Shortly after the invention of the phonograph, music was recorded as a premium product to be bought and sold. The first-ever record sold in 1890 for 50 cents. It wasn’t until the 1980s that albums became something other than collectors’ items or sources of single tracks for radio play or jukeboxes. From 1983 through 1989, when sales reached an all-time peak, album sales in the U.S. reached an all-time low because of rampant piracy and overproduction by labels anxious to meet demand for new technology such as compact discs, which were introduced in 1982 and made their way into homes in 1985. The 1980s was a decade that saw major changes in technology as well as cultural influences from around the world. This is why it is no surprise that this period produced so many influential albums that are still favorites today.
Queen: Greatest Hits
In the '80s, the first greatest hits compilation from Queen, titled Greatest Hits, was released on vinyl, cassette, and 8-track tape, and sold more than 5 million copies – and until 2001, when The Beatles knocked Queen out of the number one spot, it was the top-selling album of all time. This album actually saved the record industry in the '80s, as sales dwindled to almost nothing. In fact, in 1985, only one million albums were sold in the U.S., and the only reason that this number was that high was because of this album. It was released by Capitol Records in 1981, sold steadily, and then took off in popularity when MTV put "Bohemian Rhapsody" into heavy rotation. It was not only the best-selling album of the '80s, but it was also the best-selling album of the entire decade, and it has never been out of print since it was first released.
Michael Jackson: Thriller
In 1985, Michael Jackson’s album Thriller became the best-selling album of all time, and it held that title for 14 years – until the Beatles knocked it out of the top spot with their own greatest hits collection, which is still number one. It is estimated that every year about five million people buy this album, and yet, it has never gone out of print since it was first released. This album was the first to sell one million copies on vinyl, and it was the first album to be released on CD, making it the best-selling album on both formats. It is the only album to be awarded the “Diamond Award,” which means that it sold 10 million copies, and it won a Grammy for Album of the Year.
Def Jam: Rap Rock Revolution
Rap rock is a new genre that emerged in the '80s and is defined by its combination of rock music with rap music. It was developed as an attempt to break the racial barrier in music. The genre was pioneered by Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys, who have been hailed as the godfathers of rap-rock, with Def Jam records releasing their music. In the '80s, Def Jam released the three albums that are credited with starting the genre, and those albums were all huge sellers. These were the self-titled debut album by Run-DDM and the two albums by the Beastie Boys: Licensed to Ill and the follow-up album, Paul’s Boutique. The sales for these three albums account for almost one-third of all rap-rock album sales during the '80s, and Licensed to Ill, the debut album by the Beastie Boys, is the biggest-selling rap-rock album of all time.
Prince and The Revolution: Purple Rain
This album was released in the '80s by the then-fledgling Warner Bros. Records (it was previously owned by Atlantic Records). The album was released as a soundtrack to the movie Purple Rain, which starred and was directed by Prince. The title track, Purple Rain, won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and is one of the most critically acclaimed songs of all time. It was the top-selling single of 1984, and it is ranked as the fifth-biggest-selling single of all time. The album also won two Grammys: one for Best Soundtrack Album and one for Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television. The album was hugely successful and is still considered to be one of the best albums ever recorded.
U2: Joshua Tree
With their '80s album, U2 released their best and most successful work to date. The album was released in 1987 and was produced by the famous music producer Brian Eno. The album sold more than 20 million copies, and it is the fourth-biggest-selling album of all time. It was ranked number 57 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The first track on the album was a single that reached the top of the charts all over the world, and it is still played in stadiums today. The album garnered U2 five Grammy awards, and the popularity of the album has remained consistent through the decades, with sales figures only declining to the extent that the album ranked in the top ten instead of the top five.
The 1980s were a decade that saw major changes in technology as well as cultural influences from around the world. This is why it is no surprise that this period produced so many influential albums that are still favorites today.