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there is less than 20% of his albums for which we do own that key sales indicator, and for most of them the number is outdated.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.

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

124 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Kwjw

Thanks MJD. 🙂

JAK Music

Hi, MJD! Very informative and interesting answers! I also notice you mention streams and downloads, but not physical sales – and mentioned in the last reply that the physical sales weren’t included in those tallies. So his singles counts, on the RIAA side uncounted for his total? Since the general metric is albums, I’d imagine that could be the case. I also wonder if, when they mention the “promo talking point number” of “sales” as 1bn/etc, could they be counting singles sales as 1 sale (instead of 1/6th) as a means/justification to get anywhere close to that number? I certainly… Read more »

JAK Music

Yay! I works! 🙂 I hear you on the reply thing – I do my own website work as well, and it can be a real pain. Definitely not surprising about 60% of his singles being from orphan titles – that’s one reason he’s known as more of a “singles artist.” I might be mistaken, but I’d heard that was much more of a “thing” for the industry in general when he first started, but that things gradually shifted to more of the “album focus” that we’re more familiar with. If I’d heard wrong please tell me, but it is… Read more »

Vernon Smith

He’s known as an album artist too.This website suffers from the logical fallacy know as confirmation biased…i.e. Only allowing information from a suorce that already agrees with what they want the information to justify. In 1986, RCA gave graceland a framed certificate saying Elvis has sold one billion records. (Worldwide). Now remeber..RCA is financially obligated to give royalties based on sales. Why would they publicly have this admission knowing full well the songwriters that Elvis recorded songs by could easily sue RCA for royalties, assuming they didn’t get the correct royalties, using this official public admission? This website has no… Read more »

Vernon Smith

Known as a “singles artist”……BWHAHAHAHAHA…. FACT…in 1956 75% of all electronic devices sold in the USA couldn’t play an album. Elvis recorded 3 albums avg. per year at least. There were Elvis albums that, of course, had songs that you could only hear from albums though a few songs were radio hits. Now follow me …Elvis’ record company was also a manufacturer of record players competing for, but also leading in sales.. By 1960 the stat on record players sold nearly flip-flopped to where the majority could now play albums. Elvis, who never cared about album names, released an album… Read more »

Gregory

Elvis records still continue to sell !!! I agree they don’t always make the top of the charts ,but his records are sold through out the year usually just under the radar screens and that’s what really matters. And I disagree with your appeal charts a lot of these releases were very well noted in the music industry and it seems like when you are looking at his music you are somewhat at a bias level. I would ask you to compare his level of music appeal and his ability to sell music on any format to anyone. He’s called… Read more »

Tony

He is not the King of music, that’s a rubbish statement. He is just one of many top selling artists. There are a lot better singers than Elvis, even though I would still class him as one of the better ones.

Martin

King of Pop, Queen of Pop, King of Music, Prince of Pop etc etc etc. They all mean nothing, just daft made up titles. With regards to vocal ability and vocal range, yes, I’m sure there are lots of singers who are technically better than him but it’s not about that for me. I know some people do get off on technical ability, complexity etc and that for them, is the reason they like an artist but I believe most people are drawn into music and end up loving certain artists because of an emotional appreciation, not a technical one.… Read more »

David Gibbs

I agree.I just love his singing voice.

Vernon Smith

Not king of Music, then name another artist with a number one “pure gospel”, rock and roll, blues, country music, Christmas music, classical music. Just anyone you know that had a hit in each styled genre.

Tommy Watkins

Thers only one King and that’s Jesus Christ, but for singing and recording, theres none better than Elvis, the total package!

JAK Music

Hi, MJD! You said: “I’m not sure to understand your question.” Actually, I think you answered it fairly well. I do have a follow-up, though (tried hitting reply but that didn’t seem to work, so just re-commenting down here) You said: “There is 2 completely different moments on which singles and albums used to be combined in equivalent sales: – from the 50s to the 80s, using 1 album = 6 singles. Using that method, Elvis is likely close to 2 billion ‘records’ right now. – since roughly 5 years with digital singles (DLs & streams) merged into albums. These… Read more »

Kwjw

Hi MJD

Just wondering, I see no mention of the ‘A boy from tupelo’ 3 disc set only the 1 disc sun master’s!

Any reason?

Many thanks.

Donald Miller

MJD, some folks would rather buy into the BULL-loney than accept the truth.

Vernon Smith

Ever hear of confirmation bias? It is a fallacy where people use a source that tells them what they want to hear. The RIAA is not an authority on sales. The only authority on record sales is the artists’ record co. who is financially obligated to pay royalties. Anyone interested in facts wouldn’t cite RIAA. They are a joke. Example, they don’t define an album as an album if it sold initially for less than a dollar amount THEY decided on. This website is made simply by idiots accepting garbage. Elvis has sold more than 400 million records in the… Read more »

Donald Miller

When I think about the amount of dreck that Paul wrote and recorded; he’d have been better off doing cover versions.

Nathan

Interpretive singing is also awesome.
My favorite singer is Rod Stewart, who’s biggest hits are prob around 50% covers.
So, I’m not blasting Elvis for not being a songwriter…………but the Tom Waits quote doesn’t make sense either.
Look at how huge Paul Mccartney is…………..AND he wrote all his songs.

Think how MORE impressive that is.

Also, the money you make from a recording is much higher if you not only recorded it but wrote/cowrote it.

Just pointing that out, not hating on Elvis

Donald Miller

borderwolf, sales are not a value judgement.

Garyt

MJD; So how do you account for RCA having to use other record pressing plants and shops always running out of Elvis products? These are facts as reported by the media at the time, not fake. Once charted, albums weren’t allowed to re-enter the us albums charts; that’s whyElvis didn”t chart much. Several years ago you did sales research on Elvis on UKMIX. A few years later someone did similar research and reached a figure 100million more than yours and he said he was being conservative. You underestimate Elvis’ sales and you overestimate Jackson’s sales as you’re fan of his!… Read more »

KWJW

Thanks for the update. 🙂

124
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x