Music is already an ingrained part of human history. And with music, comes artists and bands. With artists, comes records. With records, comes sales from legions of fans and admirers of the music and the artist world wide. In the history of album sales, not many artists can claim having sold tens of millions of albums in their careers. The popularity of such music and the quality it presents gains these records much critical acclaim as well.
Beginning in the 1950s when records were first introduced the same time as when rock n’ roll exploded, it’s no surprise that majority of the best-selling albums of all time are in the genre of classic rock.
Each of the albums on the list claims to have sold at least 30 million copies – that is a lot of money.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 best-selling albums of all time and see if you agree:
British Rock Band Dire Straits’ fifth studio album “Brothers in Arms”, released in the Spring of 1985, has sold over 30 million copies worldwide. Not only that, it also holds the record as the first album to be certified ten-times platinum in the UK. It is also certified nine-times platinum in the US. It also spent 34 weeks at number one in the charts in 1986. The same year, the album won two Grammy awards, and won Best British Album at the 1987 Brit Awards. It’s placed at number 51 in the 100 Greatest British Albums ever, so with all these records and accolades, there is no surprise why this album is one of the world’s best selling albums of all time. Aside from all the awards and charting success, the album’s successful fusion of jazz, blues, rock, and pop is what won audiences to their music, which lead to the massive purchase of their album. “Brothers in Arms” was also one of the first albums to be recorded using a digital deck, and it was the first record to move a million compact discs, and the first whose CD sales outmatched its LP sales.
Canadian singer Shania Twain was only a small-time country star before she released one of the best-selling albums of all time in 1997. “Come On Over” debuted at number one on the Billboard Top Country albums and made record history by staying in the Top 20 of the charts for a whopping 99 weeks straight! It also stayed in the Billboard Top Ten for 151 weeks. Shania’s third studio album also holds the record for being the best-selling country album and the best-selling album by a female artist ever. The album claims to have more than 40 million copies sold worldwide, with 20 million copied shipped to the United States alone. “Come On Over” features a crossover of the Canadian singer’s signature country sound into the pop world, with catchy tunes that get stuck in your head all day long. Eventually, the single “Come On Over” from the same album won the Grammy award for Best Country Song in 2000.
Nirvana’s grunge alternative rock pioneer album Nevermind made such a big impact on rock music history that a world without it is very difficult to imagine. The release of the iconic album was a catalyst into rock’s great renaissance in the 90s, bringing forth the mainstream pop culture the messy underground grunge rock music that represented adolescent indifference, surprisingly taking over the chart domination of Whitney Houston and Natalie Cole. The band itself redefined a certain culture in the peak of their success. However, it may be surprising to find out that Nevermind didn’t start out with the giant popularity that it had. In 1991, it actually only debuted at number 144 on the Billboard Top 200. Of course, that all changed throughout the course of it’s charting ascent, eventually reaching the number 1 spot in 1992, overtaking Michael Jackson’s Dangerous to become the best-selling album, selling over 30 million copied worldwide! It was certified platinum for a total of 9 weeks and was nominated for two Grammy awards. In short, Nevermind was (and still is) huge.
Born in the U.S.A. was already Bruce Springsteen’s seventh studio album but it was the one that put Springsteen’s name on the map, catapulting him to become the iconic sexy rock star people know him today. Released in 1984, Born in the USA was received with highly positive reviews by critics and had massive commercial success with its audiences. Seven top – 10 hit singles were produced from Springsteen’s album, tying with Michael Jackson’s Thriller. A worldwide concert tour was done to promote the album, cementing Springsteen’s international star status. It claims 30 million copies in sales to date and was certified 15 times platinum by the RIAA. Born in the USA represented the American heartland rock genre and ushered it into the mainstream radio. This achievement paved way for other heartland rock artists such as John Mellencamp and Bob Seger to reach success in the mainstream. Even though Born in the USA is Springsteen highest-selling album ever, he believes that his album Nebraska is the one with his strongest writing. He says,
“‘Born In the U.S.A.’ changed my life and gave me my biggest audience. It forced me to question the way I presented my music and made me think harder about what I was doing.”
Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is the band’s eleventh studio album. It was released almost a decade after their first ever album and it is also their most successful album to date, claiming a total of 40 million copies in sales. Rumours was certified 11 times platinum in the UK and 20 times platinum in the US, also staying for a total of 31 weeks at number 1 in the US album charts. Four of the album’s songs were released as hit singles, with the big hit “Dreams” breaking the million barrier debuting at number 1. Mick Fleetwood himself called Rumours ‘the most important album we ever made’, as the success the album gained paved way for Fleetwood Mac to continue in the music industry. Achieving achieve multi-platinum, record-breaking success decades after starting out is a rare feat.
