Adele took home every accolade under the sun for her blockbuster sophomore album 21, but she just earned another: The young songstress’ album was just certified Diamond, meaning it has sold 10x million copies. The last album to sell 10 million in under two years was ’N Sync’s No Strings Attached, which came out in 2000. Wow. You’re old.
This got me thinking: There aren’t too many female solo acts who’ve sold 10x million copies of a single album. How do they stack up in quality? I’ve ranked my picks for the best ten below, and hopefully it’ll inspire you to scream and complain. (Note: I haven’t included bands with female singers, obviously. Rumours and Tragic Kingdom would surely shake up this list.)
10. Mariah Carey, Daydream (1995)
Mariah’s best and biggest singles pepper Daydream: The Tom Tom Club-riffing “Fantasy” is a transcendant roller-coaster ride; the melodramatic “One Sweet Day” remains the biggest charting single of all time; “Always Be My Baby” is the churchiest, most foot-stomping example of R&B balladry in existence. I’m even fond of some the slower stuff, namely the twinkly “Underneath the Stars.”
9. Celine Dion, Falling Into You (1996)
Never forget that even Celine Dion wore midriff-baring tops in the ’90s. Falling Into You was an Album Of The Year-winning smash, and that’s definitely due to the album’s two bombastic, unbelievably unapologetic opening tunes “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” and “Because You Loved Me.” Could “BYLM” be the best Diane Warren song? Shhh, I’m actually a holdout for Faith Hill’s “There You’ll Be.” Shh!
8. Norah Jones, Come Away With Me (2002)
My friend Monica once complained that Norah Jones sings like Elmer Fudd, and I’ve never been able to get that out of my head. Still, what makes this album great is that clearly no one expected it to dominate the charts, as it’s a low-key jazzy affair with indigo-tinged production. “Don’t Know Why” is instantly familiar (though I still don’t know what “the house of fun” is), “Come Away With Me” is lovely, and my choice for the album’s best moment is “Shoot the Moon.”
7. Shania Twain, Come On Over (1997)
Come On Over was engineered for domination, and girl, it achieved. I don’t care if I ever hear “You’re Still the One” again, but I could listen to “That Don’t Impress Me Much” and “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” for all eternity. OK, so you’re Brad Pitt? That’s not nearly as impressive as selling three Diamond-certified albums, as Shania has. All hail the former Mrs. Mutt Lange!
6. Adele, 21 (2011)
First of all, thank God the Grammy for Best New Artist was correct at least once: Shortly after stunning the world with “Chasing Pavements,” Adele charged into the superstar sphere with this contemplative, damning, virtuosically sung album. Whether you prefer “Rumor Has It,” “Set Fire to the Rain,” or the most radio-monopolizing tune of my lifetime, “Rolling In the Deep,” it’s hard to argue with her vulnerable wail — though I do have a problem with the vagueness of her lyrics. Anyway. Moving right along.
5. Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston (1985)
Forget “I Will Always Love You”: Whitney Houston was a sorceress from the minute she debuted in ’85, from the sultry power of “You Give Good Love” to the heartstoppingly powerful dance anthem “How Will I Know.” She’s have bigger charting hits in the future, but there’s something deeply endearing about her early work, especially the goopy, yet godly “Saving All My Love For You.”
4. Patsy Cline, Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits (original release 1967)
Congrats to the U.S. for vaulting this into Diamond territory. Taste! We sometimes have it! Patsy Cline’s resonant bleat combined the sufferin’ soul of Hank Williams with the bluesiness of Aretha Franklin, and thankfully she has a body of work that matches her inimitable tone. Even the lesser-known “Why Can’t He Be You” will throttle you.
3. Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill (1995)
Please be sure to smack anyone who considers Alanis Morissette a rip-off of Liz Phair or Tori Amos. From her killer lyrics to her awesome caterwaul, Alanis Morissette was an original from the start, and Jagged Little Pill is certainly the Tapestry of the ’90s with its flawless tracklist: “You Learn” is defiant pop glory; “You Oughta Know” is a snarly tail-whip; “All I Really Want” is an angst bombardment; “Head Over Feet” is my choice for the most intelligent love song of the ’90s; “Ironic” is unforgettable. A perfect album.
2. Madonna, The Immaculate Collection (1990)
It’s rare that a greatest hits album can be so cohesive and distinct, but Madonna’s ’90 collection tells the story of her evolving chutzpah and ambition better than any VH1 documentary could. “Lucky Star” and its winking naughtiness shift seamlessly into the horny squawks of “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl”. The topicality of “Papa Don’t Preach” vaults into the sinister heaviness of “Like a Prayer.” “Open Your Heart” bleeds right into the soul-stirring “Express Yourself.” And “Vogue” is just “Vogue,” the greatest dance song of all time. Don’t forget Madonna’s most underrated single ever, “Rescue Me,” right there on the end at track 17!
1. Carole King, Tapestry (1971)
Over 40 years later, Tapestry remains the gold standard for singer-songwriters. Carole King may have penned clap-along hits for girl groups and teenyboppers in the ’60s, but her explosive disc Tapestry proved what wisdom, maturity, and grace hid beneath her songs’ catchy locomotion. It is just about impossible to pick a favorite track, but I’ll stick my neck out for “It’s Too Late,” whose lyrics (by Toni Stern) comprise the most grownup song about breakups I’ve ever heard. I even love the title track and its warped religious imagery. And while I’m making proclamations, here’s an important one: Carole’s “You’ve Got a Friend” schools James Taylor’s. Forever.
All right, what are your rankings? I left out entries by Britney Spears and Jewel, not to mention other albums by Shania Twain and Whitney Houston. Dare you to argue with me.