France best selling albums ever:
Mistral Gagnant by Renaud (1985)

Up to 1985, the biggest selling French album of the decade was the 1983 set Morgane De Toi by Renaud. Thus, this follow up record Mistral Gagnant was massively anticipated.

One may wonder why then the album debuted only at #3, behind both Jean-Jacques Goldman huge Non Homologué and Jean Ferrat album Je Ne Suis Qu’Un Cri. The point is that charts covered one month periods. Mistral Gagnant was released on November 30 1985 and still rocketed to #3 of November month, which is just absolutely mind-blowing. Even Sade opened under Renaud at #4 with Promise, follow up of hugely successful Diamond Life, although the new album was released on the 4th of the month. In December, now with a full month of sales, Mistral Gagnant logically shot to #1, taking over the heavy Christmas period. By mid-January, it had sold half a million units already.

The title track included in the album was an incredibly radio hit. A deep and intense piano ballad, the song stroke the main audience from day one and still impacts the public to this day. Those are not hyperbolic claims, in fact, a large poll conducted in 2015 named Mistral Gagnant nothing less than the favorite song of all-time in France. Early 1986 was all about strong airplay and large Zénith shows. The album was #2 in charts during January and February, only blocked by Daniel Balavoine album Sauver L’Amour that was selling like crazy after the tragic passing of the singer.

After the couple of first singles, aforementioned Mistral Gagnant and the Margaret Thatcher avid critic Miss Maggie, remaining songs failed to make as much impact. As a result the LP decreased progressively 5-7-8-11-16-18 from March to August, before leaving the Top 20 for good. Selling over 400,000 a piece in each 1985 and 1986, the album went 3xPlatinum, 900,000 units, when the award system introduced multi-Platinum certifications in 1988. The following year, the record crossed the million mark being certified Diamond.

From 1987 to 2001 the album never charted. We can notice with the jump in certifications that it was definitely selling well in 87/89. This is quite logical as this album is one of the rare French blockbuster that saw no live album released at the end of its promotional campaign, thus catalog sales kept being registered exclusively by the original studio album. Plus, from 1986 to 1989 there have been three compilations about Renaud released but all covered years 1975-1983, eluding Mistral Gagnant. The first compilation containing those hits got released in 1995, meaning that during the first half of the decade, especially with the CD replacement effect plus the release of three new studio albums, his classic album sold solid amounts. Estimates are set on 1,15 million by the end of 1995 and 1,2 million by the end of the decade.

With charts extended to a Top 150 and the return to blockbuster sales thanks to Boucan D’Enfer in 2002, we have been able to identify which albums by the artist were selling under the radar. Indeed, the release week of Boucan D’Enfer saw nothing less than eight of his past albums, excluding compilations, chart inside the Top 150. Those albums are detailed below:

#54 Paris – Provinces: Aller / Retour
#70 Visage Pâle Rencontrer Public
#107 Mistral Gagnant
#111 Renaud Chante Brassens
#121 Marchand De Cailloux
#125 A La Belle De Mai
#144 Putain De Camion

The first two were his most recent live albums, records close to compilations that are more favored by the public as catalog items. Then come five studio albums, led by Mistral Gagnant, slightly over Chante Brassens that was the immediate predecessor to Boucan D’Enfer. There is two key information here. First is that Mistral Gagnant is the top catalog studio album of the arst. Second is that it was selling roughly 40% of Paris – Provinces: Aller / Retour. Below is the chart run of this album once it turned catalog, as it was released in 1996.

13/01/2001: 146.
20/01/2001: 111
27/01/2001: 112
03/02/2001: 132

12/01/2002: 139
19/01/2002: 123
26/01/2002: 132

09/02/2002: 117

01/06/2002: 54 – Mistral Gagnant #107
08/06/2002: 57 – Mistral Gagnant #106
15/06/2002: 64 – Mistral Gagnant #134
22/06/2002: 82

03/08/2002: 105
10/08/2002: 142

Those kind of comparisons are very important to understand catalog sales of records mostly off the radar. In this example we can be pretty confident that Mistral Gagnant was selling well at least those two years, 2001 and 2002, although charting only three weeks when a new record was issued. Going deeper into the analysis, apart from the new album boost the live set charted in January / February / August, very precisely the weakest months for album sales. This is quite common, when fresh, newest albums are weaker, catalog sets end up charting higher as on their side they keep selling roughly the same every week plus get discounted when there is less new albums to sell. Low top 150 rankings equalled to some 1,000 units sold at the time, with the live set selling approximatively 70,000 units for those two years. I detailed those figures to explain how we can safely assume an album like Mistral Gagnant sold about 30,000 units in 2001-2002 despite the information on this specific album seeming very limited.

Exactly the same phenomenon happened in September 2006 when follow up album Rouge Sang was released, this time in the Catalog chart.

#7 Boucan D’Enfer (610 sales*)
#18 The Meilleur Of… 75-85 (397 sales)
#21 Mistral Gagnant (367 sales)
#25 Marchand De Cailloux (340 sales)
#30 Renaud Chante Brassens (321 sales)
#32 A La Belle De Mai (313 sales)

*at the time, IFOP sales were downgrading French acts figures by about 25%.

The picture is almost exactly the same: the immediate predecessor performing well (#7) especially since that one was a big hit, one album covering old hits and then the classic albums and the same leading four ones that charted in 2002, led by the same album once again Mistral Gagnant. Just like we used Paris – Provinces: Aller / Retour as a calibration to get the sales of the 1985 record in 2001-2002, we can use Boucan D’Enfer that charted many weeks inside the catalog chart in 2006-2007. It sold some 35,000 copies for the period, implying 20,000 units for Mistral Gagnant which had a sales rate of 60%.

All in all, the album sold 40,000 copies in 2000-2002, about the same in 2003-2007, then some 35,000 in 2008-2015, slightly more than Boucan D’Enfer in the same period as since that one got older Mistral Gagnant is back as his best selling catalog album.

Net shipment as of the end of 2015 is estimated at 1,315,000 copies.

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

Sources: SNEP, Nielsen, IFOP, GFK, Platine, Music & Media.

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