Spotlight on Elvis Presley’s hidden sales
Charts-excluded budget releases, CDs issued thanks to loopholes, direct marketing series, albums from state-owned labels, etc… the number of Elvis Presley‘s records that remained out of the spotlight was huge. The revolution brought by Discogs means their sales to consumers can now be accurately gauged.
This article focuses on these black boxes. The point isn’t to value sales of known records, like 30 #1 Hits, but instead to identify every large selling record that we don’t know about. I’ll start with series, then move to loopholes and then to budget releases to end with the fascinating state-owned labels.
Non traditional series
We already went through these records while digging into Presley‘s US album sales. By then, we had to use several assumptions. We accepted that among the 15 Time-Life series from 1997-2000 the largest sellers were the ones with the most popular songs and that earliest releases sold the most. Plus, Country album sold more copies thanks to its release in standard retailers. Below is the number of owners for each of these albums on Discogs:
It confirms everything we previously assumed with a best scaling of gaps between each release. These numbers are fascinating because they show how a few owners only can bring us very telling representations of real sales to consumers.
Follow That Dream
We have set realistic ballparks for FTD releases on this page, thanks to past comments from the label manager Jorgensen and information collected on several sources. For individual releases though, we hardly knew a thing except that The Jungle Room Sessions is the top seller among all. Thanks to Discogs, we have the complete list of most owned FTD records. Aforementioned Jungle Room Sessions has 134 owners, barely 1,34% of its 10,000 buyers in real life. The representativeness is striking though as it does come on top, followed by expected releases like Elvis Is Back!, Burbank 68 and more.
Of course, we always need to keep in mind that LPs are more collected than CDs at Discogs. The numbered 2xLP edition of Moody Blue has 69 owners while it sold 1,500 units (limited and sold out) meaning 4,6% of its buyers are Discogs users. Once we compare LPs with LPs and CDs with CDs though, it’s the perfect list to gauge accurately sales of each individual release.
Also mentioned as part of Presley‘s US sales, the only figure available about Double Features releases is the Soundscan tally of 70,000 units for the first one made of Love In Vegas and Roustabout. We also pointed out that the first release for this kind of series always outsells follow-ups. Below is the number of US owners for each of them which can almost be directly be converted in realistic Soundscan sales:
Thanks to late 90s certifications from late 90s, we own some data about Reader’s Digest records. The largest of all was the 7xLP from 1978, His Greatest Hits. Its Platinum award from the US is already impressive, but it did much more. It went 2xPlatinum in Australia, with no multi-disc counting. It shipped 30,000 units in Finland. While it is exactly the kind of products strongly collected at Discogs, the fact that it has over 600 owners from its UK editions is still telling. It failed to go Silver on their large audit from 1998 but it must have been close. I’ll pass on detailing all calculations to convert owners into sales for every country, but the global estimate of that album while using this method is noteworthy as this 7xLP album stands on 560,000 pure units.
The 4xCD box The Legend Lives On is Gold in the US for 125,000 units shipped, but it also did wonders abroad. Available statistics conclude on 380,000 global sales. Sings Inspirational Favorites and Sings Country Favorites sold almost as much combined.
Through the years (Germany)
In 1991, 18 albums titled Through the Years were issued in Germany. Typical direct to consumer releases, it’s the kind of albums that is entirely outside of charts panel. At Discogs, they have cumulatively 130 owners. The traditional German CD releases from 1991 to 1995 sold an estimated 240,000 units with 342 owners, implying a gauge of 100,000 units sold for the Through the Years collection.
Editions Atlas (France)
During the 90s it was impossible to not know Editions Atlas in France. A large company, the Atlas model consisted in extensive collections sold mostly at newsagent’s shops but also by mail order. The first volume of each collection was always incredibly cheap, almost given away, but from number 3/4 the price was fairly high. There have been collections of everything – Star Wars figures, tiny cars reproductions, rocks, geography cards, history books, etc. They also issued various CDs series.
