Here’s the thing about sales numbers: While Michael Jackson’s Thriller album is widely recognized as the world’s best-selling record — surpassing the next in line, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, by as many as 20 million copies according to some accounts — it’s nowhere to be seen in Nielsen SoundScan’s own cumulative chart. That’s because it didn’t start tracking sales for Billboard until 1991.
Coincidentally, that also happens to be the year Metallica released their best-selling “Black Album,” a diamond-certified monument to mainstream metal that includes such smash MTV-era singles as “Enter Sandman,” “The Unforgiven” and “Wherever I May Roam.” The LP has long been on the top of SoundScan’s all-time list — hovering right above Shania Twain, Alanis Morissette and the Backstreet Boys — but it just set a new high water mark: 16 million copies sold, propelled in part by the band’s performance at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards earlier this year.
The real question this all raises though: In this new age of real-time Twitter charts, billion dollar Beats deals and countless paths of untracked discovery tools (social media channels, BitTorrent-bundled back catalogues, podcasts, etc.) does any of it matter? Or was Lars right all along? Did the good (bad?) guys win?