Paul McCartney and John Lennon during The Beatles' announcement of the animated film "Yellow Submarine," released in 1968.

We ranked 20 former group members by their solo career success—here's who's #1

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June 27, 2022
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We ranked 20 former group members by their solo career success—here's who's #1

Even when your band or musical group seems to have it all—multiple chart-topping singles, worldwide acclaim, shelves stacked with awards—the desire to let your own star shine can overtake it all. For some solo artists, it's the desire to carve their own musical path, for others the dissolution of their group more or less provided the opportunity (or forced their hand, depending on how the story gets spun). And still, going solo provided certain artists a respite from the rigors of compromise that keep a successful group or band together for years or even decades.

Regardless of the impetus, the impulse or choice to go solo was a wise one and has led many to achieve even greater success as they soaked up the spotlight all for themselves. With this in mind, Stacker determined 20 of the most successful solo artists who were also a member of a group, using data from the Recording Industry Association of America and Billboard.

The 20 artists Stacker researched are ranked by the number of certified album sales the artist achieved during their solo career. Any ties are broken by the number of #1 singles.

Stevie Nicks performing at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
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Kevin Mazur // Getty Images For The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

#20. Stevie Nicks

- Certified album sales: 10.5M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 0

Coming from Fleetwood Mac, one of the most successful rock groups of all time, and before that finding more modest success as part of a duo with then-lover Lindsay Buckingham, Stevie Nicks was no stranger to popular music, but her 1981 solo debut, "Bella Donna," launched her into the very highest echelon of contemporary singer-songwriters. The album reached #1 on the Billboard 200 and was followed two years later by the double-platinum record "The Wild Heart."

She's since become a double Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee—as a member of Fleetwood Mac and as a solo artist—and has found success with a younger generation. Nicks' most famous song, "Edge of Seventeen," has amassed nearly 300,000,000 streams on Spotify.

Ricky Martin performs onstage
2 / 20
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#19. Ricky Martin

- Certified album sales: 10.5M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 1

Following his first taste of musical fame with the Latin pop boy band Menudo, Ricky Martin used the momentum of budding superstardom to launch a solo career of his own, releasing four Spanish-language albums across the 1990s.

In 1997, it would be his chart-topping track "María" that would catch the attention of FIFA, who tapped Martin to compose the theme song of the 1998 FIFA World Cup, "La Copa de la Vida" (English: "The Cup of Life"). The following year, he scored his first major blockbuster hit, "Livin' La Vida Loca," a Latin-inspired smash that opened up the gates for other Latin singers, including Shakira and Jennifer Lopez.

John Lennon performing at piano
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#18. John Lennon

- Certified album sales: 10.5M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 2

During the Beatles' tenure, John Lennon was one of the band's driving lyrical forces. His sometimes fraught relationship with Paul McCartney drove the band's music in the late 1960s into territory few saw coming after the mop-top pop of their early '60s output.

After the Beatles' infamous breakup, Lennon released the record "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band" in 1970. The album was an immediate success and included such classics as "Mother" and "Working Class Hero." Stark and somewhat melancholy in nature, the album set a thematic pathway to 1971's "Imagine," which featured the timeless title track as well as longtime deep track favorite "Gimme Some Truth."

Lauryn Hill performs onstage
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Mariano Regidor/Redferns // Getty Images

#17. Lauryn Hill

- Certified album sales: 11M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 1

While Lauryn Hill enjoyed immense fame and reverence as a member of hip-hop trio the Fugees, Hill's one and only solo album, 1998's "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill"— which debuted atop the Billboard 200 upon its release—may still be her greatest achievement. An album of deeply honest beauty, "Miseducation" earned the singer five Grammy Awards—including Album of the Year, making her the first hip-hop musician to win the award—and has since become an all-time classic, leaving a legacy of inspiration for numerous artists who have followed.