The most famous of them was Les Plus Belles Chansons Françaises. This collection was unique in that songs were newly recorded by other highly popular Adult Contemporary French singers. The volume covering 1962 songs, which started the collection in 1996 and was sold for 7.5F only (about 1,1€) sold over a million copies. In total, 84 albums came out from this collection. The 1962 volume is the most owned at Discogs, showing one more time how efficient this tool is, with 59 owners. It sounds low in comparison to the million buyers, but Discogs users are hardly collectors of multi-artists covers compilations.
Then there was various artists-themed albums with collections linked to a genre. The Blues collection started with a best of from John Lee Hooker which went Gold (100,000 units) with 63 owners. The second number of the series, signed Memphis Slim, has 48 owners at Discogs but failed to reach Gold. The rock series saw its first volume, a Chuck Berry compilation owned by 77 users, hit 300,000 units to be certified Platinum. The second volume by Jerry Lee Lewis went Gold with 47 owners. Following releases drop to 37 owners or less, they all failed to hit Gold.
In 1995, the Jazz & Blues Collection, kicked with a best of Ella Fitzgerald sold at a mere 7F. It has a huge 172 owners, suggesting possibly well over half a million sales. It wasn’t certified because the Atlas label was excluded by the SNEP in 1995 after complaints from various artists. In fact, the 1989, 97 albums series, themed around Jazz and that sold a stunning 5 million albums in total, used some recordings without license. Later that year, a new collection about sacred music started with a Requiem of Mozart, sold at 5F (less than 0.8€) which shipped nearly 800,000 units.
You may wonder why do I talk about these series. It’s because from 1997 to 1999 Elvis Presley received his series entirely dedicated to him. A total of 30 albums came out. This collection unlike the others was never sold at newsagent’s shops, instead targeting the King’s fans by mail order. The first volume has 13 owners at Discogs and following ones drop to 7 or less. Looking at patterns from previous rock series, that’s good enough to claim 130,000 sales in total.
A series of albums at Agora can result into massive numbers in Poland. As many as 27 of their albums went Platinum (20,000 units) in 2009 and 22 in 2010. The most impressive result came from the classic band Queen that got 24 Platinum albums in the former year. All of them sold around 30,000 units with a peak at over 60,000 for one of them. Presley also got his series of 12 weekly issued albums from the firm. What do we know about it then?
None of them went Gold while Agora certified many albums in the months following their releases, this suggest under 10,000 sales a piece. Then, this financial report of the group states the following:
With about 60 releases – some that got certified but not Presley‘s ones – for 600,000 sales, we start to believe the 12 volumes series can’t have sold more than 6-80,000 units combined. Discogs then provides us an unbiased method that is also more precise. Queen‘s 24 releases add for exactly 800 owners, that’s 33 per album, which sold about 30,000 units each. Presley‘s albums add for 41 owners, 3,4 per album. This implies over 3,000 units per title, a combined total of 40,000 for the entire collection.
Around the same time, Presley had similar series in Denmark (100%, Familie Journal), Sweden (100%, Expressen), Italy (Arnoldo Mondadori) and Spain (El Rey, ABC). The first two have roughly the same number of owners than the Agora series while the latter two were much weaker (around 5 times less).
Loopholes & recently licensed releases
Public domain music
During all our previous studies, we never went through loopholes. By that term, I refer to albums that got issued without the authorization from the copyright’s owner because it felt into the public domain.
It all started in early 80s when the Danish law defined every recording that was at least 25 years old as part of the public domain. Several budget labels started to appear. One of them was All Round Trading which quickly flooded European markets with compilations of 40s/50s stars, including Presley. There have been tons of such releases. Most of them focused on Sun recordings because they were the only ones from Presley that were over 25 years old. Additional labels, often created by the same people, released literally hundreds of similar records. The concerned labels are the likes Astan, World Star Collection, Card, CéDé International, Duchesse, The Entertainers, Success, Platinum, Solid Gold, Flashback, Universe and many more. In each market, as soon as valuable catalogs arrived at the end of the copyright period, the law was updated to let proper labels continue to exploit them. They almost made it to Canada recently, but here too legal actions were taken to block these loopholes.
