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Sure, “Thriller” sold a lot of copies, but Jackson recorded infrequently, and his later albums sold nowhere near what “Thriller” did.
The numbers surrounding Jackson have always been particularly outlandish.
I was amused, for example, while reading a memoir by Jackson’s record producer, Quincy Jones, “Q on Producing,” to see that “Thriller” had sold a hundred million copies—and then, a few pages later, that it had sold a hundred and twenty million.
I was sure by the end up of the book it would have risen to a hundred and fifty million. The group audits shipments of CDs (and, in the past, albums and cassettes), and gives those awards based on what’s boxed up and trucked out of the pressing plants.
As for that billion figure, that came from a press release for Jackson’s estate a couple of years ago, which asserted, in passing and with no documentation, that the singer had sold an “estimated” billion records. Gold represents five hundred thousand units shipped, and platinum a million. “Thriller” has been certified platinum in the United States twenty-nine times as of 2009.
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So how many records—albums, singles, and downloads—did Jackson sell in total? Classic-era Motown refused to have its sales audited by the industry, so there are no official gold and platinum figures from this era.
Vieira says that the Jackson 5 sold a bit less than fifty million singles and fifty million albums for the label.
In a new book on Jackson, “Untouchable,” the writer Randall Sullivan repeats the hundred-million figure for “Thriller.” And earlier this year, fan sites were a buzzing with the news that the Michael Jackson estate had “confirmed” that Jackson had sold a total of a billion records.