10 Best-Selling Albums of All-Time
There are a dozen different ways you can judge the quality of a record. You can look at the history and context around its release, the musical prowess displayed, your personal preferences, or the influence the album had on future artists and generations.
Today, though, we’re focusing on just one metric: sales. We’re looking at the absolute best-selling albums of all time.
One caveat before we get started—there are a few different ways to measure “sales.” All record labels have a “claimed sales” number, and then there are the actual certified record sales from individual markets.
Before we get started, let’s take a quick look into what this terminology actually means.
Claimed vs. Certified Sales
You’ll find lists that use both of these metrics, but looking at certified sales restricts you to specific markets (the U.S. for example). Also, for older albums, many labels didn’t even keep track of these figures.
For this list, we’re basing our ranking on claimed sales. Although only “certified” sales can be proven, most albums sold a lot more than their “certified” sales amount. If album sales were not reported to the RIAA or were in a market that there isn’t data from, it can be impossible to track.
The point is that album sales are a difficult thing to track. These are mostly accurate, but take these sales numbers with a grain of salt.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 best-selling albums of all time!
22 Million Units
Grease is one of the most iconic movies in American history. It epitomizes mid-1900s America and encapsulates much of what people loved about that era. It’s the only musical soundtrack on this list, and it’s carved a spot out for itself in history.
The classic “You’re the One That I Want” pushed a lot of the sales, but there are plenty of classic songs on display here. “Greased Lightnin,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” and the title track are obvious standouts.
The film struck a chord with its audience upon release, and fans have continued to love the film, and its soundtrack, for decades since.
9. Shania Twain - Come On Over (1997)
40 Million Units
Some artists make one genre of music and stick with it. Others go from one to another over the course of their career, growing and evolving over time. Then there are artists like Shania Twain.
Twain seamlessly blends elements of traditional country music with modern pop standards to make infectious music that you just can’t stop listening to. From the first track (Man! I Feel Like a Woman!), you know what you’re getting into.
It’s Country, it’s Pop, and it’s a ton of fun from start to finish. It’s no wonder that Twain sold as many copies as she did.
8. Fleetwood Mac - Rumors (1977)
40 Million Units
A personal favorite of ours here at Sound of Vinyl, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors was a cultural touchstone when it was released. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham led the charge on one of the best pop-rock albums the world has ever seen.
Beautiful harmonies, stellar guitar licks, and meaningful lyrics come together to create something really special and ahead of its time. Tracks like “Dreams,” “Go Your Own Way,” and “The Chain” have cemented themselves in the popular consciousness, marking the highest point of an already incredible discography.
7. Bee Gees - Saturday Night Fever (1977)
40 Million Units
Few albums so perfectly represent their genres as the Bee Gee’s Saturday Night Fever. A soundtrack to a movie of the same name, this record holds a place in the National Recording Registry and the Library of Congress thanks to its cultural significance.
The disco craze may have been short-lived, but it came in hard and fast. SNF is a perfect representation of why Disco became as popular as it did. It quickly became the best-selling album of its time, only overtaken by Michael Jackson’s Thriller in 1984.
Not to mention, the intro track “Stayin’ Alive” has become so ubiquitous that it’s used as an example of the pace at which to perform CPR. If that doesn’t speak to its popularity, what will?
6. Eagles - Their Greatest Hits (1976)
42 Million Units
If we were only looking at U.S. certified sales, this record would be on top. In 2017, this album overtook Thriller as the best-selling U.S. album, after losing that spot back in 2009 after Michael Jackson’s death.
Not only that, but this was also the first record to ever get the distinction of “platinum” from the RIAA. The Eagles carved a special place for themselves in history, especially in America. Tracks like “Take it Easy,” “Desperado,” and “Take it to the Limit” perfectly encapsulate the sound of 1970s America.
This is one of the few greatest hits records to sell as well as it has, and the only one to break into the top 20 best-selling albums. ABBA’s greatest hits came close, but the Eagles had something special with their blend of Folk, Country, and Rock and Roll that still resonates with music lovers today.
5. Whitney Houston - The Bodyguard (1992)
45 Million Units
Many of the spots on this list are held by 70s and 80s rock groups. They were making music in the heyday of records and live shows. This record, though, neither came out in the 70s, nor was created by a rock band.
The Bodyguard is one of the newest albums on this list, only releasing in 1992. Moreover, it’s actually the soundtrack to a film of the same name. It’s also the best-selling soundtrack album of all time.
Side A features tracks from Whitney Houston, including the iconic “I Will Always Love You.” Her voice will go down in history as one of the greatest to ever grace a recording studio, and that track is a perfect example of why.
Side B features various other artists including Kenny G, Joe Cocker, and more, but it’s obvious who really put this album on top.
4. Pink Floyd - The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
45 Million Units
Few records have had the level of influence and cultural impact as this one. The prism on the album cover is as recognizable as any other. Its sales are backed by critics’ reviews and love from fans alike, as it’s considered not just one of the best-selling, but one of the greatest albums of all time.
It’s a concept album, exploring issues that most rock albums of the time sheered away from. While other rockers were boasting about their money and partying exploits, David Gilmour and company were dealing with issues of greed, mental health, and other deep philosophical ideas.
This was an album that was far ahead of its time, and it shows. It continues to sell well today and has been re-released a number of times over the years. It’s absolutely essential for any record collector.
3. Meat Loaf - Bat Out of Hell (1977)
50 Million Units
Meat Loaf’s debut studio record has garnered a bit of a cult following over the years. Upon initial release, it didn’t get the response the label had hoped for. Reviews were mixed, and sales were well below expectations.
Over time, though, this album began to grow on fans and critics alike. The “rock opera,” as it’s come to be known, continues selling hundreds of thousands of copies every year, earning its high spot on this list.
2. AC/DC - Back in Black (1980)
50 Million Units
When you think about 80s rock, what comes to mind? For us, it’s pounding drums, heavy distortion, and near-screaming vocals that make you wonder if the guy can still even talk anymore. Back in Black is the epitome of 80s rock at its finest.
This wasn’t AC/DC’s first outing, but this put them on another level. The album opens with the clanging of “Hells Bells,” followed quickly by the exhilarating ride that is “Shoot to Thrill.”
The title track is another standout, populating movie soundtracks and teenager’s playlists for decades now. Any one song from this album rocks harder than most bands across their entire discography.
1. Michael Jackson - Thriller (1982)
66 Million Units
The record that continues to hold the top-selling spot for decades, Michael Jackson’s Thriller seemingly can’t be beat. It was released in 1982, and less than two years later it had become the best-selling album ever released. Over time, this record has maintained its spot at number one.
In some specific markets, other albums have surpassed it, but overall, it still holds the record for most album sales. And it’s for good reason, too.
Singles like “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” and the title track catapulted this record into the stratosphere. Michael Jackson had plenty of other records, but this one continues to hold a special place in history, and in our hearts here at Sound of Vinyl.