On 13 February 1970, the Birmingham band Black Sabbath released their eponymous debut LP.
This album is regarded by most as the very first heavy metal album ever released.
Their fundamental contribution to the history of rock music gave the band its nickname of Godfathers of Heavy Metal while singer Ozzy Osbourne is widely recognized as the Prince of Darkness.
How many people embraced these satanic flavoured music though? Today, we celebrate this legendary band by studying their commercial success through the years.
Black Sabbath are a rock band from the Birmingham, UK, formed in 1968. More than two dozens of persons were member of the band at some point.
The most famous of them include the original line-up made of singer Ozzy Osbourne, iconic guitarist Tony Iommi, drummer Bill Ward and pass player Terence Butler.
No, Black Sabbath has been fronted by many vocalists as time passed, including multiple rock singers well known for previous works.
Among them are Ronnie James Dio, former singer of Rainbow, Ian Gillan and Glenn Hughes, both singers of Deep Purple in the past, Dave Walker, who was the voice of Fleetwood Mac for a couple of years.
Unusually, the mastermind of the band wasn’t the singer but instead guitarist Tony Iommi. Having lost tips of two fingers at 17 in a sheet metal factory accident, he had to adjust his guitar play. Some claim it opened the door to his unique style, heavier sound.
He composed most songs of Black Sabbath since the beginning to this day, being the only member who never left it.
13, the 19th and final album to date of the band, shot to the top of both UK and US charts in 2013. Shockingly, it was only their second chart topper in their homeland, and their first in the US.
While chart peaks aren’t the be-all and end-all of success, it’s difficult to amass large numbers without ever denting the higher part of charts.
It raises questions to the real success of the band. Was its image too dark to appeal the masses? Was it possible to cross over the general public during the 70s while praising Satan?
As usual, I’ll be using the Commensurate Sales to Popularity Concept in order to relevantly gauge their results. This concept will not only bring you sales information for all Black Sabbath‘s albums, physical and download singles, as well as audio and video streaming, but it will also determine their true popularity.
If you are not yet familiar with the CSPC method, the next page explains it with a short video. I fully recommend watching the video before getting into the sales figures. Of course, if you are a regular visitor feel free to skip the video and get into the figures.
The Commensurate Sales to Popularity Concept (CSPC)
There are two ways to understand this revolutionary concept. The first is the Scribe video posted below. If you are unaware of the CSPC method, you will get the full idea within just a few 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!
Black Sabbath Albums Sales
Original Album Sales – Comments
Over 46 million album sales across 19 releases is definitely not bad for heavy metal legends.
The career of Black Sabbath can be divided into 3 main parts.
It starts with highly popular releases. Each of the first 5 LPs sold over 4 million units to date.
Obviously, they are no 20-30 million sellers, although Paranoid is on its way to break over 10 million.
If they haven’t shook up the masses, they all did a very good job at appealing rock fans.
Each of these albums sold close or over 1 million in a pair of years in the US, a mark that was difficult to reach back then. They were all solid top 10 records in the UK, with Paranoid hitting the top.
After the hot 1970-1973 years, the band’s popularity started to slow down. Sabotage still sold well, but from Technical Ecstasy interested consumers were rock fans.
Never Say Die failed to reverse the trend, missing the top 10 in the UK and the top 50 in the US, just like its predecessor.
This prompted the band to change of singer, with Dio replacing Ozzy Osbourne.
Heaven and Hell benefited from this change, selling over 3 million units. Ironically, Ozzy Osbourne also happened to start a very successful solo career in 1980, fueling back catalog sales of the band.
Albums up to Born Again continued to sell to fans of the genre. With this LP, the group recorded its 11th million seller in a row.
Starting with Seventh Star, the group was facing strong difficulties in bringing new listeners.
Its ever-changing lineup wasn’t helping, nor the lack of hits.
A bump of popularity in German-speaking countries supported global sales of the group, but they were now unable to move past 1 million units with one album in spite of the highly favorable market environment in the 90s.
In these years of fanbase-driven sales, much hyped comeback album 13, the first studio release with Ozzy Osbourne vocals since 1978, sold 1.25 million units.
Black Sabbath Songs Sales
Physical Singles Sales
As a reminder, the weighting is done with a 10 to 3 ratio between one album and one physical single.
Black Sabbath hardly relied on physical singles during their career.
As an illustration of this situation, out of the 3 singles from their debut album, only one, Evil Woman, was released in more than 1 country.
Their first large release actually came in their sophomore era. Paranoid title track was a hit, especially in Europe, in 1970/1971.
The song sold over 200,000 copies in each of the main markets in Europe, Germany, the UK, and France. It was a chart topper in the former country.
In the US, the song sold a bit, but it peaked at #61, with a much larger impact happening in the album front.
These results concluded on 1.32 million sales. With subsequent reissues of the singles (more than 20 of them), either alone or paired with Iron Man, the song adds for 1.86 million sales.
Iron Man was a slightly bigger hit in the US, reaching #52. It wasn’t released as a single elsewhere though. This remains their highest charting song to date in this country.
These back to back songs add for 2.1 million physical singles out of the 3.3 million sold by the band during their 50 years history.
Naturally, there are not much left for the rest. Tomorrow’s Dream and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath did over 100,000 units thanks to widespread releases.
The next songs to hit this level were Never Say Die and Neon Knights, both thanks to decent UK sales where these tuns went top 25.
Nothing else ever sold over 50,000 since then.
As a reminder, the weighting is done with a 10 to 1,5 ratio between one album and one digital single.
Just like most classic rock bands, Black Sabbath sold much more digital downloads than physical singles.
They have a dozen of songs in the 100,000-400,000 units range, including most album cuts from Paranoid plus hit singles outside of this album.
