Best-selling album from the year you graduated high school
Far more than the manipulation of sound for the mere sake of human enjoyment, great music can stir an epic range of emotions, actions, and memories alike at the drop of a melody. That’s not to mention music’s role as both a rite of passage and way of life for millions—if not billions—of people. It’s therefore no wonder that so many of us associate specific songs or albums with important moments, memories, people, and events, so much so that one could arguably compile a soundtrack to his or her life without thinking too hard about it.
Naturally, a great deal of those soundtrack-type songs or albums would be built around one’s teenage years, when music’s ability to capture an emotional state seems to be at its most profound. By extension, the songs and albums themselves often become snapshots of the era in which they were released, encompassing everything from cultural trends to dance moves to fashion statements. Driving that notion home are the album’s creators—the musicians and producers—many of whom reflect or even dictate the norms of their respective times.
Given music’s tendency to signify so many things at once, it’s only natural to wonder what the best-selling album was the year you graduated high school. Cue up that nostalgia meter, because Stacker is here to put that curiosity to rest. We’re listing off the best-selling album from every year going all the way back to 1956. For the data, we went straight to the foremost authority: Billboard, which has been tracking popular music since before the SoundScan era. Speaking of which, sales data is included only from 1992 onwards, when Nielsen’s SoundScan began gathering computerized figures. Going in chronological order from 1956 to 2019, we present the best-selling album from the year you graduated high school.
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1956: "Calypso" by Harry Belafonte
Bolstered by the hit song “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” Harry Belafonte’s “Calypso” is as catchy today as it was upon its 1956 debut. Drawing inspiration from both calypso and Jamaican music traditions, the album made Belafonte the first artist to ever sell more than 1 million copies of an album. These days, the 91-year-old singer and civil rights activist keeps mainly to himself, barring the occasional public appearance. Meanwhile, movie buffs seeking their Belafonte fix can always stream “Beetlejuice,” which features “Day-O” in what’s arguably the film’s most iconic scene.
1957: "My Fair Lady" soundtrack by the original Broadway cast
Before it was a popular film starring Audrey Hepburn, “My Fair Lady” was a wildly popular musical by Frederick Loewe with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Just how popular? For starters, it was the longest-running musical in Broadway history for its time. Then there’s the soundtrack, which was the #1 album for 15 weeks in a row, and the year’s best-selling album for both 1957 and 1958.
1958: "My Fair Lady" soundtrack by the original Broadway cast
As previously mentioned, the soundtrack for “My Fair Lady” was such a resounding success that it became the best-selling album for two years in a row. Not only did the album earn Columbia Records $5 million in one year — an unprecedented amount at the time — but it would go on to sell more than five million copies over the course of 10 years. Despite all that success, producers still thought it best to replace Julie Andrews with Audrey Hepburn, even though 95% of Hepburn’s singing parts had to be dubbed for the film adaptation.
1959: "Music from Peter Gunn" by Henry Mancini
As one of old Hollywood’s most legendary composers, Henry Mancini penned a slew of iconic scores, many of which endure in the public consciousness to this day. Among his most popular works was the theme music for the TV series “Peter Gunn,” about a handsome private investigator with a love for the finer things in life. Mancini would later claim the jazzy score not only provided him with his big break, but “put music on everybody's mind as far as television was concerned."
1960: "The Sound of Music" soundtrack by the original Broadway cast
Two names synonymous with the best of Broadway are Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, who wrote the songs for “The Sound of Music,” a smash hit later adapted into an award-winning film. Originally, producer Richard Halliday envisioned the show as a traditional play (sprinkled with the occasional Austrian folk ditty) and he approached Rodgers and Hammerstein to see if they would contribute one song. In response, they suggested making the entire play a musical, and soon got to work turning it into one of the most beloved musicals of all time.
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1961: "Camelot" soundtrack by the original Broadway cast
Adapted from the King Arthur tale “The Once and Future King,” by T.H. White, Broadway musical “Camelot” featured music by Frederick Loewe and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, the same talented duo behind “My Fair Lady.” Composing the music was so stressful on Loewe that he left the musical theater business for more than a decade upon completion. While the play itself was considered somewhat mediocre by Broadway standards, the soundtrack album was a smash hit.
1962: "West Side Story" soundtrack by various artists
Composed by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the “West Side Story” film soundtrack upped the production ante on the already-popular Broadway cast recording to wildly successful results. Not only is this album one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time, but it held the #1 spot on the Billboard main album chart for a record-breaking 54 weeks in a row. It also won the Grammy for Best Soundtrack Album – Original Cast, and went triple-platinum. As for the film itself, it opened to substantial acclaim and won no fewer than 10 Academy Awards. This may lead one to ask: why is Steven Spielberg bothering to remake this movie when it was executed so perfectly the first time around?
1963: "West Side Story" soundtrack by various artists
After famously spending more than a year at the top of the Billboard charts, it’s no surprise that the “West Side Story” soundtrack became the best-selling album for two years in a row. But did you know that many of the vocals weren’t recorded by the film’s actors and actresses? The producers brought in professional singers including Marni Nixon, who recorded the songs while actresses such as Natalie Wood took all the credit. So it goes in Hollywood.
1964: "Hello, Dolly!" soundtrack by the original Broadway cast
By 1964, high school girls across the country were catching Beatle fever, but that wasn’t enough to stop Broadway and film soundtracks from dominating in the album sales department. For proof, look no further than the resounding success of the “Hello, Dolly!” Broadway cast recording. With music and lyrics by Jerry Sherman, the play is sometimes pointed to as the “Hamilton” of its time, namely due to its status as the hottest ticket in town for a number of years in a row.
1965: "Mary Poppins" soundtrack by various artists
Rock and roll was everywhere by 1965, and so was the “Mary Poppins” soundtrack. Composed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, and featuring performances from a number of the film’s stars, the album won two Grammys: one for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or TV Show, and the other for Best Recording for Children. Likewise, the movie took home Academy Awards for Best Original Song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee” and Best Original Score, while also winning in non-music related categories.
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