Carrie Underwood Joins the Five Million Club

The Five Million Club has a

13&ei=iOumRbW5NabKswGw8aieDQ&url=http%3A//″>new member this year, and it’s only the first month of 2007. , Carrie Underwood has broken a record along the way, reaching that plateau faster than any female debut artist in history. Given that she’s only the third female debut artist to sell 5x platinum in the first place, it may not seem that impressive. But think about this: the last time an artist sold 5 million copies of their breakthrough album so quickly, she went by the name Shania Twain.

When discussing the relative strength or weakness of country music at any given time, record sales are always a key barometer for how well the genre is doing. During the boom years (1991-1997), even b-list stars like Tracy Lawrence, BlackHawk and Tracy Byrd would occasionally go multi-platinum. But even during the gold rush, there was rarefied air that few artists ever experienced: selling five million copies of a studio album.

To put this in perspective, there are major stars – legends, even – that have yet to reach the 5-million mark for an album of new material. Some have come close; artists that have peaked at 4 million include Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and John Michael Montgomery. Huge stars that have currently topped out at 3 million include Dwight Yoakam, Clint Black, Keith Urban, Travis Tritt and Martina McBride.

The life cycle of a studio album is usually 1-2 years, and can span anywhere from 2-8 singles, depending on how quickly radio can turn over the hits. An album selling four million copies has penetrated the country market almost completely; to sell more requires a breakthrough of popularity that has pretty much guaranteed permanent success, with only two glaring exceptions in country music history. Here, then, are the members of the Five Million Club, those few artists who managed to sell five million copies or more of a studio album.

The Five Million Club

Carrie Underwood
Member Since 2007

Album: Some Hearts (5 million)

Between the sales records she’s been breaking and all of the award shows she’s been nominated at, even I’m getting tired of seeing this album cover on my blog. What can be said? I was watching “Don’t Forget to Remember Me” on GAC a few minutes ago, and I realized how safe and girl-next-door she was launched as, a perfect fit for the Idol winner. Then, album sales shot right back through the roof as “Before He Cheats” went against expectations and toughened up her image. If it had been the lead single from her second album, she’d be accused of trying too hard to shake the goody-two-shoes image; by including it on her debut, she established herself as versatile from the start. I can see this woman posting Shania numbers if her next album is as solid as this one.

Gretchen Wilson
Member Since 2006

Album: Here For the Party (5 million)

Nobody can accuse Wilson of not being a major player on the Row. The mega-success of her debut album held off the inevitable Sony-BMG merger. The disappointing sales of its follow-up ensured it would come to pass. Still, she was the first artist to break through to the five-million sales level in six years, which was no small feat in itself.

Faith Hill
Member Since 2000

Albums: Breathe (8 million), Faith (6 million)

For a while there, Faith Hill kept outselling herself; each of her first four studio albums sold significantly more than its predecessor. Breathe was such a smash hit that it helped push Faith to five million before it got there itself three months later.

Vince Gill
Member Since 2000

Album: I Still Believe in You (5 million)

Slow and steady may not win the race, but it will eventually get you to the finish line. Of the male superstars that broke through in the early nineties, Gill was the last to reach the five million mark, eight years after the album that got him there was released. Then again, given the other big guys of the era that didn’t make it – Clint Black and Travis Tritt come to mind – Gill’s earned his bragging rights.

Deana Carter
Member Since 2000

Album: Did I Shave My Legs For This? (5 million)

Here’s the question for Gretchen and Carrie, the two latest ladies to hit this mark. Are they Shanias or Deanas? Shania Twain hit the mark quickly and blew past it, and her next two albums did the same. Deana Carter had one five-million seller, then a follow-up that barely went gold. My money splits the difference: I think Carrie’s going to continue to sell big numbers and Gretchen was a “Redneck Woman”-fueled fluke, much like “Strawberry Wine” pushed this record.

Dixie Chicks
Members Since 1999

Albums: Wide Open Spaces (12 million), Fly (10 million),
Home (6 million)

Forget the five million club. What about the ten million club? Only three country artists have ever reached those dizzying sales heights, and they’ve all done it more than once. It can be argued, then, that for all the fawning we do over our superstars, the only mega-stars country music has ever produced are Garth Brooks, Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks. When another star will come along who can match their sales numbers is anyone’s guess.

Member Since 1998

Album: Mountain Music (5 million)

Country’s original supergroup was selling multi-platinum back when that was still an unheard of feat. No surprise that they were the first and only act to win Entertainer of the Year three years in a row. Their biggest album, Mountain Music, hit five million nearly two decades after its original release.

