2xPlatinum, to mention only records then certified at this plateau. In fact, the record was selling rather well, not needing four years of catalog sales to sell the missing 100,000 copies to this criteria. It wasn’t obvious at the time as short charts weren’t enabling many catalog sellers to be part of the ranking, but when this one started to be expanded this album was featured again and again on it.
In 1998, for its 10th anniversary, it charted for three weeks in the Top 75, peaking at #45. In June 2000, along with Telling Stories being certified Gold, Tracy Chapman went Diamond. It is an interesting date and not only because it means the album has been selling over 45,000 copies per year as a catalog item. Indeed, following years will show us a strong revival for two months in July / August for this album. Majors and retailers have their habits.
We already noticed will checking Pulp Fiction how Soundtracks get promotional offers every year in April, thus charging strongly into catalog Charts. Majors do have such lists of albums to promote on various periods of the year. Tracy Chapman cult album is part of both the January / February list and the July / August list, just like her label partners The Doors, who happen to be two of the very biggest catalog acts every winters and every summers in France.
The shipment sent to supply this mid-price operation in June 2000 pushed the album to the million mark, the very next week it re-entered the main chart at #46 as no catalog chart existed prior 2002. It charted 10 weeks, peaking at an impressive #33. It then peaked at #54 in January 2001, #55 in August 2001 and at #27 in January 2002. After that date, it was moved to the newly introduced Catalog Chart peaking at #9 / #12 / #1 / #15 / #1 / NC / #2 / #8 / #4 in each Winter / Summer until the end of 2007.
From that point, it continued charting very frequently but without troubling the Top 10 anymore. On 1,125,000 copies by the end of 2002, the album added 131,000 copies from 2003 to 2008 as per GFK. The lack of activity from the artist reduced the interest in this album although it is still moving a solid 10,000 copies a year since.
Net shipment as of the end of 2015 is estimated at 1,330,000 copies.
As usual, feel free to comment and / or ask a question!
Sources: SNEP, Nielsen, IFOP, Platine, GFK.