The sure way to have a huge-selling album in 1998 was to put Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" on it. But rock albums were nearly crowded out of a 1998 top-10 filled with radio-friendly pop, R&B and country.
Buoyed by Canadian diva Dion's smash single, as well as by a film that grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, the Titanic soundtrack sold more than 9.2 million units in 1998, according to SoundScan, a company that tracks album sales. That made Titanic, which otherwise consists of classical music, the year's best-selling album. It doubled the sales figures of the 1997 champ, Spice, by British pop tarts the Spice Girls.
Dion sailed into second place on the 1998 sales list with her own album, Let's Talk About Love, which also featured "My Heart Will Go On" (RealAudio excerpt). Dion's album moved 7.9 million copies.
Country giant Garth Brooks lassoed third place with his late-1997 album Sevens, which sold 5.3 million copies. Although Brooks' more recent Double Live already has been certified 12-times platinum (recognizing shipments of 6 million of the double-CD set) by the Recording Industry Association of America, it was ineligible for the 1998 race, which tracks albums released between late November 1997 and late November 1998.
During that period, mainstream rockers Matchbox 20 sold 3.7 million copies of their 1996 debut, Yourself or Someone Like You, which includes the single "3 A.M." (RealAudio excerpt). Although the album's total sales surpassed 7 million, that was good enough only for sixth place in 1998. The eponymous debut from teen-pop sensations the Backstreet Boys, which sold 5 million, was in fourth place. In fifth was navel-baring country sensation Shania Twain's Come on Over, with 4.8 million units sold.
Overall, "there weren't too many surprises" in a year that belonged to soundtracks, said Angela Corio, director of the gold and platinum awards program at the RIAA.
The year's 10 best sellers included two additional soundtracks: the #7 City of Angels album, with 3.5 million in sales, and the #10 Spice World album, which accompanied the film of the same name by the Spice Girls and had sales of 3.3 million.
Corio said soundtracks remain steady sellers because they're "vehicle[s] for a variety of musical tastes."
She said 38 soundtracks -- 11 more than in 1997 -- were certified either gold or platinum in 1998, recognizing shipments of 500,000 and 1 million copies of an album, respectively. Those gold and platinum soundtracks accounted for at least 40 million records sold, she said.
And Titanic, she said, was the biggest-selling classical-music soundtrack since 1981's Chariots of Fire.
Although the top of the chart was stormed almost weekly by new rap albums in 1998, only one managed to crack the year-end top 10: Actor/rapper Will Smith's 1997 album, Big Willie Style, squeaked in at #8 on 3.4 million in sales. Australian pop-rockers Savage Garden (#9) rounded out the top 10 with their eponymous album, which sold 3.3 million units.