Earlier this year in January, it was reported by the RIAA that Garth Brooks had surpassed The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll in album sales by half a million making Brooks the best-selling solo artist in the U.S. However, a revision on Thursday, July 16 in the total of U.S. sales of Elvis Presley albums had reversed that achievement (at least temporarily) moving The King half a million units ahead of Garth Brooks instead.
For less than a week, Elvis Presley had moved ahead of Garth Brooks to be the best-selling solo artist in terms of album sales with the revised figure of 135.5 units sold in the U.S. The Beatles are the best-selling group and best-selling artist overall with 178 million albums sold, and Garth Brooks was in third place at 135 million.
I first discovered that there was a discrepancy in the RIAA’s previous Elvis figure of 134.5 million when doing research for my new book on Elvis called Elvis Behind The Legend. I was interested in comparing the record sales of Elvis to The Beatles. To be as thorough as possible, I decided to take it upon myself to manually add up the units of record sales for both The Beatles and Elvis Presley’s LPs, EPs and singles according to the RIAA calculation rules.
The RIAA certification levels are 500,000 units for the Gold award, 1 million units for the Platinum award and 2 million units for the Multi-Platinum award, with recertification for each additional million in sales.
The discrepancy of 1 million units in the Elvis Presley album total was found in an error in the calculation of his EP sales which are weighted differently than LPs. Elvis had 16 EPs that were certified either Gold, Platinum or Multi-Platinum. The Beatles had no EPs that were certified.
It turns out that the RIAA includes the sales of certified EPs, also called Shortform albums, in their album totals for each artist. But the EPs, which usually contain 3 to 5 songs, are not weighted the same as LPs, which usually contain 10 to 12 songs.
Trying to accurately calculate Presley’s total, I shared with the RIAA the discrepancy that I discovered. I noticed that an error on their website database in the weighting figure for Presley’s Multi-Platinum EP sales had resulted in an underreporting of 1 million units. In response, the RIAA acknowledged in email correspondence that they were going to revise the figures regarding Multi-Platinum EPs and that Elvis Presley’s total would increase as a result.
On July 16, 2015, the RIAA then revised the Elvis Presley album total on their website (see screenshot below) to reflect the most accurate record sales. This new figure is the same as what I had calculated, adding 1 million more to Presley’s total album sales from the previous figure of 134.5 million.
However, just 5 days later on July 21, the RIAA awarded Garth Brooks another 1 million in album sales, bumping him up a half million ahead of Elvis Presley again. The RIAA did not make any official statement about the increase of either Presley or Brooks.
Since the difference between Presley and Brooks is only half a million units, there is always a chance that Elvis can move ahead of Garth Brooks again because the statistics are constantly changing as time goes on. Even though Elvis Presley passed away 38 years ago, his records are still selling. The last time the RIAA awarded new record certifications for Elvis was in 2011.
In fact, Elvis Presley’s album total could change very soon, especially with two new albums coming out this Fall: Elvis Presley Forever and If I Can Dream. One thing’s for sure — there is much more than U.S. album sales statistics to take into account when calling Presley “The King”.
Note: The full list of Gold, Platinum and Multi-Platinum albums awarded to both Elvis and The Beatles can be seen in my upcoming book, Elvis Behind The Legend: Startling Truths About The King of Rock and Roll’s Life, Loves, Films and Music, due out August 2015.