Most music lists are so flattering that any artist would love to be on them. The most #1 hits! The longest-running #1 albums! The most Grammys! It's an endless orgy of the first, the fastest, the longest and the greatest.
This is a list that no artist would want to be on. These are the worst-selling #1 albums between May 1991, when Nielsen/SoundScan began tracking sales for Billboard, and the end of 2006. (I excluded 2007 and 2008 albums on the theory that they're still adding to their totals. Also, singling out low-selling albums from the past two years, when sales have been down industry-wide, would be like shooting fish in a barrel.)
Let me reiterate that all of these albums reached #1. (In fact, they all debuted at #1.) For one week (tellingly, none managed a second week on top) each of these albums was the best-seller in America. But they didn't sustain over the long haul. None of these 25 albums has sold more than 830,000 copies over the course of its entire run. Lil' Wayne did better than that in his first week with Tha Carter III.
The list includes a few artists who are known only by committed music fans. But it also includes a surprising number of household names, including such megastars as Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Madonna. Duds, it seems, can happen to anybody.
Just ask Marilyn Manson, who has had the lowest-selling #1 album of the year twice since 1991. No other performer can match that claim--or would want to. Mechanical Animals was the lowest-selling #1 album of 1998. The Golden Age Of Grotesque was the lowest-selling chart-topper of 2003.
Actually, not all of these albums were duds. They all need to be placed in context, which helps explain the lackluster sales totals of several of the entries. Johnny Cash's American V: A Hundred Highways came out nearly three years after his death. Led Zeppelin's How The West Was Won was a pricey, three-disk compilation. The Isley Brothers and Rod Stewart had been around for decades when they landed low-selling #1 albums. Sales tend to taper off after artists have spent many years in the spotlight. The bigger story, in all four of these cases, may be that the albums hit #1 in the first place.
Eight of these albums had first-week sales of more than 200,000 copies, which proves that splashy debuts don't guarantee long-term success. Nas' Hip Hop Is Dead opened with especially brisk sales of 355,000. The album's sales tally after nearly two years stands at 764,000. That means that nearly half of its sales occurred in the first week.
Of the 365 albums that topped the Nielsen/SoundScan chart from May 25, 1991 through December 31, 2006, these are the 25 that have sold the fewest total copies. The number following the title is the album's total sales as of this week.
1. Omarion, 21, 390,000. This was the R&B artist's second album in a row to open at #1. Omarion's solo debut album, O, had achieved the feat in March 2005. But 21, which charted in December 2006, has sold only about half as many copies as that earlier album (see #17). The key song from 21, "Ice Box," reached #12 on the Hot 100. This was the lowest-selling #1 album of 2006.
2. Jaheim, Ghetto Classics, 446,000. This was the R&B artist's third album, but his first to reach #1. It charted in February 2006. A key reason Ghetto Classics is on this list: No songs from the album made the Hot 100, whereas two songs from each of Jaheim's previous albums made the top 30.
3. Johnny Cash, American V: A Hundred Highways, 491,000. This charted in July 2006, nearly three years after Cash's death. It was the country legend's first studio album to reach #1. His only other #1 album on The Billboard 200 was the live Johnny Cash At San Quentin in 1969. So this wasn't really a dud. This is the only album on this list that had first-week sales of fewer than 100,000 copies. (It bowed with lukewarm sales of 88,000.)
4. Juvenile, Reality Check, 505,000. This was the rapper's eighth album, but his first to reach #1. It charted in March 2006. The key single from the album, "Rodeo," peaked at #41, a drop-off from such previous Juvenile releases as "Slow Motion" (featuring Soulja Slim), which hit #1 in 2004.
5. R. Kelly & Jay-Z, Unfinished Business, 524,000. This was the second collaboration by the superstar pairing. The first, The Best Of Both Worlds, peaked at #2 in 2002. But that first album has sold a healthier 933,000 copies. This was the lowest-selling #1 album of 2004-as well as the lowest-selling chart-topper of the Nielsen/SoundScan era to that point. (It may have been undercut by Jay-Z's collaboration with Linkin Park, Collision Course, which was released just five weeks later.) Unfinished Business charted in October 2004 with first-week sales of 215,000. That's 41% of its total.
6. Marilyn Manson, The Golden Age Of Grotesque, 526,000. This album, which charted in May 2003, was Manson's second #1, following Mechanical Animals in 1998. Both of these releases were the lowest-selling #1 albums of their respective years. The Gothic shock rocker is the only artist to have the lowest-selling #1 album of the year twice in the Nielsen/SoundScan era.
7. LeToya, LeToya, 529,000. This was the solo debut by LeToya Luckett, a former member of Destiny's Child. LeToya left the group in early 2000, after the release of its top 10 blockbuster, The Writing's On The Wall. LeToya has sold about one-twelfth as many copies as that album has. The album charted in July 2006. The single, "Torn," reached #31 on the Hot 100.
8. Prince, 3121, 530,000. What's a legend like Prince doing on a list like this? Anybody can have an album that under-performs, to use a favored industry euphemism. 3121 charted in March 2006. It was Prince's fourth album to reach #1; his first to do since Batman in 1989. "Black Sweat" was the only song from the album to make the Hot 100. It spent one week on the chart at #60.
9. Private Parts soundtrack, 562,000. The rock soundtrack to the Howard Stern comedy/biopic charted in March 1997. It was that year's lowest-selling #1 album. In fact, it was the lowest-selling #1 album between May 1991 and May 2003, when a Marilyn Manson album did even worse (see #6). It's also the lowest-selling #1 soundtrack from 1991-2008 (except for the two-week old Twilight, which will quickly surpass it). Apart from the four oldies on the album, no songs from the album made the Hot 100.
