Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (1976)
Claimed Sales – 18,000,000
Estimated Sales – 6,600,000
In many aspects, Oxygène album and its author Jean-Michel Jarre are legendary. The cover, the sound, the story, the pioneering music, the gigantic concerts and… the sales myths. Everything surrounding this record feels like special. It is pretty much the French equivalent of UK’s Tubular Bells.
Every legend has its exaggerations yet. Reported by its Dreyfus label at 6 million by 1977, at 9 million by 1981, then 12 million, then 16 million, then 18 million… if we believe all those claims, Oxygène is one of the best selling albums ever. By a French artist, it certainly is, but overall this sounds like some very optimistic vision.
The truth? The album did sell slightly more than 2 million copies to date in France. Although peaking at #78 only, it shipped 300,000 units in the US during 1977. A #2 album in the UK, it moved over 400,000 units by the end of the 70s there. By March 1982, it was also over 300,000 units in Germany (#8), close to 25,000 in Austria (#10), up to 60,000 copies in Sweden (#3), over 50,000 in both Spain (#2) and Switzerland (#1) and close to that mark in Belgium, at 32,000 units in Japan (NC), 65,000 copies in Australia, at 75,000 in the Netherland (#4). All those figures have been confirmed by Billboard or certifications. It must be said that by 1982 the album had sold an estimated 60 to 80% of its to date tally.
Thus, while Oxygène did wonders for a low profile French release, reliable data suggest some 4,5 million copies sold in Europe, about 200,000 units in Oceania, not much more in Asia and over a million in North America. One may argue if the album is closer to 6 million or to 7 million, but there is no way it is up to 18 million or anything close to such a total.
So, how come such fanciful claims came out? It is just one more case of the title track name trick. In fact, all six songs in the album are named Oxygène, only distinguished by their track number with “Part X” added. Oxygène Part IV was the lead single of the record. Each and every time Dreyfus communicated “Oxygène sold X million copies worldwide“, it was referring to the track, thus including the original album, the single and all subsequent compilations and live albums which included the track.