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Top 20: The best-selling albums in Irish history

How many times do U2 feature? And which has sold more – A Woman’s Heart or White Ladder? Time to reveal all…

The Corrs - Caroline, Andrea, Jim and Sharon - feature in the Top 20 albums list. But who else is there?
The Corrs - Caroline, Andrea, Jim and Sharon - feature in the Top 20 albums list. But who else is there?
Image: Niall Carson/PA Archive

WHEN WE POSTED the all-time top 20 singles chart in Irish history, quite a few people were a little bemused at some of the songs that had worked their way in.

Was it right that Westlife or U2, to take two examples, didn’t feature anywhere in the top 20 – while the likes of Eiffel 65′s ‘Blue (Da Ba Dee)’ and Richie Kavanagh’s ‘Aon Focal Eile’ made it in?

In order to better reflect (we hope!) the true musical tastes of the Irish public, we thought we’d go back to the Irish Recorded Music Association, who helpfully shared with us the authoritative list of the best-selling albums in Irish history.

And yes, it does seem to reflect the genuine popularity of some acts at some particular times, while also honouring those who have left an unmistakeable impression on the Irish musical landscape.

Without further ado…

20. Shania Twain – Come On Over (1997)

That don’t impress me much. But, then again, the fact that Twain’s 1997 effort was propelled into the all-time top 20 largely thanks to one single – when Garth Books doesn’t make it into the list at all – is probably of note. 40 million sales worldwide. (YouTube: )

19. Lady Gaga – The Fame/The Fame Monster (2008/9)

Stefani Germanotta’s two albums are counted as one, considering the latter (an EP) was released including the entirety of the former. Given how a lot of this Top 20 list is dominated by acts with slightly greater pedigree than the Top 20 singles chart, the fact that a singer’s debut album – albeit one packed with hits – makes it this high is no mean feat. (YouTube: )

18. Bob Marley and the Wailers – Legend (1984)

The second of Marley’s posthumous albums, and the single collection of Marley output most likely to feature in most music collections. Containing all ten of his previous chart hits. In Britain, this album has been in the Top 40 weekly charts for over 750 weeks – testament to its staying power as a catalogue of some of the world’s favourite reggae. (YouTube: )

17. Alanis Morissette - Jagged Little Pill (1995)

The irony (!) of the success of Jagged Little Pill is that most people will think they only know ‘Ironic’, but are actually familiar with plenty of others. This is the album which also contained ‘You Learn’, ‘Hand in my Pocket’, ‘All I Really Want’, ‘Head over Feet’, and ‘You Oughta Know’. Not a bad collection of hits, in hindsight. (YouTube: )

16. The Verve – Urban Hymns (1997)

The irony (!) of this album’s rise to fame is that its most famous line, which propelled it into the charts, isn’t actually a line by The Verve at all. The strings bit at the start of Bitter Sweet Symphony was actually a recycled strings line from an instrumental setting of a Rolling Stones song. Even more ironically – ok, enough Ironic gags now – that wasn’t even the biggest-selling hit: ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ was the band’s only UK number one. (YouTube: )

15. U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)

After the experimental (cough) phase of Zooropa and Pop, U2 decided it was time to head back to basics for the turn of the millennium, abandoning their synthesisers in favour of guitar-and-drums tunes. The album was the first in which the band wrote most of the songs quickly and in the studio, rather than having the time to over-construct them at home – a tactic reflected in the tunefulness of the album. (YouTube: )

14. Michael Buble – Crazy Love (2009)

One of the most recently-released entrants on the list, marking Bublé’s swing (heh) from big-band karaoke to full-blown pop star. Containing ubermegahit ‘Just Haven’t Met You Yet’, the album also features the swelling bombast of ‘Cry Me A River’, which will forever be remembered as ‘oh yeah, that was the song that they used for some sports tournament’ (the BBC’s coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics). (YouTube: )

13. Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002)

Not only is it surprising that Coldplay’s second album is now ten years old, but it also seems weird that subsequent albums like X&Y and Viva la Vida haven’t appeared either. Nonetheless, the album with the singles ‘In My Place’, ‘Clocks’ and ‘The Scientist’ remains one of those albums that even people who detest Coldplay can manage to abide. (YouTube: )

