From Strawberry Jam to the Biggest Music Format of All Time

01/10/2012 17:22 BST | Updated 01/12/2012 10:12 GMT

To those of us of a certain age, it is hard to believe it - but the "format of the future" reaches 30 years old this week.

In October 1982, the very first compact disc (as developed by Philips) rolled off the presses. Doesn't feel anywhere near that long, does it?

The first time many of us will have seen the shiny little five inch disc was on Tomorrow's World, a year before the format's launch, when Kieran Prendiville spread strawberry jam on a Bee Gees CD and told us all that it would still play. It didn't. But, despite its aversion to fruit spread, it went on to become pretty much the most successful music format the world has ever seen.

To celebrate its shiny, digital awesomeness, we have got together with the BPI to compile a list of the Top 30 biggest selling CD albums of all time in the UK. And it is not without its surprises.

Many would expect it to be a list dominated by Eighties stars such as Michael Jackson, U2 and Madonna, with the earliest example of CD's clear (some might say, clinical) sound being Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms. In reality, however, all of these names (along with many others) miss the cut.

You can see details of the full list here on's special interactive infographic - but the biggest album of all time is Abba's Gold Greatest Hits with 4m copies sold (first released in 1992), closely followed by Adele's 21 on 3.5m (released in 2011) and Oasis's What's The Story (Morning Glory) on 3.4m (it was issued in 1995). Robbie Williams has three albums in the list (which sold a cool 6.9m between them), as do Coldplay (7.8m across their three albums).

Abba aside, the domination of so many Nineties and Noughties acts is because, despite arguably one of the central icons of the Eighties, the CD didn't really take off until the Nineties, continuing its growth spurt well into the new millennium. By the end of the Eighties 500m, barely 200m CDs had been shipped in the UK, by 2000 that number had hit 1.5bn, rising to 3.6bn by 2010.

There are many reasons. One is the natural growth-curve of a new format, as music fans began catching up, buying new CD players and new cars (with cassette trays replaced by a CD slot) - and also through the increasing availability of music in stores other than the local record shop (supermarkets, mail order operators, petrol stations).

In fact, the CD is far from being a relic or historical artefact. The CD's Eighties resonance is all well and good, but it is an illusion. Last year, 86 million CD albums were bought by music fans in the UK. And, of course, they also helped Adele achieve the second biggest CD of all time last year too.

Many music fans still prefer to have something to hold when they have spent their hard-earned cash, they still like flicking through some liner notes, feeling a nicely created and designed package. And, for all the immediacy and convenience of digital, most of us can't play downloads in the car - and there are still millions of households packed with multiple CD players and (whisper it) not a single MP3 player.

Much maligned by many music consumer snobs, the CD may not be as hugely popular as it was in the format's heyday. But it remains hugely popular - a weekly treat for shoppers picking up their groceries in their local supermarket this week and a gift for millions of parents, aunties, grandads and kids this Christmas.