Going through South Africa’s top foreign albums sellers of the 80s

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Who’s popular in South Africa? A lot of information is available for many countries from Europe and America, but what about the main African market?

One would instinctively expect hugely popular black artists from the decade to dominate, like Michael Jackson and Prince, but in truth sales were mostly driven by British expatriates. Should we expect to see Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley in full force then?

As previously explained, we have focused on countries from different parts of the world until now, this section in particular has put its biggest interest in the main markets of Latin America and also in Italy, one of the European markets for which we know the least.

Not much has been elaborated about Africa yet, so our 70s analysis was a great initial step in that direction. Now it is time to jump on the next decade, which was about just as interesting as the former in a number of ways.

South Africa has for long been the biggest market of the continent, at least for foreign / western acts. This is largely due to this country’s European roots, mostly British and Dutch. This last aspect, combined with its own native acts, makes it a more than interesting case.

Most notably, it would be quite revealing to see how did a huge star like Michael Jackson perform during the 80s, especially his Thriller album.

Plus, the likes of Madonna, Phil Collins, The Police, Culture Club or Bruce Springsteen, who all started in that decade or had their greatest points of their careers at the time.

Additionally, this marks a great opportunity to look at how some of the already established and dominant acts of the 70s, like Abba -who were still releasing new stuff in the early years-, Queen or Pink Floyd.

Furthermore, we can also try to look at their respective back catalogue albums via reissues, as there will be some interesting gems on that too.

We will try to bear all this in mind and answer all that in the best way possible.

It isn’t as easy as we can think to know who has been popular at some specific moment in a specific area. In fact, for that matter the large majority of the data we use to gauge the success of artists is corrupted by decades of catalog action.

Our CSPC articles encompass everything together, from everywhere, from every format and from every period. Streaming Masters pieces focus on the strength of catalogs in recent years. In their side, global heatmaps display hot markets of artists as of today.

What happens if we really immerse ourselves in the past? What were teenagers, young adults, and older people, listening to in Italy some 45 years ago?

Luckily, Discogs, which happens to be a wonderful tool to put some light on obscure areas in terms of sales, is here to rescue us.

In this article, we will list their top 10 most owned foreign singles releases of each 70s’ year in Italy. The method is far from perfect: some of these songs got multiple releases in this market, in distinct formats, at different times.

Some artists, most notably rock acts, are also collected way more than others in Discogs. Still, results are insightful. Indeed, since CDs took over LPs in early 90s there, the number of owners of these vinyls isn’t corrupted by subsequent catalog sales.

That some artists are more collected than others is annoying, but since we know that, we can account for it in our comments. Also, no matter how much collectors love some artists, the truth is that all of them have been highly successful still to feature inside an annual top 10. Get ready for some real surprises!

South Africa’s top foreign albums sellers of the 80s

South Africa top LP 1980

After several years in great shape, Queen starts off this decade with another top album among Discogs users, The Game, which achieves a solid 189 owners.

The rest of the Top 10 is also mostly made up of established acts who had a strong presence during the 70s, notably Billy Joel at number 2 with Glass Houses and Abba at number 3 with Super Trouper.

The only novelty act doing strong this year appears to be Adam And The Ants, big at the time, as evidenced by the number 7 position conquered in this annual chart.

Queen have a further entry in the Top 20 with the Flash Gordon soundtrack, whereas other interesting entries are Judas Priest’s classic album British Steal, David Bowie’s Scary Monsters, Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July and Bruce Springsteen’s The River.

South Africa top LP 1981

The Police had made it strong in the late 70s and in 1980 with Zenyatta Mondatta. They finally top an annual chart in 1981 with Ghost In The Machine, which ironically wasn’t as strong as former titles and the subsequent Synchronicity.

Yet, Ghost in The Machine does very well on its own with as many as 191 owners.

They were closely followed by Men At Work’s Business As Usual, with 187 owners.

Adam And The Ants made it strong one more time, whilst the rest of the Top 10 showed the likes of Electric Light Orquestra, Vangelis, Foreigner, Kim Wilde and Santana.

Plus, once again, Abba and Billy Joel are inside the Top 10, the former with their final studio LP The Visitors.

