France best selling albums ever:
Harvest by Neil Young (1972)

From 1966 to 1971, Neil Young has been busy registering records with Buffalo Springfield, with Crosby, Stills & Nash trio or as a solo artist. If his popularity among the rock music scene was increasing year after year, he was also refining his art. This led him to release Harvest in 1972, both a surefire hit album and a widely praised masterpiece.

Thanks to the enduring radio favorite Heart Of Gold, Neil Young fame broke French boundaries. The album peaked at #8 in April 1972 and kept selling nice amounts for most of the year. The market was awfully low at this period yet with a mere 33 million albums sold for the year in France. Someway, this benefited Harvest as while the album was a very good success upon release, it went on to become an outstanding catalog seller.

By the end of 1973, it had sold an estimated 200,000 copies, yet it was certified both Platinum (400,000) in 1980 and Diamond (1,000,000) in 2001 despite being unseen on charts in-between both dates. This represents about 800,000 copies in 27 years, some 30,000 units per year. By 1980, when Platinum status was created Harvest was one of the only two international albums by WEA to be eligible, the other being Eagles classic album Hotel CaliforniaNeil Young never did monster shows in France, nor he got mega selling albums, nor had hyped anniversary editions, plus he is still alive. Thus, he never enjoyed a large boost within’ a short time frame, which explains why Harvest album never featured on charts while their size was only a Top 10 to Top 50.

When an award is granted among a large catalog audit, the question is always when has the album made the mark. Certified Diamond in October 2001, we need to check when it could have been certified before. Below are all certifications of catalog albums – more than two years old – by Warner before 10/2001.

  • 07/2001: 4 catalog certifications, all of them related to 1982-1998 releases
  • 06/2000: Tracy Chapman went Diamond, along with newly released album Telling Stories going Gold
  • 12/1999: 2 catalog certifications, from 1980-1995 albums
  • 11/1998: 1 catalog certification from a 1987 album
  • 02/1998: 1 catalog certification from a 1994 album
  • 10/1997: 7 catalog certifications, all for albums released from 1990 to 1994
  • xx/1996: 5 catalog certifications, all for albums released from 1988 to 1992
  • 12/1995: 5 catalog certifications, all for albums released from 1990 to 1991
  • 04/1994: 2 catalog certifications, both for albums released in 1991

In other words, from 1994 to 2000, Warner never certified a single pre-1980 album. In the other side, in late 1993 following pre-1980 albums were updated:

Release Year – Artist – Album – Award

  • 1970 – The DoorsMorrisson Hotel – 2xGold
  • 1971 – The DoorsL.A. Woman – 2xPlatinum
  • 1976 – The EaglesHotel California – Diamond
  • 1978 – MusicalStarmania – Diamond

All those certifications imply Harvest reached the million mark in-between those 1993 and 2001. As we will see later, by mid-00s the album was selling almost 25,000 copies per year in a market down 37% compared with 1993-2001 years. Considering those figures plus the fact 2004 compilation Greatest Hits wasn’t released in the 90s, Harvest sold most likely over 40,000 a year in the period of interest. As a conclusion the album was anywhere from 1 million to 1,3 million units by late 2001.

With 450,000 copies sold in the 70s and about the same in the 90s, plus an estimated 300,000 units in the 80s and 50,000 from 01/2000 to 10/2001, the album was up to 1,25 million by the time of its certification.

2001 is also the year charts got extended to a Top 150 and from 2002 catalog charts got created. What happened obvious giving certifications appeared clearly, Harvest was selling steadily solid amounts week after week. It was performing pretty much the same as label partner Tracy Chapman eponymous album. On the article related to this latter album, we highlighted how midprice campaigns were pushing its sales in January/February months as well as in July/August months, so did Harvest.

In fact, it has been getting the same treatment with even better results. In January 2001, more than 28 years after leaving all rankings and on the second week only of the extended Top 150 Album Chart, almost as a symbol Harvest returned at #115. In August it did even better, this time at #100 and then again in January 2002 at #104. Excluded from the main chart due to the creation of the Catalog chart, the 1972 classic album had an immaculate chart run on it. This LP went #1 there in 2003 and 2004, #2 in 2005, #1 in 2006, #3 in 2007, #6 in 2008 and #9 in 2009. With such incredible results, the album sold over 147,000 units from 2003 to 2008, an average of 24,500 per year. In the same period, Nevermind (Nirvana) sold 138,000 units, Dark Side Of The Moon (Pink Floyd) sold 134,000 units, Tracy Chapman (Tracy Chapman) 131,000, Best Of 80/90 (U2) 130,000, Legend (Bob Marley) 124,000, IV (Led Zeppelin) 107,000, One (Beatles) 95,000, Hotel California (Eagles) and The Immaculate Collection (Madonna) 82,000 each, L.A. Woman (Doors) 77,000, Black Album (Metallica) 50,000. This list shows Neil Young iconic album outsells on a regular basis most international classics including the biggest compilations. Only three albums outperformed it – Thriller by Michael Jackson sold 303,000 copies, but 190,000 of them were due to Thriller 25 ; ABBA Gold sold 201,000 copies, but itself sold 71,000 extra copies in 2008 thanks to Mamma Mia. The only album selling more than Harvest without some extra help has been AC/DC Live album which registered 169,000 sales.

With the 15 months missing from 10/2001 to 12/2002 added – about 33,000 units – the album had cumulative to date sales of 1,43 million. In 2009-2010 it sold 45,000 units. From 2011 and the restored chart eligibility of catalog albums, Harvest added 36 weeks inside the main Top 200. What’s incredible is that all those 36 weeks were outside the Top 100 and 32 of them happened in January/February & July/August. Every single time overall sales are down and the release schedule quiet, this album almost naturally come back as it sells for 44 years now very consistent amounts week after week after week. It sold an estimated 95,000 units since 2011 despite the market collapse.

Net shipment as of the end of 2015 is estimated at 1,570,000 copies.

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

Sources: SNEP, IFOP, Platine, GFK.

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