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FRIDAY JAM: Classic rock albums shine on like diamonds

More than 100 LPs rack up sales that surpass 10 million

Thriller — Michael Jackson (Special photo)

Thriller — Michael Jackson (Special photo)

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21 — Adele (Special photo)

In the days just before digital downloads surpassed ownership of physical recordings as the most popular method of collecting recorded music, five musical albums released in a roughly 24-month period in 2000-02 sold more than 1.3 million copies each in their first weeks of release.

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The most popular of those albums — ‘N Sync’s “No Strings Attached” — sold an astounding 2,415,859 copies in its first seven days in record stores. To prove it was no fluke, the popular boy band sold 1,879,955 copies of its followup, “Celebrity,” a year later. Eminem’s 2000 “The Marshall Mathers LP” sold 1,760,049 units in its initial week of release; ‘N Sync’s boy-band rivals Backstreet Boys sold 1,591,191 of their 2001 hit “Black and Blue,” and Slim Shady sold 1,321,799 copies of his 2002 album, “The Eminem Show.”

DIAMOND MUSIC: The top-selling albums of all time.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the recorded LP boom — from the mid-’70s to the mid-’90s — two albums, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and The Eagles’ “Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975),” sold 29 million copies each in the United States.

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Born in the USA — Bruce Springtseen (Special photo)

Shortly after the turn of the 21st century, though, album sales in this country, as Cat Stevens sang, “Faded away like your daddy’s best jeans.”

British pop sensation Adele has sold 10.86 million physical copies of her 2011 smash “21,” and both Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga had million-plus opening-week sales of recent LPs (Swift 1,208,000 copies of “Red” in 2012 and Gaga 1,108,100 of her “Born This Way” in 2011). But those recent figures are rarities, borne of the immense popularity of a given artist at a given period of time.

Undeniably, the heyday of the album has long since come and gone.

Recorded music’s most popular format now is easily the digital single, with 1.26 billion units of sale in 2013. Album sales, meanwhile, fell that year to a low of 289.4 million units (6 million of which were vinyl LPs), and only 13 albums achieved platinum status for sales of 1 million copies.

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Dark Side of the Moon — Pink Floyd (Special photo)

The popularity of the digital single mirrors the formative years of the rock and roll era, generally considered to have started in 1955 when Bill Haley & the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” became the first rock song to top the pop charts. It wasn’t until the late ’60s, though, when the Beatles released arguably the two most influential albums in the history of music — 1967’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and 1968’s “The Beatles” (the so-called “White Album”) — that vinyl LPs replaced singles as music collectors’ most popular purchases.

The compact disc replaced vinyl albums as the dominant musical format in the early 1980s, but album sales (on vinyl and CD) continued to soar through most of the ’90s. In fact, collectors’ upgrade from vinyl to CD actually sparked a continued boom in LP sales and gave many long-out-of-print — now classic — albums new life. But the digital revolution of the early 2000s has all but killed album sales, sending numbers of some of the best LPs ever made to disappointingly piddling levels.

But before albums rode off into the sunset, they left an indelible mark on music lovers that has endured through a number of subsequent generations. It’s rare even today to find rock musicians who aren’t intimately familiar with “Led Zeppelin II” or Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” or hip-hop artists who don’t owe a measure of gratitude to Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book” or Prince’s “Purple Rain.”

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Ropin’ the Wind — Garth Brooks (Special photo)

In the period before fans decided they preferred their music in smaller portions, billions of albums were sold. Starting with “Thriller” and “Their Greatest Hits,” slightly more than 100 of those albums have been certified by the Recording Industry Association of America as “diamond” albums. Diamond certification, logically, follows “gold” sales (initially a million copies, but altered in 1976 to account for sales of 500,000 units after the introduction of the “platinum” designation to signify 1 million in sales). Diamond certification marks the sale of an astounding 10 million units.

