In 1999, the RIAA, providers of platinum and gold records to recording artists, decided it was time to honor those who had reached a higher sales plateau and created the Diamond Award.
The newly minted award went to the albums that had shipped 10 million or more copies. Since the award's inception, 103 diamond albums have been handed out to everyone from The Beatles
to Kid Rock
. Receiving this award ensures that an album will always be recognized as a classic. After all, with millions of albums released over the years, joining a club with slightly over 100 members is as exclusive as it gets.
But not so fast. Many albums in this select group have somehow slid from many music fans' minds over the years. Others are classics simply because they've climbed the sales ladder and not because of their musical content.
Yes, even the elite diamond club has members that are overrated and underrated. Below are the top five in each category.
5. "The Stranger" by Billy Joel
Joel is best known for his singles ipso facto his "Greatest Hits Volume I and II" is his best-selling album with over 21 million units shipped. His 1977 studio album, "The Stranger", may as well be another compilation album based on its impressive roster of tracks. With "Movin' Out", "Just The Way You Are", "Only the Good Die Young", and several other classics, Joel's fifth album found massive success. But those pesky singles seemed to bury it in the consciousness of most music fans over the years. In fact, ask anybody to name a Billy Joel album and you'll undoubtedly receive a list of singles, and only a few ("Piano Man
" and "The River of Dreams
") will be correct. It doesn't seem fair that such a hit-packed album would be undone by the success of the artist's tunes, but that's exactly what happened to "The Stranger".
4. "Unplugged" by Eric Clapton
Most people consider Nirvana's
"Unplugged" the best installment of the MTV Series, but Clapton's stripped-down night of acoustic blues is in its own class. Clapton took the MTV stage in London less than a year after his son Conor plummeted to his death. This led to his immensely revealing performance of "Tears in Heaven" and a subdued tone to the entire evening. This fit Clapton's raw reworking of blues standards including one of the best covers of all time when he played "Layla" on the acoustic guitar. This is far and away the best-selling "Unplugged" album of all time, but outside of "Layla" it's been largely forgotten as a whole.
3. "Ten" by Pearl Jam
This is the best-selling grunge album of all time. No, it isn't "Nevermind" or anything else by Nirvana, it's Pearl Jam's brilliant "Ten". The debut album from the Seattle quintet contains the classic tracks "Alive" and "Even Flow" in addition to the notorious "Jeremy". It's not just the hits that make this album great, it's every single track establishing the raw fury of Pearl Jam and giving listeners and introduction to Vedder's visceral singing of his deeply textured lyrics. Somehow, this album has been forgotten over the years. It checks in at 207 on the Rolling Stone 500, 180 slots lower than "Nevermind". This disrespect could be due to Pearl Jam's aversion to self-promotion or simply that the grunge era is almost an afterthought in the years since its heydey. Whatever the case, "Ten" is never recognized as the landmark album it was in 1991.
2. "No Fences" by Garth Brooks
Any of Garth Brooks' six certified diamond albums (a record tying him with The Beatles) could make this list because country artists never get the respect they deserve. "Fences" represents them all because it's his top-selling studio album with 16-million copies shipped and contains two of his biggest cross-over hits with "The Thunder Rolls" and "Friends in Low Places". Brooks was the top-selling artist of the 90s by a substantial margin and is 10 million albums ahead of Elvis for second on the all-time sales list (42 million behind The Beatles). The reason is that he made perfect country records for the entire decade and "No Fences" is the most popular and best of those. In fact, it's the 11th-best-selling studio album of all time. Go into a bar and ask someone to name the top 11. If you let them go on forever they'd probably name hundreds before they get to "No Fences". Now that's underrated.
