The Top 5 Best-Selling Rock Albums Of All Time And Why They Deserve It
Rock has always been music’s favorite child. If you pull out lists of best-selling albums of all time, it is guaranteed that more than half of them are rock records. Heck, even the lists of best-selling acts are filled with rock musicians, with The Beatles in the lead, unsurprisingly.
But some records are just as influential as they are as profitable. And there are albums that even The Beatles cannot beat. With tens of millions of sales funding their rock and roll spirit, some iconic acts have captured the fascination of a plethora of fans with an iconic record or two.
The following five albums are the byproduct of such fascination, resulting in the sale of millions upon millions over the past several decades.
5 – Hotel California by Eagles / 1976 / 42 million
The fifth studio album of the Eagles, the legendary Hotel California, was powered by changes. It was the first record that featured new guitarist Joe Walsh, who replaced original member Bernie Leadon. It was also the last album to feature founding bassist Randy Meisner.
Hotel California was also powered by the success of its predecessors, One of These Nights and Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975). Whatever it was, the album was charged enough to break to the top of the charts.
“Hotel California” by Eagles has reached 1 BILLION streams on Spotify. It’s their most-streamed song on the platform. pic.twitter.com/ly2ZEwABkB
— Pop Crave (@PopCrave) February 27, 2022
Released in 1976, the album produced three singles, with both the title track and “New Kid in Town” ascending to the summit of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and “Life in the Fast Lane” reaching a respectable No. 11.
Hotel California received a nomination for Album of the Year during the 20th Grammy Awards, although it ultimately lost out to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, which, interestingly, was another 40-million-sales album. 1976 was a rich year in music.
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However, the album’s title track secured the prestigious Record of the Year award, while “New Kid in Town” earned recognition for Best Arrangement for Voices.
This iconic Eagles album boasted a staggering 26× Platinum certification in the United States and global sales exceeding 42 million copies. Furthermore, it has garnered acclaim as one of the greatest albums ever recorded, earning a spot on Rolling Stone‘s prestigious list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” at number 37 in both 2003 and 2012.
WHY DID IT DESERVE THE HYPE: AN OTHERWORLDY NARRATIVE
Tons of rock classics out there can pull any enthralled listener into a different world through their thought-provoking lyrics and enchanting melodies. But few albums are as mythical as Hotel California, with the title track being one of the most hypnotic pieces of art out there. But, while the world was captivated by the unforgettable title track and its haunting lyrics, there’s so much more to this record that makes it a best-selling masterpiece.
At its core, Hotel California weaves a captivating narrative that leaves listeners spellbound. The title track itself tells a mysterious story that invites us into a seemingly idyllic yet enigmatic world. It’s a tale of decadence, temptation, and a search for meaning, wrapped in melodic brilliance.
The album as a whole carries this narrative thread throughout, creating an immersive experience that keeps you hooked from the first note to the last. It’s like reading a gripping novel set to music, and that narrative allure is a significant part of why Hotel California soared to the top.
Apart from the captivating narrative, Hotel California is also an impeccable exhibit of Eagles’ musicianship. From the intricate guitar solos that send shivers down your spine to the harmonious blend of vocals that resonate deep within, every note is carefully crafted.
The album effortlessly spans across various styles, from rock to country to folk, showcasing their versatility. It’s this musical mastery that transcends genres and appeals to a broad spectrum of music lovers, making it a must-have in every music collection.
Hotel California is not just an album; it’s a journey and an experience. Each time you listen, you discover something new, a hidden layer of meaning, a subtle nuance in the instrumentation, or a personal connection to the lyrics. It’s an album that becomes a part of your life story, and that’s why it’s become one of the best-selling albums of all time.
4 – Bat Out of Hell by Meat Loaf / 1977 / 43 million
Bat Out of Hell, the debut album by rock singer Meat Loaf and composer Jim Steinman, was an anomaly in this list. It was basically rock opera, in a way that’s different from Queen’s musical style.
The album is also recorded by a vocalist honed in theatrical music, backed by the genius of a composer. It took them years to complete the record, and by the time they started shopping for record deals, it was mostly rejected due to it being different from the usual albums with definite genres.
Fellow musician Todd Rundgren agreed to produce the album, but that was because he thought Meat Loaf and Steinman had a record deal. They did not, but Rundgren continued anyway and funded the project, knowing fully well how magical Bat Out of Hell is.