The all-time Top 10 among the diamond releases are 1. “Thriller” (29 million); 1. “Their Greatest Hits” (29 million); 3. “Led Zeppelin IV” (23 million); 3. Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” (23 million); 5. AC/DC’s “Back in Black” (22 million); 6. Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” (20.5 million); 7. Shania Twain’s “Come on Over” (20 million); 8. Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” (19 million); 8. The Beatles’ “White Album” (19 million) and 10. Guns n’ Roses’ “Appetite for Destruction” (18 million).

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Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — The Beatles (Special photo)

“Sgt. Pepper,” released in June of 1967, was the earliest released album to eventually earn diamond status, and Adele’s “21,” released at the end of 2011, is the latest. In between are LPs that managed to stir the passions — and open the pocketbooks — of music lovers, becoming must-have collectors’ items. (A list of the 76 albums that have sold significantly more than the 10 million required for diamond certification is provided.)

Not surprisingly, rock music’s greatest act has the largest number of diamond albums. Starting with 1967’s “Sgt. Pepper” (11 million) and including the 19 million-selling “White Album,” as well as 11 million in sales of their 2000 hits collection “1,” the Beatles have six diamond albums to their credit. Others among their collection include the hits packages “The Beatles 1967-70” and “The Beatles 1962-66,” which sold 17 million and 15 million copies, respectively, after being released in 1973, and the 12 million-selling “Abbey Road” from 1969.

Right behind the Fab Four with five diamond albums each are heavy metal masters Led Zeppelin and country superstar Garth Brooks. In addition to the No. 3-selling “IV” (23 million copies of the 1971 release), Zeppelin’s diamond hits include 1975’s “Physical Graffiti” (16 million), 1969’s “II” (12 million), 1973’s “Houses of the Holy” (11 million) and the 1990 “Led Zeppelin Box Set” (10 million).

Brooks sold 17 million copies of his 1990 hit “No Fences” and 14 million of his 1991 follow-up “Ropin’ the Wind.” His other hits include 10 million-sellers “Garth Brooks” (1989), “The Hits” (1994) and “Sevens” (1997).

In addition to the 20 million-selling “Come on Over,” country star Twain also scored diamond sales for 1995’s “The Woman in Me” (12 million) and 2002’s “Up!” (11 million). The Eagles’ other diamond releases include “Hotel California” from 1976 (16 million) and “Eagles Greatest Hits Volume II” from 1982 (11 million).

Eminem (“Marshall Mathers LP,” “Eminem Show”), Billy Joel (“The Stranger,” “Greatest Hits Volume I & II”), Backstreet Boys (“Backstreet Boys,” “Millennium”), ‘N Sync (“‘N Sync,” “No Strings Attached”), Celine Dion (“Falling Into You,” “Let’s Talk About Love”), Madonna (“Like a Virgin,” “The Immaculate Collection”), The Dixie Chicks (“Wide Open Spaces,” “Fly”), Britney Spears (“…Baby, One More Time,” “Oops!…I Did It Again”), Bruce Springsteen (“Born in the USA,” “Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band Live 1975-85”), Mariah Carey (“Music Box,” “Daydream”), Van Halen (“Van Halen,” “1984”), Def Leppard (“Hysteria,” “Pyromania”) and Pink Floyd (“Dark Side of the Moon,” “The Wall”) are the other artists with multiple diamond albums.

Led by 1992’s “The Bodyguard,” with 17 million in sales, and 1977’s “Saturday Night Fever,” which sold 15 million, six soundtrack albums cracked the diamond list. Others making the grade are 1994’s “Forrest Gump” (12 million), 1998’s “Titanic” (11 million), 1988’s “Dirty Dancing” (11 million) and 1994’s “The Lion King” (10 million). Since British superstar Sir Elton John contributed most of the music to the “Lion King” soundtrack, he should receive credit for multiple diamond status. His “Greatest Hits” from 1974 racked up 16 million in sales.

Joining Adele with a recent diamond release are hip-hop great 2Pac, whose posthumous “Greatest Hits” release in 2011 has sold 10 million copies, and R&B star Usher, whose 2004 album “Confessions” has sold 10.02 million copies. Even the king of rock and roll has gotten in on the diamond jubilee, Elvis Presley’s posthumous 2011 “Elvis’ Christmas Album” racking up 10 million in sales.