These obscure releases are often ignored because they aren’t completed legal and also because we don’t know them very well. Once again, Discogs solves the problem in full. We can first check this Billboard article which mentioned the case in 1987 after the extension of the copyright lifetime that made these loopholes strictly illegal in Denmark:
The six Presley records mentioned by the article include the 2 loopholes that are far and away the most collected at Discogs. They are Pictures of Elvis 1 and Pictures of Elvis 2, owned by a combined 975 users. As picture discs, they are highly favored by collectors. That’s why in spite of so many owners, they sold relatively few units. The article points outs 50,000 sales spread over 13 releases, that would imply at best 10,000-ish for the top sellers. Both Presley‘s albums are the 2nd and 4th most collected items from the label.
Jorgensen himself spoke about 4,000 units sold by the top selling bootlegs, although it was more than a decade later. Applying the ratio suggested by Billboard’s article for pictures discs (1 Discogs owner every 25 buyers), average ratio for LPs (1 every 100) and for CDs (1 every 500), we reach an estimate of over 275,000 such albums sold under the name of Presley. Aforementioned Pictures of Elvis albums, 1984’s Astan record 20 Greatest Hits and both Flashback releases from 1987 titled 20 Love Songs and 20 Rock & Roll Hits are arguably the ones that broke the 5 digits mark.
Up to 67 releases, all dedicated to Presley, Elvisone is a true false label that issues frequently rare records about the king. Most of them, if not all, are limited to 500 copies and most aren’t sold out as shown by the number of owners on Discogs that goes down to 0 for several of them. They are estimated on 15,000 units sold cumulatively.
Rockwell Records releases
With Weton-Wesgram, we reach cheap budget European releases that are still 100% legal since they are licensed to copyrights owners. The manufacturer Weton-Wesgram is responsible for 26 distinct Presley tagged compilation. Most of them were sold in the UK from 2007 to date with many charting inside the Budget list. The most owned and best charting album among them is the 2007 Orange Collection at 25,000 units. In total, albums from this label sold 7 times this number.
Go Entertain releases
One more budget label that flooded the UK market from 2007, Go Entertain is up to 9 Presley albums. They are fairly impressive sellers. The Original Recordings stands on 180,000 units scanned as per the OCC, while both the volume 2 and 30 Original Hits sold enough to be Silver. As usual, working with proportion of owners among the albums that charted and the ones we have no data about tells us CDs from this label stand on 380,000 units sold, an impressive rate of 35,000 per year, most of which in the UK.
Not Now Music releases
Unlike the previous labels, Not Now Music focuses on releasing quality packages. Up to date, 14 were Presley‘s records. They can be LP reissues or extensive compilations. Strongly praised by collectors, they are owned by a lot of Discogs users. The Platinum Collection from 2012 has 243 owners from the UK. It is no surprise as the set stands on 125,000 sales over the counter to date. All 14 releases add for 195,000 sales to date.
Memphis Recording Service releases
Speaking about quality releases, the label Memphis Recording Service has been packaging carefully rare recordings of Presley. Joseph Pirzada, who works for the label, was kind enough to provide us sales data for these records. Big thanks to him.
– My Baby Left Me – 20,000
– Tupelo’s Own Elvis Presley – 17,000
– Off Duty With Private Presley – 12,000
– Such A Night In Pearl Harbor – 10,000
– The Complete Louisiana Hayride Archives 1954-1956 – 6,000
– Blue Hawaii – The Expanded Alternate Album – 6,000
These numbers are fairly impressive. In fact, Tupelo’s Own debuted at #13 inside the UK DVD Chart in 2007 on the back of 709 units sold, then dropped to 280 sales on week 2. It still amassed 17,000 units to date. As for albums, Off Duty debuted and peaked at #200 but still went on to sell 12,000 copies.
The label issued 14 more releases. They are more extensive and expensive, ultimately selling less than 5,000 units a piece. They still add for roughly 50,000 sales combined.
