Best selling albums of the 90s
As with most decades, music underwent something or a metamorphosis back in the 90s. While pop was still around, variations on the theme included indie, dance, Britpop and grunge. So what were the best selling albums of the 90s in the UK? And how does that compare with the UK top 10?
The Madchester music scene also had its heyday during the 90s. Mainstream music became more edgy, with slick dance tunes and grungy indie tracks hitting the top of the charts. I lived and studied in Salford and worked in a seminal Manchester club and music venue during this time, yet it’s only now that I really appreciate that I witnessed music history first-hand.
So how does the list of the top selling albums of the 90s in the UK compare with the list of 80s album best sellers? Do Madonna, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston or Queen make the grade again? What about 90s bands like Blur, Pulp, Oasis, Nirvana or The Verve? Our very own Elton John?
What about in the US? Is the list the same, or entirely different? Are there any of the same 90s LPS on there, or are there no crossovers at all?
I can reveal that I have owned exactly half of the UK’s best selling albums of the 1990s – at some point or other. Whether these are musically the best albums of the 1990s is debatable – but here they are. The top selling albums of the 1990s, from ten to one.
As for the US list, I don’t fare so well. All will be revealed in due course…
Best selling albums of the 90s contents
- The UK top 10 albums of the 90s
- The US top 10 albums of the 90s
The Top Ten Best Selling Albums of the 90s in the UK
Unlike with the 80s list – which is the post I wrote immediately before this – the number one best selling album of the 90s was no surprise at all. Number six though – really?
10. Falling Into You – Celine Dion
It’s not a good start – for me, as I’m not a fan. I don’t mind ballads, but I just find Celine a bit bland. Sorry, Ms Dion, but your voice hasn’t got that all-encompassing quality of Whitney’s, for example.
I may be alone, however. This is still one of the top of all time in terms of album sales. If you like love songs, then you certainly won’t be disappointed in Because You Loved Me, the title track or Dreamin’ Of You.
As well as in the UK, Falling Into You made number one in Australia, the US, France, Canada and numerous other countries. Despite its success, I’ll leave you with this – music critics were, apparently, divided on this one.
View Celine Dion: Falling Into You here
9. ABBA Gold
One of two compilations in the best albums of the 1990s – in terms of sales, at least. I remember seeing an ABBA tribute during Fresher’s Fortnight in the early 1990s. (And that’s not a typo – my alma mater did indeed host two weeks of early term partying instead of one.)
ABBA Gold is one of the albums I’ve owned on CD since the 90s – and still do. What’s not to love? Waterloo will always make me think of the Australian film Muriel’s Wedding. I was tempted to come down the aisle to I do, I do, I do, as Muriel/Mariel did, but I suspect there might not have been a wedding at all. Mister hates ABBA.
Love them or loathe them, there’s no denying the timeless and almost universal appeal of one of Sweden’s best-known exports.
See ABBA Gold here
8. Urban Hymns – The Verve
The Verve’s third album differs from Celine Dion’s top ten entry in so many ways. Not least because it was critically acclaimed. It was one of the UK’s best sellers of 1997 – despite not being released until the end of September. Worldwide, over 10 million copies have sold.
In 2010, Urban Hymns was nominated by The Brits as one of the top albums of the past three decades. Only ten were on the shortlist for that accolade, and The Verve actually lost out to the number one best seller on this list.
Bitter Sweet Symphony and The Drugs Don’t Work are the best known tracks. I like both – but not enough to have ever owned this one. Like Radiohead, I simply found The Verve’s music a bit depressing for me. Good music – I can appreciate that – just not much to my taste.
View The Verve: Urban Hymns here
7. The Immaculate Collection – Madonna
Here she is – star of the 80s best sellers’ list – True Blue came in at number 10 on that. Madonna surpassed herself with her play on the Immaculate Conception. Like ABBA Gold, The Immaculate Collection is a greatest hits.
Madonna is the only artist to feature albums in the top ten best sellers of those two consecutive decades – the 80s and the 90s. It’s one Mister and I both owned, so after combining our CD collections we gave one away to a lucky pal.
Two new tracks were added to the album alongside classics like Like A Virgin, Material Girl, Like A Prayer, Vogue and Papa Don’t Preach. Justify My Love and Rescue Me comprised the new material. Both have more of a 90s feel than the other tracks, many of which date back to the previous decade.