On this day in 1977, Meat Loaf releases the landmark album Bat Out Of Hell. Written by Jim Steinman and produced by Todd Rundgren, it’s one of the most popular albums of the ’70s, eventually selling over 14 million copies in America. pic.twitter.com/f5LTn9LUKb
— Monsters Of Rock® (@MonstersOfRock) October 21, 2021
Five years after it was fashioned from a workshop-borne futuristic rock adaptation of Peter Pan, Bat Out of Hell was finally released in 1977 to a well-deserved resounding success.
With over 43 million copies sold worldwide, the album solidified its place as one of the best-selling albums in history. The album was certified 14× Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), while it achieved a remarkable 26× Platinum certification from the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA).
Impressively, Bat Out of Hell spent a remarkable 522 weeks on the UK Albums Chart, marking the second-longest chart run for a studio album. Recognizing its musical significance, Rolling Stone included the album in its esteemed list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2012.
RIP Meat Loaf, 74.
One of rock music’s all-time great characters whose seminal iconic album Bat Out Of Hell is one of the biggest-selling records in history.
A wondrously talented, flamboyant, funny, outrageous and rebellious chameleon. Sad news. pic.twitter.com/J0UNQgGahn
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) January 21, 2022
That was tons of success and affirmation after being rejected many times for being different. Nonetheless, the album launched the careers of both Meat Loaf and Steinman. Bat Out of Hell also went on to inspire two subsequent Meat Loaf albums, Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell in 1993 and Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose in 2006.
WHY DID IT DESERVE THE HYPE: SOUL-STIRRING THEATRICS
Everyone likes an underdog story (or under-bat story?), and Bat Ouf of Hell presents a strong case of poetic justice.
It was a rebellious album that dared to be different and pushed the boundaries of music. In an era filled to the brim with electrifying rock anthems, Meat Loaf’s album emerged like a blazing comet, setting the music scene on fire, while also earning millions in dollars and fans.
This thunderous love letter to opera took the world by storm. And it deserves every bit of praise it garnered. Bat Out of Hell is not your ordinary collection of songs that formed an album; it’s a rock opera that unfolds like a thrilling Broadway show.
Each track is a theatrical spectacle in itself, with epic narratives, extravagant arrangements, and Meat Loaf’s larger-than-life vocal performance stealing the spotlight. From the rebellious escapades of “All Revved Up with No Place to Go” to the heart-wrenching balladry of “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” the album takes listeners on an unforgettable rollercoaster ride of emotions, with each song feeling like a scene from a blockbuster musical.
A significant part of the album’s magic is the brilliant songwriting and production skills of Jim Steinman. His compositions for Bat Out of Hell are nothing short of genius.
He crafted lyrics that are poetic and evocative, weaving tales of love, longing, and the open road. Steinman’s partnership with the unlikely rock singer created a perfect storm of creativity, resulting in an album that’s both emotionally resonant and outrageously bombastic.
When Bat Out of Hell came out of its proverbial cave in 1977, it was like a breath of fresh air in the midst of the disco era. It reignited the flames of rock ‘n’ roll, reminding the world of the genre’s raw power and rebellious spirit.
This album brought classic rock into a new era, capturing the hearts of both die-hard rock fans and newcomers alike. Bat Out of Hell is an ode to the rock and roll spirit, an empowering monument to the power of audacious creativity, if you may.
As a masterpiece that defies conventions, it reminds us that sometimes, music isn’t just meant to be heard; it’s meant to be felt, lived, and cherished. That’s the magic of Bat Out of Hell – an album that’s forever etched in the heart of rock history.
3 – Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) by Eagles / 1976 / 44 million
And we meet again, country rock millionaires. Eagles earned the distinction of being the only act to field out two albums that earned more than 40 million in record sales. Hotel California’s achievement was already astonishing, but one cannot deny the fact that it owed its success to its predecessor, Eagles’ impressive compilation album Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975).
Compilation albums aren’t always surefire hits. Greatest Hits wasn’t even thematic in its arrangement, it was just a money-making scheme concocted by band manager Irving Azoff, who one day declared, “We decided it was time to put out the first greatest-hits because we had enough hits.”
Eagles released their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 album, February 17, 1976 pic.twitter.com/swzjUhv9UJ
— Classic Rock In Pics (@crockpics) February 17, 2023
Founding member and drummer Don Henley was understandably upset, especially after seeing “Tequila Sunrise” and “Desperado” lifted out of their concept albums and losing their context. But they weren’t unhappy for long, especially after hearing the sound of money coming in droves.
