500 Million Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong, Or Can They?
By: Tony Galvin
Source: Elvis Australia
December 4, 2004 - 2:13:00 PM
For many years now I along with Brian Quinn & Kelvin Wilson have been trying to shed light on this thorny issue and unfortunately just as many questions have been thrown up by our research as answers. I would like to give you a quick rundown on what has come to light regarding the sales issue particularly in relation to Elvis US album sales, of which there are supposed to somewhere in the region of 600 million by all accounts. This is my own opinion on the sales issue, Brian & Kelvin may have a completely different interpretation.
Firstly I sincerely want to believe that the figure (600 million US Sales) touted by BMG & the Estate is accurate and I set out with the intention of getting as close to this figure as possible. EIN's Nigel Patterson who has worked very hard on this issue and is as good a fan as you could possibly get, took a lot of flak when he simply pointed out that there did not seem to be enough hard data out there to back up the figure claimed and accepted by the Elvis world in general. His loyalty was questioned by some fans on internet forums because he wanted this claim backed up by factual evidence which in turn could be used to further enhance Elvis credibility in the music world. Nigel penned a fine article on this subject some years ago and many valid points were made. I would like to put out in this article the US sales data that we feel is important and might help build a circumstantial case towards the 600 million figure but from what I ve been able to come across the evidence is far from conclusive.
Basically the official story is that Elvis has sold one billion plus units worldwide which was first claimed as early as 1981. This is made up of 600 million US Sales and 400 million sales for the rest of the world. To back this up we essentially have the official RIAA sales certifications giving Elvis just under 120 million sales in the US. Other than that all we seem to have is an article printed in the official Elvis site stating why BMG & the Estate feel Elvis has sold another 480 million albums in the US. Some of the points made were valid and I will look at them a little later but it was conjecture rather than solid fact. We are all aware of the sales claims for the year after Elvis died as well as the fact that there are many albums not covered by the RIAA certifications. Many of you will also be aware of the RIAA method of counting which doesn t allow for sales up to or between milestones. (for example sales up to 499,999 are not counted) This it must be said affects all artists but it is especially hard on Elvis due to the sheer number of album releases in his catalogue. They are some of the reasons why BMG would claim much higher sales for ELVIS but the question is just how many???
I would like to outline below the main facts that we uncovered relating to US sales. The sources we used were the usual suspects, Elvis magazines, BILLBOARD, CASHBOX, VARIETY, GOLDMINE, RCA/BMG press statements, RCA/BMG promotional trade leaflets, CD liner notes, on line interviews with the likes of Ernst Jorgensen & Michael Omansky, as well as books like WHEN ELVIS DIED / A TOUCH OF GOLD/ ELVIS No 1 s/ FOR CD FANS ONLY / SOLID GOLD ELVIS/ ELVIS INC / ALL ABOUT ELVIS / A LIFE IN MUSIC & many more from the 670 Elvis books in my collection. TIME magazine, NEWSWEEK also carried features on Elvis that included sales data, plus many US newspapers also carried stories with sales data much of which was pertaining to their local area especially after Elvis died. Statistics are also available from SOUNDSCAN regarding Elvis over the counter sales in the US. Also data from Joel Whitman who produces the US version of The GUINNESS BOOK OF HIT RECORDS has shed light on the US sales system. We have also come across some of the record plants used by RCA in 1977 when they needed the extra capacity to keep with demand. Also financial records relating to RCA post August 1977 are in the public domain that also throws light on the sales. What we have here is a complicated jigsaw puzzle where we only have half the pieces and because of this you can draw conclusions either way.
In looking at US album releases we have catalogue numbers for 426 Elvis releases from 1956 to the present. As well as those we have also 22 titles that we cannot as yet verify catalogue numbers for. They may well be variations on existing titles but again we cannot validate this. Of the 426 albums we found we have no genuine solid sales data for 212 releases. For some of these we can confidently speculate ballpark figures but this is where you start to lose perspective. We did not count re printed albums as different releases only new catalogue numbers.
