1. Hammer, The Funky Headhunter (1994)
Countless albums have gone platinum in spite of their meager artistic merits. It’s not surprising that bad records sell millions; what’s surprising is when bad records by artists who are way past their commercial prime sell millions. That’s the case with Hammer’s The Funky Headhunter, the misbegotten (yet decent-selling) album that attempted to reshape the pop-rapper’s nice-guy image into a harder, more “street” mold. Headhunter hardly succeeded in that goal, considering the professional and personal misfortunes that befell Hammer in the wake of the album’s release. The video for lead single “Pumps And A Bump”—which featured Hammer cavorting with bikini-clad ladies sans parachute pants, and wearing only a shlong-y Speedo—was widely mocked, and his decision to pick fights with A Tribe Called Quest, Run-DMC, and MC Serch of 3rd Bass in the lyrics to “Break ’Em Off Somethin’ Proper” just seemed silly. In retrospect, the platinum status of The Funky Headhunter is more a testament to how much Hammer’s popularity had declined from 1990’s multi-platinum Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ’Em than any supposed relevance four years later.
2, Baha Men, Who Let The Dogs Out (2000)
The best part of being a music fan in the iTunes era is that if you have a shameful weakness for, say, LMFAO’s latest bit of earworm-y awfulness, you can download that song and that song only in the privacy of your own home. Back in the old days, even if people only liked one song, they had to buy the whole album, which inevitably pushed overly padded novelty LPs past the platinum mark. Exhibit A: Baha Men, who had been around, under one name or another, for a couple of decades before hitting it big with “Who Let The Dogs Out?” A cover of a song that became popular during Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago in 1998, it ended up on the soundtrack to Rugrats In Paris: The Movie and quickly became a fixture of television, movie trailers, and sporting events. Yes, there once was a time when the song “Who Let The Dogs Out” wasn’t considered a nuisance and people actively desired to seek it out. So actively, in fact, that over a million ponied up for Who Let The Dogs Out, the cannily titled name of the Baha Men album on which the song appears (as the first track). Despite those sales, and a follow-up single that borrowed from “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” Who Let The Dogs Out failed to produce any more substantial hits. Baha Men, however, gamely solider on. No doubt the group is playing “Who Let The Dogs Out” somewhere tonight.
3. Guns N’ Roses, Chinese Democracy (2008)
A variety of factors—inaccurate sales accounting, cheap record pricing, no iTunes—help to explain why it seemed relatively easy for albums to go platinum in the latter half of the 20th century. In the new century, it takes a lot of effort (and a fan base unwilling or unable to download your record illegally) to sell a million units. So what explains Guns N’ Roses’ forever-in-the-works 2008 opus Chinese Democracy reaching platinum status? By the time it finally came out after more than 10 years of studio tinkering, Democracy had seemingly outlasted much of the public’s interest in the album. Not only had Axl Rose fired or forced out all the other original members, it was assumed that whatever grit or magic that Appetite For Destruction possessed had worn away. And guess what? That assumption was right on the money. You can still hear songs from Appetite playing in every sports arena in the country, but Democracy came and went without making any impact on pop-culture. (Even as a euphemism for “over-labored musical boondoggle,” it’s now been replaced by Dr. Dre’s still-unreleased Detox.) And yet, in spite of having the ability to hear the record for free online, more than 1 million fans bought Chinese Democracy. Perhaps what they were really purchasing were Chinese Democracy coasters.
4. Garth Brooks, Garth Brooks In … The Life Of Chris Gaines (1999)
Terms like “success” and “failure” need to be set aside when assessing Garth Brooks’ infamous 1999 album, The Life Of Chris Gaines. Brooks’ decision to ditch his mega-popular, big hat-wearing country-singer persona in order to take on the guise of a dark, soul patch-donning alt-rocker is considering one of the strangest—if not out-and-out disastrous—career decisions ever. Released at end of a smashingly profitable decade for Brooks, The Life Of Chris Gaines seems like a gesture of a man who’s content to take all of the goodwill he’s stored up over the past 10 years, put it in a barrel, and set it on fire. And yet The Life Of Chris Gaines went double platinum; had it come out in 2011, it would have ranked as one of the year’s best-selling albums, besting the likes of Drake and Jay-Z and Kanye West. It’s an album whose “popularity” should be the envy of most artists.