10. Gridlock'd soundtrack, 585,000. This soundtrack charted in February 1997, five months after the movie's star, 2 Pac, was shot to death. The album features two 2Pac tracks, one a collaboration with Snoop Doggy Dogg. No songs from the album made the Hot 100.
11. Busta Rhymes, The Big Bang, 613,000. This was the rapper's seventh album, but his first to reach #1. It charted in June 2006 with first week sales of 209,000. A single, "Touch It," had run its course by the time the album was released. The follow-up, "I Love My B***," stalled at #41 on the Hot 100. By contrast, five Busta Rhymes songs from previous albums made the top 10.
12. Bruce Springsteen, Devils & Dust, 650,000. This was The Boss' seventh #1 album; his first since The Rising in 2002. But it has sold less than a third as many copies as that album has. Devils & Dust charted in May 2005 with first-week sales of 222,000. It was that year's lowest-selling #1 album. The title song stalled at #72 on the Hot 100. It spent just one week on the chart, compared to 11 weeks for the title song from The Rising.
13. Madonna, American Life, 674,000. This was Madonna's fifth chart-topper; her first since Music in 2000. But this has sold less than a quarter as many copies as that album has. American Life charted in April 2003 with first-week sales of 241,000. That's 36% of its total. The album included Madonna's 2002 hit "Die Another Day" from the James Bond movie of the same name. The problem: No other songs from the album cracked the top 30.
14. India.Arie, Testimony: Vol. 1: Life & Relationship, 688,000. This was the R&B artist's third album, but her first to reach #1. It charted in July 2006. The single, "I Am Not My Hair," had one fleeting week on the Hot 100 (at #97). India.Arie's 2001 breakthrough hit, "Video," logged seven months on the chart.
15. Diddy, Press Play, 700,000. This was the rap icon's first #1 album since 1997, when, as Puff Daddy, he topped the chart with No Way Out. But Press Play has sold less than one-seventh as many copies as that album has. Press Play charted in October 2006. The album's key track, "Come To Me" (featuring Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls) went top 10 on the Hot 100. (By contrast, No Way Out contained four top five hits.)
16. Rod Stewart, Still The Same...Great Rock Classics Of Our Time, 719,000. This was the English star's first pop/rock album following four million-selling Great American Songbook collections. It charted in October 2006. The Songbook albums were trending downward in sales, from a high of 3,221,000 for the first to a low of 1,112,000 for the fourth. A fifth Songbook outing would probably have sold about what this did. So this wasn't a bad showing, just not as good as many figured. It was Stewart's fourth #1 album.
17. Omarion, O, 758,000. This was the R&B artist's solo debut album, following a pair of top 10 albums with the teen group B2K. O charted in February 2005. The title song reached #27 on the Hot 100. Omarion is the only artist with two albums on this list. (There's another dubious distinction.)
18. Nas, Hip Hop Is Dead, 764,000. This was the rapper's third #1 album, following It Was Written in 1996 and I Am... in 1999. But it has sold only about a third of what those albums have sold. Hip Hop Is Dead charted in December 2006, with first-week sales of 355,000. That's a whopping 46% of its total. The title track, featuring will.i.am, peaked at #41 on the Hot 100, lower than such earlier Nas hits as "Street Dreams" and "I Can."
19. Incubus, Light Grenades, 773,000. This was the hard rock group's sixth album, but its first to reach #1. It charted in December 2006. The key track, "Anna-Molly," peaked at #66 on the Hot 100, a far cry from the top 10 showing of the band's "Drive" in 2001.
20. Godsmack, IV, 815,000. This was the hard rock group's second consecutive full-length album to reach #1, following Faceless. But this has sold about half of what that 2003 album has sold. IV charted in May 2006 with first-week sales of 211,000. The key track, "Speak," reached #85 on the Hot 100.
21. The Isley Brothers featuring Ronald Isley, Body Kiss, 815,000. This was the veteran R&B group's second #1 album; its first since The Heat Is On in 1975. Body Kiss charted in May 2003. R. Kelly wrote and produced the key track, "What Would You Do?," which stalled at #49 on the Hot 100.
22. Led Zeppelin, How The West Was Won, 818,000. This live, three-disk compilation charted in June 2003. (It's the only album on this list that comprises more than a single disk.) This was the legendary hard-rock band's seventh #1 album; its first since 1979's In Through The Out Door.
23. LL Cool J, G.O.A.T. Featuring James T. Smith The Greatest Of All Time, 822,000. This was the rap superstar's ninth album, but his first to hit #1. G.O.A.T. charted in July 2000 with first-week sales of 209,000. It was that boom year's lowest-selling #1 album. "Imagine That" was the only song from the album to make the Hot 100. It peaked at #98.
24. Various Artists, The Neptunes Present...Clones, 827,000. Pharrell Williams was featured on six tracks on this hip-hop collection. One of them, "Frontin'" (featuring Jay-Z), went top five on the Hot 100. The album charted in August 2003 with first-week sales of 249,000.
25. A Tribe Called Quest, Beats, Rhymes And Life, 828,000. This charted in August 1996, making it the oldest album on this list. It was the lowest-selling #1 album of 1996-and the lowest-selling chart-topper of the Nielsen/SoundScan era to that point. (It took the unwelcome title from Depeche Mode's 1993 album, Songs Of Faith And Devotion.) Beats, Rhymes And Life was the New York-based rap trio's fourth album, but its first to hit #1. No songs from the album made the Hot 100.