LeAnn Rimes
Member Since 1997

Album: Blue (6 million)

One thing that often goes unnoticed when sales are discussed is that Curb Records is the only Nashville label that doesn’t allow record clubs to sell their music at an introductory rate. So the gap that exists between scanned sales and certified sales on the big records is much narrower for Curb artists. It’s easy to imagine Rimes and McGraw having multiple albums on this list if they were competing on a level playing field, or at least having less company on it if labels weren’t allowed to count those 12 CD’s for a penny in their sales stats.

Kenny Rogers
Member Since 1997

Album: The Gambler (5 million)

If greatest hits albums counted, you’d be hearing about Rogers as part of the ten million club. His 1980 hits collection has moved 12 million units, making the fact that this studio album, the title track of which is included on the hits collection released barely a year later, has still sold five million copies an astonishing feat.

Member Since 1997

Album: Wynonna (5 million)

Once this album hit stores and consumers got a listen, all of the people who were mourning the loss of Naomi Judd, who retired as her daughter’s duet partner due to illness, suddenly realized that Mama had been holding her back. At the time, it was the biggest studio album ever by a female country artist, a record she held until a certain Canadian hit it big.

Tim McGraw
Member Since 1997

Album: Not a Moment Too Soon (5 million)

It’s kinda funny that McGraw’s biggest-selling album was fueled by novelty hits, considering what a song man he’s become over the years. At least his last studio album, at 4 million and counting, may join his breakthrough set on this list sometime soon.

Randy Travis
Member Since 1996

Album: Always & Forever (5 million)

I’ve always wondered how big this album would’ve been if “Forever and Ever, Amen” had hit during the boom years, instead of it being the mega-hit that started them. Travis coasted on this success for many years, putting out some great music along the way. And even though he’s switched to country gospel since, he still managed to score a #1 country hit with “Three Wooden Crosses”, showing his song sense is still a marvel.

Shania Twain
Member Since 1996

Albums: Come On Over (20 million), The Woman in Me (12 million),
(11 million)

Sell as many records as she did, and you can buy yourself a very nice piece of land. Write all the songs on those albums as well, and you can buy yourself a castle in the Swiss Alps. The fairy tale metaphor is overused, but when you’re actually living in a frickin’ castle, it applies.

George Strait
Member Since 1995

Album: Pure Country (Soundtrack) (6 million)

“I Cross My Heart” gave Strait a song that will live on in weddings long after he’s gone, and the heavy rotation the movie still gets on CMT – where, next to Dukes of Hazzard, it’s practically Masterpiece Theatre, his biggest album will surely continue to sell.

Alan Jackson
Member Since 1995

Album: A Lot About Livin’ (and a Little ‘Bout Love) (6 million)

Remember when “Chattahoochee” was Jackson’s signature song? Before “Where Were You”, “Drive”, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” and, well, “Remember When”? The traditionalists finally got them a superstar of their own, and of all the early nineties acts on this list, it’s hard to name another one who has aged so damn well. He’s a legend in his own time.

Brooks & Dunn
Member Since 1995

Albums: Brand New Man (6 million), Hard Workin’ Man (5 million)

These guys still get nominated for Entertainer of the Year, but they haven’t moved units in a big way since Clinton’s first term. Check out those early records and you can hear their distinctive sound before it became their strait jacket.

Billy Ray Cyrus
Member Since 1992

Album: Some Gave All (9 million)

Yep, Billy Ray Cyrus. “Achy Breaky Heart” really was that big, and to his credit, he managed to garner one more platinum and one more gold album after it. And hey, his daughter is currently outselling most of the artists on this list, so perhaps the nation hadn’t killed the Cyrus Virus; we were just in remission.

Garth Brooks
Member Since 1991

Albums: Double Live (20 million), No Fences (16 million),
Ropin’ the Wind
(14 million), Garth Brooks (9 million), Sevens (9 million), The Chase (8 million), In Pieces (8 million),
Fresh Horses
(6 million), Scarecrow (5 million)

It seems only right that Brooks was the first country artist to hit this benchmark, even though albums released earlier would eventually get there. His sales success completely redefined what the commercial potential for country could be, and even now, sixteen years later, we’re still living with those expectations, for better or for worse. It’s hard to believe that there once was a time that Music Row threw a party when an album moved 100,000 units. For most stars now, an opening week like that would be a disappointment.