Is there someone who doesn’t like Tracy Chapman? She is hardly the most famous pop star, but the American singer-songwriter seems to receive only positive opinions.
Can sympathy towards her and her music songs on large commercial success in spite of her lack of fame? That’s what we are going to analyse today.
If you are young and can’t see who she is, try to turn on Baby Can I Hold You or Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution and tell us what you think. In the meantime, we can tell you what the general public thinks. He likes these songs.
In fact, these singles from the eponymous debut of the artist from 1988 shot the LP to the #1 in various countries including the US, Canada, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, etc.
Even in countries where Tracy Chapman missed the top spot it did wonders still. The best illustration of that is France where the album sold upwards the million mark.
This album is now over 30 years old but it continues to sell decently day in day out. Where does it rank among the top female albums of all-time? And among the biggest debuts? Also, how has the diva performed since then?
As usual, I’ll be using the Commensurate Sales to Popularity Concept in order to relevantly gauge her results. This concept will not only bring you sales information for all Tracy Chapman‘s albums, physical and download singles, as well as audio and video streaming. In fact, it will also determine their true popularity.
If you are not yet familiar with the CSPC method, below is a nice and short video of explanations. I fully recommend watching it before getting into the sales figures. Of course, if you are a regular visitor feel free to skip the video and get into the numbers directly.
The Commensurate Sales to Popularity Concept (CSPC)
There are two ways to understand this revolutionary concept. In the first place, there is this Scribe video posted below. If you are unaware of the CSPC method, you will get the full idea within just a pair of minutes.
If you are a mathematical person, and want to know the full method as well as formulas, you can read the full introduction article.
Now let’s get into the artist’s sales figures in detail in order to apply this concept and define the act’s true popularity!
Tracy Chapman Album Sales
Original Album Sales – Comments
The most surprising fact about Tracy Chapman is maybe that it sold only 7 million units in the US. While it’s already a massive number, that almost looks shabby in comparison to sales elsewhere.
In fact, the album was a monster record all around Europe with an insane 11.5 million units sold to date.
It’s one of the only 4 albums which sold over 2 million units in both the UK and Germany and over a million in both France and Italy. The remaining trio is made of Queen‘s Greatest Hits II and Michael Jackson‘s Thriller and Bad.
Great sales all around the globe put it at 22.47 million sales so far. It is runner up among the top selling female albums of the 80s, less than 0.1 million away from Madonna‘s True Blue.
Sophomore record Crossroads always looked like a rough bomb after such a monster debut. Sales of 7 million plus are definitely great still. It was even an organically huge album in some places like in Germany where it sold 1.2 million copies.
Matters of the Heart struggled way more to find buyers, getting only 2.11 million of them.
Incredibly, the singer rebounded to well past 7 million sales with her fourth effort, New Beginning. The irony is that this comeback was almost entirely due to North America where it had sales similar to the debut album.
The later part of her career has been way more discreet, even if she retained a high level of success in France.
She is close to 44 million sales of studio albums to date. While one may think her catalog is all about the LP Tracy Chapman, she still managed to double her sales with subsequent releases.
Tracy Chapman songs sales
As a reminder, the weighting is done with a 10 to 3 ratio between one album and one physical single.
The profile of Tracy Chapman is far away from standards of physical singles sellers, so even if in late 80s and during the 90s the market was still decent one can’t expect wonders.
Fast Car was a sizable hit nevertheless, hitting the top 10 in many countries and even #1 in some. Globally, it sold over 1.2 million copies.
Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution and Baby Can I Hold You were perfect to support the LP. This also means very few have been interested in purchasing them alone which explain why they haven’t make the Top 10 in a single market.
The same can be said about everything which came out until the mid 90s. Cumulatively, singles in-between Fast Car and Give Me One Reason haven’t sold a million.
This latter song went on to be a viral success in the US, shifting over this milestone in this market alone, en route to become the top selling single of her career in physical sales.
As a reminder, the weighting is done with a 10 to 1,5 ratio between one album and one digital single.
Fast Car made Tracy Chapman a top seller from day one, it continues to fuel her catalog impressivley some 31 years late.
The song is one of the greatest catalog seller of the 80s. It has moved well over 2 million downloads in the US alone, a tremendous 750,000 copies in the UK and big numbers everywhere else. It spashes out at over 5 million in the world.