On the official Elvis site there are a total of 81 albums certified by the RIAA meaning a total of 345 albums ARE TOTALLY UNACCOUNTED FOR. It is this massive number of albums that gives many of us our basis for belief in the 600 million figure. In total we have sales data mainly based on INITIAL FIRST YEAR SALES for some 131 titles excluding the RIAA certificated releases. These figures came mainly from RCA/BMG with for example many initial sales figures alluded to in the excellent book A LIFE IN MUSIC by Ernst Jorgensen as well as his ELVIS DAY BY DAY written with PETER GURALNICK. ( I will give you some examples later) Adding these figures to the official RIAA numbers I feel I can genuinely stand over a sales figure of 160,000,000, forty million added sales to the official total but still a long way to 600 million. The rest comes down to informed speculation.
There are areas where Elvis has lost sales that have been documented and this would also add to his overall total. For instance the RIAA came into being in late 1958 and all pre 59 sales for all artists have been excluded from the current listings. To my knowledge this situation still exists and the approximately five million album sales from 1956-58 that Elvis sold are not included in his RIAA certifications. To give a more definite example, RCA claimed that Elvis sold 2.75 million albums by the end of 1956. This was cited by RCA as well as reported in major US newspapers including the MIAMI HERALD. This figure also appeared in the book ELVIS DAY BY DAY quoting RCA sources and it also turned up on the sleeve notes for the album ELVIS 56 (1996). There were only two Elvis albums released in 1956 (ELVIS PRESLEY LPM 1254 & ELVIS LPM 1382) and between them they officially only have a gold award each. The official figures for these two albums were obviously understated and it is clear to me that these gold awards were based on post 1958 sales leaving nearly three million units out of the equation. Likewise early sales for LOVING YOU/ ELVIS GOLDEN RECORDS/ ELVIS XMAS ALBUM & KING CREOLE have been omitted from the RIAA certifications. That would bring another five million units into Elvis total sales.
With regards to Elvis uncertified movie albums there are widely accepted figures in the public domain that would put initial first year sales for just about all these albums well over the 350,000/375,000 mark. It would be safe to assume that with continuous availability, the 1977 sales boom (most of these movie albums had been re issued in early 77), as well as the transition to CD, all these albums are now hovering around the gold certification mark. In my 160 million figure I only included the initial sales given by the likes of Ernst Jorgensen in his superb book EP A LIFE IN MUSIC (ISBN 0-312-18572-3). As a BMG insider I would assume the figures he quoted are reliable. One thing that I am confused about is the various catalogue number changes, do the RIAA treat these releases as separate or are they all combined?
For example take the album GI BLUES, a platinum selling movie album only, but it sold 750,000 copies in it s first two months, 1.2 million copies by mid 1964 and it spent 111 weeks on the BILLBOARD HOT 100 ALBUM CHARTS. It also received three separate in house gold awards before 1969. ( more about these in house awards later). Released originally as LPM 2256 (MONO) & LSP 2256 (STEREO) in 1960, it also turned up as a four track KSP 3130 in 1966, an 8-TRACK also in 1966 P8S 1169 as well as on seven inch spool TP3 1052 also the same year. In 1968 it appeared on a double 8 TRACK P8S 5043 and two years later it turned up on cassette for the first time PK 1169. (RCA produced 50,000 initial units on cassette for seven Elvis releases in May 1970 according to BILLBOARD)
It was re issued early in 1977 as AFL1 2256 and was caught up in the massive sales surge after Elvis died. Again according to BILLBOARD this was one of the biggest sellers post 1977 even appearing on the official sales chart. In 1982 it moved to the BEST BUY budget series with a new catalogue number, AYL1 3735, issued on vinyl as well as cassette. (the BEST BUY SERIES was widely promoted in the States especially in the larger WALMART type stores and sales were significant but unfortunately not forthcoming from BMG. The first CD version appeared in 1988 as RCA 3735-2-R and there were four pressings of this disc with slight catalogue number changes, 3735-2-RRE & 3735-2-RRE-1. In 1997 the set was reissued on CD again with another new number 07863 66960-2 with eight new alternate takes added to the package. This according to the RIAA rules has to be treated as a new release as the number of tracks has increased by more than fifty per cent. To add to the confusion BMG issued a deluxe version of this set containing the same tracks but having a new catalogue number 07863 67460-2. There was also a cassette version of the former CD release under the number 07863 66960-4. It is impossible in my mind to believe that this set in all it s forms has not sold over two million copies, and probably much more, in the US given the sheer variety of releases as well as the very strong initial sales of 1.2 million by 1964. Also three in house gold awards (possibly awarded for dollar value) by RCA up to 1969 indicate continual healthy sales. To have not added a further half a million units over the next 35 years is inconceivable to me. There must have been a strong six figure sale for 1977 alone. I have been told but cannot confirm that one of the pressing plants contracted by RCA in 1977 to supply the massive demand for Elvis albums was the GREEN VALLEY RECORDS plant outside of Nashville Tennessee which had a capacity of 3000/5000 albums a day. This plant was supposed to have been contracted to produce only the GI BLUES album. For how long I do not know.