Another factor that may have fueled its popularity is the soap-opera like drama in the lives of all five members that happened during the recording sessions – with Stevie Nicks’ and Lindsey Buckingham’s falling out, Christine McVie’s divorce , Mick Fleetwood’s wife about to leave him for his best friend – it was a theatrical romantic strife between among the band members that influenced much of the lyrics.
Australian rock band AC/DC was already big in their own right before the massive success of Back in Black. With their international breakthrough Highway to Hell, AC/DC was no stranger to mainstream radio. As the band was gearing up to record their follow-up to Highway to Hell, lead vocalist Bon Scott suddenly passed away because of excessive alcohol intoxication. Brian Johnson then took over as lead singer and the band released Back in Black as their seventh studio album in 1981.
The album became an unprecedented success, having sold a jaw-dropping 49 million copies worldwide. AC/DC then went on a yearlong world tour for the album, making them International super stars. Surprisingly, even if it stayed in the charts for. Total of 131 weeks, Back in Black never reached number 1 on the US Billboard 200 chart but it was certified 22 times platinum, making it the best-selling hard rock album of all-time, and the best-selling album ever released by an Australian musical act.
Led Zeppelin released their fourth studio album without a title – not that it needed one anyway, as the music clearly spoke for itself. But this untitled album (also popularly referred to as Led Zeppelin IV, LZ4, Zoso, Four Symbols, or just simply IV) is what catapulted the band to achieve global rock god status. The lack of any title printed on the album was done deliberately by the band as they wanted to identify themselves with specially-chosen symbols instead and of course, by the greatness of their music. And they totally proved themselves right with the massive success of Led Zeppelin IV, which contained one of the most iconic rock songs of all time, the ever so timeless “Stairway to Heaven”. The album has more sold more than 37 million copies world wide and was certified 23 times platinum. From Jimmy Page’s incredible jaw-dropping guitar solos to Robert Plant’s energetic vocals, to John Paul Jones heart-stopping bass playing, to John Bonham’s epic drum skills, it makes sense why this particular album reached the peak of creativity and commercial success it so deserved!
The undeniably influential British rock band Pink Floyd released what was to be one of the best-selling albums ever in March 1973. The Dark Side of the Moon is Pink Floyd’s eight studio album and it continues to hold the record, by far, for the album with the most charted weeks on the Billboard 200 – a staggering 917 weeks!
In 1973, The Dark Side of the Moon only debuted at number 95 on the Billboard 200 but eventually ascended into the number 1 spot only for a week. The album was received with much positive critical and commercial success and it claims to have sold 45 million copies worldwide to date. Even today, the album still sells approximately 8,500 copies “on a slow week”. The band’s concept album attracted a wider audience than their previous albums did as it featured less abstract lyrics and more progressive, sonically adventurous experimental sounds but was more accessible both to mainstream rock fans and progressive listeners equally. Its enduring influence and popularity has made it to become one of the best albums in rock history.
Tired of the Beatlemania worldwide fan frenzy and endless touring, The Beatles released their eighth studio album with an alternative ego as a band, The Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. It has gone on to massively change the history of music forever. As it impacted the whole of the music industry together with its sonic experimental sophistication diving into psychedelia, “Sgt. Pepper” redefined a period in music making, beyond being an album itself. It also holds the record as the first Rock LP to win a Grammy for Album of the Year. It also takes the number one spot on Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is dubbed as the most important rock & roll album ever made – a pioneer on the revolution of experimental music that consisted of psychedelic rock, spreading peace and love, acid trips, and Eastern spirituality that ushered the way into modern music. “Sgt. Pepper” was also the first rock album to incorporate complete lyrics to the songs in its design. It was the peak of The Beatles influence and creativity.
The number one spot on the list is the album that currently holds the record for most number of copies sold worldwide – 110 million copies! That’s Michael Jackson’s 1982 musical masterpiece, Thriller. Not only was the King of Pop’s sixth studio album influential across all genres and cultures, it also has numerous historical records and awards under its belt. It boasts of being the first and only album to achieve an RIAA 33x Diamond award. When it was released in November of 1982, it was already destined to be the best-selling album of ALL TIME, having spent a record 31 weeks at number 1. In total, Thriller spent nearly two-and-a-half years on the Billboard album chart. In 1984, two years after it was released, Thriller got nominated for 12 Grammy awards, and won eight, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year (for ‘Beat It’), holding the record as the having the most awards given to a single album. Add to that, the iconic music video for the single “Thriller” remains to be the only music video to be inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry.
At this rate, nothing and no one seems to be able to say “Beat It” to Jackson’s Thriller.