Depending on where you live, these numbers may surprise you.
In fact, if you are French numbers of Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution seem way too low. There, this song is bigger than Fast Car.
If you are from Brazil, the shocker is Baby Can I Hold You. This song has nearly 10 times more video streams than anything else from her catalog in this country.
With over 1.7 million downloads and ringtones combined they are still great performers. So are all album cuts which stand around 100,000 units a piece.
It’s nearly as high as every song that came out later minus Give Me One Reason. This song is still warmly received in the US with 1.8 million downloads to date. Its near 2.6 million global sales add to the 10 million units of the rest of her discography in this format.
Streaming is made up of audio and video streams. Our CSPC methodology includes both to better reflect the real popularity of each track. The main source of data for each avenue is respectively Spotify and YouTube. To factor in the growing impact of multiple Asian countries where these platforms aren’t always the go-to site for music streaming, more sources have been added.
In order to account for their real popularity in each relevant country, the below sources have been used along with the mentioned ratios that reflect the market share of each area.
– South Korea : Genie streams * 3.05 (consistent with Gaon streaming numbers)
– Japan : AWA streams * 100/5.5 (AWA has 5.5% of the Japanese streaming market)
– Elsewhere : Spotify streams * (370 – 8.5 – 9.5 – 33 – 9) / 207 (370 million global subscribers minus 8.5 million from South Korea minus 9.5 million from Japan minus 33 million from China divided by the number of Spotify only users minus 9 million more Asian users) + Genie streams * 3.05 (uses Genie rather than Spotify to extrapolate markets like Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam)
– China* : Xiami streams * 125/6.5 (Xiami has just over 5% of the Chinese streaming market)
– Elsewhere : Youtube views
*since 96.4% of Chinese streaming platforms are free users, that paid-for users pay less than $2 a month and that they are also used as video streaming platforms, their streams are weighted in par with YouTube streams.
Audio Stream value – 1500 plays equal 1 album unit
Video Stream value – 11,750 views equal 1 album unit
Equivalent Albums Sales (EAS) = ( Spotify * 310/207 + Genie * 3.05*2 + AWA * 100/5.5 ) / 1500 + ( Xiami * 125/6.5 + YouTube ) / 11750
No real surprise here since patterns of digital sales are true on streams as well. The most interesting numbers are down to the distribution of streams with different songs performing nicely is different platforms.
While Fast Car was the obvious first choice, equivalent album sales of over 300,000 units is still a rare number for a song from the 80s.
The next 3 songs all record very decent scores while streams of tracks below go down quite quickly.
The domination of the debut album is obvious here with it accounting for 521,000 units out of a 841,000 total.
Full catalog breakdown
If you are familiar with the artist’s catalog and want to check details of each and every song, you can access to all of them right here.
Tracy Chapman compilations sales
It sounds fairly logical to add together weighted sales of one era – studio album, physical singles, downloads, streams – to get the full picture of an album’s popularity. For older releases though, they also generate sales of various live, music videos and compilation albums.
All those packaging-only records do not create value, they exploit the value originating from the parent studio album of each of its tracks instead. Inevitably, when such compilations are issued, this downgrades catalog sales of the original LP. Thus, to perfectly gauge the worth of these releases, we need to re-assign sales proportionally to its contribution of all the compilations which feature its songs. The following table explains this method.
The distribution process
How to understand this table? In the example of Collection, these figures mean it sold 3,070,000 units worldwide. The second statistics column means all versions of all the songs included on this package add for 622,289 equivalent album sales from streams of all types.
The second part on the right of the table shows how many equivalent streams are coming from each original album, plus the share it represents on the overall package. Thus, streaming figures tell us songs from the Tracy Chapman album are responsible for 74% of the Collection track list attractiveness. This means it generated 2,269,000 of its 3,070,000 album sales and so forth for the other records. We then apply this process to all compilations present on below table.
Compilations sales figures listing
If numbers of Tracy Chapman have been incredible since its release, especially in Europe, they would have been even better if not for Collection.
This compilation was issued in 2001 in most countries minus North America. The label wanted to give a second chance to Give Me One Reason that was a missed opportunity in Europe up to that point.
The record went on to sell over 3 million units, more than 2.5 million of which came from this continent. The more recent and comprehensive Greatest Hits is also doing well under current market conditions.
As a bonus, please find below the breakdown of the big seller Collection.
