There was little reason to think that Bob Marley & the Wailers' compilation album Legend would become a blockbuster when it was released in the summer of 1984. Marley, who had died of cancer three years earlier, had not been a huge record seller in the U.S. Just two of his albums had reached the top 40. And he never had a top 40 single.
Sure enough, Legend got off to a tepid start. It entered The Billboard 200 at #168 in August 1984. It was the sixth-highest of seven new entries that week, coming in below the latest releases by '80s faves Spandau Ballet and INXS and the little-remembered Y&T. Legend peaked at a middling #54, but it remained on the chart for more than two years. And it has never stopped selling. Three weeks ago, it became only the 17thalbum to top the 10 million sales mark since Nielsen/SoundScan began tracking sales for Billboard in 1991.
Legend has sold more copies since 1991 than any other album from the '60s, '70s or '80s. It ranks ahead of such perennial hits as Pink Floyd's The Dark Side Of The Moon (which has sold 8,727,000 copies since 1991), James Taylor's Greatest Hits (6,741,000) and Jimmy Buffett's Songs You Know By Heart (6,311,000).
Legend has been #1 on Nielsen/SoundScan's weekly Catalog Albums chart 110 times since 1991, more than twice as long as any other album. It led the chart most recently just two months ago.
The collection has sold more than 250,000 copies a year every year since at least 1992. And this streak is sure to continue: The album has already sold 198,000 copies so far in 2009.
Nielsen/SoundScan's official sales tally for Legend this week climbs to 10,020,000. This doesn't count 271,000 copies of a deluxe edition that was released in 2002. It also, of course, doesn't count copies of the regular edition that were sold between 1984 and 1991.
Marley was a hugely influential artist, but he wasn't a massive record seller in his lifetime. He put 10 albums on the chart before he died, but only two of them made the top 40-Rastaman Vibration, which hit #8 in 1976, and Exodus, which reached #20 the following year. (Marley has put more albums on the chart posthumously than he did while he was alive.)
As an artist, Marley notched just one Hot 100 single, "Roots, Rock, Reggae," which hit #51 in 1976. But several of his songs were well-known by the time Legend came out. Johnny Nash took the sensuous "Stir It Up" to #12 on the Hot 100 in April 1973. Eric Clapton took "I Shot The Sheriff" to #1 in September 1974. Perhaps most famously, the Jamaica Tourist Board used "One Love" as an endlessly-aired commercial jingle to lure travelers to the island.
Other artists, especially in the hip-hop realm, have continued to have success with Marley's songs in the years since his death. The Fugees included "No Woman, No Cry" on their #1 album The Score in 1996. Their remake of the song made the top 40. Warren G had a top 20 hit with his 1997 update of "I Shot The Sheriff."
Legend ranked #80 on Nielsen/SoundScan's first recap (in March 1996) of the best-selling albums in its then-brief history. The album had at that point sold 3,145,000 copies. The album topped the 5 million mark in January 1999, by which time it was up to #52 on the company's running list of its all-time best-sellers. It's currently #17. Since Legend is still selling at a steady clip, while many of its rivals have slowed down considerably, it will doubtless keep climbing this list.
As you might imagine, 10-million-selling albums don't come along often, especially in this down market. The last album before Legend to reach the 10 million mark was Norah Jones' Come Away With Me, which rang the bell in February 2007. In the ensuing 29 months, Legend has sold 949,000 copies, far more than any of the other 10-million sellers. The next three most active titles among the 10-million sellers in this period are Metallica's Metallica, which has sold 581,000 copies since February 2007; the Beatles' 1, which has sold 570,000; and Come Away With Me, which has sold 506,000.
Legend and the Beatles' 1 are the only greatest hits sets or compilations to top the 10 million mark in sales since 1991. The Beatles' album, released in 2000, has sold 11,427,000 copies.
Marley was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. He was voted a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. Four of his recordings have been voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame: "Get Up, Stand Up," "No Woman No Cry," "One Love" and the album Exodus.
Marley never won a Grammy during his lifetime. That's hard to believe, until you consider that the Recording Academy didn't have a category for reggae until 1984. Marley's sons Ziggy, Damian and Stephen have all won Grammys in the reggae category that their father's music inspired.
Next Feb. 6 would have been Marley's 65th birthday. Thanks to the loyalty and support of 10,000,000 fans, he got his birthday present a little early.