Beyond the Top 10 positions, we also find another novelty act hugely popular in that year with The Human League’s Dare, boosted by the hit single Don’t You Want Me?, and Soft Cell, who owe their entry to the track Tainted Love.

Billy Joel puts a reissue of Piano Man just outside the Top 10 and AC/DC made another good appearance.

South Africa top LP 1982

The recurrent dominance when we get to the year 1982 doesn’t take away anything from Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which managed to top the annual chart once again as it happened in every single country visited until now, although a local record beats it this time.

This all-time classic has 271 owners on Discogs and registers the highest figure of the decade for a foreign title.

It is no surprised to see the likes of Dire Straits, Supertramp, Fleetwood Mac and Queen in this chart, all of them dominant during previous years and most of them also strong in subsequent years.

Roxy Music is as high as number 3 with arguably their commercial effort, Avalon, whereas Yazoo and Asia, for different reasons, rank amongst some of the most interesting and surprising entries.

Titles by Paul McCartney, Simon & Garfunkel, Chris de Burgh and Depeche Mode are amongst the highlights outside the Top 10, as well as catalogue titles by Fleetwood Mac.

South Africa top LP 1983

Even though this was achieved in a relatively average year, Pink Floyd not only make it to the top spot one more time but they do so with a reissue of The Wall, which had already topped the 1979’s ranking.

Indeed, with as many as 147 owners, this double LP finishes 1983 at the very top for a second time, a very unusual fact.

At number 2, very close behind, The Final Cut gives Pink Floyd further representation in this Top 10 with 145 owners on Discogs.

Other classic titles from that year, far more expected than the Top 2, also chart high: Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down, The Police’s Synchronicity and David Bowie’s Let’s Dance occupy positions 3, 4 and 5 respectively, all of them with over 100 owners.

The likes of Yazoo, Billy Joel, Depeche Mode and Bonnie Tyler complete the Top 10.

In the meantime, below this Top 10, there is more Pink Floyd catalogue stuff, plus Culture Club‘s Colour By Numbers and Yes90125 and several others like UB40 and Spandau Ballet.

South Africa top LP 1984

Bruce Springsteen emerges as a predictable winner for 1984 with his Born In The U.S.A. LP, after several solid appearances in former years.

He does so with as many as 231 owners on Discogs, way more than its immediate competitors which are Wham’s Make It Big, Queen’s The Works, Alphaville’s Forever Young and Dire StraitsAlchemy.

Talking Heads are in good shape for another year, with debut albums by Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Sade’s Diamond Life also charting in the Top 10, amongst others.

On the other hand, among the albums outside the Top 10 are Van Halen’s 1984, Duran Duran’s Arena and Madonna’s Like A Virgin, in addition to albums by Bryan Adams and the Ghostbusters soundtrack.

South Africa top LP 1985

In a similar way to Born In The U.S.A. in 1984, Brothers In Arms ends as a predictable winner for the following year.

It records a strong 268 owners, enough to mark Dire Straits’ strongest points after years of massive results since 1978.

Most of the Top 10 looks equally representative of that time, including Talking Heads -particularly strong back then-, Jennifer Rush, Modern Talking and, most notably, Tears For Fears and A-Ha, who were at their peak.

Queen manage yet another entry, this time with a special live album, consisting of a shorter version of Live Killers and released only in a few countries, including South Africa, which the British group had visited in 1984.

The band is also represented by Freddie Mercury’s Mr. Bad Guy outside of the Top 10, along with such classic as Phil CollinsNo Jacket Required and more stuff from Simple Minds, Whitney Houston and Iron Maiden.

South Africa top LP 1986

The year 1986 is topped by Paul Simon, who had already achieved great showing as part of the Simon & Garfunkel duo and now prolongs his record of massive success.

Graceland, indeed, reaches a strong 162 owners on Discogs at the top and another issue of the LP also makes to the Top 10, adding a combined 257 owners.

This puts it well ahead of its immediate competitors, Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, Chris de Burgh’s Into The Light, Madonna’s True Blue and, for a second year in a row, A-Ha’s Scoundrel Days, all above 100 owners in total.

Queen’s A Kind Of Magic, Lionel Richie’s Dancing On The Ceiling and Duran Duran’s Notorious complete this Top 10.

Talking Heads does great one more time with True Stories, althrough it misses the Top 10 by a small number of owners.

