The Best Selling Albums Of All Time Will Leave You Reminiscing

James Kosur | October 27, 2019 4:31 pm

Before the mass adoption of the internet, one of the most convenient ways to listen to great music albums in their entirety was to purchase a physical copy of a singer or group’s seminal works. Based on the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) records, we’ve compiled a list of the best-selling albums of all time. From pop music and country hits to rock & roll and heavy metal bangers, these albums sometimes defined a generation and still beg to be played on repeat.

Eagles: Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)

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While the Eagles were at their peak their record company urged them to create an album of their popular songs because it would have minimal production costs. In 1976 the band released Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) with songs including “Take It Easy,” “Desperado,” and “Tequila Sunrise.”

Within its first week of release, it rose to the number four spot on the Billboard 200 album chart. After more than four decades the album has sold 42 million units and continues to be one of the best selling records in history. Another one of their hit albums, Hotel California, is also ranked high at 32 million units sold.

Michael Jackson: Thriller

michael jackson performing on stage in a bedazzled red jacket in 1987
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Dave Hogan/Getty Images

It’s been debated whether or not Michael Jackson’s Thriller has sold the most units because experts aren’t sure if the numbers reported are accurate. Thriller was Jackson’s sixth studio album and it was released on November 30, 1982. A few months later it topped the Billboard 200 charts in the first spot.

In total it has sold an estimated 66 million units with more than half being from the United States. It’s difficult to think of the 1980s music scene without mentioning Jackson’s impact. Some memorable tracks include “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and of course the title track “Thriller.” Four of his other albums also sold units in the multi-millions, making him the best-selling artists of all time.

Shania Twain: Come on Over

shania twain performing in a sequin dress
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Dave Simpson/WireImage/Getty Images

Shania Twain ruled the radio in the late 1990s with her country/pop album Come on Over. One of the main reasons it did so well with the general public was because Twain ditched the conventional “country” sound and switched it up with both pop and rock elements.

The success of this album made her one of the most iconic female country stars of all time. In total Come on Over sold 40 million copies with songs such as “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!,” “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” and “You’ve Got a Way.” Her previous album, The Woman in Me, also racked up a very impressive 20 million copies sold.

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin IV

led zeppelin band members sitting in front of a car in 70s wardrobe
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GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images

Rock took a whole new direction when bands such as Led Zeppelin were introduced. Led Zeppelin IV was released on November 8, 1971 and included the classic rock hits “Stairway to Heaven,” “Black Dog,” and “When the Levee Breaks.”

Critics often place the album high on lists of the greatest albums of all time because of its major commercial success. Around the world Led Zeppelin IV sold about 37 million copies. It wasn’t just a hard rock album, but instead included elements of folk, ballads, and more.

Whitney Houston/Various Artists: The Bodyguard

whitney houston singing on stage in a white dress and large spotlight
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Whitney Houston’s albums consistently topped the charts throughout her music career. She goes down as one of the most influential singers in history because of her strong vocals and monumental album sales. The 1992 soundtrack for The Bodyguard is her best selling record at 45 million sales.

Some of Houston’s most popular songs were on the soundtrack including “I’m Every Woman,” “I Have Nothing,” and most famously “I Will Always Love You.” Dolly Parton was actually the one who wrote the latter song for Houston. Other artists who appeared on the album were Kenny G, Aaron Neville, and Joe Cocker.

Fleetwood Mac: Rumors

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It’s common for music that came out several decades ago to go out of style, but Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors is still as relevant as ever. The initial release was on February 4, 1977, and it was already their 11th studio album.

The overall theme within the record was troubled relationships, but it was far from a depressing and pitiful look at love. Instead, it mixed elements of soft rock, pop, jazz, and disco into songs such as “Don’t Stop,” “Dreams,” and “Go Your Own Way.” In total the album sold 40 million certified copies around the world.

AC/DC: Back in Black

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Music can take an untimely tragedy and turn it into something beautiful. When AC/DC’s original lead singer suddenly died the rest of the group knew that their musical journey wasn’t over. They soon hired a new lead singer and released Back in Black on July 25, 1980.

The album quickly became their best seller and it has now sold 50 million units. This hard rock and heavy metal record made Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” with hits such as “Shoot to Thrill,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” and the title song “Back in Black.”

Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon

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After former Pink Floyd band member Syd Barrett was forced to leave the group under unfortunate circumstances the rest of the band decided to make an album about it. The Dark Side of the Moon dealt with themes of conflict, greed, time, and Barrett’s personal issues.

It’s been over four decades since its release and it’s still one of the main albums that defines the 1970s. It also has one of the most unique cover designs with a rainbow light refracting from a triangular prism against a black background. The Dark Side of the Moon sold 45 million copies with songs such as “Breathe,” “Time,” and “Money.”

Bee Gees/Various Artists: Saturday Night Fever

bee gees band members with their brother on a dock
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Michael Brennan/Getty Images

If there could be one band that is most associated with disco it has to be the Bee Gees. The brothers wrote some of the most listened to songs of the 1970s and were able to put many of them on the soundtrack for the John Travolta movie Saturday Night Fever.

The album went on to sell around 40 million copies worldwide with songs including “You Should Be Dancing,” “More Than a Woman,” and the Bee Gees’ biggest hit “Stayin’ Alive.” Other famous disco bands also appeared on the album such as Kool & the Gang, KC and the Sunshine Band, and The Trammps.

Adele: 21

adele on the red carpet for the grammy awards in a green dress
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Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Adele’s sophomore album 21 proved that her worth as a singer-songwriter was valuable. The album is mixed with numerous musical influences from country, blues, folk, Motown, pop, rock, and more. Throughout 21 Adele explores her feelings of love and heartbreak while belting out hit after hit with songs including “Someone like You,” “Rumour Has It,” and her number one single “Rolling in the Deep.”

