By: Nick Gambino
July 1st marked the 40th anniversary of the Sony Walkman TPS-L2, the device that revolutionized the way we listen to music. Every time you stick a pair of AirPods in your ears and crank up your summer playlist in Spotify, you’re walking on the back of what the Walkman created.
Until that seminal day in 1979, we didn’t have a way to intimately enjoy our music while on the go. Sure, there were transistor radios that allowed you to listen to music in a portable manner, and they were great if you enjoyed the experience of holding a large brick of a device up to your ear as you did so.
The TPS-L2 featured a pair of foam-clad headphones for private listening while you played your favorite cassette tapes, which was the recording format of choice for the next decade or so. The Walkman gave way to the Discman in the 90s before everything went digital in the new millennium. But it all started with a device that nobody thought would sell much of anything, let alone over 200 million units.
In honor of the cassette player that started it all, I figured we’d cover the best-selling albums of each decade starting in the 80s and working our way to the present.
Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)
For many, Thriller is the greatest album of all time. Selling over 66 million copies (that figure varies depending on what system is being used to calculate it), Michael Jackson’s sixth solo album was a defining moment in not only his career but in music as a whole. Songs like Billie Jean, Thriller and Beat It and their accompanying music videos helped launch MTV into a giant of video/music over the next couple decades.
My favorite song: Human Nature
Whitney Houston/Various Artists – The Bodyguard Original Soundtrack Album (1992)
Hot off her scorching hot success in the 80s with jams like How Will I Know, Greatest Love of All and I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me), Whitney Houston could seemingly do no wrong. When she was cast in The Bodyguard alongside Kevin Costner, nobody knew what to expect. The movie was a huge success with the two stars lighting up the screen with their chemistry, but it was the soundtrack which took it to a whole new level. Costner, a producer on the film, had to fight to make I Will Always Love You the first single off the album. His gamble paid off with the soundtrack quickly becoming one of the best-selling albums not only of the 90s but of all time.
My favorite song: I Have Nothing
Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
Not only was The Marshall Mathers LP the best-selling album of the 2000s, Eminem was crowned the top-selling artist of the decade as well. With the success of The Slim Shady LP catapulting him to fame, it was this major sophomore album that cemented him as one of the greats. Songs like Kill You, Stan and The Real Slim Shady are some of the most graphic, middle-finger-in-the-air songs to ever receive radio play. While I believe the rapper’s greatest work and display of skills is contained in his follow-up The Eminem Show, there’s no denying that this is where his talent became undeniable.
My favorite song: Who Knew
Adele – 21 (2011)
Adele’s powerful, bluesy voice is second to few and readily brings forth visions of Dusty Springfield and other classic influences. The second in her “age” series of albums, 21 sees the English singer making huge strides forward only two years after 19. Thanks to singles like Rolling in the Deep, Set Fire to the Rain and Someone Like You, this sophomore classic sold an ungodly number of units in an era when albums just don’t sell.
My favorite song: Someone Like You (Honorable Mention: He Won’t Go)