Additional recent budget releases
Although we already went through many records, there is still 140 releases from various budget labels like Delta, Delta Leisure, Disky, Hallmark, among others. Both chart activity on budget rankings and Discogs owners continue to provide us enough data to accurately gauge their sales. The biggest of all in Europe is The Incomparable from 2008, this Delta Leisure box set sold 50,000 units. These albums combine for 875,500 units sold. They will all be listed inside the upcoming CSPC article.
Dark horse strong sellers
Loopholes and budget albums of minor labels from recent years sold low numbers. Putting some light on their sales figures thanks to Discogs statistics is amazing enough already. Their data reveals much more though: Presley has many hidden blockbusters.
UK sales of Camden albums
Camden / Pickwick budget releases of Presley were strong sellers in the US. The Christmas Album from 1970 went Diamond, You’ll Never Walk Alone sold over 3 million and 7 more albums made it to Platinum. What about their UK sales though?
Through the years, they were allowed and excluded from charts multiple times. Most of the time we have no complete chart history for them though. A few went Gold, Elvis’ Christmas Album, I Got Lucky, Separate Ways, Easy Come Easy Go, and The U.S. Male. These certifications have two strong restrictions though. They start in 1973, so several of them are certified for their mid-70s reissues only, while You’ll Never Walk Alone and Burning Love and Sings Hits From His Movies Vol One were never audited at all since they dropped earlier. As they were also excluded from charts, we have (had) no idea of their sales. Then, awards were based on gross and they were sold fairly cheaply. Camden albums from 1975 used to be priced £1.15, which implies over 250,000 units sold to be Gold, although they were certified in 1978 so the price was likely already higher.
Still, these Camden releases were enormous sellers during the 70s in the UK. Incredibly, the 7 previously listed records all have more than 1,000 owners in the UK. Chart runs from comparable releases that were allowed to chart from that period suggest each owner from Discogs represents around 150 buyers. Elvis’ Christmas Album, estimated at 550,000 units for the Camden release only, has a tremendous 3,374 owners. It’s even more impressive when we consider that Christmas releases have proportionally less collectors. Separate Ways follows at 1,737, which implies over 350,000 units sold in the UK. You’ll Never Walk Alone is the 3rd strongest at 1,597 owners, meaning an estimated 325,000 units sold. As of now, it was often granted with no sale at all in the UK since it never charted and remained uncertified.
The remaining 4 albums follow with 250,000 to 300,000 units sold a piece. As it wasn’t enough, 2-LP packages came out in the second part of the 70s. The pack containing You’ll Never Walk Alone and Sings Hits From His Movies Vol One shifted 160,000 units. All in all, Camden albums from the LP era stand on a stunning 3,59 million units sold in the UK alone. That doesn’t consider the few more recent albums. One of them, 1999’s Love Songs, sold close to 300,000 units to date in the UK and as many elsewhere.
Remaining sales of Camden albums
Discogs statistics tell us that these albums sold a combined 1,25 million units in Canada although most of them weren’t allowed to chart. In Australia, the 9 US Platinum plus releases have from 50 to 150 owners each, meaning an average of 20,000 sales per disc. In France, the US flop Easy Come Easy Go has an unreal 1,233 owners. It was issued by Impact there, as their first volume, moving past 400,000 units. Two more Camden albums did well thanks to Impact releases. They are You’ll Never Walk Alone (150,000 sales) and Sings Flaming Star (130,000). Remaining albums were much more modest sellers though.
In Germany, they were all released although their sales were limited at 50,000 to 100,000 units per album. In countries from Latin America, Italy, Spain, and Japan, they weren’t always released. They combine for relatively few sales outside of the main markets.
The result is still amazing. The 12 Camden albums released from 1968 to 1975 sold over 24 million in the US and climb to 31,7 million with sales abroad. That’s an average of over 2,5 million units per release at a rate of 2 releases per year.