5. Quiet Riot, Condition Critical (1984)
The unforeseen triumph of Quiet Riot’s 1983 album Metal Health raised heavy metal—for the first time—to the peak of the Billboard album chart. Never mind the fact that the album had approximately three good songs on it. But as the old saying goes: Fluke us twice, shame on us. Condition Critical is Quiet Riot’s follow-up to Metal Health, and it doesn’t even have the dignity to serve up mediocrity and unoriginality with a suitable side of attitude. Instead, it coasts on yet another note-for-note Slade cover (“Mama Weer All Crazee Now” rather than Metal Health’s “Cum On Feel The Noize”) and a whole lot of filler. Really, it makes sense that a glorified cover band unable to write decent songs that scored an unexpected hit might try to use the same formula the next time out. The puzzler is this: America fell for it, making Condition Critical one of the least plausible, wholly undeserving platinum successes ever.
6. Eddie And The Cruisers soundtrack (1983)
How big was Bruce Springsteen’s mega-selling Born In The U.S.A. in 1984? So big that the blatant Springsteen rip-offs compiled on the Eddie And The Cruisers soundtrack also went platinum. Guilty of all the rank nostalgia and empty rock mythmaking that Springsteen detractors unfairly leveled at The Boss, 1983’s Eddie And The Cruisers told the story of a ’60s rock star who dies mysteriously (or does he?) and the supposed lost masterwork that he left behind that sounds an awful lot like a bad facsimile of music released 20 years later. The public originally rejected Cruisers mania when the film arrived in theaters in 1983—it grossed less than $5 million—but the film found an audience on video and the song “On The Dark Side” (which many people mistook for a Springsteen song) became a hit. It was a good con, but it couldn’t last: A sequel, Eddie And The Cruisers II: Eddie Lives, tanked.
7. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1978)
The film adaptation of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was widely reviled upon its release, earning bad reviews and attracting thin crowds. But when the soundtrack album came out five weeks ahead of the movie, people shelled out for it anyway. They weren’t necessarily buying a pig in a poke, either: The soundtrack featured hit covers of Beatles songs by Aerosmith and Earth, Wind & Fire and boasted a list of proven hitmakers that included Alice Cooper, Billy Preston, and, most prominently, Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees, the stars of the film. (Also present: Steve Martin and George Burns.) Whatever highlights the album offers drown in a sea of overproduced Beatles covers, and though sales fell off after the movie bombed, it still sold enough to remain a fixture at thrift stores to this day. Sandy Farina fans on a budget, take note and act accordingly.
8. The Last Action Hero: Music From The Original Motion Picture (1993)
Here’s another album that found success despite being tied to a notorious movie. The Arnold Schwarzenegger bomb The Last Action Hero became synonymous with financial failure for a decade or so before Gigli offered a funnier-sounding, more succinct option. Yet in 1993, the names Alice In Chains, AC/DC, Cypress Hill, and Megadeth were pretty much guaranteed to move some albums. And so they did, even if listening to the Last Action Hero soundtrack also meant listening to a team-up between film score veteran Michael Kamen and gimmicky guitar-abuser Buckethead.
9. The Simpsons Sing The Blues (1990)
Released on December 4, 1990, The Simpsons Sing The Blues arrived less than a year after the show’s primetime debut and at the height of Simpsons licensing fever. Of the album’s 10 songs, only one, “Moanin’ Lisa Blues,” had previously appeared in an episode, albeit in a shorter, rougher version. The rest have nothing do with The Simpsons we all know and love. In essence, it’s a novelty album, albeit one that takes itself a little too seriously; while some songs are humorous, others, like the cover of Randy Newman’s “I Love To See You Smile,” by Homer and Marge, are weirdly straightforward. Lacking the razor-sharp wit and irreverence that made the show a phenomenon in the first place, Blues is precisely the kind of inessential money-grab that Simpsons fans would normally make fun of.
