1971 – Carole King – Tapestry
While 3 million equivalent album sales was enough to top the year 1970, the competition was much stronger in 1971. Still, there is no game as Tapestry destroyed everything.
Before her one in a lifetime album, Carole King had been an incredibly successful song writer. As many as 8 different artists got US #1 singles with her songs! The two first songs ever to top the Hot 100 for two distinct singers were The Loco-Motion and Go Away Little Girl, two songs written by King. Ironically, the most famous version of The Loco-Motion, Kylie Minogue‘s breakthough hit, peaked at #3 only. Among non-#1 songs written by her features the previously mentioned (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman sang by Aretha Franklin.
The outstanding career as a writer was succeeded with an even more impressive success as a singer. In the US, the #1 smash It’s Too Late rocketed the album Tapestry to the top where it remained for 15 weeks. You’ve Got a Friend was a strong Airplay hit too although never released as a single. It became a #1 for James Taylor at the same time, wining the Song of the Year Grammy for King.
Tapestry lasted 46 weeks inside the Top 10 and 303 weeks in a row inside the Top 200, a record until Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon. It was last certified in 1995 for 10 million US sales, a tally that has since increased by around 3 million units. It got love from abroad too. A smash in Canada, the album charted 5 years in a row in the UK Top 50 chart, peaking at #4. The low market there by 1971 limited its 70s’ sales to 540,000 units, but it has since moved well over 1 million, selling more than 700,000 copies since the introduction of the scanning system in 1994. It sold 100,000 copies in 4 years only during the 90s in Japan and sold over 700,000 units to date in Australia.
King hasn’t sold that many live and compilation albums, but nearly all of them were thanks to songs from Tapestry. In fact, on Spotify her Top 12 tracks are precisely all 12 tracks from this album! They combine for over 120 million streams while her top song from other releases is just over 1 million. Factoring together all formats, this album is responsible for about 25 million equivalent album sales to date. Phew!
When 1971 started, it had been 7 years since a female studio album had been #1. Janis Joplin‘s posthumous Pearl got there for an impressive 9 weeks. This album would have been the #1 of the year in most 1960-1982 years, but it had the bad luck of facing Tapestry. It sold over 4 million in the US plus a couple of millions abroad, but it was also the main appeal provider of Greatest Hits, a 1973 compilation which sold over 8 million units in the US alone. It fueled a dozen of million sales of albums.
1971 was also a big year for Joni Mitchell (Blue) and Cher (Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves) among others but the competition was too strong.