France best selling albums ever: Clandestino by Manu Chao (1998)
Foreign acts often tried to release albums in French, or at least a few songs, to penetrate completely this market. The real UFO that is Manu Chao did just about the opposite singing mostly in Spanish with a few tracks in French, Portuguese and English. This one of a kind started his solo career in 1998 a few years after leading underground cult band Mano Negra.
His debut solo album, Clandestino, debuted at #28 in April 1998, someway low compared to the couple of Top 10 albums he managed with his band in unofficial charts from early 90s. Navigating from #11 to #32 during its first 47 weeks, it looked like the album was never going to reach the Top 10. Never mind, it sold 300,000 copies in 1998 thanks to its solid run.
In March 1999, critics praise and incredible word of mouth enabled the album to finally enter the Top 10, during five weeks, peaking at #4. Slowing down to the Top 20 during three months, some airplay for single Bongo Bong sent Clandestino into the Top 10 during all summer 1999. Bit by bit, the album kept growing. By the end of that year, it still had never left the Top 50 despite being released for 89 weeks. The 6th bestseller of the year, the album added 580,000 copies in the meantime.
While not floating around so high, charting in the 40-75 ballpark rather than Top 20, the album continued its outstanding run in 2000. It took the mass releases of early November to ultimately send out of charts Clandestino after a record-breaking 133 weeks inside the Top 75. It was the most consecutive weeks an album ever charted until 2011 chart rules changes. Selling some 160,000 copies during that 2000 year, the record passed the million mark at that point although the official Diamond award came in early 2001 audit only.
When all was supposedly said and done, the most astonishing chart achievement happened. In fact, after being the longest charting ever, the album re-entered charts in January 2001 and shot to #1 on its 135th week on chart, almost 3 years after the initial album release. This is obviously the slowest climb to the top of all-time. What’s more, the feat was barely due to a price reduction of the record. After four weeks Top 5 thanks to this campaign, the album naturally dropped back under the Top 100.
Clandestino was just so ridiculously powerful yet, that the release of follow up album Proxima Estacion Esperanza was accompanied by a strong comeback of the debut album, climbing as high as #8 on its week 159 in late June 2001. At the time, the album was up to 1,3 million copies sold in France, not even mentioning the 1,7 million copies it sold abroad, an unreal total for a multi-language album. Sales in 2001 amounted for 320,000 copies.
As it wasn’t enough, January 2002 saw a new mid-price campaign for the album that decided to comeback one more time inside the Top 10, this time hitting #9 and spending its last week in the top tier on its 180th chart week. This remains the deepest an album has been in its chart run while being Top 10, a third historical chart record for this hybrid smash. By September of 2002, the album reached 1,5 million sales in France.
The most incredible with this album is the way it looked like an underground record all along despite selling monster amounts. It really was the Clandestino of charts, the uninvited record that ended getting the crown of the party. As expected, the album turned into a good catalog seller. The 2CD box with Proxima Estacion Esperanza sold an impressive 70,000 copies, the original album on its side sold 140,000 units until 2007. Since, it has been selling steadily about 200 to 300 copies a week, 10,000 to 15,000 a year, adding slightly more than 100,000 copies since 2008.
Net shipment as of the end of 2015 is estimated at 1,810,000 copies.
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Sources: SNEP, IFOP, Le Parisien.