Going through Brazil’s top foreign sellers of the 80s
Are you ready for a fascinating ride in the Brazilian atmosphere of the 80s? We may caricature the local music scene and say that moms were crazy about Roberto Carlos, that kids went wild with Xuxa and that youth’s idols were Legião Urbana. That’s fine, but do we really know which of our beloved international stars were also successful there?
It isn’t as easy as we can think to know who has been popular at some specific moment. In fact, for that matter the large majority of the data we use to gauge the success of artists is corrupted by decades of catalog action. Our CSPC articles encompass everything together, from everywhere, from every format and from every period. Streaming Masters pieces focus on the strength of catalogs in recent years. In their side, global heatmaps display hot markets of artists as of today. What happens if we really immerse ourselves in the past? What were teenagers, young adults, and older people, listening to in Brazil some 35 years ago?
Of course, there was no official charts there at the time. A few got issued here and there, but they weren’t that accurate. They also often listed only Top 10s, mostly filled with local recordings. Interesting, no doubt, but hardly helpful to tell us which foreign stars were making some noise in the country. Luckily, Discogs, which happens to be a wonderful tool to put some light on obscure areas in terms of sales, is here to rescue us.
In this article, we will list their top 10 most owned foreign releases of each 80s’ year in Brazil. The method is far from perfect: nearly all these albums got multiple releases in this market, in distinct formats, at different times. Some artists, most notably rock acts, are also collected way more than others in Discogs. Still, results are insightful. Indeed, since CDs took over LPs in early 90s there, the number of owners of these vinyls isn’t corrupted by subsequent catalog sales. That some artists are more collected than others is annoying, but since we know that, we can account for it in our comments. Also, no matter how much collectors love these albums, the truth is that all of them have been highly successful still to feature inside an annual top 10. Get ready for some real surprises!
The popularity of the Beatles added to the tragic murder of John Lennon at the end of 1980 made the album Double Fantasy an inevitable success globally and the story was no different in Brazil. It is the most owned foreign LP from 1980, 6th overall.
The runner up is the big hit album The Game by Queen. This smash was highlighted by the Billboard which pointed out it moved 130,000 units that year. Among hot pop / rock bands of 1980 was also Supertramp who dropped the strong live set Paris. It is owned by enough people to land at #3 and offset stiff competition from hard rock legends Black Sabbath and AC/DC. The position of Back In Black may seem someway disappointing, but it’s all the interest of these rankings: they focus on the success of the original version, ignoring later catalog sales.
British heavy metal was definitely popular back then in Brazil with both Judas Priest and Iron Maiden making the list with their breakthrough LP. Obviously, these artists are strongly collected, nevertheless their presence is very telling. Dire Straits, known to have sold bucket loads of copies of Brothers In Arms in this country, were already smashing back in 1980 with Making Movies. Paul McCartney joins his former partner in the ranking at #8 with McCartney II. Closing the top 10 is fellow rock legend Eric Clapton.
Artists who miss it are just as reflective of what was happening in Brazil by 1980. Among them, we can notice famous albums from Police, Genesis, Rush, Kiss, ABBA, Van Halen, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, U2, and Billy Joel, among others. They all failed to make the cut. Another miss is the one of Barbra Streisand‘s Guilty. Among the overall top 100 it comes at #82 with 58 owners. While pop albums are at a disadvantage on Discogs and it would have certainly made the Top 10 foreign albums list without this situation, these results still suggest it wasn’t as huge there as elsewhere. Something more general to notice is that the miss category is full of American artists: in fact, the entire Top 10 listed above is made of British acts.
We move into 1981 only to found the Rolling Stones at the top with their last super selling LP, Tattoo You. This album includes one of the bands’ biggest hit, Start Me Up. In a more negative note while it leads foreign records, it fails the overall top 10, which shows the local music was still way bigger than anything coming from outside at this time.
AC/DC, now that Back In Black paved the way the previous year, came in full force in 1981. Their new album For Those About To Rock We Salute You was the biggest, but both 1976 records High Voltage and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap shifted tons of units, just like it happened in the US. They weren’t available before that year in Brazil.
