25 Years Ago, Nirvana Bumped Michael Jackson Off the Top of the Charts. Music Changed Forever.

When Nirvana’s Nevermind was released in September 1991, less than 50,000 copies were sent to retailers. The thinking was that if the album sold 100,000 units over its lifetime, that would be a massive success. And in the beginning, that looked pretty optimistic; only 6,000 people bought the album in its first week.

But then things got weird. The record began selling 300,000 copies a week almost immediately. And then in January 1992, the unthinkable: Nirvana knocked The King of Pop from the #1 spot on the Billboard album charts. Here’s a quick summary from UPROXX and the New York Times:

The record’s growth was exponential, and by the time 1992 rolled around, it was steadily making its way up the charts. Then, finally, on January 11th, the glass ceiling broke. Nevermind surged to No. 1 on the Top 200, leaving in its wake Garth Brooks, Hammer, U2, and (incredibly) Michael Jackson, withDangerous dropping from No. 1 to No. 5.

“The Pop Life — Nirvana’s Nevermind Is No. 1,” read the New York Times. “From what we gather, Nevermind‘s audience is between 14 and 34,” vice president of sales at Geffen Records Eddie Gilreath told the Times. “It seems to be a project appealing to both the younger or hip set. Nirvana has outsold over the last two or three weeks U2, Hammer, Michael Jackson, Metallica: real big-name values. If you told me last year it would outsell U2 I’d probably die laughing.”

According to Billboard, After first appearing in the Billboard 200 in 1991,Nevermind would remain in the chart for nearly two years, only falling off briefly in 1993. To date, it has spent 335 total weeks on the 200, with the number continuing to steadily increase as the years wear on.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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