Who are the best-selling Minnesota musicians of all time? It’s a big question, and after digging into the sales data for hundreds of Minnesota releases, it’s proven to be quite a complicated answer.
As I discovered while researching this project, no one knows precisely how many copies of any given album or single have sold, and there are a lot of different ways to approach the data. But thanks to the tracking work done by the RIAA, what we can find out is which albums and which singles have sold over 500,000 copies, 1 million copies, and even 10 million copies (which they certify as “Diamond” status).
So what I ended up with was a list of 80 albums and 35 singles that have been certified by the RIAA—and some of the results might surprise you.
Because I just can’t wait any longer to share this with you, you’ll find a list of the 80 best-selling Minnesota albums in the infographic below, laid out beautifully by the Current’s Leah Garaas. Unsurprisingly, the top three results matched up perfectly with your guesses in the poll that ran earlier this week. But what was more unexpected is that several artists who may be considered “one-hit wonders” by the industry—Semisonic with their hit “Closing Time,” Soul Asylum with “Runaway Train,” the Rembrandts with “I’ll Be There For You,” Marcy Playground with “Sex and Candy,” etc.—ended up performing well on the album sales chart because their songs came out at a time when people weren’t really buying individual singles.
Other discoveries? The R&B group Next, who formed in Minneapolis in 1994 and were once managed by the Sounds of Blackness’s Ann Nesby, performed especially well, landing in the multi-platinum category alongside heavyweights Prince and Dylan. Prince himself has had 23 different albums certified while Dylan has had a whopping 34. And the highest-selling Dylan album wasn’t even a studio album, but rather his two Greatest Hits compilations, which sold over 5 million copies each.
Conspicuously missing from this list are the Andrews Sisters, and there are a few reasons for that absence. First, their songs were released at a rapid-fire rate on 45rpm singles (and yes, spoiler alert, they will appear on the best-selling singles list) and were not compiled onto full-length albums until much later in their career. Secondly, their records were sold during a time when sales data wasn’t compiled by the RIAA, but rather by the record labels themselves—and at that period in time, a Gold Record was awarded for $1,000,000 in sales rather than the 500,000-unit requirement that is used today. Given the low cost of albums in the 1940s, they would have had to sell way more than 500,000 copies to hit the Gold mark.
One final note: While the best-selling albums results lined up fairly closely with your guesses, I will say that the list of best-selling singles tells quite a different story. Tune in Sunday night at 10 p.m. to the Current Presents: The Best-Selling Minnesota Artists of All Time, when those results will be revealed.
- Who are the best-selling Minnesota musicians of all time? Take a poll to see if you can guess the best-selling songs and albums to come from Minnesota, and we’ll reveal the answers this Sunday night at 10 p.m. on the Current Presents.
- What does it take for a musician to “sell out” in 2014? Artists from Communist Daughter and Dark Dark Dark weigh in on the brave new world of licensing music for use in advertising and film.
- 40 years of album sales in two handy charts. Take a close-up look at sales data gathered by the RIAA, which shows the rise and fall of singles vs. album sales over the past four decades.