See Madonna: The Immaculate Collection here
Next in the top selling albums of the 1990s list is this. Robson and Jerome by Robson and Jerome. Never underestimate the charm of a twinkly-eyed Northumbrian, that’s all I’m saying. (Not only because I also hail from England’s most Northern county.)
Whatever you make of it, Robson and Jerome’s self-titled album was 1995’s best seller. It was the Christmas number one LP too, so over two million people who bought this – in the UK, in that year – can’t be wrong. Can they?
View Robson and Jerome here
5. Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morissette
Now we’re talking. The second Canadian to make this list is Alanis Morissette, whose musical style takes on the more grungy tones typical of 90s music.
There are some brilliant lyrics in here. ‘It was a slap in the face. How quickly I was replaced. And are you thinking of me when you *bleep* her?’ Also the story of poor old ‘Mr Play-It-Safe… afraid to fly’.
Jagged Little Pill is one top selling album of the 90s with good reason. Satisfying, ground-breaking and it still sounds great.
See Alanis Morissette: Jagged Little Pill here
4. Talk on Corners – The Corrs
An artist whose album scored in the 80s top ten may be to thank, in part, for the Corrs’ commercial success. Mick Fleetwood joined them in performing Dreams – written by Stevie Nicks – and the song then became their first top ten single.
I was surprised to learn that this record spent 10 weeks at number one. It also, apparently, remains one of the UK’s top sellers ever. I see the attraction – they’re one beautiful set of siblings. Musically, really not my cup of tea.
View The Corrs: Talk On Corners here
3. Spice – The Spice Girls
I kind of missed Spicemania. As the hype surrounding Baby, Ginger, Posh, Scary and Sporty took off I was on the other side of the world, having a year in Australia.
My memories of it are thus blended with the Labour party’s landslide victory of 1997. I just remember seeing Tony and Cherie Blair waving from the steps of number 10 Downing Street, interspersed with images of Victoria in black, Mel B looking like a rocker, Emma in pink and pigtails, Mel C in a tracksuit and Geri in the shortest Union Flag dress possible.
The Spice Girls were somewhat manufactured – a little like their 80s predecessors from the Stock, Aitken and Waterman stable. Kylie being the most famous case in point. A music manager advertised for fame-hungry girls who could sing and dance, and ended up with five. Emma Bunton was in fact a last-minute replacement when one of the original line-up dropped out.
The video for Wannabe is renowned for looking like one continuous take, although apparently there are minimal – and barely visible – edits. My favourite is Who Do You Think You Are? I didn’t like it quite enough to buy Spice, however. Which was, incidentally, their very first album.
See The Spice Girls: Spice here
2. Stars – Simply Red
I loved Simply Red back in the day, and had Stars on vinyl as well as seeing the band live in Manchester during my first year of university. Thoroughly enjoyable as I recall. Not least as my mate and I had massive crushes on Mick Hucknall at the time. (Must have been because his hair and name reminded me of Michael Hutchence. That’s what I’m thinking now, anyway.)
To give him his due, Mick Hucknall wrote – or at least co-wrote – every track on the album. That ruby tooth was also pretty unusual. As was his long ginger hair in tumbling, spiral curls.
They’re not a band I still listen to, but I have very fond memories. Put it this way – I wouldn’t ask Alexa to skip their songs, but it wouldn’t normally occur to me to request them, either.
View Simply Red: Stars here
1. (What’s The Story) Morning Glory – Oasis
It may have been the Spice Girls whose hype was compared to Beatlemania – but if any artist or band in this list truly echoes the Fab Four in any way then it has to be Oasis.
The first place Oasis ever played live was a club called the Boardwalk in Manchester – a venue where I served drinks and mopped up at the end of the night during my student days of the early to mid 90s. Alas, I wasn’t present for that gig.
Other bands of the 90s vied for pole position, but Oasis stole the crown. The Gallagher brothers had a long-standing rivalry with Blur, and other successful bands of the time such as Pulp, The Verve and Radiohead also gave them a good run for their money.
This album, though, is an absolute classic. Revered by the public and critics alike. I love She’s Electric as well as the swaying crowd, cigarette lighter anthems Don’t Look Back In Anger and of course Champagne Supernova. Of the best 90s CDs I owned, this is numero uno.
