25 Million Drops In the Bucket: Why Adele's Continued Success Matters For All of Us

According to @chartnews, last week 27,772 people either visited their local record store or went online to purchase Adele's 21. Even though the album came out here in the states on February 22, 2011 there will still 27,772 people out there who decided last week was the week they were finally going to buy the album.

I often wonder how something like that happens. Adele has been everywhere this year (metaphorically speaking; don't remind me about your canceled tour tickets), so it's hard to imagine people just now discovering her. This is an album that has sold 25 million units worldwide, after all.

We'll get back to the 27,772 in a bit, but let us consider for a moment the first 25 million. It's sold more than 99.9999 percent of albums ever released, and yet when you look at a list of best-selling albums of all time it still looks kind of bush-league.

And sitting at the top of that list is an album that was released 30 years ago today: Michael Jackson's Thriller.

We'll probably never know how many copies Thriller has officially sold. It could be 110 million. It could be 65 million. It's at least 42 million, if Wikipedia is to be believed. No matter what number you go with, it's a staggering about of copies.


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What's less staggering is the fact that of the Top 20 best-selling albums of all time (based on claimed sales), only one of them has been released since the year 2000. The lone entry in the Top 20 of the post-millennium is The Beatles' 1.

Both of these facts make sense. Albums that have been out longer have been available for purchase for a greater period of time and they don't have to worry about Soundscan calling them out if the numbers had been fudged before 1991. The Beatles are among the few acts beloved enough to be able to sell that many units in a post-Napster world.

I find all of these numbers to be kind of sad, really, because when you start to think about it, it's hard to believe there will ever be another album that sells as well as Rumours (40 million units claimed), let alone Thriller.

Thriller being the top selling album of all time is much like The Beatles being the greatest band of all time, Revolver being the greatest album of all time, and Nirvana being the last band that mattered: They're all 'facts" carted out by music critics to prove that music used to be better than it is today.

Now listen, I'm not saying that The Beatles weren't important (they were) or that Nevermind wasn't a game-changer (it was) or that Michael Jackson didn't make great songs (he did). What I'm saying is that it would be nice to get out of this institutionalized mindset that says music's greatest peaks are behind us and that things will never be better than they used to be.

Having a once in a generation classic album would be a good start.

For now Adele continues up the ladder of best-selling-album immortality, slowly but surely. She won't get to the top today or tomorrow or even by the end of this year, but last week she sold 27,772 copies of an album that's been out two years in an age were the album is literally a Google search away. That's 27,772 heroes fighting in a war to prove that good music still exists.

You may not think the sales of one album matters, but be honest: Do you really want future generations thinking Oops!.. I Did It Again was the last great album to come out?

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