Whilst Iron Maden also charts reasonably high with Somewhere In Time, as well as titles by Depeche Mode, Genesis and Peter Gabriel.

South Africa top LP 1987

Considering the strong schedule of massive titles released in 1987, the Top 2 comes as a bit of a surprise, with Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night at the top position and Pet Shop BoysActually one spot behind, with 184 and 177 owners, respectively.

It confirms the huge footprint of the British expatriates in this market, as these two albums were especially big in the UK.

Only right after these two titles do other -more expected- albums come, notably U2’s The Joshua Tree and Michael Jackson’s Bad.

The rest of the Top 10 includes a mix number of albums, from Depeche Mode to Rick Astley, apart from Pink Floyd, a regular visitor to these Top 10 charts, David Bowie, Suzanne Vega and Bruce Springsteen.

While the list is full of albums extremely successful in the UK, several US diamond albums are below the top 10.

In fact, right after the above, we can find George Michael’s Faith, Def Leppard’s Hysteria and Guns N’ RosesAppetite For Destruction, among others.

South Africa top LP 1988

With 219 owners, Tracy Chapman’s self titled album dominates the 1988’s chart in another unsurprising result.

The rest of the Top 10 comprises a mix of new stars at the time with some more established artists. Newcomers include Midnight Oil, Kylie Minogue and Enya. They rank at 2, 5, and 7, respectively.

Confirmed acts feature Pink Floyd with their live albums Delicate Sound of Thunder, INXS with Kick, Pet Shop Boys with Introspective and A-Ha with Stay On These Roads, all of which had previously performed very well and manage to do so again.

Guns N’ RosesGN’R Lies charts just outside the Top 10, surprisingly as high as their massive Appetite For Destruction in 1987, with the likes of Talking Heads, Sade, Iron Maiden and Bon Jovi also doing fine business.

South Africa top LP 1989

In a relatively mild year for foreign releases, Fine Young Cannibals emerge at the very top in 1989, with 150 owners, one of the smallest amounts achieved by a chart topping record in the two decades studied so far.

Right after that, four other studio albums crossed the 100 owners on Discogs: Phil Collins…But Seriously, Roxette’s Look Sharp!, TexasSouthside and Tears For FearsSeeds Of Love.

In addition, Depeche Mode maintain their strong presence with the album 101 and Queen continue their run on Top 10 titles with The Miracle.

Tracy Chapman and Roy Orbison close the Top 10 at number 9 and 10, respectively.

Outside the Top 10 are Michael Bolton’s Soul Provider and Tina Turner’s Foreign Affairs, as well as records by Richard Marx, Simply Red and The Cult.

Sources: Discogs

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Matrix

Does anyone maybe know how many albums Sixto Rodriguez sold? The man was totally unknown in his home country(USA,) but he has reached great popularity in the South Africa. And in the Australia and New Zealand as well. The great singer-songwriter with fantastic life story.

Sugar Man

JohnWill

Barbra is the original queen

Martin

Seems to be a far greater pop sensibility in South Africa in the 80’s, certainly compared to the South American countries studied in this series, which seemed far more hard rock/rock influenced.

Jules

Amazing performance by Queen!

Jsak

Do they sell more Iron Maiden or Metallica in South Africa ?

Zadria

Yes, there are quite a few Metallica fans. Iron Maiden was never that popular, but they have a few fans. Another band which was never really popular in South Africa is Led Zeppelin, for some reason. Bon Jovi was quite popular at one stage, and Def Leppard. Nirvana was also very popular. I would say the most popular or well know band was Queen.

Jake

What about Madonna? People say she is unknown in Africa, but how is her popularity in South Africa?

Jane

Considering that South Africa does have a sizeable white/European diaspora expect her to be significantly more popular there thene most other Africa countries

Jason

I heard people who lived in African countries like Namibia, saying she is completely unknown there.

Could this be true?

Al

As far as I’ve understood are Michael Jackson and Bob Marley pretty much the only international artists that really were big in Africa among the gp. People there are much more into their local artists really. So I’d imagine most of say Madonna’s sales there are due to South Africa and European minorities which made up a big chunk of what little sales foreign artists had there.

Zadria

Of course Madonna is known, but I am not sure she is very popular. But of course I am not speaking from statistical point of view. I am only speaking from personal experience.

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