We’ve whipped out the calculators and totted up the numbers to bring you Music Gateway’s definitive best-selling albums of all time!
Chances are you’ve got a personal top ten albums of all time filled with the music that marked memorable moments and phases of your life. Whether it’s the album that was playing in every club of your Fresher’s Week, the title track of an album you had your first dance to, or the first album you bought on vinyl.
Let’s find out which album is the best selling of all time. Did we get any of your favourites? Standby for some surprises!
So, are we ready?
Introducing, the best selling albums of all time!
Although almost beaten to the number 10 spot by 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me, The Notorious B.I.G. secured a historic best-selling hip hop album of all time with over 10 million albums sold in the U.S. alone.
Both ‘Hypnotise’ and ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ were nominated for Grammys for Best Rap Performance. With the double-disk album nominated for Best Rap Album. Moreover, the commercial performance of the album was outstanding. Selling almost 700,000 copies in its first week and was certified Diamond in 2000 by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Critics, even now, marvel at the album’s ability to seamlessly express the vulnerable. As well as darker sides of the rapper, the accessible with the hard-core. For the LA Times, Life After Death was remarkable; “rarely has a rapper attempted to please so many different audiences and done it so brilliantly”.
Released in March 1997, only a few months after Tupac’s death in 1996, the album also prompted controversy in some circles for cryptic insults in ‘Long Kiss Goodnight’ towards the murdered rapper who had mentioned Biggie by name in his music.
Biggie and Tupac’s beef came to embody the 1990s West Coast- East Coast rivalry. The feud is arguably the most well-documented in hip-hop history.
The Beatles’ 11th album struck gold with such hits as ‘Here Comes the Sun’, ‘Something/Come Together’ and ‘Octopus’ Garden’ selling over 14 million copies.
George Martin famously produced the band’s 1969 triumph. Which also featured the iconic cover snap of The Beatles walking across the Abbey Road zebra crossing.
The cover shot became so famous that EMI Studios renamed itself Abbey Road Studios to mark the success of the recording. Abbey Road became one of the top-selling albums of all time. Furthermore, it was at number one for 17 weeks in the US, while in Japan it was in the top 100 for 298 weeks in the 1970s.
Contemporary critics disliked the use of the Moog synthesiser with some calling the album ‘inauthentic’ and ‘flawed’. However, the tide soon turned. Even in 2020, The Rolling Stones put Abbey Road at number 5 in their 500 Greatest Albums of all time.
Clapton’s 1992 live recording for MTV’s Unplugged TV show was performed for a studio audience. It included heart-rending renditions of ‘Tears in Heaven’ and ‘Layla’.
The blues album did incredibly well in the US, British, German, Austrian, and Swiss album charts. As well as receiving nine Grammy awards.
The incredible commercial success came at a painful time for Clapton who had just lost his son, Conor. Additionally, the recording was the best-selling live album of all time and sold 26 million copies.
American jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is still seen today as the blueprint for modal jazz. It is widely regarded as one of the most influential studio albums of all time.
The figures are disputed for Kind Of Blue. However, the RIAA’s quadruple Platinum rating in 2008 indicated sales in excess of 5 million, and likely significantly more given steady success since its release in 1959.
The sextet consisted of instrumentalists at the top of their game. Saxophonists Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley and John Coltrane, pianist Bill Evans, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb.
The album marked Davis’ musical innovation and a step away from his earlier hard bop to modal harmony.
The soundtrack to more noughties romantic comedies than you can shake a stick at, Come Away with Me was also a breakthrough moment for jazz as a genre.
Jones’ heartfelt soundscape became the best-selling jazz album of all time and is often credited with saving Blue Note Records. Cutting right into the mainstream, Come Away With Me sold over 27 million copies.
Released in 2002, the album is also one of the more recent best-selling albums. It includes gems such as ‘Don’t Know Why’, ‘Feeling the Same Way’ and ‘Come Away with Me’.
The lead-up to the album was marked by the rise of Napster and widespread music piracy. Despite album sales’ decline elsewhere, Come Away with Me became a certified RIAA Platinum album the same year it was released.
The 1987 album was released with little fanfare or commercial interest. By the next year, however, its chart-topping hits, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, and ‘Paradise City’ had garnered huge success.
The recording sold over 30 million copies. Making it the best-selling debut album of all time, with an 18 times Platinum from the RIAA.
Contemporary American critics were hostile to the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” attitude which clashed with the culture of the Reagan-Bush administration. However, the rebellious punk spirit of the album was better received in the UK after rave reviews by publications like Kerrang!
The most recently released album in our top ten best selling albums of all time countdown, Adele’s 21 surpassed all expectations.
Intended to be an upbeat, feel-good album after the more somber heartbreak of her first album, 19, the singer found herself facing another heartbreak while writing 21, which channeled itself into her music.
Despite the tragic line of several songs on the album, 21 soon became the best-selling album of the 21st century. With Adele achieving the success of the greatest Billboard 200 Album of all time.
‘Someone Like You’, ‘Set Fire to the Rain’, and ‘Rolling in the Deep’ reached number one in over 30 countries. With Adele selling over 31 million copies and counting!
Famous for tracks, ‘Tequila Sunrise’, ‘One of these Nights’ and ‘Best of My Love’, Their Greatest Hits was released in 1976, comprising music from the band’s last four albums form 1971-74.
Perhaps surprisingly, the band had no say in the putting together of the compilation album. With bandmates complaining the Greatest Hits album was nothing more than a ploy to sell more without having to produce more music.
Cynical or not, the album had huge success. Becoming the best-selling rock album of all time with 41 million copies sold.
While not best pleased with the compilation album, the release of Their Greatest Hits, allowed The Eagles more time to work on, arguably their best hit, ‘Hotel California’.
Released in 1992, The Bodyguard soundtrack album featured six stand-out pop songs by Whitney Houston. Including a cover of Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’, Chaka Khan’s ‘I’m Every Woman’, and ‘Run to You’.
The incredible quantity of airplay kept the album at number 1 for 14 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. Other favourite tracks from the best-selling album include the pop/dance track ‘Queen of the Night’ and gospel tune, ‘Jesus Loves Me’.
The Bodyguard became one of the best-selling pop albums of all time. Raking in 45 million unit sales until number one knocked it off from the top spot.
Finally, the King of Pop has held on to the top spot posthumously since 2009, selling over 66 million copies worldwide!
As well as the title, track, the album was packed with best-selling singles from ‘Billie Jean’, to ‘P.Y.T’, to ‘Beat It’.
Thriller has become a global phenomenon. Jackson’s debut of the signature moonwalk was for a performance of Billie Jean from the album.
Released in 1982, Thriller was Jackson’s sixth studio album and the second album produced with Quincy Jones. By the end of 1983, it had already sold 32 million copies marking it out as the best-selling pop album of all time.
We hope you enjoyed our low-down of the highest charting and top-selling albums of all time. But which was your favourite? Who do you think deserved a place in the top 10 best-selling albums of all time? Let us know!