Full Length related records Sales – Summary
Here is the most underestimated indicator of an album’s success – the amount of compilation sales of all kinds it generated. Due to the dependency of sales of the original studio albums on these releases, they are a key piece of the jigsaw.
These numbers are obtained by applying the method from the section The distribution process to all packages listed under Compilation sales figures listing category.
Total Album (all types) Sales per Country
Please note country-specific numbers may miss sales of a few minor releases, although totals are complete.
Tracy Chapman Career CSPC Results
So, after checking all the figures, how many overall equivalent album sales has each album by Tracy Chapman achieved? Well, at this point we hardly need to add up all of the figures defined in this article!
Albums CSPC results
In the following table, all categories display figures that way, e.g. in equivalent album sales. For example, singles from Tracy Chapman released in digital format sold the equivalent of 1,161,000 albums – 7,740,000 downloads with a 10 to 1,5 weighting.
As a reminder:
- Studio Album: sales of the original album
- Other Releases: sales of compilations generated thanks to the album
- Physical Singles: sales of physical singles from the album (ratio 3/10)
- Download Singles: sales of digital singles from the album (ratio 1,5/10)
- Streaming: equivalent album sales of all the album tracks (ratio 1/1500 for Audio stream and 1/11750 for Video stream)
It’s the situation that Tracy Chapman faced. The Fast Car powered debut album moved over 27 million equivalent album sales to date. Then, everything got more complicated.
Crossroads still ends at a very respectable 7.5 million. Then, the songwriter managed to get another smash album with New Beginning. It will take time but sooner or later this will be a 10 million seller once all formats are considered.
There is little to say about the remaining 5 albums which followed a decreasing trend. They add for 7 million sales combined.
This is just enough to push her career total to over 50 million equivalent album sales, 51 million to be more precise. That makes her one of the Top 20 female sellers of all-time.
Singles CSPC results
The list is compiled in album equivalent sales generated by each song. Therefore, these figures are not merged units of singles formats. Instead, it includes weighted sales of the song’s physical single, download, ringtone and streaming as well as its share among sales of all albums on which it is featured.
1. 1988 – Tracy Chapman – Fast Car [Tracy Chapman] – 16,650,000
2. 1995 – Tracy Chapman – Give Me One Reason [New Beginning] – 6,800,000
3. 1988 – Tracy Chapman – Baby Can I Hold You [Tracy Chapman] – 4,180,000
4. 1988 – Tracy Chapman – Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution [Tracy Chapman] – 3,080,000
5. 1989 – Tracy Chapman – Crossroads [Crossroads] – 2,600,000
6. 1989 – Tracy Chapman – All That You Have Is Your Soul [Crossroads] – 1,890,000
7. 1995 – Tracy Chapman – The Promise [New Beginning] – 1,370,000
8. 1989 – Tracy Chapman – Subcity [Crossroads] – 1,190,000
If you feel inspired by this list, we just created this CSPC Tracy Chapman playlist on Spotify!
Thanks to our new ASR (Artist Success Rating) concept, we know that her sales represent 22.97 million times the purchase of their entire discography. Coupled with her total sales, it translates into an ASR score of 194.
Records & Achievements
- At 27,234,000 EAS, Tracy Chapman is the 13th most successful debut album of all-time.
- At 27,234,000 EAS, Tracy Chapman is the 14th most successful female album of all-time.
- At 27,234,000 EAS, Tracy Chapman is the most successful album of 1988.
- At 11,500,000 pure sales, Tracy Chapman is the 16th top selling album of all-time in Europe.
- Tracy Chapman is one of the 4 albums that sold over 2 million in the UK and Germany as well as 1 million in France and Italy.
- At 16,650,000 EAS, Fast Car is the most successful song album of 1988.
- At 16,650,000 EAS, Fast Car is among the 5th most successful female song of the 1980s.
- At 5,050,000 sales, Fast Car is one of the 10 best selling songs from the 1980s in digital format.
NB: EAS means Equivalent Album Sales.
You may be interested in…
… best-selling artists, albums, and singles
To improve your navigation we created several amazing cross-artists lists posted inside the CSPC: Data Collector article. Click on it to see the full listing of all CSPC results compiled so far!
… similar artists
To put figures from this article into perspective, click on the images below to reach career breakdowns of similar artists:
As usual, feel free to comment and / or ask a question!