Last week, when Vampire Weekend‘s sophomore effort was the top selling album in America, Billboard announced that Contra was “only the 12th independently distributed album to top the Billboard 200 chart since SoundScan began powering the list in May of 1991.” Curious what the other eleven were? Here they are:
1991 – N.W.A. – “EFIL4ZAGGIN” (Ruthless/Priority)
1992 – Ice Cube – “The Predator” (Priority)
1994 – “The Lion King” (Walt Disney)
1995 – “Friday” soundtrack (Priority)
1995 – “Pocahontas” (Walt Disney)
1995 – Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – “E. 1999 Eternal” (Priority)
1995 – Tha Dogg Pound – “Dogg Food” (Death Row/Priority)
1997 – Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – “The Art of War” (Priority)
2007 – Eagles – “Long Road Out of Eden” (self released/Wal-Mart)
2008 – Radiohead – “In Rainbows” (TBD/ATO/RED)
2009 – Pearl Jam – “Backspacer” (self released/Target)
2010 – Vampire Weekend – “Contra” (XL/ADA)
Not a lot of what you’d really think of as “indie,” is there? That’s because Billboard defines an independent album based on the title’s distribution:
If an album is sold by an indie distributor (or, one of the major label’s indie distribution arms), it is classified as an independent title and can chart on our Top Independent Albums tally. Classification is not based on a label’s ownership, or if an act is signed to an independent label.
In the mid-90s Priority Records was sold to EMI and Walt Disney Records switched to Universal Music Group Distribution, which led to a ten-year absence of indie releases at the top of the album chart until the Eagles came along and changed everything!
2 thoughts on “Indie Chart Toppers”
With such technicalities, even though it’s on Atlantic, Death Cab for Cutie’s Narrow Stairs should be on the list since it’s more of an indie record in spirit.
This isn’t about the spirit of indie — it’s about how few albums make it to the top without the muscle of major label distribution behind them. No matter what kind of spirit Narrow Stairs had, it still had the full force of Warner Music Group pushing it…hard.
There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m sure that’s why Death Cab signed to a major: so more people would hear them.
But it’s interesting to see that there were a few years when the majors had no idea what to do about hip hop, and then for 10 years there was nothing… And then since 2007 there has been a #1 album outside the major label system every year.
Also interesting to note that Vampire Weekend is the first that did not “come up” in the major label system. The Eagles, Radiohead, and Pearl Jam all experienced the benefits of a major label push before they went independent.