Electronic music legends Kraftwerk impress with a #3 ranking for their classic album Computer World. The German group is definitely among collectors’ favorites, but when we see that the album lands higher among Brazilian 1980 releases than it does in countries like the UK and France, where they have got Top 10 albums, it means a lot.
Black Sabbath‘s front man Ozzy Osbourne perfectly moved into his solo career thanks to the smash debut Blizzard Of Oz. Behind the Top 5, numbers are arguably low, both in terms of overall ranking and in terms of owners. There, Men At Work gives Australian rock a fourth entry, while European electronic music can also count on Vangelis. The B-52‘s record the first entry for American artists, but also the first for the new wave branch, a genre that was going to be strongly popular in Brazil throughout the decade…
In a country where American music appears to have had a minimal impact, the phenomenon of Thriller was still way to big to see it resist. Michael Jackson assaulted Brazil the same way he did everywhere, hitting the #1 spot not only among foreigners, but also inside the overall list. It comes as no surprise as by the start of 1985 Thriller was already reported to have sold nearly a million there, a country where international LPs struggled to move 100,000 copies.
Simon & Garfunkel are the second and last American entry, but at least they do it in great fashion, taking over the runner up position with their iconic Concert In Central Park. They edge off heavy metal absolute classic album The Number Of The Beast by Iron Maiden.
We meet Supertramp again this time with the studio effort …Famous Last Words…, an album which shifted some 200,000 units back then in Brazil. More usual suspects fill this top 10 like Paul McCartney, Black Sabbath, and Ozzy Osbourne. Then, while their arrival isn’t surprising, we can still point out the presence of The Clash, with the classic Combat Rock, Duran Duran with Rio, and Led Zeppelin with their posthumous album Coda.
A 100,000 units seller during its promotional campaign in this market, The Final Cut by Pink Floyd leads the year 1983, both thanks to relatively low competition and heavy collectors among their fan base.
Speaking about a mixture of successful record and highly collected item, Iron Maiden comes second with their new album Piece Of Mind. Lower down the list we see that both their first two albums are also there, at #4 and #8. Should we believe it is all down to their fan base who track very well their possessions on Discogs? Definitely, no. When the code system arrived in 2003 in Brazil, displaying how many units were being shipped per batch, their new album Dance Of Death showed a massive 60,000 copies delivered to the market upon release. Their catalog sales are also impressive. The band is simply heavily popular in Brazil. The same is true for Black Sabbath who make the Top 10 for the 3rd time in 4 years.
Kiss‘ Creatures Of The Night was also among the top sellers of the period according to Billboard, at 120,000 units sold. We found it in our list too at #3 for the year. Brazilians loved hard rock and metal music during the 80s.
They can also get into softer rock as shown by the presence of both Genesis and Police. The impact of the latter is certainly not as impressive as one would could expect giving its international success. David Bowie‘s Let’s Dance was a hit there too.
At the #10 rank comes a pop American record, which in itself is already noteworthy, even more from a female artist. It’s She’s So Unusual by legendary diva Cyndi Lauper. Considering her low conversion rate from real life buyers to discogs users in comparison to others, her album was likely one of the most purchased at retail of the pack back in the day. She clearly lost the (media made up) war against Madonna, but at least she won the first battle. Indeed, the latter star ranks her debut self-titled album at #38 overall for the year with 107 owners.
It’s quite ironical to see Deep Purple and Iron Maiden back to back at #1 and #2 among 1984’s top performers. Both hard rock bands are never mentioned among all-time top sellers in spite of seriously challenging if not beating the likes Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, and Aerosmith in various markets. The reason? They are nowhere near as big in the US as they are elsewhere, which just kills their chances of being widely covered by relevant medias online, mostly because of lazy journalists who use RIAA’s most certified artists list as the basis of everything.
Still, their success in many places can’t be overlooked and Brazil is one of them. To record the top album of the year in 1984 after debuting in 1968 is huge for Deep Purple while Iron Maiden can’t stop to impress by filling in lists of virtually every year.
US-Diamond and big international hit albums from Bruce Springsteen, Prince, and Van Halen are all there too. It is no coincidence as these records, just like She’s So Unusual the year before, used the doors opened by Thriller to get big in markets that were historically kind of closed to American products. We can also clearly notice that foreign albums shot to higher rankings overall from before to after Thriller.