It rose to extreme popularity after its release in 2011 by selling about 31 million copies. Also, the sequence of the tracks are in line with how Adele felt after her tough breakup, which ranged from anger, bitterness, loneliness, heartbreak, regret, and finally acceptance.

Alanis Morissette: Jagged Little Pill

alanis morissette raising her hands on stage
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Don Arnold/WireImage/Getty Images

Alternative rock music really started to form in the 1990s and one artist that had huge success within that genre is Alanis Morissette. Her third studio album Jagged Little Pill was about her aggression, rocky relationships, and young angst with elements of post-grunge and pop-rock.

After its release in 1995, Jagged Little Pill topped the charts in 13 countries making Morissette the first Canadian to achieve double diamond sales. Overall the album has sold 33 million copies worldwide with memorable songs including “You Oughta Know,” “Hand in My Pocket,” and “Ironic.”

The Beatles: 1, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road

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The Beatles transformed pop music of the 1960s and are still considered one of the most influential bands in music history. Their songs are universal and are enjoyed by people of all ages. The band held records for having the most songs make official music charts.

Their albums 1, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Abbey Road are three of their most popular and they sold about 30-32 million copies each. The latter two are their original albums, but 1 took all their number one hits and compiled them into a cohesive record. This included 27 top tracks such as “Love Me Do,” “We Can Work It Out,” and “The Long and Winding Road.”

ABBA: Gold: Greatest Hits

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Greatest hit and compilation albums tend to do well for musicians with lots of number one singles. On September 21, 1992 ABBA released Gold: Greatest Hits, which included 19 of their most popular songs including “Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia,” and “Waterloo.”

It ended up being the top-selling album of all time in the U.K., and worldwide sold a whopping 30 million copies. The album really started to pick up in sales after the release of the Meryl Streep films Mamma Mia! and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.

Metallica: Metallica

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Heavy metal music is not often grouped with mainstream audiences, but Metallica’s self titled album, Metallica, started to switch things in a more commercial direciton. Audiences first listened to the record on August 12, 1991 and it soon reached some of music’s top charts on Billboard and Rolling Stone.

All the lyrics were written by the lead singer and rhythm guitar player James Hetfield and the music was composed by Metallica’s percussionist Lars Ulrich. Almost all of Metallica’s greatest hits are on this album including “Enter Sandman,” “Sad but True,” and “The Unforgiven.”

Santana: Supernatural

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Jason Squires/WireImage/Getty Images

Carlos Santana started his music journey in the 1960s and is mostly remembered for his iconic performance at the Woodstock Music and Art Festival. He continued to make many records in the upcoming years, but it wasn’t until right after his band got inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that his career was about to take a major turn.

In 1999 Santana released Supernatural, which gave him his most successful album sales of 30 million copies. His collaborations with musicians such as Eric Clapton, Lauryn Hill, CeeLo Green, and Dave Matthews made all the difference. Some iconic hits include “Smooth,” “Maria Maria,” and “Put Your Lights On.”

Bruce Springsteen: Born in the U.S.A.

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Roy Rochlin/WireImage/Getty Images

Not only is Bruce Springsteen one of the richest musicians of all time, but he also has done some of the most epic concert tours of all time. His seventh studio album, Born in the U.S.A., was met with critical acclaim upon its release in 1984.

Fans flocked to buy this particular album because of its unique sound that combined rock ‘n’ roll, electronic textures, and classic Americana. In total Born in the U.S.A. sold 30 million units with songs including “Dancing in the Dark,” “Glory Days,” and the title track “Born in the U.S.A.”

Madonna: The Immaculate Collection

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Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

Even though Madonna is still making music almost nothing compares to her powerhouse presence during the 1980s. When the 1990s rolled around she decided that it would be a good idea to take all of her previous hits and put them in their own album. Thus, The Immaculate Collection was born.

Madonna fans finally had a place to find all of her best songs in one place, which led her to selling 30 million copies. She included songs such as “Material Girl,” “Papa Don’t Preach,” and “Like a Prayer.”

Celine Dion: Falling into You, Let’s Talk About Love

celine dion performing on stage in a red sequin dress
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Alice Chiche/AFP/Getty Images

Celine Dion is a global phenomenon with some of the most popular concert tours in music history. Her strong vocal stylings matched with melodic ballads gave her numerous hits throughout her career. Many of her records have reached sales in the millions, including her two most popular albums Falling into You and Let’s Talk About Love.

It’s estimated that the combined units from those two albums is around 63 million copies sold. Some fan-favorite songs off those albums are “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” “Because You Loved Me,” and the love theme from Titanic called “My Heart Will Go On.”

Bon Jovi: Slippery When Wet

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Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images
Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images

After Bon Jovi’s first couple of albums didn’t do as well as expected they decided to ditch their initial heavy sound to make a more mainstream record. Appealing to the public seemed to have worked for them because their 1986 album Slippery When Wet became an instant commercial success.

Almost all of Bon Jovi’s best hits appeared on this album including “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Never Say Goodbye,” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Over the past few decades it has sold 28 million copies and shot Bon Jovi to superstardom.

Bob Marley & The Wailers: Legend: The Best of Bob Marley & The Wailers

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Mike Prior/Redferns/Getty Images

Bob Marley’s music was more than just catchy tunes, but he included messages of love, standing up in the face of injustice, and asserting oneself against tyranny and oppression. His compilation album called Legend: The Best of Bob Marley & The Wailers was undoubtedly their most successful record ever made.

The 25 million copies sold may have a bit to do with Marley’s passing three years prior to the album release in 1984. Fans of Marley can remember all of his greatest hits with songs including “Is This Love,” “Three Little Birds,” “One Love / People Get Ready,” and more.