Twenty years ago, when Pearl Jam released its third album, Vitalogy, the music was available on vinyl two weeks before it arrived on CD and cassette. The Vitalogy LP hit shelves at a time when vinyl’s sales decline had already been underway for more than a decade: Vinyl albums sold 49 million copies worldwide that year, down from 109 million in 1993, 510 million in 1988 and a peak of 1.1 billion in 1981, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Institute. In that shifting climate, Vitalogy sold 34,000 vinyl copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and went on to become the biggest vinyl-selling album of 1994.
Jack White‘s Lazaretto beat Vitalogy out of the gate when it arrived earlier this year, selling more than 40,000 copies in its first week. Now, Billboard notes (via SPIN) that with 60,000 vinyl albums sold, Lazaretto has become vinyl’s biggest seller in any one year since Vitalogy in 1994, according to SoundScan. While it isn’t immediately clear how many vinyl albums Vitalogy sold in total that year — its release date was November 22 — that’s still another milestone for White and vinyl’s commercial return as a niche item.
Lazaretto‘s numbers make up 25 percent of the 238,000 vinyl albums sold overall this year, according to SoundScan. Arctic Monkeys‘ AM, which arrived last September, is 2014′s No. 2 vinyl best-seller with 29,000 copies sold. Billboard doesn’t give the rest of the top five, but at the end of June, when SoundScan send out its mid-year update, Beck‘s Morning Phase was No. 3, followed by the Black Keys‘ Turn Blue and Lana Del Rey‘s Born to Die.
Lazaretto also handily beats other recent years’ vinyl best-sellers. Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, the best-selling vinyl album of last year, sold 49,000 copies. White had the best-selling vinyl album in 2012, with Blunderbuss, which sold 34,000.
Before vinyl evangelists get too carried away, though, observe that the Beatles’ 45-year-old Abbey Road had sold 12,600 copies by the halfway point this year, and it ranked No. 2 behind White’s Blunderbuss two years ago, when it sold 30,000 copies. So new vinyl albums may still have their work cut out for them. That was also the case two decades ago, when Pearl Jam released Vitalogy and The New York Times observed, “Vinyl has returned not necessarily as a rival to the CD, but as a fetish object or relic.”
Also see our take on the state of the album format, The Album Is Dead, Long Live the Album (2014 Special Deluxe Edition).