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Eagles’ greatest hits overtakes Michael Jackson’s Thriller as most successful US album of all time

By | Published on Tuesday 21 August 2018

The Eagles

Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ is no longer the all time most successful album in the USA. Not according to the Recording Industry Association Of America anyway, which is in charge of totting up the numbers. The top spot is now occupied by The Eagles’ classic album ‘Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)’.

The compilation was until yesterday officially logged as having sold 29 million copies, making it 29 times platinum. But the numbers hadn’t been crunched since 2006, during which time the rules for the RIAA’s platinum and gold awards have changed considerably.

So, at the request of Warner Music, the tally was updated, and it was calculated that ‘Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)’ is actually now 38 times platinum – considerably more than the measly 33 platinum discs attached to ‘Thriller’, which last had its total updated last year.

Last time The Eagles’ figures were counted, the platinum awards were based on sales alone. However, since 2016, streaming data has also been included. Under the current rules, the RIAA deems 1500 on-demand streams to be equivalent to ten download track sales, which in turn is equal to one album sale.

This change to the way the awards are calculated has also benefitted The Eagles’ 1977 album ‘Hotel California’, which is third in the most-successful albums list, and newly named 26 times platinum – up from sixteen times last time the numbers were counted.

“Congratulations to the Eagles, who now claim the jaw-dropping feat of writing and recording two of the top three albums in music history”, says RIAA CEO Cary Sherman, which I guess is technically true, even if one of those albums is a greatest hits compilation.

“Both of these transcendent albums have impressively stood the test of time”, Sherman continues. “Only gaining more currency and popularity as the years have passed, much like the Eagles themselves. As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the RIAA’s Gold & Platinum Program this year, it is only fitting that we can recognise the Eagles for their singular contribution to the history of American music”.

The RIAA has not released figures showing only full album sales for each release, so we have to go with the slightly confusing measure that includes streaming data and single track downloads.

The trade body did confirm to Rolling Stone that digital data had been added to the album’s stats retrospectively for the recount. This would mean that if the album had one particularly popular track on it – say the band’s most famous song ‘Hotel California’ – every ten download sales or 1500 streams of that one track would count as an album sale.

Not that I’m saying no one listens to the rest of that album, but the title track does have 320 million plays on Spotify alone, compared to 61 million for the next most popular track on it. And in Spotify’s Eagles Top Ten, of the other two tracks related to that album, one is a live version of ‘Hotel California’.

Although, of course, Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ is likely also carried by a couple of stand-out tracks – mainly ‘Beat It’ and its title track – when it comes to this new age of complicated record sale maths, so maybe we shouldn’t think about these things too much.

Anyway, speaking for the band, Don Henley said: “We are grateful for our families, our management, our crew, the people at radio and, most of all, the loyal fans who have stuck with us through the ups and downs of 46 years. It’s been quite a ride”.