With previous hits becoming hits once more, and this time even bigger, Eagles raked in both the dollars and influence. It also earned them some time to carefully create Hotel California, another landmark album that would earn them so much moolah.
This “thoughtful” curation of old hits became the first album to receive the RIAA’s Platinum certification, something that only existed after 1976 in order to tag and recognize the records that achieved a million sales in copies.
The RIAA has awarded Greatest Hits with 38 platinum certifications, signifying a staggering 38 million copies sold in the United States alone; worldwide, the compilation album achieved 44 million in sales.
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This monumental achievement momentarily made Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) the best-selling album of the 20th century in the United States, briefly dethroning Michael Jackson’s iconic Thriller. That’s a feat no other album in history did, and it was a non-serious compilation album to boot.
Of course, that is not to diminish the significance of the album. Greatest Hits inspired generations of future country stars, who experienced the music of Eagles through this album.
WHY DID IT DESERVE THE HYPE: TIME CAPSULE OF THE ‘70S
Greatest Hits defied the boundaries of time, a true testament to the everlasting not just of Eagles’ musicianship, but of music in general.
The album’s genius lies in its ability to capture the spirit of the 1970s and encapsulate it within a timeless musical framework. The Eagles emerged during a transformative era in rock music, and this compilation is like a musical time capsule, preserving the essence of that decade.
From the folk-rock harmonies of “Take It Easy” to the soulful storytelling of “Desperado,” each track resonates with the social and cultural themes of the ’70s. Listening to this album is like stepping back in time, feeling the groove of that era, and reliving the emotions that defined it.
Despite of their dislike of each other, the band worked like a well-oiled machine. As virtuoso musicians and expert songwriters, the byproducts of their craftsmanship will always be great pieces of art. And that is definitely on display in Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975).
Each song is a finely woven tapestry of melodies, harmonies, and lyrics that strike a chord with listeners on a profound level. Whether it’s the country-infused twang of “Take It to the Limit” or the foot-stomping rock of “One of These Nights,” the Eagles showcased their musical prowess with every note. Their ability to seamlessly blend genres and create unforgettable hooks is what sets this compilation apart.
This album remained relevant across generations, as evidenced by its influence and lasting power. The themes explored in these songs – love, longing, self-discovery – are universal and timeless.
It’s an album that speaks to the human condition, and as each new generation discovers it, they find their own stories reflected in its lyrics. Whether you’re a young dreamer or someone who lived through the ’70s, there’s a song on this album that resonates with your life journey.
2 – The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd / 1973 / 45 million
As mentioned in the previous entry, the ‘70s is truly music’s golden era. Several best-selling albums came out during that time, and this list of rock bestsellers has four out of five. The 1970s was also the renaissance of progressive rock, with the torch-bearing Pink Floyd churning out the genre’s best albums.
1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon took the lion’s share in both influence and sales, thrusting the legendary prog rockers to international superstardom and t-shirt ubiquity. The concept album’s theme centered around madness, and madness was what the album brought into ‘70s rock: more prog albums from Pink Floyd and more sales for them.
Pink Floyd’s eighth studio album started off as a musical concept that can be done as part of their ongoing tour. It was conceived as a concept album, designed to delve into the band’s struggles with the pressures of their demanding lifestyle and the poignant mental health challenges faced by their former member, Syd Barrett.
The Dark Side of the Moon is built upon the creative foundations laid by the band in their earlier albums and live shows. However, it notably departs from the extended instrumentals that were characteristic of the band’s earlier work.
Another Tuesday Teaser for you: during the recording of The Dark Side Of The Moon, what did Nick’s Section become better known as? pic.twitter.com/QVFtiM1nSv
— Pink Floyd (@pinkfloyd) August 3, 2021
One of the greatest and probably iconic parts of the album was the album cover, a prismatic spectrum, that has often graced the t-shirts and walls of almost every rock fan out there.
It was the brainchild of Storm Thorgerson, responding to keyboardist Richard Wright’s request for a design that would embody the band’s lighting effects and encapsulate the album’s themes.
This legendary Pink Floyd record became one of the most critically acclaimed albums and best-selling of all time. It consistently ranks high in professional lists of the greatest albums ever recorded.
The Dark Side of the Moon also raked in money and recognition for the band, catapulting them to international rockstar status. As a landmark release of the album era, it influenced record sales across the music industry throughout the 1970s.
