Statistics, More Statistics and Cover Versions

My friend and neighbor, Caryl (Home Sweet Abbey), sent me an article from Chart Attack, a Canadian music publication, titled Old Music is Outselling New Music for the First Time in History.  The piece was published online January 20, 2016 and cites A.C. Nielsen’s annual year end music sales report for 2015 compared to 2014.  For the first time in music sales history, albums released more than 18 months ago outsold current releases by more more than four million copies.  It’s important to note this phenomenon involved physical album sales.  Digital sales of current album releases were still slightly ahead, but individual track sales were predominantly “oldies,” which now defines music more than 18 months old.  Among other things, the author cited another Nielsen report stating that “Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon sold 50,000 records this past year, the third highest selling album on vinyl.”

Digging for more information on this topic (and stretching an analogy), I determined the article cited above is a “cover version” of a previous report.  Let me explain.

On Stereogum, a daily Internet publication focusing on music news, there was an article titled Old Albums Outselling New Albums For The First Time Ever published way back on July 19, 2012 by a different author who cites similar Nielsen statistics.  Dark Side of the Moon is also mentioned as a big seller in this piece, and both articles use Pink Floyd’s album cover as the primary graphic.  But what’s interesting is that in spite of nearly fours years separating publication of these two articles, each claims the same phenomenon to have occurred for the “first time.”  The earlier date of this article might distinguish it as the “original version.”

Yet another author covered the topic in greater detail on a UK Internet website, Music Business Worldwide, titled ‘Old’ Albums Now Outsell New Albums on iTunes in America on January 29, 2015.  In its extensive sales analysis, this article examined declining physical record sales when compared to digital download sales.  Interestingly, the author points out the difference between the 2012 stats, for which “oldies” sales were only a momentary blip, and 2015 stats, which showed a full year trend.  Instead of Pink Floyd, he chose Bob Marley’s classic Legend album for the main graphic.  Apparently, Legend was the fifth biggest-selling vinyl album of 2014 in the U.S.  Let’s say this “cover” article is analogous to Eric Clapton’s soft-rock cover of Marley’s reggae song I Shot the Sheriff.  Clapton’s version captured Grammy Hall of Fame honors.

Finally, on January 25, 2016 a fourth author who, after only a five day waiting period, used the same title as the first article mentioned above, Old Music Outselling New Music For First Time in History, took a completely different approach, essentially offering an opinion which, in a nutshell, was “new music sucks.” That pretty much summed it up.  The online publication, Western Voices World News, isn’t devoted solely to music, which perhaps made a difference in the depth of analysis.  This particular “cover version” might be comparable to keeping the same song title, but using kazoos instead of voices to replace the lyrics.

Searching around, I found several other “covers” of the same article. Fortunately, I was listening to the radio during this investigation and heard some surprising cover versions of old songs breathed new life by contemporary bands. The first was Little Honda, a 1964 Beach Boys tune (first covered by the Hondells) more recently covered by Yo La Tengo.  Next was the 1964 Grammy winning, country-pop novelty song that I never really liked much, Dang Me by Roger Miller, brilliantly covered by alternative country artist, Buddy Miller (no relation).  A wonderful band called Whitehorse just released an EP with a sultry cover of Chuck Berry’s 1964 Nadine.  And in just the past hour, I heard Laura Love do justice to the memory of Kurt Cobain, covering his 1992 Nirvana composition Come As You Are.  Not two minutes after that, it was Sly & the Family Stone’s 1969 Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself Again recorded in 1970 by jazz saxophonist Maceo Parker & All the King’s Men.

One thing is certain.  The lines of music sales graphs start to blur slightly when we discuss what’s old and what’s new and what’s selling right now.  But when you listen to those songs on the radio, it doesn’t really matter.  After 18 months they’re all considered oldies anyway.


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