Local Current Blog

9 random facts about Minnesota artists and their album sales

New Age phenom Yanni, who spent his college years at the U of M in the 1970s

This week’s Current Presents: The Best-Selling Minnesota Artists of All Time was the culmination of quite a bit of research, and unsurprisingly I wasn’t able to fit all of my findings into the one-hour program. As I wrap up this project and prepare to move on to something else, I wanted to type up a few final notes about what I’d discovered.

Behold, nine nerdy factoids from by research into Minnesota album sales:

★ Bob Dylan has never had a No. 1 hit single in the U.S. (or any country in the world, for that matter). “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Rainy Day Women #12 and #35” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard charts in 1965 and 1966, respectively.

★ Semisonic’s “Closing Time” did not sell enough copies to be certified, despite being one of the most pervasive songs of the late ‘90s. Their album Feeling Strangely Fine, however, went platinum.

★ In addition to his success with Semisonic, songwriter Dan Wilson has gone on to collaborate on many commercially successful projects. A song he co-wrote with Dierks Bentley, “Home,” has been certified gold, while the Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice” went platinum and his Adele collaboration “Someone Like You” has gone multi-platinum and sold over 5 million copies. The Taylor Swift album he helped to write and produce, Red, has also sold over 4 million copies.

★ The Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There For You” was specifically written as an under-60-second theme song for use on the show Friends. It wasn’t until Nashville radio station WYHY picked it up and started playing it on repeat that Atlantic returned to the Rembrandts’ Phil Solem and Danny Wilde and asked them to record it as a three-minute single. “Our record label said we had to finish the song and record it. There was no way to get out of it,” said Solem.

★ Though both the Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” and the Castaways’ “Liar, Liar” both charted and reportedly sold over a million copies each, the bands barely got any money from their album sales—and the singles were never certified because the RIAA tracked albums in terms of total dollars earned rather than units prior to 1972.

Trashmen lead singer Tony Andreason told the Delano Herald-Journal that their proceeds from record sales were a mere 3 cents per record, and that the band’s proceeds had to be split between their four members. “If you sold a million records, that’s $30,000,” he said. “Today if you sell a million records, you’re gonna make $2 or $3 million dollars. The heck of it is, the record (“Surfin’ Bird”) sold way over a million records. We don’t know exactly how much it sold, but it’s millions now. Even though it was three cents a record, we still didn’t get paid.”

★ Superstar producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are among a handful of producers to have No. 1 records in three consecutive decades (1980s, ’90s and 2000s). Others in this group include Phil Spector (1950s, ’60s and ’70s), Quincy Jones (1960s, ’70s and ’80s), George Martin (1960s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s), and Michael Omartian’ (1970s, ’80s and ’90s).

★ Paul Westerberg’s two most commercially successful songs, “Dyslexic Heart” and “Waiting for Somebody,” were released in an era where few people were purchasing singles. Though he has never had a song certified, the album that they appeared on, the Singles soundtrack, went double platinum. Other artists on the soundtrack included Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam.

★ Speaking of which, Westerberg’s band the Replacements and his peers Hüsker Dü and the Suburbs never sold more than 500,000 copies of any of their albums or singles, despite being regarded as some of the most influential and beloved bands to come out of Minneapolis.

★ There are several commercially successful albums and singles with Minnesota ties that did not make these lists. (In order to be qualified as a “Minnesota artist” for this exercise, the artist had to either have been born here or spent a significant amount of their music-making life here.) Here’s a sampling of some other tangentially related Minnesota successes:


Janet Jackson, Control (produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis)  (5x multi-platinum)
Janet Jackson, Rhythm Nation 1814 (produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis) (6x multi-platinum)
Brian Setzer Orchestra, The Dirty Boogie (2x multi-platinum)
Yanni, Live at the Acropolis (6x multi-platinum)
Yanni, Reflections of Passion (2x multi-platinum)
Yanni, Tribute (platinum)
Yanni, In My Time (platinum)
Yanni, Dare to Dream (platinum)
Yanni, If I Could Tell You (gold)
Yanni, Devotion: The Best of Yanni (gold)
Yanni, In the Mirror (gold)
Yanni, In Celebration of Life (gold)


Tevin Campbell, “Round and Round” (gold)
Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U” (platinum)
Mike Posner, “Cooler Than Me” (produced by Gigamesh) (2x multi-platinum)