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Best-Selling Albums Of All Time: 10 Record-Breaking Records
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List & Guides

Best-Selling Albums Of All Time: 10 Record-Breaking Records

Imbued with a special something all their own, the world’s best-selling albums have been commercial and critical smashes in music history.

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Most musicians dream of longevity, and the best way to secure it is with a record which defies passing trends and appeals to a global audience on its own terms. Of course, achieving that aim is far easier said than done, yet there is an elite group of releases out there which seemingly remain on the charts regardless of fad or fashion. In compiling this list of the best-selling albums of all time, we have focused on studio albums released by bands or individual artists, rather than hits compilations or soundtrack albums, and ranked them in order of the worldwide sales figures available at the time of writing.

Here, then, are the best-selling albums of all time – each one a game-changing release in the history of rock and pop music.

Listen to our Rock Classics playlist here, and check out the world’s best-selling albums, below.

10: Eagles: ‘Hotel California’ (1976)

Estimated sales: 32 million

Technically, Hotel California isn’t Eagles’ biggest-selling release, as the group’s much-loved compilation Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) has moved an estimated 45 million copies worldwide, even at one point overtaking US sales figures for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. However, in terms of official studio albums, Hotel California is by some way the pioneering country-rock act’s flagship release, having moved an estimated 32 million copies since its initial release, in December 1976.

As Billboard magazine suggested at the time, Hotel California is one of the best Eagles albums, and it kept the group “at the acme of acoustic-electric soft rock” in the mid-70s, siring three huge hit singles courtesy of New Kid In Town, Life In The Fast Lane and its iconic, US chart-topping title track. Both New Kid In Town and Hotel California (the song) yielded Grammy Awards for the band in 1977, and its parent album has kept motoring ever since, having been certified 26-times platinum in North America alone, forever ensuring it stands among the best-selling albums of all time.

Must hear: Hotel California

9: Alanis Morissette: ‘Jagged Little Pill’ (1995)

Estimated sales: 33 million

Though originally marketed as her debut album, Jagged Little Pill was actually Alanis Morissette’s third studio outing. However, in terms of impact, it may as well have been her debut, for the record seemingly appeared out of nowhere and swept the board in 1995, turning the Canadian singer-songwriter into a household name overnight.

In actuality, Morissette had spent the best part of a year piecing the album together with producer/co-writer Glen Ballard, and Jagged Little Pill’s release was timed to perfection. Let loose into the post-grunge musical landscape, this singular collection of alt-rock songs captured the mood of the times, with songs addressing themes such as aggression, broken relationships and alienation, yet tempering the angst with highly accessible tunes that still rank among the best Alanis Morissette songs. Indeed, no less than four of the album’s singles – Hand In My Pocket, Ironic, You Learn and Head Over Feet – all topped the US singles chart.

Accordingly, Jagged Little Pill reaped major rewards. Having helped make Morissette the first Canadian woman ever to top the Billboard 200, the album scooped Grammy, Juno and MTV Video Awards – and it still ranks among the best-selling albums of all time, having racked up an estimated 33 million copies worldwide.

Must hear: Hand In My Pocket

8: Michael Jackson: ‘Bad’ (1987)

Estimated sales: 35 million

As it stands, Michael Jackson is the only artist in history to be faced with the challenge of following the biggest-selling album of all time with a record that would replicate its predecessor’s success. Time has proved that he couldn’t quite top 1982’s ubiquitous Thriller, though the “King Of Pop” certainly threw everything he had at 1987’s Bad; a colossal record on its own terms, it peaked at No.1 in 25 countries.

Not only heading the best-selling albums of 1987, Bad also outstripped the competition in 1988, and it raised two significant bars which remain unreachable today, thanks to the inclusion of five record-breaking US No.1 singles (I Just Can’t Stop Loving You, Bad, The Way You Make Me Feel, Man In The Mirror and Dirty Diana) and a supporting world tour which became the highest-grossing solo tour of the 80s, bringing in an estimated $125 million (the equivalent of $309 million in 2023).