Justin Timberlake performs onstage during Super Bowl
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Christopher Polk // Getty Images

#16. Justin Timberlake

- Certified album sales: 11M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 5

From "The New Mickey Mouse Club," where he starred alongside other fellow future pop stars Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, Timberlake rocketed to international renown with boy band 'N Sync. Timberlake then went solo in 2002 with his debut album "Justified," which earned him a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

Timberlake's next record, "FutureSex/LoveSounds," was even bigger, featuring three Billboard Hot 100 #1s and going four times platinum in the U.S. Timberlake has also expanded his solo work to film, where he voiced the character of Branch in both "Trolls" and "Trolls: World Tour" and produced the soundtracks for both.

Don Henley performs onstage
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Rick Diamond // Getty Images for T.J. Martell

#15. Don Henley

- Certified album sales: 11.5M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 0

In the 1970s and 1980s, Don Henley brought an innovative mix of country and folk-tinged pop to the American mainstream as the drummer and one of the primary singers for the Eagles. When the band split in 1980, Henley embarked on a solo career with his debut album "I Can't Stand Still." It was a modest hit, eventually becoming certified gold with sales of over 1 million copies.

Thereafter, Henley's next two albums dominated American airwaves through the rest of the 1980s. 1984's "Building the Perfect Beast" featured Billboard top 10 hits "Boys of Summer" and "All She Wants to Do Is Dance" and, in 1989, the title track from "The End of the Innocence" earned Henley the Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.

George Harrison sings with guitar
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Richard E. Aaron/Redferns // Getty Images

#14. George Harrison

- Certified album sales: 11.5M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 3

Despite being considered the "shy" Beatle, Harrison was perhaps the band's boldest member when it came to solo career endeavors. Harrison released two nearly entirely instrumental albums ("Wonderwall Music" and "Electronic Sound") prior to the band's split in 1970.

Once the Beatles were no more, Harrison put out the three-disc epic "All Things Must Pass," featuring top 10 hits "My Sweet Lord" and "What Is Life." Throughout the 1970s, Harrison continued to find success with albums such as "Living in the Material World" and the eponymous "George Harrison," but he surprisingly found his footing in the evolving world of pop in 1987 with his version of James Ray's "Got My Mind Set on You," which went to #1 in the U.S.

Paul Simon performs onstage
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#13. Paul Simon

- Certified album sales: 13.5M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 1

As part of the duo Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon and music partner Art Garfunkel made some of the most decade-defining records in the 1960s. Their songs "Sounds of Silence," "The Boxer," "Mrs. Robinson," and "Bridge Over Troubled Water," among others are regularly a part of lists and discussions about the best music of the '60s.

Following the duo's dissolution in 1970, Simon reintroduced himself as a solo musician with an eponymously titled album that featured now-classics "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" and the reggae-inspired "Mother and Child Reunion," which propelled him to the top of the charts. His most successful solo endeavor came five years later with the release of the chart-storming "Still Crazy After All These Years," an album that produced four Top 40 hits and won the Grammy for Album of the Year.

Beyonce performs onstage
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Larry Busacca/PW/WireImage for Parkwood Entertainment // Getty Images

#12. Beyoncé

- Certified album sales: 15M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 7

Beyoncé proved herself as the star of the pack right from the get-go, having achieved monumental fame as the lead singer of the R&B group Destiny's Child. She certainly owed it to herself to pursue a career of her own, and she did just that in 2003 when she released "Dangerously in Love," which featured the hit Grammy-nominated track "Crazy in Love."

Since then, her star has only risen further. 2010's "I Am … Sasha Fierce" earned the powerhouse six Grammy awards and spawned an international dancing craze with the hit "Single Ladies." Her 2016 album "Lemonade" was the most successful album in the world that year and subsequently made Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums of All Time list. And if all this were not enough, Beyoncé has become—much as Michael Jackson was a generation before—a cultural touchstone for Black entertainers, whose artistic honesty sets an example for artists following in her footsteps.

