Ask Billboard

Keith discusses top debuts, Barbra Streisand, Tiffany and more.

EDITOR'S NOTE: There will be no new "Ask BB" running on June 29. However, please continue submitting new questions, any ol' questions, to us for inclusion next week! Send all your burning music questions to Keith Caulfield at



(On the "American Idol" finale) I saw Clive Davis present Carrie Underwood with a plaque for selling 6 million units of her debut album. That got me thinking: What are the most successful debut albums in history? I was thinking maybe it was Alanis Morissette's "Jagged Little Pill," but then I realized she had released previous material in Canada. So could you please tell me how does Carrie rank with most successful debut albums?

Robert Martin

Hello Robert,

Since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales data in 1991, we can't use SoundScan alone in determining what the biggest debut albums are.

But we can use the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) list of the top 100 best-sellers in the U.S., since the RIAA has been around much longer than SoundScan.

According to the RIAA, here are the biggest selling debut albums in the U.S. Generally speaking, all of the titles listed below are the major-label debuts of the artists. We're including Morissette's "Jagged," as it was her U.S. major label debut. Same for Hootie & the Blowfish, Guns N' Roses and the Dixie Chicks, who had released independently distributed albums previous to the major label bow. Previous to his "Bat Out of Hell" success, Meat Loaf released a little known album through Motown as part of a duo, but we're discounting that album as well.

(Note: We updated this answer on July 2, 2007, after reader Jason Englisbe wrote in, noting that Shania Twain's first album was not "The Woman In Me," but rather her 1993 self-titled debut. We apologize for the error.)

Boston, "Boston" (17 million)
Alanis Morissette, "Jagged Little Pill" (16 million)
Hootie & the Blowfish, "Cracked Rear View" (16 million)
Guns N' Roses, "Appetite For Destruction" (15 million)
Backsteet Boys, "Backstreet Boys" (14 million)
Meat Loaf, "Bat Out of Hell" (14 million)
Britney Spears, "... Baby One More Time" (14 million)
Whitney Houston, "Whitney Houston" (13 million)
Jewel, "Pieces of You" (12 million)
Matchbox Twenty, "Yourself Or Someone Like You" (12 million)
Dixie Chicks, "Wide Open Spaces" (12 million)
Pearl Jam, "Ten" (12 million)

Any way you slice it, Boston's self-titled debut - the act's real, true, first album - is the biggest selling debut album.


Hi Keith,

Can you tell me how many copies each of Barbra Streisand's SoundScan-era albums have shifted and, on average, how many copies per year her back catalog moves?

I have a bet going with someone that even if her new releases don't move as many copies as they used to (and who's do, really?), her extensive catalog of albums must sell enough each year to make her a consistent money-earner for Columbia.


Jeff Waide
Springfield, Ill.

Hi Jeff,

It's a fair question to ask. Perhaps your friend questions why she's still signed to a major label after all these years? Shudder to think, really. After all, she is Barbra Streisand. That would be like Columbia dropping Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan. You just don't give legends walking papers. Especially considering how well Streisand continues to sell.

So far this year, Streisand's catalog of albums, all released through Columbia, have sold 176,000. In 2006, they moved 260,000. In 2005, they did 662,000 (that included 429,000 of her then-new release "Guilty Pleasures"). Since SoundScan began tracking data in 1991, Streisand has sold 20 million albums in the U.S.

Here is a recap of how Streisand's major SoundScan-era (1991-present) albums have sold in the U.S. through June 17, 2007.

"Live in Concert 2006" (2007, 106,000)
"Guilty Pleasures" (2005, 509,000)
"The Movie Album" (2003, 686,000)
"Duets" (2002; 561,000)
"The Essential Barbra Streisand" (2002; 506,000)
"Christmas Memories" (2001; 1.1 million)
"Timeless: Live in Concert" (2000; 477,000)
"A Love Like Ours" (1999; 1.1 million)
"Higher Ground" (1997; 3.0 million)
"The Concert Highlights" (1995; 501,000)
"The Concert" (1994; 1.1 million)
"Back To Broadway" (1993; 1.7 million)
"Just For The Record..." (1991; 454,000)


Hi Keith,

I tune in each week to read your Q&A section. I have a question concerning two ladies still making music. My first is how is Tiffany's new single "Feel's Like Love" doing? (It is my guilty secret that I keep up with her still.) In addition, how did her album "Color of Silence" do sales wise? I personally thought it was an amazing album.

My second question concerns Jane Olivor (I am a big fan), I noticed all of her albums have pretty much been in print since they were released in the '70s and '80s, and I was curious what they have sold since SoundScan began tracking sales.

Again, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.

Christopher Dean
San Antonio, Texas

Hello Christopher,

Your guilty secret isn't much of a secret anymore, is it? So far, "Feels Like Love" hasn't sold much of anything as a digital download. It has yet to appear on any Billboard chart. However, her new "Just Me" album, released two weeks ago, has sold about 1,000 copies. Tiffany's 2000 album, "The Color of Silence," has sold 15,000 to date.

Tiffany is best known for her 1987 self-titled debut, which spawned two No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 singles, "I Think We're Alone Now" and "Could've Been." The album spent two weeks at No. 1 on The Billboard 200 and is certified four-times platinum by the RIAA.

Switching gears to Jane Olivor, the singer's catalog of albums have sold 320,000 since SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991. I'd imagine that's pretty great, considering the artist hasn't been on The Billboard 200 since 1982's "In Concert." The bulk of her recordings are on Columbia, but more recently, she has released albums through Varese Sarabande and P.S. Classics. She took a long break from recording in the '80s and '90s, until the bow of "Love Decides" in 2000. In 2001 she released "Songs of the Season," followed by 2004's "Safe Return."

"Love Decides" has shifted 43,000; "Songs of the Season" has moved 15,000 and "Safe Return" has done 15,000 as well. In 2004, Columbia released "The Best of Jane Olivor," which has sold 12,000.

Olivor's official Web site can be found at