10. Buster: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1988)
For a few years in the ’80s, virtually any album with Phil Collins’ balding head on the cover was guaranteed to go platinum. That included the soundtrack to Buster, a film starring Collins as a lovable ’60s criminal. (Again, it should be noted that Phil Collins was extremely popular in the ’80s, even to the point of being allowed to star in movies.) The album’s success isn’t entirely baffling. It included two Collins hits then not available anywhere else: The original “Two Hearts” and a cover of the Mindbenders’ ’60s hit “A Groovy Kind Of Love.” But it also included a lot of oldies readily available elsewhere (“I Got You Babe,” etc.), cues from the Anne Dudley score, and “Loco In Acapulco,” a new Four Tops song co-written by Collins and Lamont Dozier that didn’t suggest the venerable group was meant to record new music in the ’80s. It did become a hit in the UK, however. Such was the power of Collins.
11. Aaron Carter, Oh Aaron (2001)
It’s easy to forget, considering his recent career as celebrity-game-show fodder on Dancing With The Stars and Rachael Vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off, but Aaron Carter has not one but two platinum albums to his name. The first, 2000’s kiddie-rap collection Aaron’s Party (Come Get It), sold more than 3 million copies—though that’s not so surprising, given that it was released during the peak of the millennial boy-band craze that Carter was grandfathered into thanks to his older brother, Backstreet Boy Nick Carter. Considering that Nick Carter and his ilk were regularly smashing the diamond barrier (10 times platinum) at the time, a three-times platinum record for a Backstreet adjunct was practically guaranteed in 2000. Not so much in 2001—by which time the Backstreet Boys had already moved into the “greatest hits” stage of their career and ’N Sync was wrapping up its last tour ever—when Aaron Carter squeaked out Oh Aaron just in time to capitalize on the rapidly fading craze before his voice changed. In case Aaron Carter’s raison d’être wasn’t obvious, the title track of Oh Aaron makes it abundantly clear, kicking things off with Carter talk-rapping, “I said I had a brother in the Backstreet Boys,” then promising tickets to his amazed friends. That trick didn’t play for long, though: Despite featuring a “sneak preview” of his older brother’s upcoming solo release, Aaron Carter’s 2002 album, Another Earthquake!, didn’t even reach gold certification.
12. Lou Bega, A Little Bit Of Mambo (1999)
Like Aaron Carter, Lou Bega benefited greatly from a short-lived musical trend—in this case, the Latin-pop-music explosion of the late ’90s (though Bega himself is actually German of Italian and Ugandan descent). But trends aside, his debut album’s triple-platinum success begins and ends with a single song, the maddeningly catchy “Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit Of),” which updated a 1949 Perez Prado number by incorporating endless repetition of women’s names. See, you’re singing it right now! Somehow the ubiquity of that song—Bega’s only Top 40 U.S. hit—and the nearly identical follow-up single “Tricky Tricky” translated to huge album sales in both the U.S. and Europe, but Bega’s mambo-centric career soon fell victim to changing trends and oversaturation. Though he’s since notched a few moderate successes overseas, particularly in his native Germany, the U.S. charts haven’t seen even a little bit of Bega since the turn of the millennium.
13. Richard Marx, Paid Vacation (1994)
Science fact: Placed end on end, Richard Marx’s platinum records—including the ones he wrote, co-wrote, and/or produced for others—would stretch to Saturn and back. His peak as a solo artist, however, came in the late ’80s with the albums Richard Marx and Repeat Offender. But even by the end of the admittedly pabulum-flavored ’80s, his tapioca pop-rock was grossly uncool. And yet, his momentum kept him afloat—all the way to his fourth full-length, 1994’s platinum-selling Paid Vacation. Seldom has an album sounded as half-assed as its title; where earlier Marx hits like “Don’t Mean Nothing” at least acknowledged the existence of soul (somewhere, perhaps down the street over there), Paid Vacation dribbles sadly, like a hose someone forgot to turn all the way off. And yet, folks still lined up to drink it.
14. Bryan Adams, 18 Til I Die (1996)
With his blue jeans and leather jacket, Bryan Adams was a cheesy but effective pop tunesmith who aped the heartland rock of Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp in the ’80s and early ’90s better than a Canadian had any right to. Unlike his American counterparts, Adams always was better at hit singles than albums; he only sold the latter when he had an abundance of the former. By the time of 18 Til I Die, Adams’ luck as a hitmaker had ended, with dreck like “The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You” failing to gain any traction on the charts. Still, old habits die hard, and fans presumably purchased 18 Til I Die thinking that this was the one Bryan Adams album where the deep cuts are better than the hits. Alas, they were wrong, and they learned their lesson: Adams never had another platinum album in the U.S.