There is a similar story regarding new catalogue numbers as well as multiple formats for many of Elvis movie albums and I genuinely have difficulty believing that these albums have not managed to add an average of 100,000 odd sales in thirty years plus. If RCA/BMG kept these albums in continuous print for all that time they would have had to have sold less than 5000 copies a year to go over the gold mark. That begs the question what exactly is an economical pressing of an album? Would it be 500 or 5000 copies or more?? I myself would be inclined to believe the latter but it would shed a lot of light on Elvis sales if we had an answer to this question.
Another interesting film album from the sales point of view is FRANKIE & JOHNNY (ACL 7007). I believe it was the 1976 PICKWICK re issue of the soundtrack that received the PLATINUM award and it is also my belief that the sales of the original album LPM 3553 (approx 350,000 initial sales) are being treated separately. This brings me on to another point made by the ESTATE in their statement explaining why they think Elvis is the greatest selling artist and this is the disqualification of certain albums because the wholesale trade price dropped below what the RIAA considered the acceptable norm for an album release. The Estate cited the 900,000 plus sales of THE ELVIS CHRISTMAS ALBUM (CAL 2428) as an example. According to BILLBOARD nine Elvis budget albums were affected by this rule and as this titles were among the most popular of Elvis releases in the seventies there is potentially anywhere up to five million sales disqualified. This rule affected many other artists besides Elvis and I came across an article in a country music magazine that claimed a JIM REEVES Xmas album lost nearly 1.7million sales because of this rule. With the Xmas album gaining another platinum award in the last series of up grades, it is possible that the missing sales were now being applied or was the new award for new sales, I can t answer that myself other than to say that I have seen no indication anywhere to indicate that the RIAA has changed their policy on this issue. The Xmas album just mentioned is probably Elvis only chance for a diamond award for ten million sales and it would be nice to see this happen in the future.