1980’s Heaven and Hell outperformers all of them with 650,000 units to date. It is easily the strongest song of the Dio era.
Then, there are singles from Paranoid. The trio of classics Iron Man, War Pigs and Paranoid is way ahead of anything else.
Combined, these songs sold over 5.7 million units. The latter is the biggest at 2.81 million.
In the other side, songs from 1983 ownards are completely forgotten, if they ever got popular.
The total of the band’s discography is 11.28 million, 6.72 million of which from Paranoid songs.
We rarely faced a situation as extreme as this one, with 1 release out of 19 taking over 60% of sales in both physical and digital singles formats.
It seems already as clear as water that Paranoid is far and away the biggest generator of sales of the band’s compilations and live sets.
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
Streaming numbers of the fabulous 3 tracks of Black Sabbath are on a league of their own.
Paranoid has well over 300 million streams on Spotify and over 200 million on YouTube.
Its performances in Asia are more discreet, although the million streams on Chinese Xiami is quite good.
Iron Man is now at 200 million on Spotify and over 200,000 EAS from streams.
War Pigs takes the bronze medal with over 100 million streams on Spotify and over 100,000 EAS.
Numbers go down very fast after this big top 3. Children of the Grave and Heaven and Hell still hit 50 million on Spotify, with relevant numbers too for N.I.B., Changes, Planet Caravan, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sweet Leaf.
Paranoid is truly legendary, as apart from his 3 huge singles, 4 of its remaining 5 album cuts rank inside the band’s top 20.
Cumulatively, the album adds for 764,000 EAS, more than half of the entire discography of the band.
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.
Keep yourself up to date
Our website provides you a fantastic tool which fetches updated Spotify streams as you request them, use it to watch these results grow day after day!
Black Sabbath 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, it 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? If you check this example of We Sold Our Soul For Rock ‘N’ Roll, these figures mean it sold 4,090,000 units worldwide.
The second statistics column means all versions of all the songs included on this package add for 969,225 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 Paranoid are responsible for 72% of the We Sold Our Soul For Rock ‘N’ Roll tracklist attractiveness, which means it generated 2,947,000 of its 4,090,000 album sales, and so on for the other records.
Compilations sales figures listing
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.
The impact of Paranoid is absolutely insane. Through the years, the band sold a lot of compilations and live albums on the back of this albums’ content.
It’s not only Black Sabbath records. Former singers Ozzy Osbourne and Dio largely used these songs to sell their own live records. These releases are highlighting in the listing with a red cell.
Once we add up everything, it appears that Paranoid fueled an immense 20.57 million sales!
With the 1970 album overshadowing the rest of their discography, no other album boosted more than 2 million sales of compilations.
As a bonus, please find below the breakdown of the top selling compilation.
Total solo Album (all types) Sales per Country
Please note country-specific numbers may miss sales of some minor releases, although continental and global totals are complete.
Black Sabbath Career CSPC Results
So, after checking all the figures, how many overall equivalent album sales has each album by Black Sabbath achieved? Well, at this point we hardly need to add up all the figures defined in this article!
In the following table, all categories display figures that way, e.g. in equivalent album sales. For example, singles from Paranoid released in digital format sold the equivalent of 1,008,000 album albums – 6,720,000 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)
What can we say about Paranoid? With a bit under 10 million pure album sales, the LP catapults to 32.5 million once every sales avenue is taken into consideration!
This makes it one of the only 3 albums from 1970 to be responsible of more than 30 million equivalent album sales, the other two being legendary recordings Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel and Let It Be by the Beatles.
The album has a massive lead towards remaining albums in every metric.
Behind are both Black Sabbath and Master of Reality, on a virtual tie, much lower at 7.1 million. It’s still a very healthy figure.
Vol. 4, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Heaven and Hell are similarly popular at 4.8-5.1 million a piece.
If nothing else does that well from the band, the consistancy of their sales through 50 years reveals a very dedicated fanbase.
A lot of their albums, even from their weakest periods, managed to amass not that bad figures in spite of charting almost anywhere.
All of it adds up to 77,895,000 equivalent album sales to date for Black Sabbath.
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. 1970 – Black Sabbath – Paranoid [Paranoid] – 17,330,000
2. 1970 – Black Sabbath – Iron Man [Paranoid] – 8,080,000
3. 1970 – Black Sabbath – War Pigs [Paranoid] – 5,340,000
4. 1971 – Black Sabbath – Children of the Grave [Master of Reality] – 3,520,000
5. 1970 – Black Sabbath – N.I.B. [Black Sabbath] – 3,130,000
6. 1980 – Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell [Heaven and Hell] – 2,700,000
7. 1973 – Black Sabbath – Sabbath Bloody Sabbath [Sabbath Bloody Sabbath] – 2,430,000
8. 1972 – Black Sabbath – Changes [Vol. 4] – 2,350,000
9. 1971 – Black Sabbath – Sweet Leaf [Master of Reality] – 1,590,000
10. 1970 – Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath [Black Sabbath] – 1,420,000
If you feel inspired by this list, we just created this CSPC Black Sabbath playlist on Spotify!
Thanks to the ASR (Artist Success Rating) concept, we know that the group’s sales represent 24.38 million times the purchase of their entire discography. Coupled with their total sales, it translates into an ASR score of 247.
Records & Achievements
- At 43 years, Black Sabbath own the longest period between 2 #1 albums in the UK (Paranoid in 1970, 13 in 2013)
- At 32,501,000 EAS, Paranoid is the 3rd most successful album from 1970.
- At 17,330,000 EAS, Paranoid is the 2nd most successful song from 1970.
- At 327,911,000 streams, Paranoid is among the 30 most streamed songs of the 70s.
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!