Must hear: The Way You Make Me Feel

7: Led Zeppelin: Untitled (aka “Led Zeppelin IV”) (1971)

Estimated sales: 37 million

It’s common practice for most music-industry marketing campaigns to prioritise a band’s name, an album title or at the very least a photo of the artist when it comes to promoting a new release. Led Zeppelin, however, bucked all these trends when it came to the release of their much-anticipated fourth album, in November 1971. Consequently, when the record hit the racks, the album now referred to as “Led Zeppelin IV” featured an enigmatic framed photo on the sleeve, depicting an old man carrying a bundle of sticks – discovered in November 2023 to be Lot Long, a Wiltshire thatcher from the Victorian era.

The band’s label, Atlantic Records, were initially unhappy about this, yet Led Zeppelin stood their ground (“I put it to everyone else that it’d be a good idea to have something totally anonymous,” guitarist Jimmy Page told Trouser Press in 1977. “We just happened to have a lot of faith in what we were doing”). With hindsight, such a risky strategy may not have worked for a lesser-known act, but the enigmatic quality of the image made it one of the best Led Zeppelin album covers of all, arguably only adding to the superlative music within. The record went on to prove Page’s point in style, its place among the best-selling albums confirmed with an estimated 37 million copies to date.

Must hear: Black Dog

6: Shania Twain: ‘Come On Over’ (1997)

Estimated sales: 40 million

Canadian singer-songwriter Shania Twain has long since been bestowed with the honorific title “Queen Of Country Pop”, and it’s not difficult to hear why when you listen to 1997’s all-conquering Come On Over, which, with worldwide sales of around 40 million to date, is still one of the best-selling albums of all time.

Twain co-wrote the entire album with her producer (and future husband) Robert John “Mutt” Lange. Though best known for his production work for iconic hard-rock acts such as AC/DC and Def Leppard, Lange is renowned for his studio smarts, and the pair fashioned a killer album balancing country flavours with the accessibility of radio-friendly pop and rock music. Indeed, such was the mainstream pull of Come On Over that it ended up spawning no fewer than 12 singles in all, with three of them – You’re Still The One, From This Moment On and That Don’t Impress Me Much – smashing into the US Top 10. Indeed, the record’s initial success seeded its longevity, and to date it remains both the world’s best-selling country album and the best-selling album by a Canadian artist.

Must hear: That Don’t Impress Me Much

5: Fleetwood Mac: ‘Rumours’ (1977)

Estimated sales: 40 million

Overviews of rock history cast 1977 as the year punk swept away the rock establishment, yet the charts largely contradict that assertion. It’s true that an extremely nervous BBC did everything it could to prevent Sex Pistols’ notorious God Save The Queen from topping the UK singles chart, but for the most part mainstream rock still ruled the airwaves, with the year’s two biggest single-artist albums both ranking among the best-selling records in rock history.

1977’s second-biggest release, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, famously came together amid the sort of internal band strife more often ascribed to the punk upstarts, yet despite the hedonism and broken relationships that characterised Fleetwood Mac’s classic line-up, the band pieced together a truly cohesive album whose quartet of monster singles – Go Your Own Way, Don’t Stop, You Make Loving Fun and Dreams – all took the group to a whole new level, thanks to stunning melodies and the bandmates’ trademark lush vocal harmonies. Featuring many of the best Fleetwood Mac songs, Rumours itself sold ten million copies within a month of its release and – after winning a Grammy in 1978 – it’s just kept on keeping on, going diamond in the UK, Canada and Australia, in addition to being certified platinum a whopping 21 times in the US.

Must hear: Go Your Own Way

4: Meat Loaf: ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ (1977)

Estimated sales: 43 million

Such was the success of Rumours that it’s hard to believe any other album could have outsold it during 1977, yet Fleetwood Mac’s landmark record was ultimately surpassed by a work which, once it flew into the charts, literally refused to move for years – Meat Loaf’s legendary, Todd Rundgren-produced Bat Out Of Hell.