Can I look back in anger, though, when I see how close I may have come to witnessing their very first gig? That took place in summer 1991, but I didn’t start studying at Salford University until autumn 1992. More’s the pity.
See Oasis: (What’s The Story) Morning Glory here
The Top Ten Best Selling Albums of the 90s in the US
10. Backstreet Boys – Backstreet Boys
This is the first of the Backstreet Boys’ albums to make it onto the US top ten 90s albums. This mega boy band were clearly massive stateside, but I’m not really familiar with this stuff from them.
Maybe I’ll have better luck with number 4?
See Backstreet Boys: Backstreet Boys here
9. Double Live – Garth Brooks
I’m not sure if I’m alone in this, but here in the UK I tend to forget that many Americans are into country music. It’s not really such a thing over here. To us, Garth is the faithful sidekick in Wayne’s World.
Billy Ray Cyrus did score a hit in 1992 with Achy Breaky Heart, however, which led to a surge of interest in line dancing.
It’s good to see a live album making the list – there’s no LP on earth I love more than Live Baby Live by INXS. Nor any man I love more than Mr Hutchence, but don’t tell Mister 😉
See Garth Brooks: Double Live here
8. Cracked Rear View – Hootie & the Blowfish
Wow. I’m surprised by how different the UK and US lists are for the top 90s albums. While I’ve heard of Hootie and the Blowfish, I couldn’t name a single song. Sorry about that :/
See Hootie & the Blowfish: Cracked Rear View here
7. Human Clay – Creed
Ditto… I know next to nothing about Creed. Love the name of The Bicycle Music Company, though.
See Creed: Human Clay here
6. Supernatural – Santana
Hurrah for Santana! Not only do I know their music, I actually own this one on CD myself. I bought it in Bali, in fact, in 2000, lugging it all the way back to Britain because music was much cheaper over there.
I love Smooth, and in fact the whole album is great for creating that Latin party atmosphere.
See Santana: Supernatural here
5. The Bodyguard – Various artists
Now we really are entering familiar territory. I have lots of fond memories of listening to Whitney Houston songs with my cousin, aunt and uncle. My best mate when I was at uni in the 90s also adored The Bodyguard.
Seriously, she must have watched it every week. Maybe more. What a voice. I take the fact that Mister doesn’t rate Whitney’s vocal as proof positive that he’s also wrong about my own pipes (he doesn’t rate my vocal chords either).
See The Bodyguard soundtrack here
4. Millenium – Backstreet Boys
Yay! Larger Than Life, I Want It That Way… I know them! Presumably BB were doing better in the UK by the time this one came out…
See Backstreet Boys: Millenium here
3. Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morissette
The only one to make both top ten lists is Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette. How I’d love to be the beneficiary of her royalties account. I love this one, and own it on CD too.
See Alanis Morissette: Jagged Little Pill here
2. Come On Over – Shania Twain
Sorry, America, but I find it hard to believe that your very own Madonna – whose Immaculate Collection is number 7 on our list – is missing, but Shania Twain is present and correct.
She’s OK, but, for me – nothing to write home about.
See Shania Twain: Come On Over here
1. Metallica – Metallica
That’s more like it. Says Mister, and for once I tend to agree. I adore Enter Sandman – who can resist a bit of moshing to that? We have this on CD.
Nothing Else Matters is a great track too. One of the black album’s finest. And what better name for a heavy metal band?
See Metallica: Metallica here
Which are the best 90s albums?
They may have been the top selling albums in a decade of United Kingdom music history, but with one American and two Canadian solo artists plus one Irish and one Swedish band in the list, only half of the UK top ten are British acts.
Music was big business in the 90s, and The Spice Girls really encapsulated that. If airtime is anything to go by, Madonna, Oasis and ABBA are the three of the above whose 90s albums have really stood the test of time.
Singles charts often indicate short-term trends, but it is album sales that really show longevity. The album chart may not have been the most listened to at the time, but it can prove a real marker of a decade’s most popular music. Those LPs that will be played over and over again, and can still see crowds of fans united as one.
- Best 90s party compilations
- Best 90s dance compilations
- Top selling 80s albums
- Best 90s indie albums
- Greatest 90s bands
- 90s Eurovision winners
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