K-Tel 1976-1985 releases
While most of them had very minor impact in the US, K-Tel budget compilations were strong in Europe and some other parts of the world. It all started in 1976 with Les 40 Plus Grands Succés, a compilation issued only in Canada, France and Spain. In the former country, it has 215 owners. As a comparison point, Moody Blue from 1977, which sold an estimated 260,000 units to date, has 568. The 1976 release sold a calculated 100,000 units, all of which in Québec, a region that wasn’t accounted for into RPM Charts of Canada. In France, the album has 929 owners. The only albums of Presley with more in this country are Forever and Easy Come Easy Go, at close to 1,300 each, both of which sold over 400,000 as confirmed by the SNEP. It’s also the 4th most owned album of the legendary singer in Spain. This album sold 550,000 copies from 3 countries only while remaining completely overlooked up to now.
In 1979, Love Songs was issued. That one smashed charts of multiple countries. Discogs’ database proves it did well virtually everywhere. Even if it remains uncertified in the US, it sold 1,79 million globally. One year later, Inspirations sold 480,000 copies with no US release. In 1985, Ballads did 320,000, still with no US release.
In Canada, the highest certified compilation album of Presley from the LP era is A Canadian Tribute at 2xPlatinum for 200,000 sales. It got there very quickly, ultimately climbing close to 300,000 sales. It has 883 owners. While sales of this album were already known, the huge news is that the 1973 Elvis set by Brookville has 1,033 owners there. It was even bigger than in the US proportionally speaking. Calculations conclude on 440,000 units sold for it. There is more. We already mentioned the 100,000 units seller in Québec Les 40 Plus Grands Succés, but then the Canada-only Elvis Forever from 1974 also did wonders. With 554 owners, it sold well past 200,000 copies there.
While the Australian market remained quite low until the 80s, disabling chances of truly high sales, the top performers from Presley are still a real surprise. His two most owned albums there are the two volumes of Rock ‘N’ On from 1973. They both went Platinum for 70,000 in 1987. The first one is close to 2xPlatinum with 60% more sales than its follow-up according to Discogs.
First of all, please remember that German releases were often sold across most of continental Europe, explaining why they got so many owners in comparison to their German-only sales.
The only album that RCA certified there back in the day was Forever at Platinum status, 500,000 units, up to 1978. It is also his most owned album at Discogs which is as usual perfectly in line with known sales data. It has a mind-blowing 3,561 owners there. While strong sales of this album aren’t a surprise, here comes an incredible statistic: remaining 70s compilations A Portrait In Music, 40 Greatest Hits and 20 Fantastic Hits combine for 4,780 owners. That implies a huge estimated tally of 875,000 sales in Germany. A pair of 1976 releases, Forever 2 and In Hollywood, also combine for 1,088 owners and an estimated 175,000 sales. All these hidden strong sellers from the 70s help the artist to jump over 8 million album sales in Germany.
One of Presley‘s worst markets, Italy brings us an atypical set of results. The two most owned LPs from there are two records that weren’t allowed to chart. The leader is Elvis Forever with a solid 472 owners, implying around 125,000 sales. That’s more than we could have guessed for him there. The distant runner up is the surprising Pure Gold, a strong seller in the US that wasn’t released in most countries but did a good 50,000 in Italy.
Strong 70s compilations in the Netherlands were roughly the same as the ones from Germany. When all 3 albums Forever, 20 Fantastic Hits and A Portrait In Music went Platinum for 100,000 sales in 1978 it was kind of a surprise. While the former was a huge hit on charts, the latter peaked at #19 and charted for only two weeks in 1969. Truth is, it continued selling, especially after his passing, although it wasn’t allowed to chart due to pricing rules. On its side, 20 Fantastic Hits hasn’t chart at all for the same reason.
Discogs confirms how much they sold. Forever has a gigantic 1,959 owners from this market, good enough for an estimated 280,000 sales which is truly phenomenal in the Netherlands. The other two compilations add for 1,754 owners, converted into 245,000 units sold.
