France Album Sales: Bob Marley

Within’ a few days, on May 11, it will be the 35th anniversary of Bob Marley ultimate passing. If his status of absolute icon has never been contested since, the reggae flagship is rarely cited among best selling artists.

Bob Marley

His Legend 1984 is year after year the top selling catalog album worldwide, ahead of Pink Floyd classic Dark Side Of The Moon. So, why is Bob Marley so much ignored among top sellers? Is his cult image too strong that it overshadows his music successes or are his studio albums sales truly weak?

During the next few pages we will be reviewing his results in France, including a step by step study of his sales since his 1981 passing. Please be aware all Spotify figures refer to worldwide streaming as they only aim to display which albums still have strong catalog hits as of now. Let’s go!

Part I: The early days 1962-1972

The first part of Bob Marley career was close to a boxer career. It starts with local fights and as the boxer proves his skills, he is allowed to practice at a higher level. At 17, in 1962 Bob Marley – then named as per his real name Robert Nesta Marley – started recording a few songs on the studio next door. While the band The Wailers was being set progressively with Bob Marley a part of it, the group had their first local hit with Simmer Down in early 1964. The following year, the debut LP of the band The Wailing Wailers was released, containing most of their previously released songs. During following years, the band and Bob Marley confirmed their status in Jamaica until being given the chance to try their luck abroad.

Soul Rebels in 1970 and both Upsetter Revolution RhythmSoul Revolution and The Best Of The Wailers in 1971 got released in the US but failed to make much of an impact. Those albums include various gems that will generate a lot of illegal compilations in latter years as the original Jamaican label which published them was fully handled by producer Leslie Kong who passed away in 1971.

Catch A Fire (1973) Era

This album was the fifth by The Wailers, but the first released on Island label. Catch A Fire was everything except a hit but it did install the band as  a credible act to promote worldwide. The record went #171 in the US in 1975, their first chart entry. The group did tour to support the album. In the US, they were the opening act of a young and promising rock artist that was himself touring for the first time, someone known as Bruce Springsteen.

The album contains their 1967 song Stir It Up. In fact, Johnny Nash covered it in 1972, getting a #13 hit in the UK with it which pushed the group to use the song as a single.

Top 3 Most Streamed Tracks on Spotify

  1. Stir It Up – 21,543,000
  2. Concrete Jungle – 5,121,000
  3. Slave Driver – 1,460,000

Burnin’ (1973) Era

A mere six months after their previous record, The Wailers released a new album, Burnin’. The album was #151 in the US in 1975, but most notably included both Get Up, Stand Up and I Shot The Sheriff. Both failed to chart by themselves, but the latter went #1 in the US and #9 in UK the following year when covered by Eric Clapton. The reputation of The Wailers was slowly building and ready to make it up to the next step.

Top 3 Most Streamed Tracks on Spotify

  1. Get Up, Stand Up – 18,173,000
  2. I Shot The Sheriff – 16,429,000
  3. Burnin’ And Lootin’ – 1,461,000

PART II: Rastaman breakthrough 1974-1977

Natty Dread (1974) Era

For the very first time, the naming of the group wasn’t The Wailers anymore but rather Bob Marley & The Wailers instead, showing the increasing role of the rastaman legend. The role of the group in the music industry as well as the public demand increased too with Natty Dread album.

The album wasn’t an immediate hit, but when the song No Woman, No Cry was issued as a single it started to grow notably. In UK the album went #43, on the back of the #22 peak position of the single. In the US, not only the album went #92 despite unfavorable sales measurement at the time, both previous albums also made their debut lower down charts. In France, the short Top 20 album chart wasn’t allowing the artist to chart but his profile was clearly improving from 1975 too.

1975 was also the year of Live! release which solidified the group status. This remains one of the most iconic live album ever. It peaked at #38 upon release in UK.

Top 3 Most Streamed Tracks on Spotify

  1. No Woman, No Cry – 72,488,000
  2. Lively Up Yourself – 8,167,000
  3. Natty Dread – 3,337,000

Rastaman Vibration (1976) Era

Although this album remains the only post-1973 Bob Marley output with no classic song, the group enjoyed then an unexpected success with it in the US. Single Roots, Rock, Reggae went #51 in US Hot 100 and remains to this day their only chart entry ever in the Singles chart. This success led Rastaman Vibration to #8 in the Album Chart which is still the group only US Top 10 album ever. In UK it peaked at #15.

