For nearly a decade, the Eagles' "Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975" has been the recording industry's ultimate evergreen release, certified by the RIAA as the all-time best-selling album in the United States. But thanks to continued robust demand for Michael Jackson's catalog since his June 25 death, "Thriller" appears on the verge of matching "Their Greatest Hits," at least in the eyes of the industry trade group.
In March, the Recording Industry Association of America certified "Thriller" as 28 times platinum, meaning that at least 28 million copies of the album have been shipped since its 1982 release. That's just a notch behind the Eagles' hits compilation, which was released in 1976 and was certified 29 times platinum in 2006.
Billboard estimates that the posthumous surge in Jackson's sales and Sony Music Entertainment's efforts to push Jackson CDs into the distribution pipeline have likely propelled shipments of Jackson product, if not yet sales, beyond the 29 million-unit mark in the United States.
Amid the recent explosion in Jackson sales, "Thriller" has enjoyed the second-biggest sales bump in his catalog, just behind the hits collection "Number Ones." During the three weeks that ended July 12, "Thriller" sold 552,000 U.S. copies, for year-to-date sales of 608,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Strong sales to continueMost industry executives believe that the most recent SoundScan week -- which included the widely watched memorial service for Jackson at the Staples Center in Los Angeles -- will mark a posthumous weekly peak for Jackson sales. They also expect sales to wind down slowly in the next few months, which means sales will remain strong. In the week ended July 12, Jackson's album catalog sold a combined 1.1 million copies, up from nearly 800,000 in the preceding week and 422,000 in the week he died.
"Thriller" and "Their Greatest Hits" were instant hits. The RIAA first certified "Thriller" platinum in January 1983, just two months after its release, while "Their Greatest Hits" was certified platinum in February 1976, mere days after it arrived.
Propelled by groundbreaking videos for the singles "Billie Jean," "Beat It" and the title track, "Thriller" reached the 20 million certification milestone in October 1984, becoming the RIAA's top-selling album of all time. The album's next RIAA certification, at 21 times platinum, came in May 1990. The RIAA's certification of "Thriller" as 28 times platinum in March came 13 months after Sony's release of a deluxe 25th-anniversary edition of the album.
The RIAA's second certification of shipments of the Eagles' "Their Greatest Hits" didn't occur until August 1990, when it certified the release as 12 times platinum. The RIAA couldn't immediately explain why the album wasn't certified at earlier platinum milestones, or why it was next certified at 14 times platinum in December 1993, and for 22 times in June 1995, despite U.S. sales of only 919,000 during that period. When the RIAA certified "Their Greatest Hits" as 26 times platinum in November 1999, it unseated "Thriller" at the top of the RIAA's all-time ranking.
Since being certified as 29 times platinum in January 2006, "Their Greatest Hits" has sold 404,000 copies, including 33,000 this year and 115,000 in 2008.
Representatives at Sony and Warner Music Group, which distributes "Their Greatest Hits," declined to comment.