But why not? If it's true that the Eagles have the top-selling U.S. album of all time (more on that below), then why does it seem like they aren't even in Michael Jackson's league as musical/cultural figures? Why is it that Michael Jackson's music brought the world together, while the main redeeming quality of the Eagles is that they made for a good punchline in The Big Lebowski.
I can think of a few reasons:
- a.) no compelling/grotesque personal story. As far as I can tell, Eagles are just rich dicks. Not very interesting!
b.) No real artistic reach. Like Michael Jackson, the Eagles occupy a hybridized musical niche -- in their case, country-rock. But while country music in recent decades has certainly incorporated more rock influences, there simply isn't a tradition of Eagles-influenced artists the way MJ spawned a billion baby MJs.
c.) We grew up with Michael Jackson. And in more than one way: People roughly my age have our childhood memories of the Thriller era, while people my parents' age actually remember MJ as a child star. That's a different relationship than the one anyone has with some boomer-centric country-rock act, or some released-after-the-fact greatest hits collection.
d.) Video. Via MTV, Michael Jackson reached millions and millions of kids who didn't buy his records. Like me! I was too young to be buying records, but I was well aware of Thriller and Bad.
e.) Last but certainly not least, there are lots of reasons to doubt that RIAA number. The primary one, though not the only one, is that RIAA measures U.S. sales only. Contra Greg Mitchell, if you take plausible high-end estimates it's possible that Thriller sold more than twice as many copies as that Eagles album.