The biggest album flops of all time

Bob_lHappy Birthday, Bob Dylan! Spinner marked your 66th on May 24 by calling your 1970 release Self-Portrait the most monumental album flop of all time. The website’s list of the 25 biggest album flops is a curious swath of schadenfr— oops, you guys don’t want me to use that word anymore. Still, how else to describe a list that revels in the falls from grace, artistic overreaches, and acts of hubris of such big stars as Dylan, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Bruce Springsteen. (Curious observation: Two discs on the list, by Puff Daddy and the Spice Girls, both bear the same undeservedly optimistic title: Forever.)

Now, Self-Portrait is an admittedly unlistenable album that sold poorly, but the biggest flop ever? Bigger than No. 2, Garth Brooks’ In the Life of Chris Gaines, which pretty much ended the career of one of music’s top-selling acts, or No. 3, Mariah Carey’s Glitter, which nearly ended her career and cost her label almost $50 million? Conversely, there are some selections here that seem unfairly petty. Yes, U2’s Pop flopped, as did Green Day’s Warning, but in the overall arc of their respective careers, both albums now look like speed bumps. Calling Matthew Sweet’s Altered Beast one of the biggest flops ever because it sold only a third as many copies as his Girlfriend seems nitpicky given that neither indie-rock release sold more than 600,000 copies anyway. And to call the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique — a CD that was an instant classic and has proven enormously influential — a disaster merely because it didn’t rack up huge sales makes you wonder what point is served by using this list’s vague criteria at all.

Still, it’s fun to recognize the record-buying public’s good taste in not falling twice for Vanilla Ice, Sisqó, the Knack, or Chingy, or even once for Paris Hilton and Kevin Federline. Do you agree with Spinner’s choices, PopWatchers? What other acts of unwarranted musical chutzpah deserve mention here?

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Comments (103 total) Add your comment
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  • beb

    It was interesting to see Prince at #5…especially with the backstory about Clive Davis. As much as I love them, Ace of Base’s “Cruel Summer” should have made the list. They sold over 7 million copies of their debut CD, but “Cruel Summer” barely pushed 500,000. Clive Davis was the executive producer on that effort, essentially retooling their “Flowers” CD for a U.S. audience — their international hit “Life Is A Flower” was hacked and repackaged as “Whenever You’re Near Me,” which was (sadly) their last appearance on the Billboard Hot 100. Kelly Clarkson’s smart to run the other way!

  • Slammy

    U2’s Pop may have been a flop sales-wise, but I always liked that record. There are some fantastic tunes on there – “Gone,” “Last Night On Earth,” “Please.” Yes, maybe they’d be even better done in the style of U2’s last couple of records – leaner and faster without all the electro-techno stuff – but still, I sort of liked the sounds the band were coming up with in that period, and lyrically there’s great stuff there.

  • furry_tom

    Kudos on not using schadenfreude anymore, but some of these other words are also confusing too. For example, what’s a hubris? It sounds like some fruity hybrid car. Please, from now on limit all posts to a picture with a caption that says either “Good”, “Plus-good” or “Double-plus-good.”

  • Letterdavidman

    Gary (may I call you Gary?)–please do feel free to use words such as “schadenfreude” and “hubris” any time you care to. Hell, you might even want to throw in “twee”, “fatuous”, and “trenchant” every now and again, just to keep it interesting. It’s words like that that separate the men from the boys, vocabluarily speaking.
    Carry on.

  • Rob

    That is one of the most worthless lists I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of dumb lists.) Pop, Paul’s Boutique, and even The Ego has Landed, are all genuinely great albums.

  • Greg Arkadin

    There might be bigger flops, but Altered Beast was a significant artistic disappointment after Girlfriend. It’s a drag and sounds like the result of too playing many video games and smoking too much pot. He has bounced back since then, however.

  • Baby

    Two big flops: Diana Degarmo’s Blue Skies, which is a pity they gave her such crap to sing;and Justin Gurani’s album. He is not a very good singer. He can make a few dollars working night clubs and small bars.

  • Dan

    Too many one-hit wonders on the list. Is it really a flop when their second album tanks and they’re never heard from again? Also, Springsteen was purposely trying to distance himself from “USA” by not being commercial, that may have been the intent of Dylan and the Beastie Boys as well.
    To me the real flops are when an artist has the goods, the momentum and the desire, yet fails to deliver. I know I’m showing my age but I would have included…. Magical Mystery Tour (Beatles), Presence (Led Zep), Tusk (Fleetwood Mac), Vertigo (U2), Seeds of Love (Tears for Fears) or Vatican Gift Shop (STP).

  • RTA

    Hard not to include Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s bloated “Works Pt. 1″ as the follow-up studio album to the incredibly popular “Brain Salad Surgery” (You know, “Welcome back, my friends to the show that never ends…”). I mean 3 LPs full of some of the most mediocre, uninspired junk has to rank up there somewhere!

  • GingerCat

    furry_tom is funny. Please, keep using words like “schadenfreude.” If people don’t know what they mean, they can look them up. There are even online dictionaries now for people who don’t want to crack a book.
    As for the list, I think Jessica Simpson’s most recent CD, “A Public Affair,” should be on it. Her previous album had been her best-selling CD ever, but even with scads of nauseating publicity, “A Public Affair” dropped off the charts about as fast as “Paris” did.
    Or how about Meredith Brooks? Her first CD, “Blurring the Edges,” sold well. But her next album failed to even crack the Billboard Top 200. Ouch.

  • Christina

    Where’s Madonna’s ‘American Life’?

  • aramis

    Mariah’s “Glitter” album went on to sell three million albums worldwide. Granted those aren’t the numbers of her previous albums, but seriously…most acts would DREAM of selling that much. I wish I had bad days like that. And wherein most albums on this list are definitely unlistenable, “Glitter” is a very listenable album. I think I play that album more often than any other at parties and whatnot. It certainly wasn’t given its due. Perhaps because it was overshadowed by the movie (which wasn’t terrible, suffice to say, just not great either). I think if people actually gave the album a listen, they wouldn’t hate it. Some real Mariah gems are on there including “All My Life,” “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life,” “I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On,” and so on. Great stuff. Really.

  • GeeMoney

    Get ready to add Christina Aguilera’s “Back To Basics” album on that list. Her first CD sold 8 mil, and this one has onyl sold 1.5 mil. Someone call her up and tell her to make a better album like her first one next time around!

  • GeeMoney

    Get ready to add Christina Aguilera’s “Back To Basics” album on that list. Her first CD sold 8 mil, and this one has only sold 1.5 mil. Someone call her up and tell her to make a better album like her first one next time around!

  • aramis

    Let the record be known as well, according to Soundscan, Madonna’s “American Life” (which I LOVE by they way) and J-Ho’s “Rebirth” sold considerably less than “Glitter”…yet “Glitter is the highest female album on that list. Curious…?

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