France best selling albums ever:
Starmania Musical (1978)

As I move deeper into the past, I almost feel like exploring some kind of a cave where more you advance, weaker is the light. There is so many sales myths around Starmania that sorting out the exact meaning of each figures will require one extreme carefulness.

Starmania was written and produced by a pair of strong artists, Michel Berger and Luc Plamandon. While none of them appeared in this study up to now, they are both responsible from a million seller than we met during last couple of months. Michel Berger wrote the hit album Babacar of his wife France Gall, Luc Plamandon is responsible from the terrific smash music Notre-Dame De ParisFrance Gall is also part of the distribution, singing a few songs from Starmania album. So did Daniel Balavoine, another artist who managed a million selling album in 1986 with Sauver L’Amour.

Back in 1978 most of those artists were either still unknown or facing a bad period. It explains why initially the album peaked at only #16, charting four months only around 1978 Christmas period. By April 1979, the Live version of the album peaked at #9 along with the start of Starmania stage appearances. Sales were quite decent but not record breaking yet as by the end of that year they were on 200,000 units only, plus about half this number for the Live record. While those results weren’t really impressive various songs from the original LP slowly gained fame. Le Monde Est Stone acquired a cult status, so did Ziggy, Un Garçon Pas Comme Les Autres, SOS D’Un Terrien En Détresse, Quand On Arrive En Ville and Le Blues Du Businessman.

It wasn’t instantly translated into album charts. From 1980 to 1988, the record never charted. It did so in 1988 only thanks to a newly recorded Starmania show with new singers. This LP peaked at #28, shipping 100,000 units. The original album needed four more years until ultimately coming back on charts, reaching #30 in 1992. The stage show which started in 1988 never stopped, it was even staged and recorded in German from 1991 and in English from 1992 with the release of Tycoon, also titled Starmania Version Anglaise. This album involved acts like Celine Dion, Kim Carnes, Tom Jones and Cyndi Lauper. It was a big #1 album, heavily boosting interest in Starmania related albums. The original set charted a bit in 1992 thanks to this hype and continued with an impressive nine months Top 50 during 1993, notably peaking at #9 and selling 300,000 units in 92-93 alone.

Around November 1993, the album was certified Diamond by the SNEP, shortly after a third version of the live show was created. The certification was given to Starmania (Extraits) Top 1, which is a version shortened to one disc released in 1984. It is very unlikely this version sold 1 million copies in its own yet, the Top 1 mention seems to mean the certification concerned the one disc original record, excluding two discs Live record. This certification was related to the original composition thus excluding 1988 version sales. The powerhouse annual charity event Les Enfoirés also released a specific version in 1993 covering exclusively Starmania hits, boosting even more the ongoing hype.

During 1994 with the successful release of Mogador 94 sang by the third Live version of the franchise, the original album was still going in and out the Top 50 all year long, charted more often than not, again peaking at #9, just like it did in 1979 and in 1993. It sold slightly more than the previous year with a calculated 233,000 units. Year 1995 was pretty much the same again. It climbed 48-33-20-6 in October to reach a new peak position some 17 years after its release. This being said, October 1995 saw the 1988 show celebrate its 500th happening. In fact, although always titled Starmania in charts, the strong late 1995 run was related to the 1988 version of the musical, highlighting a pretty annoying fact, e.g. both versions were being added together. They sold a calculated 251,000 copies with the 1988 version going Gold within’ two months.

The immense popularity of all songs, of the live show, of all covers coming out here and there kept the roll going. In 1996, the album never left charts for more than a month. In October, this time it was the original album that got reissued with a remastered sound, pushing the record four weeks inside the Top 5 and a new peak of #4. It sold a calculated 263,000 units during 1996, the fourth year in a row over 200,000 but also the fourth year in a row with increasing sales.

In January 1997, the Starmania brand had sold 2,5 million albums in France as per WEA label. This was already an outstanding total, but it climbed to an even more incredible Starmania related 3,5 million sales by October 1998. Is this really possible? How should we understand those figures? Let resume all facts together, up to the end of 1996.

  • Starmania 88: 300,000 copies – including over 100,000 units both times in 1988 and 1995
  • Tycoon 92: 600,000 copies – including a calculated 528,000 units during the chart run, quickly Platinum (300,000)
  • Les Enfoirés Chantent Starmania 93: 280,000 copies – including a calculated 241,000 units, 2xGold (200,000) at the end of the chart run, Platinum (300,000) in 2000
  • Live Mogador 94: 420,000 copies – including a calculated 344,000 units during chart run, certified Platinum (300,000) after 18 months
  • Live Palais Des Congrès 1979: 300,000 copies – including 150,000 up to 1990 and as much after this date
  • Original: 1,600,000 copies – 1 million by November 1993 plus over 850,000 calculated from that date to end of 1996, minus 150,000 units already part of Starmania 88 and 150,000 from Live Palais Des Congrès 1979.

This adds for 3,45 million units by January 1997, plus some 150,000 copies, including 120,000 from the original, up to the release of the 20th Anniversary edition in October 1998. So, over 3,5 million figure was correct but over 2,5 million was fake? Not exactly. Both sources, Billboard and RFI Musique, are music industry insiders and very reliable. The point is that RFI Musique article refers to overall sales of Starmania related albums, which really sold over 3,5 million units by the article date. Billboard figure comes from WEA executives. Among all albums quoted before, both Tycoon and Les Enfoirés Chantent Starmania were released by Sony Music rather than WEA. Focusing only on WEA albums, they were on 2,55 million by January 1997.

Obviously, as far as we are concerned, only sales of the original are eligible. While both studio / live versions released in 1978/79 were always treated as the same album, albums Starmania 88, Tycoon, Les Enfoirés Chantent Starmania and Live Mogador 94 are all different albums with different singers.

Thanks to sales of the 20th Anniversary edition in late 1998 plus additional copies up to the end of 2001, the original was up to 1,85 million units by that date. At that point, one more WEA audit certified the original album Diamond for the second time, this one for sales since June 1991, plus 2xGold for the 1979 Live album. Of course, two Diamond awards add for more than 1,85 million but sales from late 1991 to 1993 were part of both awards thus being double counted.

Since 2002 the record continued to sell well. Never featuring the highest rankings, it is still constantly featuring inside the Top 100 catalog chart, having been on it for over 300 weeks since 2002. This performance is particularly good since all versions finally got properly separated since the start of the decade, meaning it was charting on the back of the original only. In 2009, a TV special celebrating the 30th anniversary of the musical, presented by France Gall, boosted strongly its sales. The original was three weeks #1 of the catalog chart, each of them with the Live 1979 #2 and Starmania 88 top 10. In total, the original album sold an estimated 225,000 units from 2002 to 2015.

Net shipment as of the end of 2015 is estimated at 2,075,000 copies.

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

Sources: SNEP, Nielsen, IFOP, Platine, Billboard, RFI Musique.

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