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Chart Watch Extra: All The Greatest Hits

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The Beatles' 2000 greatest hits album, 1, is back in the top five on this week's Billboard 200, owing to its long-awaited digital release. The compilation is the best-selling greatest hits album since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales for Billboard in 1991. It has sold 11,821,000 copies in the U.S.

A total of 27 greatest hits sets are included on Nielsen SoundScan's running list of the 200 best-selling albums in its history. That's not a surprise: Greatest hits albums traditionally give fans maximum bang for their buck.

But it is a surprise that only two of the 27 albums are by female solo artists (Celine Dion and Madonna). A third is by a mixed-gender group, Abba. But a whopping 24 of the 27 best-selling greatest hits albums of the past 20 years are by male solo artists or male groups.

Pop and rock dominate, but the list also includes three country albums and a smattering of reggae, rap and R&B.

Fifteen of these albums made the top 10 when they were first released, but some have shown their full impact only as catalog titles. Michael Jackson's Number Ones was a respectable hit before his death, but it became a smash when fans wanted a remembrance after he died. The album has sold 2,790,000 copies since he died in June 2009, more than it sold in its first six years of release (1,825,000).

Abba's Gold-Greatest Hits has been boosted by the opening of the stage musical Mamma Mia! in 2001 and the movie of the same name in 2008. It has sold 916,000 copies just since the movie was released in July 2008.

Most of these albums are called Greatest Hits or some variation thereof. Two use the alternate term, Best Of.  Three employ the more recent idea of calling attention to an act's chart-topping prowess. (The Beatles' 1, which consists of the group's 27 songs that reached #1 in the U.S. and/or the U.K., was followed by Elvis Presley's Elv1s: #1 Hits and Michael Jackson's Number Ones).

Two artists showed some wit in titling their greatest hits albums. Jimmy Buffett, who has had just one top 10 hit in his long career (1977's "Margaritaville") subtitled his compilation, Jimmy Buffett's Greatest Hit(s). Madonna provocatively titled hers The Immaculate Collection.

Some artists just have to be different. Celine Dion called her compilation All The Way...A Decade Of Song. Bon Jovi called theirs Cross Road. Both have sold very well, but I bet Bon Jovi's album would have sold even better if it had called Bon Jovi's Greatest Hits. Those are magical words that everybody knows. Cross Road, not so much.

Eleven of these 27 albums were released prior to 1991, which means they have sold even more than the Nielsen SoundScan tally indicates. Three of these albums were released way back in 1976. Creedence Clearwater Revival's Chronicle (The 20 Greatest Hits) and Eagles/Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 were both released that February. James Taylor's Greatest Hits followed that November.

Here are the 27 greatest hits albums that are included on Nielsen SoundScan's running list of the best-selling albums in its history (which dates to 1991). The chart reference is to the highest position the album has reached on The Billboard 200. The "key hits" are the album's two highest-charting hits on the Hot 100 (shown in chronological order). "Top 200 ranking" refers to the album's ranking on Nielsen SoundScan's running list of the 200 best-selling albums in its history.

1. The Beatles, 1, 11,821,000. This 2000 album logged eight weeks at #1. Key hits: "I Want To Hold Your Hand," "Hey Jude." Top 200 ranking: #6.

2. Bob Marley & the Wailers, Legend, 10,600,000. This 1984 release is the best-selling greatest hits album by an act that never had a top 40 hit. The album initially peaked at #54 but has climbed as high as #26 since catalog albums became eligible to appear on The Billboard 200 in late 2009. None of the songs cracked the Hot 100 (!), but "Exodus" "bubbled under" the chart at #103. Top 200 ranking: #12.

3. Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Greatest Hits, 9,062,000. This 1994 album peaked at #8. Surprisingly, the album doesn't include Seger's two highest-charting hits, "Shakedown" and "Shame On The Moon." Key hits: "Night Moves," "Still The Same." Top 200 ranking: #27.

4. Celine Dion, All The Way...A Decade Of Song, 7,968,000. This 1999 release is the best-selling greatest hits album by a female artist. It spent three weeks at #1. Key hits: "Because You Loved Me," "I'm Your Angel" (a duet with R. Kelly). Top 200 ranking: #42.

5. Journey, Greatest Hits, 7,925,000. This 1988 album peaked at #10. "Don't Stop Believin'" has become a phenomenon. Key hits: "Who's Crying Now," "Open Arms." Top 200 ranking: #43.

6. Garth Brooks, The Hits, 7,821,000. This 1994 release is the best-selling greatest hits album by a country artist. It's also the best-seller by a male solo artist. It logged eight weeks at #1. Surprisingly, none of the songs made the Hot 100. Key country hits: "Friends In Low Places," "What She's Doing Now." Top 200 ranking: #44.

7. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Greatest Hits, 7,464,000. This 1993 album peaked at #5. Key hits: "Don't Do Me Like That," "Free Fallin'." Top 200 ranking: #55.

8. James Taylor, Greatest Hits, 6,956,000. This 1976 album peaked at #23. Key hits: "Fire And Rain," "You've Got A Friend." Top 200 ranking: #66.

9. Queen, Greatest Hits, 6,888,000. This 1992 album peaked at #11, boosted by the appearance of "Bohemian Rhapsody" in Wayne's World earlier that year. An earlier edition of the album, also titled Greatest Hits, reached #14 in 1981. Key hits: "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," "Another One Bites The Dust." Top 200 ranking: #68.