Latin American blockbusters
Sales of Presley in Brazil are no doubt impressive. Although the market was late to the LPs party, he got a trio of 100,000 units selling records. They are Disco de Ouro from 1977, estimated at 210,000 copies sold, 40 Greatest Hits at 175,000 and 10 Anos De Saudades (1987) at 100,000. To know his best performing records in Brazil would have been impossible without the help of Discogs. Obviously, I’m focusing on LPs since ELV1S 30 #1 Hits is his top seller there with a massive 325,000 units sold to date.
In Mexico his results are very low as expected. The 2002 best of appears to be his only Gold-eligible album. He got a string of 2-30,000 sellers, including the 1984 local compilation 30 Años De Musica Rock – Salvat. In Argentina, ELV1S 30 #1 Hits and The Essential Collection lead the way with over 75,000 units each.
We tend to forget our geography lessons too quickly. Until the fall of the former USSR and the wall of Berlin, there was various state-owned labels in Eastern Europe that used to control what was coming out or not. They often used compilations that are completely unknown from the rest of the world. One of the most famous examples is no doubt Beatles‘ 1986 compilation A Taste Of Honey which shipped 300,000 units upon release in USSR. It was their first legal album ever released there.
Presley also had his share of state-owned records. Here they are!
Bulgaria – Balkanton
The most collected record from the state owned label Balkanton is Michael Jackson‘s Thriller with 1,162 owners across 18 versions. Presley does extremely well there too. His Bulgarian-only compilations Elvis from 1985 and Rock-And-Roll from 1986 are among the Top 10 most owned foreign albums from this country with respectively 682 and 566 users collecting them. While we lack data about Bulgaria to set up highly reliable processes, over 500 owners of an LP from the 80s make both of them very likely 6-digits sellers in this country.
Czechoslovakia – Opus / Supraphon
The discography of Presley in Czechoslovakia was made of 2 records Pure Gold and Promised Land, from 1978 and 1980, respectively. With 50 and 40 owners a piece, they are not huge sellers there, which is consistent with his low popularity in this market as shown by our global heatmap. Jackson‘s Thriller which shipped 100,000 units by 1985, has 255 owners up to date from its Supraphon versions. Surprisingly, the most owned record from this country is a compilation of James Brown.
East Germany / GDR – Amiga label
The only official Presley release in East Germany was a compilation titled Elvis in 1978. With 489 owners it is no fluke. The top performer at Discogs from the AMIGA label is once again Jackson‘s Thriller at 1,434. Applying the same ratio than standard German releases suggests around 100,000 sales for Elvis.
Hungary – Pepita
The state label from Hungary never issued Presley recordings. Instead, the top 3 best performing foreign albums there are A Hard Day’s Night (1981, 373 owners) and Please Please Me (1982, 333) by the Beatles and the Best of Pink Floyd (1983, 263).
USSR – Melodiya
Along with some music clubs, USSR sales must be one of the biggest black boxes of the music industry. The Melodiya label used to be massive. The only label in existence during the era of the USSR, it grossed over $200 million per year.
I already mentioned A Taste of Honey by the Beatles, which shipped 300,000 units upon release and sold strongly for 4 years. With sales anywhere from half a million units to a million, it has an immense 2,096 owners. Led Zeppelin actually outperform them with the local compilation Stairway to Heaven at 2,285.
Guess what? Presley also got his monster selling compilation in the USSR. The 1988 best of That’s All Right has 885 owners and likely as many as 300,000 purchasers.
Yugoslavia – Jugoton
Unlike remaining state-owned labels, Jugoton used to drop many international albums. Presley himself got more than 50 distinct albums issued there, combining for nearly 800 owners. Our favorite scale, Thriller, once again among the most owned albums in the country, has 479 owners from Yugoslavia where it had shipped 112,000 units by 1984, which sets the mark on over 200,000 for Presley in this market.
With this article, the discography of Elvis Presley has no more secrets for you. Same for loopholes and state-owned labels. While evidencing these albums, we completed our all-around study of the King’s career. Next up: his CSPC article with all results. Stay tuned!
Sources: Discogs, Chartmasters.org, Memphis Recording Service, Billboard, Elvisoncd, Jorgensen, Agora SA, Le Monde, OCC, BPI, Not Now Music, RPM, SNEP.