This is pitiful: Just three albums have topped the 1 million mark in U.S. sales so far this year. But the tally will be more like 12 before the year ends, which would nearly equal the tally of 13 in each of the last two years. The three albums that have sold 1 million or more copies already this year are Adele's sophomore album, 21 (4,027,000); One Direction's debut album, Up All Night (1,254,000) and Lionel Richie's surprise comeback hit, Tuskegee (1,020,000).
Four albums that have already been released will probably make it over the 1 million threshold before the year is out. They are Justin Bieber's Believe (which has sold 902K copies so far this year), Carrie Underwood's Blown Away (823K), Luke Bryan's 2011 release Tailgates & Tanlines (802K) and Mumford & Sons' Babel, which sold 600K this week and will probably sell another 155K next week.
Five upcoming albums have a good chance of selling 1 million copies before the year is out. They are Jason Aldean's Night Train (due Oct. 16), Taylor Swift's Red (due Oct. 22), Lady Antebellum's Christmas album On This Winter's Night (due Oct. 22), One Direction's Take Me Home (due Nov. 13) and Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You: The Best Of Whitney Houston (due Nov. 13).
Swift's last two albums both sold millions of copies very quickly. Fearless sold 2,112,000 copies in the last seven weeks of 2008. Speak Now sold 2,960,000 copies in the last 10 weeks of 2010.
Aldean's last album, 2010's My Kinda Party, has sold 2,768,000 copies. It debuted and peaked at #2—kept out of the top spot by Speak Now. Night Train is vying to become his first #1 album. Aldean has four songs that have each sold 2 million or more digital copies, which is more than any other male solo artist in country music.
Lady Antebellum's last two albums both entered The Billboard 200 at #1. Need You Now sold 1,647,000 copies in its first 10 weeks in 2010. Own The Night sold 1,204,000 in the last 16 weeks of 2011. The country trio's broad-based appeal and low-key charisma make a Christmas album a natural.
On This Winter's Night is vying to become the first country album to emerge as the best-selling Christmas album of the season since Garth Brooks' Beyond The Season was the top-selling Christmas album of 1992 (with sales of 1,542,000 in that calendar year).
In the last five years, six Christmas albums have sold 1 million or more copies in the final quarter of the year. Josh Groban's Noel sold 3,699,000 copies in the last 12 weeks of 2007. Andrea Bocelli's My Christmas sold 2,207,000 copies in the last nine weeks of 2009. Susan Boyle's The Gift sold 1,852,000 copies in the last eight weeks of 2010. Jackie Evancho's O Holy Night sold 1,010,000 copies in the last seven weeks of 2010. Michael Buble's Christmas sold 2,452,000 copies in the last 10 weeks of 2011. Justin Bieber's Under The Mistletoe sold 1,245,000 copies in the last nine weeks of 2011.
Two other upcoming Christmas albums will probably also sell well. They are Scotty McCreery's Christmas With Scotty McCreery (due Oct. 16) and Rod Stewart's Merry Christmas Baby (due Oct. 30). Stewart's album features a raft of guest stars: Michael Buble, Cee Lo Green & Trombone Shorty, Dave Koz, the late Ella Fitzgerald & Chris Botti and Mary J. Blige. The five albums in Stewart's stunning successful The Great American Songbook series sold a combined total of 9,427,000 copies. But each volume sold less than the one before it, with the last one selling just 363K copies.
One Direction has only gotten hotter since Up All Night debuted at #1 in March. Its smash "What Makes You Beautiful" has sold 3,514,000 copies, more than any other hit by a boy band in digital history. It's currently #7 among all songs for the year-to-date. The quintet's DVD Up All Night—The Live Tour has sold 307K copies so far this year. It's second only to Adele's Live At The Royal Albert Hall as the best-selling music video so far this year. One Direction is the only act that ranks in the top 10 for the year-to-date on the album, song and music video charts.
Whitney Houston will be the subject of a TV special, We Will Always Love You: A Grammy Salute To Whitney Houston, on Nov. 16. It will feature Celine Dion, Jennifer Hudson and Usher, among others. The special will air just three days after the release of Houston's similarly-titled greatest hits album. It's her first definitive greatest hits set. Her 2000 compilation, Whitney: The Greatest Hits, has been faulted for including remixed versions of some of her biggest hits. (Even so it has sold 857K copies so far this year, and currently ranks #5 for the year.) The new compilation could sell 1 million copies before the year is out, in the same way that the hit-studded Michael Jackson's This Is It soundtrack sold 1,287,000 copies in the last 10 weeks of 2009.
Other notable upcoming releases include Soundgarden's King Animal (due Nov. 13), the band's first studio album in more than 16 years; the Rolling Stones' GRRR! (due Nov. 13), a compilation album keyed to the band's 50th anniversary; AC/DC's Live At River Plate (due Nov. 19), a live album recorded on the band's 2009 Black Ice world tour; and Kid Rock's Rebel Soul (due Nov. 19), the veteran rocker's follow-up to the million-selling Born Free. None of these albums is expected to sell 1 million copies before the year is out.
21 will become the first album since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales for Billboard in 1991 to be the year's top-selling album twice. It was the best-selling album of 2011 with sales of 5,824,000 copies in that calendar year.
21 has already become the first album to sell 4 million copies in two different calendar years since Santana's Supernatural, which sold 4,733,000 copies in 1999 and 5,858,000 in 2000. Two other albums in Nielsen SoundScan history sold 4 million copies in two different calendar years: Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill (4,245,000 in 1995 and 7,380,000 in 1996) and Shania Twain's Come On Over (4,873,000 in 1998 and 5,618,000 in 1999).
As you can see, these other albums did this from 1995 to 2000, when album sales were going through the roof. For Adele to equal the feat in this far more challenging sales climate is extraordinary.
21 will become the first album to rank #1 on Billboard's year-end chart recap twice since Michael Jackson's Thriller scored in both 1983 and 1984. (Billboard's recap covers its "chart year," which runs from approximately Dec. 1 to Nov. 30 each year. The Nielsen SoundScan year follows the calendar year). Prior to Thriller, three albums ranked #1 on Billboard's year-end recap twice: the West Side Story soundtrack (1962 and 1963), The Sound Of Music cast album with Mary Martin (1960 and 1961) and the My Fair Lady cast album with Julie Andrews (1957 and 1958).
A final note: There were 39 million-selling albums as recently as 2007, according to Nielsen SoundScan's stats. The number dropped to 25 in 2008, 22 in 2009 and 13 the last two years.