Understanding: Billboard BB200 vs US Album Sales

Earth, Wind and Fire

II) Examples of application

E) Commodores and Earth, Wind & Fire

Here is the case of two acts similar to the Jackson 5 in that they were hugely popular on both sides, Pop and R&B. Earth, Wind & Fire are especially interesting as their catalog was audited in full by the RIAA several times between 1984 and 2001.

Their first 6 albums all gained one Platinum higher than calculated sales. Those awards were obtained many years after the initial run though and they make perfect sense once adding their respective catalog sales.

We notice that, although close to the next certification level, Faces, Electric Universe and Touch The World never made reached it. Those are precisely the only 3 albums among this list with no single reaching even 1 million streams on Spotify, which explains their non-existent catalog sales since the end of their respective promotion. This also confirms that unlike Teddy Pendergrass, and in spite of being a black act, Earth, Wind & Fire was fully regarded as a cross-over act by then as the Billboard’s panel reflected their sales to perfection.

The Commodores truly crossed over with their 1976 hit Sweet Love. Before that, they were deflated by rankings as shown with Machine Gun which barely charted while it sold past half a million units in two years as per Billboard. Following albums fit perfectly with their certifications until Live!.

For the first time, the formula seems wrong with Natural High, showing 1,9 million sales in 8 months while it did 3 million in less than 2 years. Selling over 1 million outside of chart rankings isn’t realistic. We may jump on the conclusion that it sold a lot via urban retailers however, this isn’t the issue. Let’s check its chart run:

Produced by: Commodores/James Carmichael
Date: 27/05/1978 – Run: 68-24-15- 10-7-4-*3*-3-5-3-3-3-3-3-3-7-6-8-10-13-12-12-18-31-65-64-64-93-113-179-179-179- (32 wsf)
            06/01/1979: 200 (33/16 wks) UK:#8/23/3

We fell into the anomaly category. At the time charts were always waves. An album was climbing until its peak then dropping. It isn’t natural to be that high for so long without climbing higher, e.g. spending 10 weeks inside the Top 5 including 8 at #3 without ever reaching #1/2. The norm would have been:

Produced by: Commodores/James Carmichael
Date: 27/05/1978 – Run: 68-24-15- 10-7-4-*3*-3-3-2-1-1-1-1-3-7-6-8-10-13-12-12-18-31-65-64-64-93-113-179-179-179- (32 wsf)
            06/01/1979: 200 (33/16 wks) UK:#8/23/3

The question turns out to be which albums blocked it at #3? During its second 6-weeks run there, it was indeed always the same #1 and always the same #2, meaning it outsold every album minus two for 6 weeks in a row, a true real #1 seller in a standard period. The Top 2 albums were the Soundtrack Grease and the Rolling Stones’ big gun Some Girls respectively, which better explains why Natural High had to settle for #3 in spite of sales worthy of a #1 spot. Assuming it sold enough to be #1 in a normal week for 4 weeks, the calculation climbs to 2,5 million, now in line with 3 million shipped after one more year of solid sales.

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