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SoundScan’s 2012 Mid-Year Report: 5 Signs of Retromania

Adele & Jack White / Photo: Getty Images (Adele)

Past continues to be prologue for pop music in 2012. In SPIN’s March/April Now Issue, Retromania author Simon Reynolds delved into the various ways artists are copping from the now-constantly-present past as they map out our musical future. Industry data tracker Nielsen SoundScan has unveiled its 2012 mid-year report, and while the headline stats are pretty bland — Music sales are up modestly! Album sales are almost flat! The two sweetest words in the English language are “de-fault”! — a closer look reveals several glimmers of retroactivity. In other words, the charts are finding room for the ridiculously old … and the blindingly new.

Here are five indications 2012 is falling down the Instagram/vintage-YouTube-rip rabbit hole, where analog meets ephemeral (and it’s probably a good time to pick up some used CDs for real cheap):

1. Vinyl and Digital Album Sales Increased. Sure, total album sales slipped 3.2 percent, which as Billboard’s Glenn Peoples points out could be a whole lot worse. But vinyl and digital sales continued to rise, with total vinyl LP album sales up 14.2 percent to 2.2 million. Digital album sales rose 13.2 percent to 57.2 million, on pace for a new record. What’s old is new again, but what’s new is new, too — and the two are inextricably linked, in a pattern you’ll continue to see below.

2. This Year’s Only Million-Selling Album Came Out Last Year. The year 2012 is so nostalgic its biggest-selling album, Adele’s indomitable 21, actually came out in 2011. As Billboard notes, this is the first year with only one million-selling album at mid-year since SoundScan starting keeping data. And it’s a retro-soul album from a year earlier. But then again: Of 21‘s nearly 3.7 million units sold so far this year, 876,000 were digital, also giving Adele the best-selling digital album of 2012. This might be a year of little novelty, album-wise, but even old albums are selling in relatively new ways.

3. The Top Three Non-Adele Albums Were By Lionel Richie, Whitney Houston, and a Boy Band. What year is this, again? Tuskegee, the new album by former Commodores frontman and noted sculpture model Lionel Richie sold 912,000 copies, coming in second behind Adele. U.K. boy band One Direction claimed the third spot with 899,000 sales of Up All Night. Whitney Houston, who died at age 48 just before this year’s Grammy Awards ceremony, posthumously placed in fourth with 818,000 units sold of her Greatest Hits. Rounding out the top five: the Now 41 compilation. 41! And here’s your requisite New York Times column pining for the Clinton era, when boy bands were at their zenith, Now was new, and Lionel Richie’s Time was a commercial flop.

4. The Best-Selling Vinyl Album Was the Vinyliest of the Vinyl. Noted analog obsessive Jack White had the best-selling vinyl album of the year, selling 18,000 turntable-ready slabs of his solo debut Blunderbuss. Close behind was garage-rock duo the Black Keys with their road-ready El Camino, followed by that perennial dorm-room wall-improver, the Beatles’ Abbey Road. (Beach House’s gorgeous Bloom was fourth, with, yup, Adele’s 21 in fifth.)

5. The Most-Streamed Digital Song Was the Viralest of the Viral. On the opposite end of the technological spectrum, Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” beat out all other tracks with 54.5 million streaming plays. (“Call Me Maybe” ranked third on the digital song sales chart, behind fellow-viral-fellow Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” which sold 5.5 million units, and fun.’s “We Are Young.”) As we recounted the other day in our roundup of the nine best alternate “Call Me Maybe” versions, that success is no surprise, given the peppy song’s ongoing chokehold on summer 2012. But what it does show is that the world really needs either a “Sixteen Saltines”-“Call Me Maybe” mashup, a “Call Me Maybe” flexi-disc edition unleashed via balloon, or at least a Jepsen recording session at Third Man in order to bring the universe back into alignment and stave off the impending Maya apocalypse.

Oh, and Jack (can we call you Jack) Mr. White? Please don’t forget to drop the bass.