Understanding: Japanese Album Sales

H) Billy Joel – Greatest Hits Volume 1 & 2

This may seem quite random since he is regarded as a typical US artist in Europe, but Billy Joel has been huge since the end of the 70s all over Asia. One of the first foreign artists to get his albums officially released in China along with Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, he also sold massive numbers in Japan. From 1978 to 1983, the five albums he released plus one live all sold in the 240-500,000 units range as per Oricon initial figures only.

Logically, this golden era resulted into a compilation release, 1985 set Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2. Within’ six months only, this package sold an impressive 726,000 units on all formats. Later, in 1999, it was certified 3xPlatinum for 600,000. Logical? Yes, but not for the reasons you believe. In fact, those two figures of 726,000 and 600,000 units do not have a single copy in common. The first one was achieved in late 1985 / early 1986 while the second one came from November 1987 reissue only, a reissue which ironically sold supposedly only 24,000 units as per Oricon.

BILLY JOEL = Greatest Hits Volume 1 & 2 = G = 100,000 = May-91
BILLY JOEL = Greatest Hits Volume 1 & 2 = P = 200,000 = November-92
BILLY JOEL = Greatest Hits Volume 1 & 2 = PP = 400,000 = March-95
BILLY JOEL = Greatest Hits Volume 1 & 2 = PPP = 600,000 = October-99

As you can see, those 600,000 units certified got reached off the radar thanks to continuous catalog sales. The album kept selling roughly 100,000 units every 18 months, close to 1,500 units a week, without ever appearing inside Oricon ranking except the first few weeks.

In spite of the release of The Ultimate Collection in 2000, once charts got extended to a Top 300, the 1985 best of randomly re-entered for 8 weeks in 2003/2004, selling an average of 900 copies a week on each of them.

If the first run of the album revealed only 240,000 sales at the time – only LP sales were reported to Medias – this album shipped an estimated 2 million units since its release at 1,1 million 1985-89, 600,000 1989-1999 and 300,000 units since. The album could have been even higher but its profile got downgraded a lot by 2005 release of Piano Man – The Very Best Of Billy Joel.

In the meantime, please note both 52nd Street and The Stranger got certified for 100,000 sales in 1994/1995 for their CD reissue sales only. Both of them along with An Innocent Man are close to the million mark, an incredible showing from the artist.

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I thought Queen were big in Japan? But nothing mentioned here?


What about the best-selling albums of all-time in Asia?

by western artists:

#1. 6.3M+ | Whitney Houston – The Bodyguard
#2. 5.4M+ | Mariah Carey – #1’s
#3. 5.2M+ | Michael Jackson – Thriller

I know Carpenters and Beatles both have a 3M+ selling album in Japan, but what about Asia overall? You guys didn’t mentioned in their article !!! It would be nice to know


Hi Work!

The top 5 would be:

#1. 6.8M | James Horner – Titanic
#2. 6.3M | Whitney Houston – The Bodyguard
#3. 5.4M | Mariah Carey – #1’s
#4. 5.2M | Michael Jackson – Thriller
#5. 5.1M | Michael Jackson – Dangerous

Then there are several more over 4m like Music Box, Merry Christmas and Daydream by Mariah. And possibly 1 by The Beatles + some Céline Dion albums.


Hi! I wanted to ask something. You said that The Beatles outsold Mariah Carey there, but, doesn’t Mariah actually have more certified sales than The Beatles in Japan? Mariah has like 14.5 – 15 million, Beatles like 4.5 or 5 Mariah has estimations for more than 20 million already. I just wanted to ask that because i don’t see Mariah’s analysis here since she has one of the (if not the) best selling foreign album there as far as we know! #1s 3.6 million in 2001 https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/78521/careys-glitter-sparkles-in-japan And this page from Billboard Japan shows some sales for some of her… Read more »

Last edited 1 year ago by Mariahshistory

According to the website Mariah has sold about 13.3 million+ pure albums in Japan and what compilations are listed sold around 4.625 million, bringing her up to a total of at least 18 million.The Beatles have sold about 23 million albums considering everything according to their article.
Mariah’s article: https://chartmasters.org/2017/04/cspc-mariah-carey-popularity-analysis/
The Beatles article: https://chartmasters.org/2017/03/cspc-the-beatles-popularity-analysis/81/

Last edited 1 year ago by Chika

Probably The Beatles certification hasnt been updated in Japan. Plus back then the certification systems was messy.


Oh ok, got it, i was asking because there’s no site that can confirm those sales for The Beatles, but if you say so, it’s ok!

Thanks for the reply!


Hi MJD! I meant to post this as a reply to your reply to me (thank you by the way!), but I can’t seem to find the comment so I’ll ask here as this pertains to Japanese artists. My apologies for the long comment. One of the striking things about the Oricon charts is that most albums (especially local acts) seem to have extremely front-loaded sales. Even ignoring idol groups like AKB48 which use gimmicks, it seems the norm even for bands and singer-songwriter-type artists to sell 40-60% of their overall sales in their first week, and 90% or more… Read more »


​​Hi MJD! Thanks so much for this response and your explanation which was very enlightening! I appreciate the incredible attention to detail that goes into the analyses on this site. Based on your explanation it seems like the CSPC system would still be an accurate reflection of the popularity of Japanese album eras. I hadn’t considered the number of consumers who hold out to buy just the compilation album but it makes complete sense especially with CDs being more expensive in Japan. As for the matter of “collectors” buying the same songs across multiple albums, since it affects artists from… Read more »

Donald Miller

I appreciate this exchange. Japan’s a fascinating market with their own stars and superstars. But their music rarely crosses over to foreign nations. I’ve seen several documentaries about their Idol system and it reminds me of the old Hollywood studio system. I saw another on Suzuka Nakamoto. Seems like she was a rising star from the beginning. How about an article about the Idol system combined with a streaming masters on Babymetal?

For those acts not on streaming, maybe you can start a series on pure physical sales focused on vinyl and CD sales?


Thanks so much for the insight! I’m very interested to see how various Japanese acts would fare in a CSPC analysis so it’s great to see that you have such detailed information on many of them. I’m also motivated to look into what happened in the 80s to cause that shift in sales!

Christoffer Ekelund

It would be great if you did some analysis of Japanese artists/bands as some domestic acts (like B’z and Mr. Children) are huge and have sold 50-80 millions records in Japan alone.



I have always been curious as to how much Janet Jackson has really sold in Japan. Her numbers are good for an international artist but there could be more missing sales (imports, out of the charts etc). I hope you can do a breakdown for her too soon!



If I’m not mistaken, Janet’s career will be analysed soon so we will be able to know her sales in Japan (as well as several other countries). I’m quite curious about them too haha.


Amazing job! Do you know Avril Lavigne numbers for albums and singles? Thanks!

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