Inside the top 5, Queen make one more appearance. All their studio albums were successful which was fairly expected. Scorpions were close from making the list in 1982 with Blackout. Hit singles Rock You Like a Hurricane and Still Loving You ended to push them in the top tier, they are #5 with the parent album of both smashes, Love At First Sting.
AC/DC and David Bowie confirm one more time their popularity in Brazil while Canadian rockers Rush manage to improve their sales there to feature inside the Top 10 with their 10th album Grace Under Pressure.
For the second and last time of the decade an international album takes over the overall #1 position of the year. Dire Straits‘ Brothers In Arms, a classic among classics, has over 500 owners, here too joining patterns of Thriller. According to local trusted magazine Folha, it sold 650,000 units by 1992. This falls in line with the fact that it is collected about 50% more on Discogs than the 1982 blockbuster.
Behind this juggernaut comes The Head On The Door by iconic 80s band the Cure. It illustrates the strong impact of the British post-punk / new wave movement from mid-80s as Tears For Fears and Talking Heads, two times, also belong to the ranking.
The Michael Jackson-fueled project U.S.A. For Africa emerges at #4 while the top 5 is completed by one more effort from Iron Maiden. The monster selling power of Pink Floyd is demonstrated again as they shot a random reissue of Meddle at #6. At the end of the list the growing U2 chart with The Unforgettable Fire.
Then we can’t pass on commenting Madonna‘s first appearance with Like A Virgin. Reported at 410,000 sales by April 1986 and 500,000 by March 1988, we were expecting it in 1984. This album actually got several relevant versions in quick succession, typical of eras from an artist that is booming. Its two 1984 versions have respectively 75 and 47 owners, good enough for #54 and #88 in the overall list for the year. In total, the album had 5 LP versions in 1984/1985, adding for 324 owners which would have shot it to #2 second only to Brothers In Arms, something more consistent with the real sales impact of these albums.
I also have to comment on some records below the top 10 for this year. In fact, the presence of Meddle is not so random. Pink Floyd have 5 albums inside the Top 100, the Beatles, Kraftwerk, Iron Maiden, Marillion have 4 a piece, U2 and Rush have 3. Multiple acts chart well with a live set like Queen and Scorpions. What’s the point? The increasing strength of foreign sellers into Brazilian’s industry led major labels to exploit back some of the most profitable catalogs that weren’t selling as well as they could, hence the surge of many classic albums that year.
1986 may be the year where collectors hit the hardest. Inside the top 6, there is 3 massively collected items. First is a pair of albums from legendary UK band The Smiths, including The Queen Is Dead at #1. This LP, regarded by many as one, if the not the, best album of all-time, isn’t only a critics favorite. It is also undoubtedly a great seller, even more so in Brazil. In the UK, where the album is now well over 800,000 units sold, it is the 4th most owned release from 1986, incredibly the same ranking it has in Brazil.
In Canada (#17), the US (#26), Australia (#40), it charts much lower, which proves the Brazilian ranking isn’t only down to collectors, but yes achieved thanks to true organic success there. It’s further illustrated by the Gold award it received in 1994 during a large audit completed by Warner, which also awarded Madonna‘s True Blue at the same level, while this one is known to be much higher in terms of sales to date. A lot of information to digest, but the only thing to learn is that the Smiths were huge in this market.
The other massively collected album is Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables by Dead Kennedys. A cult punk band, they never broke the main audience, they haven’t even started to do so. This LP is one of the most collected albums of all-time though. For example, it has a sales to owners ratio over 15 times higher than True Blue, which explains in good part why it appears at #6.
Speaking about True Blue, it was one more massive seller for the diva with a #3 ranking for the year. To feature so high in spite of a panel of users quite far from Madonna‘s audience is impressive. Always impressive too are Iron Maiden, again very high at #2 with Somewhere In Time.
The rest of the Top 10 is entirely made of pop / rock artists from the UK. Talking Heads, Queen, Genesis, Sting, and David Bowie, they all add one more entry to their CV.
Michael Jackson repeats the #1 position with his second album of the decade, Bad. If this LP can’t make it to the overall top like Thriller, it still registers the 4th highest number of owners among 80s foreign albums. Just like True Blue this record sold roughly 700,000 units in its first years of availability.
