The American music industry is not doing very well. While music consumption is at an all-time high because of digital platforms, revenues from music sales are about half of what they were in 1999. Despite this, America’s music’s top acts seem to be immune to the pain.
In 1999 – the top-earning year for the industry – Backstreet Boys’ album “Millennium” was the most popular record of the year, going 11x Multi-Platinum, meaning 11 million copies of the record were distributed by its label. In comparison, the most popular album of 2016 – Adele’s “25” – shipped 10 million copies that year and an additional 1 million units since. Additionally, each of the most popular albums in the 17 years since 1999 shipped at least 2 million copies by the time it hit the top of the Billboard Year-End charts. This only happened 16 times prior to and in 1999.
Some of the most impressive sales figures still belong to the industry’s golden age. For instance, the label of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which was the most popular album in both 1983 and 1984, shipped 33 million copies of the album since its release, leading the RIAA to certify it 33x Multi-Platinum — the highest certification of any album ever.
To find the most popular album for each year starting in 1956, 24/7 Wall St. looked at Billboard’s Year-End Top Album charts. These rankings are primarily based on album sales, but we have included streaming as of 2014. “Estimated albums” and “all time albums” refer to Certified Units as reported by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). These figures reflect record label shipments, as opposed to retail sales. Alternatively, Billboard’s album rankings are based on Nielsen SoundScan sales data, which is based on information reported by music sellers.