France best selling albums ever: War by U2 (1983)
Let’s bring this little surprise to you. There is a few latter albums over the million mark that have yet to be studied and U2 first big breakthrough album War is one of them.
Considering their blockbuster 1987 album The Joshua Tree sold way less than expected by many – slightly more than 1,2 million rather than the 2 million often wrongly repeated – it may sound very surprising that War, a much lower seller worldwide, sold over 1 million. But it did, it even did it quite easily.
By 1983, U2 had yet to break the French audience as none of their first two albums managed to chart or to be certified. During that year, they finally made it thanks to lead single New Year’s Day. A solid airplay hit during most of the year, it helped the album to enter the Top 30 ranking in April before jumping to its #9 peak position in May monthly chart. It was certified Gold, representing 100,000 units, during the summer. While the LP never went higher during this first life, it did stick around managing an impressive ten months inside the Top 30. It was sustained very well by Sunday Bloody Sunday single, which never sold well as a single but got relevant airplay.
By the end of 1984, the album had sold a calculated 278,000 units. Not enough to be certified Platinum considering the level was set on 400,000 copies at the time but still quite a good success for the band. Their label waited until 1992 to update U2 certifications. By that time, Platinum was on 300,000 units and 2xPlatinum on 600,000 units. By the end of the 80s, War is estimated at 420,000 units thanks to the additional copies sold during their late decade successes and tours in France. Thus, quite logically, the 1992 audit certified the album Platinum. It was certified Platinum again in 1995. Why so?
In early 90s, CD replacement helped various big 80s albums to sell very well again. With U2 popularity being at its peak and War singles gaining cult status year after year, most notably Sunday Bloody Sunday, the 1983 was selling significant amounts. In 1993 the Irish band released Zooropa album while hitting the road again, including in France. The buzz was incredible as during August U2 had an amazing five albums charting inside the Top 40. Apart from the new album, the one charting the best was no other than War which was also celebrating its 10th year anniversary. It charted as well as a fresh new album peaking at an outstanding #4 position, cracking its initial 1983 results while remaining five weeks in the Top 10 and four months Top 40. The album calculated sales for the year are 226,000 units.
But those sales represent only one semester sales, the second of 1993. While the 11/1995 Platinum award related to sales since 1990 make it look like War hasn’t sold much in the missing four years, it was definitely selling well. In fact, it was certified in 1995 only because U2 90s sales weren’t audited earlier. During that major audit, the most important certification to notice is Under A Red Blood Sky that went Platinum as well. This latter album peaked at #36 in 1993 when War was #4, showing the 1983 set was definitely much higher than just 300,000 by 1995. It was confirmed in 1996 as the album went 2xPlatinum for post-1990 sales after getting back inside the Top 50 album chart at #30 in May. Adding the 400,000 sales reached in the 80s, the album was now up to 1 million copies overall.
It must be noted it was selling an average 50,000 copies a year even excluding 1993 major boost. In 1997 the album was still incredibly hot, getting back inside the Top 50 album chart once more. It seems unreal by now, but from 1990 to 1997 War was a bigger catalog album than Dark Side Of The Moon (Pink Floyd), Thriller (Michael Jackson), Brothers In Arms (Dire Straits) and U2 own The Joshua Tree. The only foreign albums which performed even better were Bob Marley iconic compilation Legend and Grease and Dirty Dancing soundtracks.
While sales were up to 1,1 million by the end of 1998, catalog sales of War took a serious hit with the release of The Best Of 1980-1990. It still charted #111 in 2001 and #122 in 2002 when charts got extended from a Top 75 to a Top 150. The set sold an estimated 60,000 from 1999 to 2002 and 55,000 from 2003 to 2008 as per GFK. To this day, this album remains U2 best selling catalog item among all their original studio albums. Since 2009, it sold some 55,000 units again.
Net shipment as of the end of 2015 is estimated at 1,270,000 copies.
As usual, feel free to comment and / or ask a question!
Sources: SNEP, IFOP, Platine, GFK.