Another sales related theme I want to return to is the issue of in house gold awards given internally by record companies. This seemingly was a common practice up to the early nineties and was commonly used by RCA and Elvis catalogue was received more than it s fair share. While not accepted by the RIAA it nonetheless seems to me to be a legitimate avenue to explore when looking at the sales issue. Why bother to issue an award if the album in question didn t sell sufficient quantities, I cannot imagine that RCA would claim extra sales if their financial records were to audited and they ended up paying royalties for sales that did not exist. From what we know of the shady dealings by RCA during Elvis lifetime that would be the last thing they would do. I have no idea just how many in house awards were given to Elvis catalogue but many albums would also have the official RIAA award so these releases are not that important in the scheme of things. It is the non certified albums that really interest and bit by bit the awards are turning up. For instance in the HARD ROCK CAF� in CHICAGO ILL. There is on the wall a gold award for the album ELVIS TODAY issued in 1977. At a JIMMY VELVET auction in 1998 I believe two in house gold awards for FRANKIE & JOHNNY as well as PARADISE HAWAIIAN STYLE were offered for sale. The awards were issued in 1968 & 1970 respectively. The JERRY OSBOURNE BOOK OF ELVIS & BEATLE COLLECTIBLES has a gold award for PROMISED LAND dated 1976. The book SOLID GOLD ELVIS has details on an in house gold award for the BEST BUY version of the album, HOW GREAT THOU ART (AQL1 3758). More of these awards turned up at the BONHAMS AUCTION and while most have now received official awards from the RIAA, these in house gold discs all date back to the seventies & early eighties. DOUBLE DYNAMITE had an award for $2,000,000 in sales as had the ELVIS XMAS album while THE 68 TV SPECIAL, the BOULEVARD album, OUR MEMORIES OF ELVIS and a TV advertised album called ELVIS (I believe this to be the BROOKVILLE RECORDS DPL 2 0056 released in 1973) had an award for 1,000,000 sales. The Elvis collector PAUL LICHTER always came up with a few of these awards including ones for FUN IN ACAPULCO/ POT LUCK & KISSING COUSINS which is very interesting. Obviously the RIAA are not going to accept these awards as proof even though they are most definitely genuine. It would appear that with the closure of many pressing plants by RCA in the mid to late eighties many of the sales data went with them. There appeared to be some outside help in documenting the sales for these in house gold awards with a company called CRANE MORRIS MARKETING responsible for the internal audit of at least some of the discs. In total I have come across 22 titles that received in house awards and I have no doubt that there are many more. What is most interesting is the seven titles that as yet have no official RIAA certification. That adds up to another 3.5 million sales to be added to the official total.
I mentioned the BROOKVILLE RECORDS TV advertised double album, ELVIS (DPL 2 0056) released in 1973 and this baby is to the US, the equivalent of what the 40 GREATEST HITS was to the UK. This was a monster seller over four years and was probably the best selling TV advertised compilation in the States during the 1970 s. Launched at the time with the largest ever advertising budget in the history of the industry Stateside, it is widely believed to have been a winner for everybody with some claims of sales nearing ten million. The most conservative estimate I have seen is 3.5million but unfortunately we really don t have any solid sales data as this type of release wasn t eligible for the charts at that time. What we do know however is that BROOKVILLE went on to re licence this album twice and followed up this release with another album called ELVIS IN HOLLYWOOD. (APL2 0168) in 1976. BROOKVILLE RECORDS announced at the time of release that they were spending 3.5 million dollars on TV advertising a record for that time and with inflation today the budget would be the equivalent of twenty five million dollars. It is conceded by everybody that this set was a lucrative venture especially for RCA & BROOKVILLE and if this was the case the sales would have to have been well above the five million mark if not higher. I would base this assertion on the cost of manufacture, distribution, over the counter retail margin, licence costs to RCA and the massive advertising budget. Based on a five dollar retail price BROOKVILLE would have had to sell over five million copies of the set to make a million dollars profit! At the time of Elvis death RCA reissued 100,000 special commemorative copies of this set in a gatefold gold vinyl numbered edition which flowed off the shelves at a retail price of eight dollars fifty. The set also turned up as part of a box set with two other TV advertised albums and again this package which was supposed to be for the Canadian market was widely available in both the US & Europe. The ROCKAWAY pressing plant in NEW JERSEY with a capacity of 60,000-80,000 albums a day was supposed to have exclusively concentrated on this album in the two months after Elvis died, according to BILLBOARD magazine.
