Seattle will forever be remembered in the annals of rock history as the city that launched the alternative rock movement. But analysis of sales figures shows that, while Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains dominated retail for a brief stint in the early ’90s, predecessors such as Heart and Jimi Hendrix would’ve put up some impressive numbers as well—if SoundScan had been around to track them.
When Seattle Weekly began publishing, there was no such system in place to assess how many records were being sold. Since 1991, SoundScan has kept tabs on how many units of each new disc have moved through the doors of chains like Tower—not counting shoplifters—and, by the mid-’90s, most independent stores.
In the SoundScan era, Nirvana looms larger than Hendrix and Heart, who have each achieved multiplatinum sales of numerous albums, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA): Heart’s Greatest Hits is certified to have shipped two million units, while Jimi’s Are You Experienced? tops 4 million. Using the RIAA’s methods may be misleading, however; Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten are both listed as 10 million sellers, though SoundScan lists each as significantly lower.
Oh well, whatever . . . if you really want the best-selling artist from Seattle, you’ll have to look to Kenny G, whose combined album sales surpass the 60 million mark. Yikes. Leaving the lite-jazz maestro out of it—and with all due respect to the selling power of the mighty Heart and the best guitarist ever in the history of the world—we present the top 21 albums by Seattle artists according to SoundScan. * THE TOP 21:
Pearl Jam, Ten (1991): 8,677,424
Nirvana, Nevermind (1991): 7,459,561
Pearl Jam, Vs. (1993): 5,732,644
Pearl Jam, Vitalogy (1994): 4,583,173
Nirvana, Unplugged in New York City (1994): 4,038,249
Nirvana, In Utero (1993): 3,510,692
Soundgarden, Superunknown (1994): 3,402,162
Queensryche, Empire (1990): 3,182,764
Alice in Chains, Dirt (1992): 2,979,577
Presidents of the United States of America, Presidents of the United States of America (1995): 2,417,511
Alice in Chains, Jar of Flies (1994): 2,037,853
Alice in Chains, Facelift (1990): 1,925,117
Sir Mix-a-Lot, Mack Daddy (1991): 1,740,353
Alice in Chains, Alice in Chains (1995): 1,634,494
Pearl Jam, Yield (1998): 1,515,407
Hole, Live Through This* (1994): 1,495,298
Soundgarden, Down on the Upside (1996): 1,476,022
Nirvana, Bleach (1989): 1,414,501
Pearl Jam, No Code (1996): 1,359,865
Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger (1991): 1,327,997
Foo Fighters, Foo Fighters** (1995): 1,230,900*
*Listed because band leader Courtney Love still lived in Seattle when the album was recorded. Besides, we all know that Kurt wrote the songs.
** Listed because Dave Grohl recorded the album in Seattle—and because he’d yet to become a goofball publicity hound with a misshapen goatee.