Country Album Sales Jump 12 Percent in 2004

Three Country Albums Among the Top 10 Bestsellers

Count 2004 a sweet year for country music.

According to sales figures released Wednesday (Jan. 5) by Nielsen SoundScan, a service that monitors retail record purchases, there were nearly 78 million country albums sold in 2004, a jump of 12 percent over the 69 million of the year before. (The actual figures are 77,912,000 and 69,311,000.)

Sweeter still, three country artists — Kenny Chesney, Gretchen Wilson and Tim McGraw — placed albums among the 10 bestselling albums of the year in all musical formats for the 2004 calendar year.

The record industry saw overall album sales edge up from 656 million units in 2003 to nearly 667 million in the year just concluded. CD sales alone during this same period jumped from just under 636 million to just over 651 million.

In addition to country, alternative, Latin, metal, R&B and rap also experienced slight to substantial sales increases, while Christian/gospel, classical, jazz, new age and soundtracks each sold fewer units than in 2003. Latin and country were the only two formats to enjoy double-digit increases, with the former rising the most — at 16 percent.

Usher’s Confessions was the bestselling album of the year, racking up a total of 7,978,594 copies. But Chesney came in at No. 4 with When the Sun Goes Down, with 3,072,224 copies scanned. Wilson’s Here for the Party moved 2,931,097 units to come in at No. 5. McGraw’s Live Like You Were Dying sold 2,786,840 pieces to seize the No. 6 spot.

Shania Twain continued to hold the No. 1 slot in the Top 10 bestselling albums of the SoundScan era — which began in May 1991. Come On Over, her 1997 album, has so far sold 15,267,050 copies.

Country fans appear to be relatively technophobic. There was not a single country song among the Top 10 digital tracks sold. There were no country titles among the 10 most-played songs on radio during the past year. The top song in this category was Usher’s “Yeah,” featuring Ludacris and Lil Jon.

The Top 10 bestselling country albums of 2004 accounted for 27 percent of all country album sales for that period.

Billboard magazine, which compiles its chart from Nielsen SoundScan data, listed Toby Keith’s Shock’n Y’all as its top country album of 2004. However, because of editorial deadlines during the holiday season, the music trade publication bases its end-of-the-year list on sales for the 12 months ending Nov. 30. Following its Nov. 4, 2003 release, Shock’n Y’all racked up huge sales in December 2003. Shock’n Y’all has now sold almost 4 million copies, but total sales for the title during the 2004 calendar year were below the levels achieved by the newer albums by Chesney, McGraw and Wilson.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to