Rather like Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, Bat Out Of Hell’s success appeared to come out of nowhere, yet in reality the album was painstakingly pieced together across 1975 and 1976. Its genesis lay in the theatre, as Texan native Meat Loaf had appeared in the original Los Angeles stage production of The Rocky Horror Show, and its composition was the work of Jim Steinman, who had originally written the album’s songs for a planned musical, Neverland, based upon a futuristic update of JM Barrie’s classic children’s story, Peter Pan. Bat Out Of Hell was eventually developed into a musical in its own right, in 2017, but it will always be best known in its original form, as the classic rock album which decimated the mainstream, moving an estimated 43 million copies to date and spawning two sequels hoping to take up their own position among the best-selling albums ever released.

Must hear: Bat Out Of Hell

3: AC/DC: ‘Back In Black’ (1980)

Estimated sales: 50 million copies

If ever a band snatched triumph from tragedy then that’s surely AC/DC. As the multi-platinum success of their seventh album, Highway To Hell, left the Australian rockers on the cusp of massive international acceptance, the group lost their charismatic vocalist, Bon Scott, who was found dead on the morning of 19 February 1980 after an especially hedonistic night out in London.

This tragic event would have been enough to destroy most bands, but, as they’ve frequently shown, AC/DC are made of much sterner stuff. Indeed, after replacing Scott with the UK-born Brian Johnson, the band did the seemingly unthinkable and returned with the immaculate Back In Black: a monster album stuffed with hard-edged yet radio-friendly anthems – accurately described by Rolling Stone’s David Fricke as “the apex of heavy-metal art” – which didn’t just obliterate the group’s previous sales figures but also went on to become one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, with an estimated 50 million copies to its name.

Must hear: You Shook Me All Night Long

2: Pink Floyd: ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ (1973)

Estimated sales: 50 million copies

It’s been claimed that The Dark Side Of The Moon is always playing somewhere on Earth – and that may well be true, as, with the help of one of the best album covers of all time, Pink Floyd’s magnum opus has long since achieved its own level of ubiquity. The biggest-selling album of the 70s, The Dark Side Of The Moon only actually topped the US Billboard 200 for one week, but it remained in the chart for a staggering 778 weeks (almost 14 years) and has since made regular returns courtesy of different anniversary reissues.

In addition, this seemingly invincible contender among the world’s best-selling albums has also been certified platinum an incredible 14 times in the UK, while its lengthy list of accolades includes selection for preservation in the Library Of Congress’ prestigious National Recording Registry, in 2012, and its induction into the Grammy Hall Of Fame, in 1999. Indeed, The Dark Side Of The Moon again came back into orbit in 2023, with Roger Waters issuing his own re-imagined version of the album, while the super-deluxe 50th-anniversary box-set edition of the original record inevitably figured among the best reissues of 2023.

Must hear: Money

1: Michael Jackson: ‘Thriller’ (1982)

Estimated sales: 70 million copies

This round-up of the best-selling albums of all time includes some undeniably humongous titles, yet when it comes to the final reckoning there’s still one release which reigns supreme. With help from legendary, multiple-Grammy-Award-winning producer Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson said he wanted to create an album where “every song was a killer”, and he made that a reality with his sixth solo release, Thriller.

Indeed, such is the stratospheric level of success this record has attained that even absorbing its achievements can make one feel dizzy. Nonetheless, here goes… First released in November 1982, Thriller rapidly became Jackson’s first US chart-topping album, and it remained at No.1 on the Billboard 200 for a staggering 37 (non-consecutive) weeks, between March 1983 and April 1984. Also, thanks to Jackson’s dynamic performance of the album’s second single, Billie Jean, in the Motown 25 TV special – during which he first performed the famous moonwalk dance – the album began selling an estimated million copies a week for a while. By the end of 1983, Thriller. had moved a remarkable 32 million copies, and it’s rarely faltered since. It was briefly overtaken in the US by Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), but Jackson’s record-breaking release has since reclaimed the top position, going 38-times platinum in North America, in 2018, and racking up colossal worldwide sales of 70 million and counting.

Must hear: Billie Jean

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