Everyone knows good reviews don’t always translate into a hit, but this tenet is especially true in the music business. Each of the following discs is considered a milestone of its genre, but none (with one late-blooming exception) have yet reached even gold status (500,000 copies) — the first rung of commercial success:
The Velvet Underground and Nico Velvet Underground (1967)
The granddaddy of influential flops, this first album by Andy Warhol’s band of city gypsies made it only to 171 on Billboard’s Top 200. Since then, its tales of sex, drugs, and S&M have influenced generations, and its songs have been covered by everyone from R.E.M. to Duran Duran.
Astral Weeks Van Morrison (1968)
Fans of ”Brown Eyed Girl,” Morrison’s bubbly 1967 hit, surely didn’t know what to make of this brooding, jazz-laced song cycle. Now considered one of his lasting statements, Astral Weeks didn’t even chart. No wonder he sulks so much.
Siren Roxy Music (1975)
Neither ”Love Is the Drug,” the band’s lone hit, nor Jerry Hall on the cover could elevate these suave odes to decadence to a chart position higher than 50. Their influence is heard from early-’80s new wave (ABC) to current British pop (Pulp), but this Siren song has to date lured fewer than 300,000 record buyers.
Sweetheart of the Rodeo The Byrds (1968)
These pioneers of 12-strings and capes wandered into Nashville with this delightful twangfest and so thoroughly confused a public that wanted to hear more ”Mr. Tambourine Man” jangle that the album peaked at 77. Yet this ‘heart beats on in Son Volt, Golden Smog, and other current alterna-country bands.
Ramones Ramones (1976)
In the mid-’70s, the public was so sedated that these Noo Yawk punkers’ debut, one of the first volleys of the punk upheaval, sold only 200,000 copies, climbing no higher than No. 111. Alanis Morissette sells more than that every week.
Pleased to Meet Me The Replacements (1987)
Paul Westerberg’s raw-throated odes to depression, redemption, and underground rock hero Alex Chilton defined the defiant ’80s college-radio sound and paved the way for today’s alterna-rock scene. That and $25 will get you a concert T-shirt, so Pleased to Meet Me never crept higher than 131.
Marquee Moon Television (1977)
More dark guitars and scrawny voices from New York, this band’s first album influenced the likes of Sonic Youth but couldn’t persuade record buyers to switch to their channel. Sales so far: 127,214. Chart position: None.
Dry PJ Harvey (1992)
Harvey’s raw, sexually upfront music and lyrics set a new standard for alternative rock in the ’90s, but her debut didn’t even place on the Billboard album chart.
Computer Games George Clinton (1982)
He may be the founder of psychedelic funk, and millions have danced to ”Atomic Dog,” this album’s woofing club anthem. But neither factor helped this wacked-out party disc rise above No. 40.
Dirty Mind Prince (1980)
For any of the above artists, Prince’s scintillating third album might provide a glimmer of hope. Home of ”When You Were Mine” and the lascivious title track, it climbed only to No. 45 and finally passed the gold mark — four long years later.