The podium is completed by a pair of super groups, Pink Floyd and U2. The former was shifting from 120,000 to 200,000 units per album while being largely collected on Discogs. The latter got a huge album out with The Joshua Tree.
All albums from #4 to #10 come from the Punk / Post-punk / New Wave family. The genre completely exploded at the time in Brazil, so much that catalog albums like Ramones‘ Rocket To Russie from 1977 and Joy Division‘s Closer from 1980 sold like hot cakes and make our list. The latter was fueled by the huge success of its former members under their new band, New Order. Their 1985 and 1986 albums, Low-life and Brotherhood, both chart. There is no coincidence if out of the 7 concerts the band gave in the World in 1988, 6 were performed in Brazil.
Both Norwegians A-Ha and Brits Pet Shop Boys got bigger than life too. There have been many Brazilian sales myths related to both of them, including claims of a million sales for some albums, and while these figures were exaggerated the fact they were hugely popular was completely valid…
Indeed, after landing at #10 and #8, respectively, in 1987, the Pet Shop Boys and A-Ha reach #1 and #2 among 1988’s list. The latter album, Stay On These Roads, was audited in 1994, hitting Platinum for 250,000 sales. It could have been anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 and was most likely in the higher range since Scoundrel Days, a lower success, also made it to Platinum. The former LP, Introspective, was never audited but there is little doubt that it is eligible for at least Platinum too.
Behind the new wave madness comes a string of heavier rock bands. Guns N’ Roses, although the LP sold through several years, pop up with Appetite For Destruction. This record too went on to reach the Platinum level although not in its original form as it was still on 195,000 units shipped by 1992. Pink Floyd remained as strong as ever with Delicate Sound Of Thunder while U2 also repeated their success with live renditions on Rattle & Hum at #7.
The Smiths are there twice again, by themselves and through their leader Morrissey. Tracy Chapman is only the 3rd female artist to feature inside annual top 10s of the decade. Her eponymous debut is #5 among foreign albums and incredibly #7 overall. While local albums are in general less collected than international records, it stills speaks volume as to how much foreign music boomed through the decade.
Iron Maiden record their 9th (!) entry with Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, although it appears they were losing ground a bit just like they did elsewhere by then. The last of the Top 10 is 1971’s legendary Led Zeppelin‘s IV which enjoyed a huge reissue.
We complete our ride through the 80s with another year similar to the previous ones: a lot of new wave, a lot of heavy metal / hard rock, and a few occasional fresh pop tunes.
New wave artists take the throne a second year in a row, this time with New Order‘s Technique. It was also a strong year for Tears For Fears at #3.
The pop flag went from Michael Jackson‘s hands to Madonna‘s hands year after year from 1982 to 1989. To finish the decade, the latter’s Like A Prayer smashed hard. We must also mention that by 1989, both CDs and Cassettes were getting significant in Brazil, even if the Top 10 is entirely made of LPs. In these formats, Like A Virgin was at #2 and #3, respectively, in the overall ranking, adding 70 owners. The album went on to sell over 500,000 units, no doubt more than all other albums from this year, Technique included.
…And Justice For All by Metallica had shipped 74,000 units by May 1993 as revealed by Polygram at the time. Its LP was still selling by then so some more catalog sales were amassed. Add to that the huge and still going strong fan base of the band, it makes the LP the 4th most owned item from 1989. It is one spot ahead of G N’R Lies.
Punk music wasn’t only a late 70s thing in Brazil. Both Ramones and the Cult got strong albums out in 1989. In other news, so did Paul McCartney. Of course there was also new artists with a growing popularity, among them were R.E.M. and Simply Red.
We can see that Phil Collins completely fails to be present in these lists, although Serious Hits Live notoriously sold close to a million copies in Brazil. The thing is, this 1990 compilation-like live album moved so many units precisely because not that many people owned the original albums in spite of heavy recurrent airplay, so it sold large numbers year after year until 1998. Add to that how much the country loves live records and you get a massive seller.
Hope you enjoyed going through the spirit of the Brazil’s youth of the 80s. If you would like to read about another decade, another country, feel free to ask!