Speaking of pressing plants the INDIANAPOLIS plant run by RCA was the largest in the States at the time of ELVIS death and had the capacity confirmed by a number of sources (BILLBOARD/ CASHBOX/ the book WHEN ELVIS DIED) of producing 250,000 albums a day. When Elvis died the plant went into a seven day shift that exclusively manufactured Elvis albums until Febuary 1978 (CASHBOX magazine). For the first two weeks/one month (I cannot confirm the time span) this pressing plant only manufactured copies of the album MOODY BLUE. Based on a two week cycle that would mean 3,500,000 copies of the album found it s way onto the market. Remember there were solid sales of MOODY BLUE particularly on the country market and sales up to Elvis death were running over 400,000 with perhaps another 100,000 copies still on the shelves. So what happened to the other two million copies, why is this album only certified double platinum? Again I do not have a set in stone answer but I believe that this plant manufactured this album for the CANADIAN market as well as the US. Sales of MOODY BLUE in Canada were much higher than probably anywhere else in the world as a proportion of population, with over 800,000 copies sold there in the year after Elvis died. (BILLBOARD) Also I also believe that the plant also supplied copies South of the border. As well as that there appeared to be a massive uptake of the album shipped to overseas bases for US troops in South Korea/ Japan/ Germany & the Philippines many of which found their way onto the civilian market. The US army at that time had changed from the draft system to an all volunteer army and as it is today there is a much higher percentage of soldiers from the South where the military tradition is strong. It seems that a high eight figure total of the album found it s way out of the country via the US army. That would account for three of the four million copies but as for the missing million they probably were lost to the pandemonium of the sales rush following Elvis death. To add to the above there was a vinyl reissue in 1985, a cassette reissue the same year, the first CD came out in 1988 with another CD reissue in 1991 and with had an upgrade a few years ago with tracks from the BOULEVARD added for completion. I firmly believe that the case for three to four million sales could be argued for this album, the figures seem to be there and that is excluding the sales that went abroad.
Much has been made of the massive sales that occurred when Elvis died, twenty million sold the day after, the week after, one hundred million sold in the year after he died etc., etc.. I have touted these figures off by heart many times to cite my case for Elvis being the top seller but it is the one area we really have very little data to work on. Judging by the RIAA awards for 1977-78 Elvis did indeed sell strongly but nothing to indicate anywhere near 100 million albums. In fact we are talking about RIAA certifications for approximately ten to fifteen million album sales, so where have all the other sales gone to??? Should we accept the RCA dictat that sales records were lost due to the massive rush to get the product on the shelves? What do we really know about those critical twelve months? Much is made of the fact that RCA had to subcontract out to approximately forty plants to keep pace with backorders. While this is true it has to be said that most of these pressing plants were small in dependants with limited capacity of 5000-10000 daily. Most were based in the South and were family run country labels. The twenty million records sold claim that has appeared in print often enough to be quoted religiously by fans (myself included) could not have happened as there would have been no more than a couple of million Elvis albums on the shelves the day he died. A more realistic figure appeared in BILLBOARD quoting an RCA executive, BILL RANDALL, who said that they shipped 8,000,000 albums the first week after Elvis died. This claim also appeared in the excellent book WHEN ELVIS DIED. He went on to say that they had the capacity to ship twenty million albums a week Stateside as long as the demand exists. There were many reports in BILLBOARD in the six months after Elvis died giving impressive sales figures across the entire Elvis catalogue. Perhaps that is the key to the whole sales question during this time. There were at least fifty eight Elvis titles fighting for attention during this time with the more recent & new releases grabbing the big numbers sales wise. WELCOME TO MY WORLD/ MOODY BLUE/ ELVIS IN CONCERT/ THE ELVIS STORY/ WORLDWIDE GOLD AWARD HITS CLUB EDITION & THE LEGENDARY PERFORMER VOL 2 grabbed over eleven million sales between them. So how many sales did each other album accrue? That is the fifty million dollar question but there are some small indicators that have turned up over the years that sheds some light on this subject. MICHAEL OMANSKY claimed in an internet interview that the GOLD RECORD series sold over 200,000 yearly, I m sure that 1977-78 saw considerably higher sales for that particular series. BILLBOARD magazine claimed that the ARMY & AIRFORCE EXCHANGE CENTRE ordered more than 300,000 Elvis albums during the last six months of 1977. A BILLBOARD