12. The Corrs – Talk on Corners (1997)

A cynic would point out that the album was released three times – with the second version including the popular cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ which proved a breakthrough hit in the UK, and the third incorporating their original Irish hit ‘Runaway’ as well as a radio-friendly remix of ‘What Can I Do’. A realist would say: My, but that’s a lot of hit singles. (YouTube: )

11. James Blunt - Back to Bedlam (2004)

Ireland, how could you? Just… how could you? (YouTube: )

10. Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman (1988)

It’s difficult to find anyone who says they love the work of Tracy Chapman, but equally difficult to find anyone who dislikes it. Her debut album in 1988 was propelled to number one around the world by the single ‘Fast Car’; oddly enough, the likes of ‘Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution’ and ‘Baby Can I Hold You’ never commanded as much attention (the latter only becoming well-known when Boyzone covered it). In a way, it’s testament to ‘Fast Car”s rare knack of tapping into the everyday, fleeting human aspirations that the album became so popular at all. (YouTube: )

9. The Beatles – 1 (2000)

To be fair, the Beatles probably would have made the list more prolifically if they had exist in an era where music was a mass-market consumer product. As it is, the millennium compilation of their number one singles is the biggest selling album in the United States from the decade 2000-2009. Not bad for a band that had split up 30 years earlier. (YouTube: )

8. Christy Moore – The Collection 81-91 (1991)

The example of the Beatles only making it into the list via a belated compilation makes Christy Moore’s appearance even more remarkable. His 1991 collection of ‘singles so far’ dominated charts that year, adding a collection of other hits to the bedrock provided by the Ride On album of 1984, featuring the title track as well as ‘Lisdoonvarna’ and ‘The City of Chicago’. (YouTube: )

7. Adele - 21 (2011)

Yes, 2011. This album, despite feeling like it’s spawned a dozen hits, is only 16 months old. If this list was to be reviewed in a year, the chances are it could be even closer to the top. Amazingly, label XL Recordings didn’t expect the album to do well, while Adele herself wasn’t thrilled at the idea of portraying romantic heartbreak for the second album running. (YouTube: )

6. Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (1995)

The album that inspired a whole generation of kids to pick up a guitar. Despite being initially panned as inferior to the previous year’s Definitely Maybe, the album spawned songs which even Oasis loathers recognise as decent tunes – including ‘Roll With It’, ‘Wonderwall’, ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, ‘She’s Electric’ and ‘Champagne Supernova’. And yet, none of those were even its lead single… (YouTube: )

5. Christy Moore – Live at the Point (1994)

Even further tribute to Christy Moore: not alone is he valued for his role as a troubador (see No.8 above), but also for his ability to put on one hell of a show. ‘Ride On’, ‘Black is the Colour’, ‘Fairytale of New York’ (no, really!) and ‘Joxer Goes to Stuttgart’ all on one disc. Moore was at the peak of his powers – so much so that some versions of the album artwork didn’t even bother to include his surname. (YouTube: )

4. U2 – The Best Of 1980-1990 (1998)

In the same mode as the Beatles appearing only once on this list, a compilation of the hits from U2′s first six studio albums was always going to compensate for the lesser music market of 1980s Ireland. Every song is a classic – even the re-recording of ‘Sweetest Thing’ with Steve Collins and Boyzone in its video. (YouTube: )

3. Various – A Woman’s Heart (1992)

As we’ve seen by now, it tends to be slightly younger albums – produced by artists of worldwide acclaim – that dominate this list. Given that, the fact that a compilation of tracks from six Irish female soloists captured the public attention as memorably as it did. That its 20th anniversary tours are still playing to packed houses is a fitting tribute. (YouTube: )

2. ABBA – Gold – the Greatest Hits (2002)

Several runs in the charts are what gave this album its lofty status: originally released in 1992 when Abba’s label was bought by Polygram, the album was given further airings in 1999 (the Eurovision anniversary of ‘Waterloo’), and again in 2003-2004 after a Brit Awards homage prompted further public demand for the Swedish group’s Best Of. (YouTube: )

1. David Gray – White Ladder (1998)

A sleeper hit if ever there was one. Ireland was kind to David Gray, who had spent two years traipsing through America trying to support the album, and inspired by the inclusion of ‘This Year’s Love’ in the film of the same name, bought the album in droves. The album spawned five singles, and sold so many copies that many homes ended up with several versions of the same CD. (YouTube: )


The list of top 20 albums is the copyright of IRMA. More chart info at www.irishcharts.ie.

Top 20: The best-selling singles in Irish history

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About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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