In the past, major labels had no problem at all releasing not only the Michael Jacksons of the world (this is a massive list, folks), but also the music that may not have attracted a massive following, but definitely an appreciative one.
This is of varying degrees. For example, Michael Jackson, the self-appointed King of Pop, sold many millions of albums. Each album generated a selection of bonafide hits. It is easily understandable why a label would want to continue releasing this kind of success. Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, etc, etc.
Then there are the moderately successful bands and artists. They still sold albums into the millions but amazingly not the numbers of Jackson or a Mariah Carey. This would include The Rolling Stones, who may have sold around a few million copies of a particular album. But when you realize the sheer amount of people in the world at the time of their popularity, why not more? In fact, why would 15 million units for say, Goats Head Soup, be a difficult number to achieve? Yet it was. The Rolling Stones, while considered wildly popular, amazingly influential, never rose much above several million copies of any one of their titles, except for maybe Some Girls.
What’s the big deal, Matt? Well, when you realize how many albums Michael Jackson sold of Thriller, you really have to wonder how a popular band like the Stones couldn’t replicate that kind of sales number. Is there THAT much variance in taste that only several million fans can profess enough love to buy a Stones album, or a Beatles album, or others like these, and yet a much larger group of people have no qualms about spending that cash for a Michael Jackson album?
And then there are the cult bands. These bands never sold a million albums. They may have delivered half a million units into households. Still, labels gave these bands plenty of room to grow. There are a ton of these bands. Wishbone Ash, early J Geils, The Cult, and on, and on.
Then, of course, there are the bands that would only sell 250,000 units or less, and yet still received enough affection that they were kept on rosters.
This is in no way a knock on Michael Jackson, or Mariah Carey. It is certainly not a bash at Pop, nor is it an indictment of “misguided” appeal. I just find it amazing that a band like The Stones, or Jethro Tull, at their peak, could only move a million albums, and sometimes, even after decades can’t move some titles past a million.
The psychology of music appreciation is a mind-boggling one for me. At a very early age, this used to make me wonder. And I still think on this from time to time, marveling all the while of the kind of allure a Pop artist can hold over an audience, while a popular band can still only move a fraction of their “classics”.
Or did I ramble too much?
Let’s talk about this.