editorial during November 1977 claimed that Elvis was SOLELY responsible for the revival of the US RECORD INDUSTRY, shipping twenty million albums a week from late August. (I have to admit that this is second hand information and I have not seen a copy of it) For the end of the 1977 financial year RCA had turned around a ninety million dollar loss of the previous year into a $247 million profit, with the record manufacturing division of RCA responsible for 39% of the turnover up over one hundred & forty per cent on the previous year, all due to sales of Elvis records. Remember RCA cancelled their Autumn country release schedule to concentrate on filling the demand for Elvis product. Another BILLBOARD article claimed that one in two country albums sold was an Elvis title (Nov 77) and in January 78 the same magazine claimed that one in three country albums sold during 1977 was an Elvis release, giving an estimated figure of thirty five million albums. I have seen newspaper articles from many US newspapers that gave many insights into the massive sales in the year after Elvis death with localised stories on how difficult it was to obtain Elvis albums, about having to buy albums at an auction, how people were limited to two albums per person, on how a record store in KNOXVILLE TENN, became the first recorded store to open at midnight for the release of the ELVIS IN CONCERT album. How advance orders for ELVIS IN CONCERT had passed the three million mark and RCA were pressing five million copies to ensure demand was satisfied. (remember this album has a triple platinum award)
Another factor that may have clouded the sales data during this time was the number of leased albums as well as record club issues that appeared on the market. From mid 1978 until the present RCA/BMG seem to have lost the run of themselves when it came to leasing out Elvis tracks for compilation albums. This has added significantly to the difficulty in obtaining sales data as nearly all of these companies have no interest in verifying the sales of Elvis back catalogue. Some of the companies are no longer in existence while others have been taken over or amalgamated, leading to lost files/financial statements. Companies like READERS DIGEST / CANDLELITE / AVON/ TIMELIFE / GREENVALLEY / HBO/ DCC / RAZOR TIE / K MART / BLOCKBUSTER / HEARTLAND / K TEL / BEST BUY / QVC / JC PENNEY / SOLO CUP COMPANY / RADIO SHACK / FRANKLIN MINT / PAIR RECORDS / BROOKVILLE RECORDS / PICKWICK / WALT DISNEY RECORDS / MADACY MUSIC / GREENHILL PRODUCTIONS / PROVIDENT MUSIC / CASTLE MUSIC / MUSIC MILL / FRIEDMANN FAIRFAX all brought out Elvis compilations with many of the above bringing out numerous releases. For example TIMELIFE produced seventeen titles while GREENHILL PRODUCTIONS a newer entry to the list have currently five titles. We know that many of the releases from these companies were heavily promoted on TV/SATELLITE as well as on the print media and have contributed many millions of sales to the Elvis catalogue, some officially recognised, most not. For example TIMELIFE issued a series of double CD s from the mid to late 1990 s which are still being offered for sale in the US today, advertised extensively on cable & satellite TV channels. The gimmick with this series was the availability of one unreleased alternate take with each set. In the last advert I saw for the series TIMELIFE claimed sales of 3.7 million by the middle of 2002 and as the CD s were over one hundred minutes long there was an accumulated total of nearly 7.5million units sold.
Previously it was claimed in 2000 that sales of this series was approximately 5.3million meaning that as long as TIMELIFE kept promoting the series they were shifting some one million unit s a year. These figures have not been added to Elvis official total. The other TIMELIFE releases have been available for much longer and I dare say have notched up high six figure sales but unfortunately no sales data have come to light for these releases. READERS DIGEST & CANDLELITE have been reasonably documented as to their potential sales although a significant proportion of sales data for these companies remains to be unearthed. K-TEL as with the LOVE SONGS/INSPIRATIONS/ULTIMATE albums in the UK would have heavily promoted their Elvis titles and given the UK sales especially for the first LOVE SONGS set, I would expect that sales for the equivalent US LOVE SONGS would have been certainly in the very high six figure range if not well over the million. Unfortunately K TEL in the US were not the type of company to pay for the verification of the sales of it s product and were a strictly cheap & cheerful show me the money operation. Newer companies tend to be more specialist aiming at target audiences especially the massive Christian/born again population in the States. For instance BMG claimed that licensed Gospel CD s issued by GREENHILL & PROVIDENT have sold over 100,000 copies per CD and continue to show strong sales in the thousands of Christian book stores Stateside. Suffice it to say that there are tens of millions of sales in this sector that need to be added to Elvis total sales but the lack of data from this source is perhaps the most serious impediment to advancing Elvis s overall total.