George Michael performing in concert
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Rob Verhorst/Redferns // Getty Images

#11. George Michael

- Certified album sales: 15M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 8

Alongside school friend Andrew Ridgeley, George Michael formed pop duo Wham! in the early 1980s, and the group had major success with hits "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and "Careless Whisper" before splitting up in 1986. Almost immediately thereafter, Michael dominated American radio with his 1987 album "Faith," which sprung top hits "One More Try," "Father Figure," "I Want Your Sex," "Monkey," and of course "Faith." The album has since been certified diamond with sales of 10 million.

Paul McCartney performing on stage
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Steve Jennings/WireImage // Getty Images

#10. Paul McCartney

- Certified album sales: 15.5M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 3

Paul McCartney's 1970 debut solo album "McCartney" is often considered the ultimate symbol of the Beatles' dissolution, but McCartney continued to channel the band's peace-loving, happiness-inducing missive well into his solo career. Aside from the handful of albums he made with his band Wings, McCartney has largely flown solo.

1971's "Ram" yielded his first non-Beatles U.S. #1 with "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. 1989's "Flowers in the Dirt" earned him some of the best reviews of his career, and 1997's "Flaming Pie" was among his most successful solo outings in the U.S., debuting at #2 on the Billboard 200 chart. Across five decades, McCartney has covered almost all ground—from Christmas hits to experimental synth projects—while maintaining his title as the best selling solo Beatle.

Neil Young performs onstage
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Frazer Harrison/Getty Images // Getty Images

#9. Neil Young

- Certified album sales: 17.5M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 1

Now known as "The Godfather of Grunge," Neil Young explored some of what would become his future trademarks—soft but gnarly vocals and visceral guitar—while a member of the rock band Buffalo Springfield. He later also joined David Crosby, Steven Stills, and Graham Nash to form Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, though their tenure was brief and fraught with internal conflict.

Young released an eponymous solo debut in 1970 while in between the two bands, but it was 1970's "After the Gold Rush" and 1972's "Harvest" that firmly set Young among the great songwriters of his generation. Since then he has dipped in and out of his own band, Crazy Horse, with whom he put out the classic live record "Rust Never Sleeps" and released several solo collaborative efforts, including 1995's "Mirror Ball" with Pearl Jam.

Sting performs at London Palladium
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Robin Little/Redferns // Getty Images

#8. Sting

- Certified album sales: 18M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 1

The Police was one of the '80s greatest success stories, but that wasn't enough to stop the trio from disbanding in 1984, right at their peak. The band's bassist, Gordon Sumner, aka Sting, traded his axe for a guitar on his 1985 debut solo album "The Dream of the Blue Turtles," which came out to both critical and commercial fanfare. It wasn't until the '90s, though, that Sting really hit his stride, notably with the release of 1993's "Ten Summoner's Tales," which featured the hits "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You," "Fields of Gold," and 1999's "Brand New Day," which went triple platinum and earned him a Grammy Award for Best Pop Album.

Lionel Richie performs at piano
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Ian Gavan // Getty Images

#7. Lionel Richie

- Certified album sales: 22.5M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 5

In 1968, Lionel Richie joined the Commodores as the group's singer and saxophonist. On their Motown Records labels, they soon began supporting The Jackson 5 on tour. By the end of the decade, the Commodores were one of Motown's most successful exports, becoming regular fixtures on the charts.

The group's fame set Richie up for success when he decided to go solo at the beginning of the '80s. He wrote the hit "Lady" for Kenny Rogers in 1980 and his 1981 duet with Diana Ross, "Endless Love," remains one of the bestselling singles of all time. Throughout the '80s, Richie released hit after hit, scoring Billboard #1s with "Truly," "All Night Long," "Hello," and "Say You Say Me." He also co-wrote the international smash charity recording "We Are the World."

Ozzy Osbourne speaks onstage
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Kevin Winter / /Getty Images for iHeartMedia

#6. Ozzy Osbourne

- Certified album sales: 29.75M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 0

As lead vocalist of Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne helped put heavy metal on the map and in the process developed quite the reputation, even before he began biting the heads off of bats. (Actually, he only did it once.) Osbourne was kicked out of Sabbath in 1979 when he couldn't get his addiction to drugs and alcohol in check.

