France best selling albums ever: 20 Chansons D’Or by Charles Aznavour (1987)
Worldwide, Charles Aznavour has been one of the flagships of the French music scene since getting noticed by Edith Piaf quite recently, in… well, in 1946.
Several of his songs are regarded as all-time greats a la La Bohème, Je M’Voyais Déjà, Emmenez-Moi, For Me… Formidable or La Mamma, among others. All these hits are part of the 20 Chansons D’Or compilation first released in 1987. This doesn’t even include hits he wrote for others like La Plus Belle Pour Aller Danser (Sylvie Vartan) or Retiens La Nuit (Johnny Hallyday), nor his hits in foreign language, most notably the huge 1974 four weeks #1 UK hit She. This success led him to be called the Frank Sinatra of France internationally. The artist has also been extensively covered and sampled. As an example, the Blue Cantrell featuring Sean Paul song Breathe, four weeks #1 in UK too in 2003, is a sample of Charles Aznavour song Parce Que Tu Crois, just like Dr. Dre featuring Eminem & Xzibit hit What’s The Difference.
Back to the 20 Chansons D’Or compilation, not promoted initially it wasn’t a big hit back in the day. It went Gold, 100,000 units sold, in early 1989. When the compilation chart was extended and properly published in a weekly basis from 1995, it appeared this best of was, someway unsurprisingly, selling well as a catalog item. This original edition was certified Platinum in 2000 thanks to a large audit, although it sold an estimated 400,000 units up to that point.
While this seems far from the million mark, sales of this package are spread over three releases that his label never bothered to merge. In 1996 a larger compilation 40 Chansons D’Or, originally from 1994, was a strong success. His 42nd studio album, Plus Bleu, was a solid comeback to form too in 1997. This motivated EMI to release again our compilation with a strong marketing plan to support it. Rocketing to #1 in the Compilation chart, Top 3 during the entire fourth quarter, the set was certified both Gold and 2xGold within’ a couple of months. This was just the start yet as it went on to become one of the very best selling catalog albums in France for several years. In 1998, it kept going in and out charts, often getting large ups and downs. This included five distinct spells inside the Top 10 including at the end of the year 1998, this time boosted by the 43rd studio album Jazznavour.
While 1999 was someway quiet chart-wise, the year 2000 was incredibly good. With a live set hot at the start of the year and one more studio album at the end of it, the set sold well all along, closing the 12-months span as the 9th best selling compilation of the year. The album was certified 2xPlatinum, 600,000 units, for sales of the 1997 edition. Then in 2001 the story was pretty much the same with eight different spells on charts and a yearly position of #23 with 110,000 sales. That year was highlighted by the release of a remastered edition of the compilation in November. It was the third edition to be certified on its own, reaching Gold after nine months. In both 2002 and 2003 the album barely missed the Top 40 year end chart, selling 140,000 units in total. Adding all editions together this release was up to an impressive tally of 1,3 million units by that time.
In 2004, the album started strong again but the release of Platinum in May dropped its status. It charted in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011 still although much more sporadically. These entries, which granted the record an additional 140,000 copies, happened mostly when new studio sets have been released. Until this day, Aznavour is up to an incredible 51 studio albums in French and almost as many in foreign languages. His last studio album Encores was a #8 hit in 2015 for the legendary 91 years old singer.
Net shipment as of the end of 2015 is estimated at 1,440,000 copies.
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Sources: SNEP, Nielsen, IFOP, GFK, Platine.