1. "Tapestry" by Carole King
In the 60s, Carole King was basically Dianne Warren: She wrote reams of hit songs for other artists and made a fortune doing so. Unlike Warren, King stepped away from her pen and paper in 1970 to record the little-known album "Writer" before following it up with this landmark collection of her old hits and some new classics. This album contains folky, stripped-down versions of the King-penned "Natural Woman" and "You've Got a Friend" in addition to the originals that started the singer-songwriter movement in the 70s. There isn't a single bad song on this album and it made every cool girl with any substance in the 80s who she was when she listened to it as a kid. The album has been inexcusably lost in the shuffle over time amidst the angry bitch-pop of King's successors. Introspection hasn't been vogue for a long time, and the move towards the angry young female has long kept King's album behind the curtain.
5. "Supernatural" by Santana
This album won the Grammy for Album of the Year essentially for its lead single "Smooth' and the age of its legendary featured guitarist. Beyond that, the album is incredibly weak with Carlos lending his guitar to other bad pop songs and mixed-up Latin-flavored jams. Despite its shortcomings, the album was the most heralded of its time, simply because a great guitarist found mainstream success with a new generation. Well, the only reason he did that was that he picked some popular guest artists. It's insane to put an uneven glorified compilation album among the best of the year, let alone of all time.
4. "Nevermind" by Nirvana
"Nevermind" is a very good rock album that is in the pantheon of great albums simply because it has arguably the best side one, track one of all time with "Smells Like Teen Spirit". It's not Nirvana's best album ("In Utero" and "Unplugged in New York" are arguably better) and it wasn't even the best album of the grunge era (see above). Despite these facts, this is considered the best album of the 90s by most polls and sooner or later a magazine will proclaim it the best album of all time. Looking beyond the first track reveals a collection of solid rock songs, a few great and a few bad, but nothing more than that. Nirvana grew as a band after this album, yet most people see it as their pinnacle.
3. "Life After Death" by Notorious B.I.G.
Until "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" this was the best-selling hip-hop album of all time, a spot it held for almost ten years. This album hits the trifecta of overrated: Controversy, Death, and Epic Length. Everyone assumes a double album is good because anything that long took so much work must be great. It was extremely controversial due to the East Coast/West Coast rap war raging at the time and Biggie's extremely profane lyrics. Finally, his tragic murder vaulted this into a plateau of overratedness seldom seen. Does anybody actually think this is a great hip-hop album? Would anybody really put this up with Rakim's
or The Jurassic 5's best work? Sadly, a lot of people would despite its being a glitzily produced album only to mask Biggie's clumsy flow and limited MC skills. It has a few good songs, but mostly it is a profane mess with nothing more to offer than gloating and sexism.
2. "Legend" by Bob Marley
19 Greatest Hits compilations have been certified diamond, but this is the only one that could be considered overrated. That's because a lot people don't know it's a greatest hits album. How many lame frat boys who "like" Bob Marley because they want to be sensitive or think Marley's awesome because he smoked weed goes around saying that "Legend" is the best album ever made? The percentage is probably bordering on 90 even though this isn't even an album, it's a compilation of Marley's hits. Sure, if "The Beatles 1" were an album it might be the best ever, same with Elvis' 30 Number Ones and any other greatest hits album, but none of them are ever mistaken for that, except this one. This may have to do with the title, the fact that most of Marley's fans are too stoned to notice that all the songs on this album appear on other Marley CD's or simply because Marley is so overrated that everything he does follows suit. Whatever the case, "Legend" isn't even an album despite its being called one of the greatest of all time.
1. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" by The Beatles
Of course this is a great album, but it's possible to be one of the top 20 albums of all time and still be overrated. First off, "Pepper's" isn't even one of the top five albums ("Let it Be
", "Abbey Road
", "The Beatles
" and "Rubber Soul
" are all better) by the group who recorded it. Secondly, for something so highly regarded it has a lot of dead weight with the dull "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" and mishandled "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" taking up almost 20% of its running time. Finally, this album could be overrated even if it were significantly better than every other ever made, simply for a paper like the London Times describing the album at the time of its release as, "A decisive moment in the history of Western civilization." It's just music people; calm down.
Check back next week for the most overrated and underrated Influential TV Programs of all time.
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Story by Andrew Payne
Starpulse contributing writer