It turns out she’s placed about right in that respect; she’s had nine Top 40 songs and one #1 hit, and her record sales put her about where she should be on the list with the exception of a few people who are highly ranked for reasons other than sales (Patti Smith, to pick an obvious example).
I did find out some things that maybe shouldn’t have surprised me, but did anyway:
- Tina Turner hasn’t sold as many records as I thought. Don’t get me wrong — she’s sold tons of records and had huge commercial success -- but her twenty-three Top 40 songs and one #1 hit is a lot less than I figured she’d have, and is about half of Aretha Franklin’s, who’s #1 on the list to her #2.
- People who had a surprisingly small degree of commercial success: Janis Joplin, Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez. In the case of the first two, they died young, and Harris has always been more of a fringe act, but I dunno how Joan Baez makes a living. She’s been recording since the ‘50s and has the “female Dylan” rep, but she’s hardly sold any records at all.
- I have no idea why Bonnie Raitt is so highly ranked. She hasn’t had a long or storied career, she only has five Top 40 hits and no #1s, and to my ears anyway, she’s not remotely innovative or groundbreaking. It it jut because she’s a lesbian?
- This probably speaks more to my age and life experience than anything else, but I assumed the most commercially successful of the female artists would be Madonna by a country mile. And she’s close, but the title actually goes to Diana Ross. She has forty-nine Top 40 hits (!) and 18 #1 hits (!!) to Madonna’s 48 and 12, and in terms of total record sales over a lifetime, she obliterates Our Lady Ciccone. Basically, being Diana Ross for the twenty years between 1964 and 1984, you had a license to print money.
- Barbra Streisand was another one lower on the sales scale than I thought she’d be. Again, like Tina, she’s made a pile of money, and her hit count is very respectable — twenty-one Top 40 hits and five #1 hits — but I figured it’d be twice that. Apparently much of her music income is from touring and big shows rather than record sales.
- Joni Mitchell only had eight Top 40 hits, but all save one of them were Top Ten. Similarly, Debbie Harry only had eight as well, but half of them were #1.
- The one that absolutely shocked me the most? Stevie fucking Nicks. I knew she was big (I’ve seen her house), but I had no idea how big. The anal cocaine delivery advocate has had, with her Fleetwood Mac songs, her solo career, and collaborations, an astonishing twenty-seven Top 40 hits and four #1 singles. That’s more than Tina Turner, Gladys Knight, Linda Ronstadt, Barbra Streisand, Karen Carpenter, or Carole King and Joni Mitchell combined! Good grief.