10. Jimmy Buffett, Songs You Know By Heart-Jimmy Buffett's Greatest Hit(s), 6,494,000. This 1985 album peaked at #100. Key hits: "Come Monday," "Margaritaville." Top 200 ranking: #75.

11. Tim McGraw, Greatest Hits, 6,137,000. This 2000 album peaked at #4. Key hits: "It's Your Love" (with Faith Hill), "Please Remember Me." Top 200 ranking: #86.

12. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chronicle (The 20 Greatest Hits), 6,001,000. This 1976 album originally peaked at #99, but it has climbed as high as #67 since catalog albums became eligible to appear on The Billboard 200. Key hits: "Proud Mary," "Travelin' Band." Top 200 ranking: #97.

13. Madonna, The Immaculate Collection, 5,817,000. This 1990 album peaked at #2. Key hits: "Like A Virgin," "Vogue." Top 200 ranking: #105.

14. Alan Jackson, The Greatest Hits Collection, 5,772,000. This 1995 album peaked at #5. Key hits: "Chattahoochee," "Livin' On Love." Top 200 ranking: #107.

15. Eagles, Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, 5,453,000. This 1976 album logged five weeks at #1. (The RIAA credits it with U.S. shipments of 29 million copies, a tally matched only by Michael Jackson's Thriller.) Key hits: "Best Of My Love," "One Of These Nights." Top 200 ranking: #123.

16. Steve Miller Band, Greatest Hits 1974-78, 5,443,000. The 1978 album peaked at #18. Key hits: "The Joker," "Rock'n Me." Top 200 ranking: #124.

17. Aerosmith, Aerosmith's Greatest Hits, 5,331,000. This 1980 album peaked at #53. The durable band had a strong second act in the '80s and '90s, which helped this album keep selling. Key hits: "Dream On," "Walk This Way." Top 200 ranking: #130.

18. Abba, Gold-Greatest Hits, 5,293,000. This 1993 release is the best-selling greatest hits album by a mixed-gender group. The album peaked at #63, but the phenomenal success of Mamma Mia! gave it a long life. Key hits: "Dancing Queen," "Take A Chance On Me." Top 200 ranking: #132.

19. Van Morrison, The Best Of Van Morrison, 5,092,000. This 1990 album peaked at #41. Key hits: "Brown Eyed Girl," "Domino." Top 200 ranking: #148.

20. Guns N' Roses, Greatest Hits, 5,048,000. This 2004 album peaked at #3. Key hits: "Sweet Child O' Mine," "November Rain." Top 200 ranking: #152.

21. Def Leppard, Vault: Greatest Hits 1980-1995, 5,020,000. This 1995 album peaked at #15. Key hits: "Pour Some Sugar On Me," "Love Bites." Top 200 ranking: #153.

22. Bon Jovi, Cross Road, 4,951,000. This 1994 album peaked at #8. Key hits: "Livin' On A Prayer," "Bad Medicine." Top 200 ranking: #158.

23. 2Pac, Greatest Hits, 4,848,000. This 1998 release is the best-selling greatest hits album by a rap or hip-hop artist. It peaked at #3. Key hits: "California Love" (featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman), "How Do U Do It" (featuring K-Ci & JoJo). Top 200 ranking: #165.

24. Elvis Presley, Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits, 4,764,000. This 2002 release is the best-selling greatest hits album by an artist whose career dates to the 1950s. It spent three weeks at #1. Key hits: "Don't Be Cruel," "Hound Dog." Top 200 ranking: #176.

25. Lenny Kravitz, Greatest Hits, 4,634,000. This 2000 album peaked at #2. Key hits: "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over," "Again." Top 200 ranking: #191.

26. Michael Jackson, Number Ones, 4,615,000. This 2003 release is the best-selling greatest hits album by an R&B artist (though of course Jackson was more than that). It peaked at #13, though it was the best-selling album for six weeks in the summer of 2009, following Jackson's death. Key hits: "Billie Jean," "Black Or White." Top 200 ranking: #194.

27. Eric Clapton, Time Pieces/The Best Of Eric Clapton, 4,521,000. This 1982 release peaked at #101, lower than any other album on this list. Key hits: "I Shot The Sheriff," "Lay Down Sally." Top 200 ranking: #200.

Post Script: Three of these albums are also included on Nielsen SoundScan's running list of the 100 best-selling digital albums of all time. Journey's Greatest Hits has sold 515K digital copies. Bob Marley & the Wailers' Legend has sold 412K. CCR's Chronicle has sold 354K. (Digital sales are of course included in the overall tallies.)

Nineteen of these 27 artists haven't had another top 10 hit since the release of these albums. (I'm discounting songs that were released from these albums). But there are some notable exceptions. Madonna has had 15 top 10 hits since the release of The Immaculate Collection. Aerosmith has had six top 10 hits (including their only #1, "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing") since the release of Aerosmith's Greatest Hits. Eagles have had five (including what most consider their master work, "Hotel California") since the release of Eagles/Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975Eric Clapton has had two (including perhaps his most famous song, "Tears In Heaven") since the release of Time Pieces/The Best Of Eric Clapton.

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