In France, even if charts – a Top 15 only in 1976 – gave Bob Marley no chance to appear, his popularity was again growing with large radios now playing his songs.

Top 3 Most Streamed Tracks on Spotify

  1. Roots, Rock, Reggae – 5,278,000
  2. War – 3,336,000
  3. Positive Vibration – 2,722,000

Exodus (1977) Era

Now a London resident due to the assassination attempt he suffered in his native Jamaica, Bob Marley came stronger than ever with Exodus album in 1977.

Three Little Birds, Jamming, One Love, Exodus, Waiting In Vain, Natural Mystic, the album is full of reggae anthems. This enabled the album to peak at #8 in UK and chart for more than a year inside the Top 75, it was also #20 in the US.

In France once again, the album never appeared on charts nor it was certified. It did sold rather well, going past 100,000 units within’ 1977 alone. It was only the beginning of the story for this record as we will see.

Top 3 Most Streamed Tracks on Spotify

  1. Three Little Birds – 89,710,000
  2. One Love – 40,825,000
  3. Jamming – 37,558,000

Kaya (1978) Era

Less than a year after dropping Exodus and all its cult tracks, Bob Marley did it again with Kaya record. One more time, the set is full of classic Reggae tracks among which the largest hit was Is This Love song. It gave the artist his second consecutive Top 10 hit in UK, peaking at #9 just like Jamming a few months earlier.

Only #50 in the US but #4 in UK, the set gave Bob Marley its chart debut in France unofficial album chart of the time. It entered at #17 in April and remained most of the year inside the Top 30, peaking at #10 in October. It sold some 200,000 units in the process, becoming his biggest seller to date and his first album officially awarded with a Gold award in France, representing 100,000 units.

Still in 1978, in November, Babylon By Bus was released. It was promoted mostly in 1979 when it reached the same peak as Kaya in France, #10, charting for six months. The album debuted at the same time Kaya dropped out, giving Bob Marley a constant presence for over a year. It sold more than 150,000 by the end of 1979.

Top 3 Most Streamed Tracks on Spotify

  1. Is This Love – 96,067,000
  2. Easy Skanking – 13,576,000
  3. Satisfy My Soul – 12,199,000

Survival (1979) Era

A real force in France music industry by that point, Bob Marley continued his strong run of releases by issuing Survival in 1979. Some kind of disappointment in the UK (#20) and in the US (#70), the album was still strong in France. It peaked at #12 at Christmas time, selling almost 100,000 units. In the same way as Rastaman Vibration, the set failed to generate one big hit but was consistent all over it.

Top 3 Most Streamed Tracks on Spotify

  1. Africa Unite – 5,592,000
  2. One Drop – 5,053,000
  3. So Much Trouble In The World – 4,470,000

Uprising (1980) Era

Can an era which drops both Could You Be Loved and Redemption Song be bad in any mean? The former was the artist biggest hit, peaking at #10 in France and #5 in UK. The latter was an incredible album seller, stabilizing the album more than any other from the past.

A great seller in various countries like in UK where it went #6, Uprising did wonders in France, debuting at #2 in June monthly chart, a spot it retained in July. Both times it was blocked by huge Paris, France album by France Gall.

By the end of the year, the set was already closing in 400,000 units sold. All his back catalog was well and alive, with the likes Kaya, Babylon By Bus or Exodus selling large numbers year after year. Both albums 1975 set Live! and Rastaman Vibration went Gold in 1980 thanks to Uprising hype.

Top 3 Most Streamed Tracks on Spotify

  1. Could You Be Loved – 76,062,000
  2. Redemption Song – 47,454,000
  3. Pimper’s Paradise – 4,466,000

PART III: Post-death analysis 1981-1983

In May 11 1981, Bob Marley died at the age of 36 following his melanoma related cancer. He learned from his illness in 1977 but kept recording and touring until his condition deteriorated too much after his September 1980 US shows.