Another source for missing sales are the RCA & BMG RECORD CLUBS which are not to be under estimated as to their potential. Some specific releases from the RCA RECORD CLUB attained very substantial sales with for instance the club version of the WORLDWIDE GOLD AWARD HITS VOL 1 & 2 achieving platinum status. So successful were the sales of Elvis product through the clubs, RCA released albums that were only available from this source. Titles like the 2CD ELVIS PRESLEY (SVL3 0710) / ELVIS COUNTRY CLASSICS (R233299e)/ FROM ELVIS WITH LOVE (R 234340e)/ LEGENDARY CONCERT PERFORMANCES (R 244047e) & COUNTRY MEMORIES (R 244069e) were all only available through the record club. What is interesting to note about these albums is the fact that they can be acquired easily in the States from a variety of sources at prices ranging from ten to fifteen dollars, a sure sign that there were large numbers in circulation. In more recent times BMG have had great success marketing their four CD Elvis box sets (CLOSE UP as well as TODAY TOMORROW & FOREVER ) through their direct buying networks giving both sets combined domestic US sales of nearly 800,000 units. (source MICHAEL OMANSKY interview).
Before I finish I would like to point out a few more potential sources where there are definitely considerable sales to be had.
In 1987 RCA issued a four cassette only series which were launched at the same time, to cash in on the tenth anniversary expected sales boom. One of the four, LOVE ME TENDER (CAK 2650) was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA and I would argue that the other three are not far off gold status based on the fact that they all came out together and it would be highly unlikely that everyone would opt for just one title, ignoring all the others. There would have been an even spread over the four titles giving Elvis potentially another million plus sales. For the record the other cassette titles were;
COUNTRY FEELINGS DPK1 0786
MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM ELVIS DPK10800
AN ELVIS CELEBRATION DPK10807.
Two other cassette only releases, SAVAGE YOUNG ELVIS (DPK10679) & MEMORIES (DPK1 0904) also sold well into the six figures through RADIO SHACK and JC PENNEYS.
The GOLDEN CELEBRATION box set has not come up in the sales figures which I find puzzling as it was touted by RCA when first released as a major critical & commercial success. With the release of the four CD version I was sure that this package would have been awarded at least a gold certification but it hasn t happened yet. The set went as high as number eighty on the BILLBOARD album charts and that was based on the entire contents of the box being counted as just one sale. As well as that we have seen a report that giant US wholesaler COSCO purchased 15,000 copies of the CD when first released, that is sixty thousand units. The only why I can make sense of it all is to maintain that the vinyl six disc version is being classed as a different release to the four CD version.
Other box set like the QVC film set DOUBLE FEATURES (but this set 15,000 plus the non QVC version 10,000???, 100,000 units total. COLLECTORS GOLD just short of gold if you believe BMG. The ELVIS ARON PRESLEY eight album box set was claimed by RCA to have sold by early 1981 the equivalent of a platinum and a gold certification. Add to that the sales of the CD box which again I believe are being taken separately by the RIAA and you could argue the bones of a double platinum sale for this set. The TIMELIFE set ELVIS 1954 to 1961 has been sold continually on TV for the last twenty five years with fifteen & thirty minute slots on cable/satellite TV. It is one of those releases that I believe, based on what we know from other TIMELIFE sets, has the potential to be a multi platinum seller. Why purchase advertising time on a twenty five year old release if it is not selling? There are so many other potentially certifiable Elvis albums that I could go on & on but unfortunately the hard data just isn t there. Elvis HIS LIFE IN MUSIC (a four CD plus book package) was an interesting box set originally sold as a numbered 39,000 edition but it later turned up again with no limited number so I am assuming that the first 160,000 units were sold. Another twin CD pack that was heavily advertised on US TV was the GOOD ROCKING TONIGHT (SVL2 0824) which was mention on BILLBOARD magazine as being the best selling special TV package of that year, 1988. What they meant by special I really don t know but this is another interesting set that I would love to have some sales data on.
