HOLLYWOOD — With his album The Ultimate Hits set for release on Tuesday (Nov. 6), Garth Brooks was honored with the ultimate award on Monday when the Recording Industry Association of America officially recognized him as the best-selling solo artist in American album history. The RIAA saluted him for shipments of 123 million units in the U.S., placing him ahead of Elvis Presley, who stands at 118.5 million, according to the organization’s Web site. Only the Beatles, who have sold 170 million, stand ahead of Brooks.
“This is a marriage between an artist and the people that allow him to be that artist — the people that buy these records,” he told about 100 fans who ringed the makeshift press area outside the Capitol Records building in Hollywood. “I can’t thank you guys enough for your support.”
Brooks, dressed in a black western hat, maroon shirt and denim jeans and jacket, gave his acceptance speech on a platform just five feet from his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. At the unveiling of that star on Vine Street in June 1995, Brooks buried the master tapes to his album, The Hits, beneath the concrete, assuring that the album’s sales would be capped at 10 million units.
But most of his other albums have not had such a restraint placed upon them, and the RIAA’s new sales level reflects updates on a variety of projects. Sevens and his self-titled debut album both received Diamond Awards, recognizing shipments of 10 million copies. Among the other certifications, Double Live was hailed for sales of 21 million units, Fresh Horses was certified for 7 million and The Lost Sessions logged in at 3 million.
“He has always been true to country music as a format,” observed Country Music Association chief strategic officer Ed Benson. “He’s never decided to cross over and be anything else, and so it’s great that the No.1-selling solo artist of all time is a country music artist.”
The Nashville-based CMA, which airs its annual awards on Wednesday (Nov. 7), gave Brooks a crystal obelisk award to commemorate the occasion. The L.A.-based Academy of Country Music also handed Brooks the first Crystal Milestone trophy, recognizing “a specific, remarkable achievement.”
“My … proudest moment of today,” Brooks underscored, “is that this honor, this award, this achievement, rests under the flag of country music.”
“You deserve it, Garth!” yelled one fan, eliciting whoops from the rest of the crowd.
In typical fashion, Brooks let the fans be part of the occasion as well. He took one of his awards to the edges of the metal barriers and allowed some of his followers to touch it. Others used their cell phones to snap close-up photos.
The event marked an extremely busy day for the Oklahoma native. Brooks had originally been slated to appear on NBC’s The Tonight Show With Jay Leno to promote The Ultimate Hits and it’s special “pink edition” which will raise money for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a breast cancer foundation. Leno had even moved up the shooting schedule for the episode to accommodate Brooks, but the Hollywood writers’ strike, which began on Monday, forced a cancellation of new episodes.
Brooks was set to fly back to Kansas City for a Monday night concert, his first of nine appearances at the new Sprint Center. The shows are the only live dates on the schedule for Brooks, who officially retired from the road earlier this decade.
Brooks’ definition of retirement has always been somewhat hazy, especially since he continues to issue new product and compilations and because he consistently leaves the door open to return to the road after his three daughters have grown up. He still has a manager, a publicist and his own record label, Pearl Records, headed by longtime associate Joe Mansfield.
“The good times,” Brooks promised, “are still ahead of us.”
The RIAA program is different from the SoundScan data that affects results on the Billboard sales charts. SoundScan, which debuted in 1991, reflects actual sales at the cash register. Brooks benefited specifically from the introduction of SoundScan. His Ropin’ the Wind album debuted at No. 1 upon its release, demonstrating a strength for country music that most of the industry had not previously recognized.
The RIAA, meanwhile, reflects shipments instead of actual sales. In addition, multi-disc albums are credited with more than one shipment. The Ultimate Hits will be counted as two units because it contains two audio discs.
As a result, Brooks’ RIAA figure of 123 million is certain to grow. Mansfield indicated the label has shipped 2 million copies of The Ultimate Hits, a three-disc set that includes two CDs and one DVD. He predicted that 1 million of those will be purchased within the first week.