A legend in live already, the figure of Marley took an other dimension following this event. He moved from a musical legend to a human being legend for an entire generation among the likes of Che Guevera, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

The absence of charts in France for several months in 1981 prevent from seeing exactly the result of his passing on his catalog. From that point yet the artist received several audits of his catalog. In 1981 itself, both his biggest albums Kaya and Uprising went Platinum, representing 400,000 units. In 1982 the 1974 classic Natty Dread went Gold. In 1983, it was the turn of Exodus to go Platinum. It was still quite rare for foreign albums to reach such numbers so doing it within’ six years despite never charting was rather incredible.

By 1983, sales of pre-death albums were as below:

1973 Catch A Fire – 80,000
1973 Burnin’ – 70,000
1974 Natty Dread – 110,000
1976 Rastaman Vibration – 160,000
1977 Exodus – 410,000
1978 Kaya – 510,000
1979 Survival – 305,000
1980 Uprising – 605,000

1975 Live! – 170,000
1978 Babylon By Bus – 275,000

Confrontation (1983) Era

A couple of years after Bob Marley death, Island released a new album from various unreleased material, completing the Survival / Uprising / Confrontation trilogy the artist aimed to do while alive.

As it is often the case with such post-death cash-ins, the album was largely criticized as tracks were arranged by the label producers, rather than Bob Marley himself, without his validation for obvious reasons. This frustration created on fans hasn’t stop one of the album tracks to become a massive hit as Buffalo Soldier remains one of his most remembered songs.

In France, the album peaked at #6 in June Monthly Chart, it gained Gold status in 1984 only but sold 140,000 units in 1983 alone.

Top 3 Most Streamed Tracks on Spotify

  1. Buffalo Soldier – 60,667,000
  2. Rastaman Live Up – 1,153,000
  3. Chant Down Babylon – 873,000

PART IV: Legend lives on 1984-2015

Legend (1984) Era

No matter the promotion you will use to sell a best of album, what ultimately matters is the tracklist. A compilation is the combination of the attractiveness of all songs featured on it. The point is that the 14 tracks present on Legend album average for 51 million Spotify plays as of today. To put this figure into perspective, Like A Prayer is by very far the most listened track by Madonna but has yet to reach 30 million, meaning each of the 14 Legend songs are on average 70% stronger than Madonna biggest hit.

With such a powerful set of tracks, the album went on to become an out of this world catalog seller, quite simply the biggest out of every album you can think of. In France it was no exception as the album first went Gold only after several months due to the absence of promotion, but still achieved gigantic sales of 1,895,000 units up to the end of 2015.

A consumers catalyst as big as this one may imply the end of catalog sales for original studio albums in the same way Gold and other minor hits packages destroyed catalog sales of ABBA original albums. The cult following of Bob Marley enabled his entire discography to still move incredible numbers even when excluding Legend.

Original 1973-1983 Albums catalog sales

While Legend was registering outstanding scores, how much his studio albums have been steadily selling then? There is two major sources of information to accurately answer this question. In November 1995, Island certified 1990 to 1995 sales of several of their biggest artists like U2 or Sade, but also Bob Marley.

Incredibly, Exodus, Kaya, Live!, Rastaman Vibration, Survival, Uprising all went Gold. Second piece of information is detailed Year End Top 100 World Albums that included an heavy amount of Bob Marley albums. In 2004/2005, the same six albums certified in 1995 sold below numbers.

1975 Live! – 13,500
1976 Rastaman Vibration – 13,000
1977 Exodus – 19,000
1978 Kaya – 16,500
1979 Survival – 16,000
1980 Uprising – 15,000

If all of them crossed the Gold status in 1990-1995, ratio of sales suggests below figures:

1975 Live! – 104,000
1976 Rastaman Vibration – 100,000
1977 Exodus – 146,000
1978 Kaya – 127,000
1978 Babylon By Bus – 158,000
1979 Survival – 123,000
1980 Uprising – 115,000

Figures for other albums in 2004-2005 are also available for earlier albums, just like a bunch of certifications received in 1992: both Catch A Fire and Burnin’ went Gold (100,000), Babylon By Bus and Survival went Platinum (300,000) and Kaya and Uprising went 2xPlatinum (600,000). As it was his catalog update in nearly a decade several of those awards were well overdue. Putting all information together give us following results:

 Sales 2004-2005Up To 1984Up To 19891990-19951996-2015Total
Babylon By Bus2050027500037000085000213000668 000
Exodus19000410000527040146300197505870 845
Kaya16500510000611640127050171518910 208
Survival16000305000403560123200166320693 080
Uprising15000605000697400115500155925968 825
Live!13500170000253280103950140333497 442
Rastaman Vibration13000160000240080100100135135475 315
Confrontation1250014000022008096250130000446 330
Catch A Fire125008000015700096250145000398 250
Natty Dread1100011000017776084700114345376 805
Burnin’100007000013160077000103950312 550

1985-2015 Major Island releases sales

Even if both Legend and the eleven original main studio and live sets keep selling incredibly well, Island issued various more compilations, live albums and remix records. Below is a list of such releases with their year of release, their type, their name, their peak position, their certification and their estimated sales to date.

1986 (Comp.) Rebel Music – N/Ch – N/Ce – 50,000
1991 (Live) Talkin’ Blues – #24 – N/Ce – 130,000
1992 (Box Set) Songs Of Freedom – #14 – N/Ce – 210,000
1995 (Comp.) Natural Mystic – #3 (Comp.) – Gold (1995) – 270,000
1999 (Remix) Chant Down Babylon – #15 – Gold (1999) – 145,000
2001 (Comp.) One Love – #1 (Comp.) – N/Ce – 250,000
2005 (Comp.) Africa Unite #6 (Comp.) – N/Ce – 95,000
2007 (Comp.) Les 50 Plus Belles Chansons #6 (Comp.) – N/Ce – 90,000
2011 (Live) Live Forever – #14 – N/Ce – 30,000
2012 (Comp.) Marley Soundtrack – #56 – N/Ce – 15,000

As this list is not comprehensive, some 120,000 units must be added for other minor releases.

1962-2015 Non-Island releases sales

In parallel to the huge catalog built through Island label, Bob Marley early recordings with The Wailers accumulated notable sales thanks to the an heavy number of releases by various budget companies.

1970 album Soul Rebels is the strongest among the initial four albums with an estimated 80,000 units sold. All remaining albums are estimated on 60,000 units. Post-death 1981 release Chances Are quickly gained Gold status thanks to the favorable context, it sold 140,000 units.

Albums like Stir It Up (1995), Soul Almighty (1996), Early Collection (2002), Rebel’s Hope (2002), Grooving Kingston 12 (2004), Thank You Lord (2004), Bob Marley (2004-2015), 42 Great Performances : Lively Up Yourself & Sun Is Shinning (2004), From Ska To Jah : One Love (2005) and The King Of Reggae (2013-2015) all charted on various rankings. The latter album has been shifting from 5,000 to 10,000 units per year since its 2012 release.

Those records are only the visible part of this secondary discography has hundreds of albums have been released. As shown by deepest rankings from other countries, those albums sell as much as 40% of the eleven original 1973-1983 Island albums sell every year, which represents then 30,000 albums per year for non-Island records and an estimated total of 800,000 records without Chances Are and the initial four albums.

TOTAL ALBUM SALES IN FRANCE

Island Studio Albums

1973 Catch A Fire – 400,000
1973 Burnin’ – 315,000
1974 Natty Dread – 375,000
1976 Rastaman Vibration – 475,000
1977 Exodus – 870,000
1978 Kaya – 910,000
1979 Survival – 695,000
1980 Uprising – 970,000
1983 Confrontation – 445,000

Non-Island Albums

1970 Soul Rebels – 80,000
1971 Soul Revolution – 60,000
1971 Upsetter Revolution Rhythm – 60,000
1971 The Best Of The Wailers – 60,000

All remaining non-Island albums – 800,000

Live Albums

1975 Live! – 500,000
1978 Babylon By Bus – 670,000
1991 Talkin’ Blues – 130,000
2011 Live Forever – 30,000

Compilation Albums

1984 Legend – 1,895,000
1986 Rebel Music – 50,000
1992 Songs Of Freedom – 210,000
1995 Natural Mystic – 270,000
1999 Chant Down Babylon – 145,000
2001 One Love – 250,000
2005 Africa Unite 95,000
2007 Les 50 Plus Belles Chansons 90,000
2012 Marley Soundtrack – 15,000

All remaining Island albums – 120,000

Bob Marley sold a total of 10,865,000 albums in France.

As usual, feel free to comment and / or ask a question!

Sources: CIDD, SNEP, IFOP, GFK.

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