Another question that comes up a lot in relation to Elvis sales is the lack of chart action for most of the albums released especially since the 1980 s onwards. If we claim massive sales why are there not the weeks of BILLBOARD chart sales to match them? The main reason I believe is that a great majority of Elvis sales have come from areas which are not part of the national US counting system run by SOUNDSCAN. Over the counter sales on a yearly basis as registered by chart shops on the SOUNDSCAN DATABASE average between 1.2 & 1.5 million. However the greatest source for Elvis CD sales are the shops outside GRACELAND which are not part of the system. Add to that the record clubs, sales through Elvis sites, official & unofficial, Christian book stores which are now a major outlet for Elvis product and the likes of TIMELIFE plus other leased packages. It would be great if we could find out just how many CD s are sold every year at GRACELAND. With 650,000-700,000 people visiting every year there must be potential sales running into six figures. I have been to GRACELAND five times and normally would arrive home with ten to fifteen CD s a trip. I realise that for every person who purchases a CD another will put their money into a picture or other souvenir but in the times I have been there I spent hours hanging round the shops and the amount of product being sold was very substantial. One could argue that Elvis would on a normal year sell three million CD s a year Stateside and with a package like the 30 NUMBER 1 s, he would potentially double that tally, if you were to include all sources not just the SOUNDSCAN figure that appears yearly.
The chart action of a particular album has no relevance to the amount it sells and this applies especially to Elvis and can be demonstrated time & time again. The AMAZING GRACE double Gospel CD is officially 2 x Platinum and is according to BMG nearing another gold certification yet it never went near the BILLBOARD HOT 100 ALBUM CHARTS. It has actually sold more than many of their number one albums. The same can be said for THE NUMBER ONE HITS which exploded onto the charts at the high position of 143 and promptly vanished yet again it managed to sell three million copies. The TOP THE HITS nearly broke into the HOT 100 reaching the dizzy heights of 117 but it still sold four million. There are dozens of examples when applied to Elvis and it proves that chart action or the lack of it does not factor into the sales equation.
A mention must be given to Elvis YULETIDE repertoire which has amassed some truly awesome sales figures. If RCA/BMG had stuck to the two original Xmas releases releasing them every year they would have sold in excess of thirty million copies by now (BMG publicity leaflet for the WHITE CHRISTMAS set 2000). Instead we got a total of twenty six documented Xmas albums in the States and as with the religious albums they are continuing to prove to be the most consistent sellers of the Elvis catalogue.
Winding this down I would just like to add that it was not possible to write in this article about every individual release there are hundreds of interesting snippets that we gathered over the last three years. We hope to release everything we have found relating to the sales issue shortly and hopefully this will generate some healthy debate on this fascinating subject. I have to say that it is MY opinion (Brian Quinn & Kelvin Wilson may well have a totally different perspective on the same figures) That it would be hard to put a case for 600 million US sales based on what I ve seen. I appreciate that half if not more of the jigsaw puzzle is missing but there is enough there to make an informed calculation and the only imponderable there for me is exactly what was the extent of those massive sales 1977-78. Even allowing for one hundred million sold in the year after Elvis died I m inclined to believe a figure of 300 to 350 million sales are far more realistic. While it is generally held that the US is responsible for two thirds of all Elvis sales I believe that the opposite is really the case. The figures that I have seen both reliable as well as speculative seem to indicate that sales outside of the US since the early eighties have been on a higher level and that brings me to believe that Elvis total world sales (albums only) are between six & seven hundred million. Assuming that the US sold a greater number than the rest of the world pre 1980. Many of you will know doubt strongly disagree with me which you are entitled to but bear in mind the fact that a figure of 300,000,000+ US album sales is still twice that of his nearest rivals, the BEATLES.
That he has sold at least that many I myself now, have no doubt, but after adding the catalogue many times over comparing like with like, albums with definite sales with similar albums with no data I would be deceiving you if I came up with a 600 million figure. I would welcome comment from any source or if any of you out there has genuine sales data relating to any Elvis release in any part of the world please make it known.
Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD + 16 page booklet.
Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever.
This is an excellent release no fan should be without it.
The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.