Elvis Presley’s US album sales

Elvis Presley

A few days ago we went through the 101 albums by Elvis Presley that have been certified by the RIAA in the US. While it was already an enormous task, that was only one part of the picture. In fact, less than a third of his official US releases achieved a Gold award or better.

We can read virtually anything when we talk about the number of albums the King issued in the US. After going through thousands of releases on Discogs, Biwa and Elvisoncd, I concluded on 341 non-promotional albums that have been sold at some point. This insane number is made of 23 pure studio albums, 17 original soundtracks, 23 Christmas-related releases, 39 box sets, 29 live efforts, 200 compilations and 10 records tagged as “other” which include interviews and spoken discs. Please notice that these statistics do not include Follow That Dream releases – they will be treated later on this same article. One more important notice is that reissues aren’t counted as new releases, instead they are added to original albums.

If you do the math, that’s 341 minus 101 equals 240 albums completely unaccounted for under Presley’s RIAA tally. Of course, we already saw that assuming 250,000 sales on average for each – mid-way to Gold – is not an accurate method. Luckily, we have much more data about each of them.

A huge frustration for people interested into Presley‘s US album sales is the lack of Soundscan data. As a reminder, Soundscan is the process which scans every sale at retailers since the start of 1991. All told, there is less than 20% of his albums for which we do own that key sales indicator, and for most of them the number is outdated.

Another frustration is the absence of information about non-traditional releases. These are albums which were never sold on standard retailers but instead by mail order or at Christian book stores. RCA permitted a large number of them through various licensing deals from the 70s to the 00s.

Then, of course, there is Music Clubs, which used to be a significant actor of the music industry during the 90s and that is out of Soundscan’s panel. To add some complexity, releases aren’t automatic on them, some albums were issued at BMG Music Club, others at Columbia House, some at both and some at none.

This article will answer basically all these issues. We will start by listing each and every release. This list will point out for all of them if they were available at Columbia House and / or BMG Music Club. Then we will get into every non-RCA releases – Time-Life, Provident Music, Razor & Tie, etc – to see which ones were tracked by Soundscan or left out. For all those which weren’t, we will provide sales information to fill in the hole. Once we will be up there, having a clear view of the full list of albums that were scanned, we will dispatch appropriately the career total of Presley into every release with the help of various known data.

The final step will consist in crossing the data from all indicators – chart runs, certifications, Soundscan, external sales data – to establish how many albums the rock ‘n roll legend moved in his native country.

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borderwolf

I have never quantified the greatness of my musical heroes based only on sales. I still do not understand the races “this has sold more than that, so it’s better”

KWJW

Hi MJD Just like to say well done for all the dedication and hard work you and the team have been putting into this monumental analysis. You must be exhausted! It’s a great read and each new piece has me salivating for the next one. Some things I have noticed whist scanning the breakdown on page 13 which would be great to get a response on: A Legendary Performer Vol 3 has been listed with sales of 350k yet you have it as going gold in 1978? Elvis sings Leiber & Stoller issued in 1980. You have soundscan sales and… Read more »

Dan

I said it once, i’ll say it again – if Queen were as popular in the US, as they are in Europe (where they outsold Led Zeppelin by a huge margin), they’d probably outsell MJ by now.

Jules Giddings

I’d disagree with that. I think they have 7 multi platinum albums in the US, compared to Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd their overall sales are quite small there but these days Queens music is downloaded and streamed more stateside than either of those bands.

Donald Miller

Tony, they’ve got a string of RIAA gold and platinum albums. Their Greatest Hits is the biggest UK album ever. It has sold more here.

Tony

Donald Miller, Queen never cracked the US market either, but Globally there massive, says a lot about how Queen are so massive but don’t rely on US sales alone as many other artists do.

Dan

Now i’m curious – what’s their EAS in the US?

Dan

Cool, gotcha!

Dan

A question just popped into my head – The Beatles’ 168m are EAS, which means they include singles, among other formats? If so, it’s not really fair to compare it to the 155m Elvis album sales, right?

Donald Miller

Nathan, when did interpretive singing stop being a talent?

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