Are There More Diamond-Certified Albums Than We Realize?

A recent streaming rule-change quietly helped Nickelback cross the 10 million-mark, and there could be many more to come.

By Shawn Cooke Mar 28, 2017
Art by Fer Gonzalez
Art by Fer Gonzalez

Nickelback earned a major milestone earlier this month. Their 2005 album All The Right Reasons—which brought us the highly listenable song “Photograph”— went diamond, meaning it hit 10 million album equivalent units, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It’s the highest distinction awarded by the RIAA (only 90 albums—not including compilations—have ever been certified diamond since the designation was created in 1999). Since Hootie and the Blowfish, Kid Rock, and Journey also have the honor under their belts, this feels long overdue. But All the Right Reasons didn’t go diamond more than a decade after its original release because millions of people bought the album this year; it won thanks to a recent rule change within the RIAA.

Last February, the RIAA formally relaxed its streaming rules, which meant artists didn’t need to sell 1 million albums to go platinum—or 10 million to go diamond. The industry group took a cue from Nielsen (the market research firm has been analyzing music sales data since 1991 and now counts 1,500 song streams as one traditional album sale) and began to factor song streams into its certifications. In other words, every time someone pulled up "Photograph" on Spotify and played it at a party, it brought Nickelback closer and closer to the coveted diamond certification. Before this year, All The Right Reasons had only sold 7.96 million copies and had been certified platinum 8 times—but its streaming data allowed the Canadian post-grungers to sail past two more platinum certifications this year, according to the RIAA’s databaselanding them over the 10 million-mark.

Now, since Nickelback has recently existed far outside of the zeitgeist (unless we’re counting this), it’s unlikely that they sold 2 million albums in February. It’s possible that their label—Roadrunner—knew the band would hit 9 million sales and streams after the RIAA announced its rule change, and waited until the band could reasonably expect to hit 10 million to reapply for certification (the RIAA doesn’t receive sales and streaming data, meaning the awards aren’t processed automatically, so this seems likely). Which made me think: What if other record labels are knowingly (or unknowingly) sitting on diamond-certified albums, and just haven’t re-applied? How many more diamond-certified albums could be out there?

I did some digging through the RIAA database, looking for albums that, like All the Right Reasons, sit somewhere between 7 and 9 times platinum, and haven’t been re-certified in the last five years. Then I took the Spotify streams for All the Right Reasons (287 million streams, or 191,000 equivalent albums) as a reference point and found which albums had similar streaming totals on Spotify. This list is by no means definitive—but if Nickelback is any indication, maybe these albums could also go diamond, too.


Journey: Escape

Journey Escape

Current certification: 9x platinum
Last certified: 1994
Album equivalent units on Spotify: 213,000

It’s surprising this album hasn’t already gone diamond, based on how ubiquitous “Don’t Stop Believin’” was for a time there in the late-2000s. Propelled by a key placement in The Sopranos’ series finale and a cover by the Glee cast, which was a chart juggernaut on its own (peaking at No. 4—higher than Journey’s original ever reached), this shit was inescapable. And since the album hasn’t been certified since 1994, that means the RIAA hasn’t seen an application for Escape since it began counting digital sales. Here are just a few of “Don’t Stop Believin’”’s digital milestones: It’s the No. 1 paid digital download released in the 20th century, it was the best-selling digital rock song in history (until Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” came around), has currently logged 270 million streams on Spotify, and has moved 6.8 million digital units as of September 2016. This track on its own should push Escape over the 10-million edge—and that’s not even accounting for the solid streaming numbers of B-level singles “Open Arms” and “Who’s Crying Now.” I’d put all the chips into these long-haired cornballs already having a second diamond album.


Dire Straits: Brothers in Arms

Dire Straits

Current certification: 9x platinum
Last certified: 1996
Album equivalent units on Spotify: 136,000


Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Miseducation Lauryn Hill

Current certification: 8x platinum
Last certified: 2001
Album equivalent units on Spotify: 120,000

Lauryn Hill is another artist who hasn’t been certified since streaming—or even digital downloads—became the dominant mode of listening. She hasn’t quite reached Nickelback’s benchmark of 191,000 album equivalent units on Spotify, but given the finite amount of her music available on streaming services (and anywhere else, for that matter), the entry point and finish line will often be The Miseducation. Once those digital sales and streaming numbers are figured in, I doubt she’ll be far off.


Destiny’s Child: The Writing’s on the Wall

Destiny's Child

Current certification: 8x platinum
Last certified: 2001
Album equivalent units on Spotify: 132,000


Queen: Greatest Hits

Queen greatest hits

Current certification: 8x platinum
Last certified: 2006
Album equivalent units on Spotify: 567,000

Much like Journey’s Escape, this one sure feels like a no-doubter. At least six tracks on here have 50 million streams or more, three are past the 100 million mark, and almost all of them still make white people lose their shit at karaoke. Unlike Journey, Queen hasn’t needed crucial pop culture placements to rack up the streaming figures—they’ve been canonized enough to hit diamond at some point in the near future, if they haven’t already.


Guns ‘N Roses: Use Your Illusion I

Guns n Roses Illusion

Current certification: 7x platinum
Last certified: 1997
Album equivalent units on Spotify: 145,000


Red Hot Chili Peppers: Blood Sugar Sex Magik

RHCP Blood Sugar

Current certification: 7x platinum
Last certified: 2001
Album equivalent units on Spotify: 206,000

It’s striking how badly some of the tracks from Blood Sugar Sex Magik have performed on Spotify. Thirteen of the 17 songs on the album have less than 7 million Spotify streams, and 11 clock in at under 5 million. Like Journey’s Escape, RHCP’s best-selling album gets by on its big singles—like “Under the Bridge,” which sports a cool 191 million streams. Given that the band’s critical standing hasn’t been dragged through the mud like Nickelback’s, it’s a safe bet that young streamers will continue to flock to the 34-year-old rock group. The Chili Peppers, despite being your parents’ age, have more monthly listeners on Spotify than either J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar.


Evanescence: Fallen

Evanescence

Current certification: 7x platinum
Last certified: 2008
Album equivalent units on Spotify: 227,000

Sure, go ahead, laugh—but the numbers don’t lie! Compared to All the Right Reasons, Evanescence’s Fallen definitely has the streaming edge. “Bring Me to Life” and American Idol-favorite “My Immortal” are clearly pulling the weight here, but this record has an impressively high floor—the majority of its 11 tracks have more than 10 million streams on Spotify. Which means that people still listen to Evanescence albums in their entirety? Beats me. And again, given the nine-year gap in certification, this seems due for an upgrade.