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As of 2013, this album boasts global sales exceeding 45 million copies, solidifying its status as the best-selling album of the 1970s and the fourth-best-selling album in history. The album received further accolades when it was selected for preservation in the United States National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2012, recognized as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
WHY DID IT DESERVE THE HYPE: PROG ROCK PERFECTION
As a prog-rock creation, The Dark Side of the Moon already offers a certain mystique that only prog-rock icons could do. But Pink Floyd knows dark magic, and they have distilled sorcery into auditory pieces of enchantment that continue to mesmerize rock fans today.
From the very first notes of “Speak to Me,” this Floyd offering is a carefully orchestrated tapestry of sound, where each track seamlessly flows into the next, creating an immersive experience.
The album is a sonic playground, featuring innovative synthesizers, intricate guitar work, and thought-provoking lyrics. Songs like “Money” and “Time” showcase Pink Floyd’s ability to blend progressive rock, jazz, and psychedelic elements into a mesmerizing amalgamation. It’s this musical diversity and complexity that kept listeners coming back for more.
What truly sets this album apart is its conceptual brilliance. The Dark Side of the Moon goes beyond a collection of unrelated songs; it’s a cohesive exploration of themes like life, death, madness, and the human experience.
The recurring motifs, such as the heartbeat and the recurring vocal snippets, create a sense of unity and purpose that ties the entire album together. It’s a thematic depth that invites listeners to ponder life’s big questions, making it more than just an album—it’s a thought-provoking journey.
Pink Floyd, wielding what black magic gave them, has certainly tapped into the emotional core of their audience with this album. It’s an album that speaks to the human condition, providing solace and understanding during life’s darkest moments and moments of triumph.
It is no wonder that even decades after its release, The Dark Side of the Moon remains as relevant and influential as ever. Apart from the song’s themes and musical relevance, even the album’s iconic cover art has become an enduring symbol of music and artistic innovation.
It’s an album that defies the confines of time, bridging generational gaps and uniting music lovers under its sonic umbrella.
1 – Back in Black by AC/DC / 1980 / 50 million
The 80s did not disappoint rock as it came swinging hard with the advent of heavy metal’s heyday. And out bursting from down under was one of the greatest hard rock albums ever made, Back in Black.
Though the ‘70s ruled the record sales for rock music, this AC/DC record rode on a rocket and punched a hole in the music atmosphere with its iconic introduction of the loud and gritty Brian Johnson.
Back in Black is the uppercut from the neglected subgenre of heavy metal, and definitely a heavy kidney shot from a theme the genre often abandons in lieu of rock and roll excess: death and the celebration of life.
— 🎸 Rock History 🎸 (@historyrock_) June 26, 2023
The seventh studio album by the iconic Australian rock band was a resurrection and redemption. After the tragic passing of their former frontman, Bon Scott, AC/DC was able to mourn and be reborn at the same time. Powerfully at that.
Off the success of their 1979 album Highway to Hell, the band was able to bounce back quickly even with the addition of a new vocalist, something many bands failed to do. Instead of disbanding in the face of this devastating loss, the resilient members of AC/DC chose to forge ahead.
Back in Black proved to be an unparalleled triumph, both commercially and critically. It garnered an estimated global sales figure of 50 million copies, cementing its status as one of the highest-selling albums in music history.
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AC/DC embarked on an extensive yearlong world tour in support of the album as Back in Black earned glowing reviews from critics upon its initial release, and over time, it has consistently found a place on various “greatest” album lists.
WHY DID IT DESERVE THE HYPE: A RESILIENT BAND CONQUERING GRIEF
This AC/DC tribute, in its all-black glory, remains a passionate fusion of power and sheer grit. The masterpiece that is Back in Black will always be rock music’s greatest testament to life and death, and the pulsating rock and roll spirit surrounding that
With music as moving as its backstory, this sonic powerhouse of an album made use of its emotional potency to grab its listeners from the first thunderous notes of “Hells Bells” and doesn’t let go until the final chords of “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”.
Angus and Malcolm Young’s blistering guitar riffs are nothing short of iconic, and Brian Johnson’s gritty vocals breathe life into each track. Songs like “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Back in Black” have become rock anthems that continue to ignite stadiums and fuel the adrenaline of fans worldwide.
Back in Black will be forever a testimony of triumph in the face of adversity. AC/DC could have folded after Bon Scott’s passing, but instead, they channeled their grief into music and touched the souls of millions. It’s a reminder that rock is more than just loud notes and loud voices, and that this record is a resurrection story that will keep hollering that rock ‘n’ roll is here to stay.