His debut solo album, 1980's "Blizzard of Ozz," went multiplatinum, thanks largely to its lead single "Crazy Train." His sophomore effort "Diary of a Madman" followed a year later with the single "Flying High Again" reaching #2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock list. Despite the degree to which grunge took over heavy metal in the 1990s, Osbourne stayed relevant. His 1991 album "No More Tears" went quadruple platinum and generated top 10 hits "No More Tears," "Mama, I'm Coming Home," and "Road to Nowhere."

Phil Collins performs onstage
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#5. Phil Collins

- Certified album sales: 33.5M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 7

Once Peter Gabriel departed the legendary prog-rock band Genesis in the early 1970s, the band's drummer, Phil Collins, took over as lead singer. That transition not only spurred Collins to up his songwriting game for the band, but it also, by the late '70s, pushed him toward his much-celebrated solo career, which he finally ignited in 1981 with "Face Value," featuring the iconic single "In the Air Tonight."

It was the double-whammy of "No Jacket Required" and "…But Seriously," however, that vaulted Collins into the musical stratosphere. The two albums have since sold a combined 16 million copies in the U.S. Collins scored 13 top 10 singles in the '80s alone and went on to receive eight Grammy Awards throughout his career. In 1999, he won the Oscar for Best Song for writing and performing "You'll Be in My Heart" from Disney's "Tarzan."

Rod Stewart performs onstage
17 / 20
Joseph Okpako/WireImage // Getty Images

#4. Rod Stewart

- Certified album sales: 38M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 4

Not just a pretty head of hair, Stewart has achieved success as a solo artist foremost, but before that, he was a member of several musically adventurous groups. Among them included the London-based outfits Steampacket and Shotgun Express, though it was a member of the Faces that he found his biggest band-oriented success with the track "Stay With Me."

While his 1969 debut solo album "An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down" was a bit of a commercial disappointment, it introduced the world to a formula that would soon go onto score Stewart success—a mix of original and cover songs. 1971's "Every Picture Tells a Story" was Stewart's first milestone moment, with its hit singles "Maggie May" and "Reason to Believe" inspiring Rolling Stone magazine to name him Rock Star of the Year. Stewart also found a late-career resurgence through a collection of "American Songbook" albums in which he made his way through a plethora of American pop classics.

Eric Clapton performs onstage
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Dave J Hogan // Getty Images

#3. Eric Clapton

- Certified album sales: 40M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 1

Hailed as one of the all-time great guitarists, Eric Clapton is best known for his work in the virtuoso rock groups Cream and Derek and Dominos. In 1970, he proved his vocals matched his shredding on his self-titled debut solo album. Over the next two decades, Clapton collaborated with a number of blues and rock legends, but his finest solo hour came with 1974's "461 Ocean Boulevard" and 1977's "Slowhand." In 1992, Clapton shocked the grunge-soaked music industry by taking home the Grammy for Album of the Year for "Unplugged," which he recorded for MTV and which featured the song "Tears in Heaven," dedicated to his late son.

Kenny Rogers poses with gold records at the Country Music Hall of Fame
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Rick Diamond // Getty Images for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

#2. Kenny Rogers

- Certified album sales: 47.5M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 2

Kenny Rogers launched straight into a music career while still a student in high school, when he started the aptly-named band the Scholars with some of his classmates. When they disbanded, Rogers joined First Edition before breaking out on his own with "Love Lifted Me" in 1976. With nearly every album, Rogers topped the country charts, but true stardom came with 1978's "The Gambler." The album spawned an eponymous hit single, as well as "She Believes in Me," and has sold more than 5 million copies. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Rogers scored country hits one after the other, several of which broke into the mainstream, such as "Islands in the Stream," his 1983 duet with Dolly Parton.

Michael Jackson performs onstage
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FRANCIS Sylvain/AFP via Getty Images

#1. Michael Jackson

- Certified album sales: 89M
- Number of #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles: 13

The King of Pop spent most of his childhood as the lead vocalist of family band The Jackson 5. When it came time for him to break out on his own, Jackson hit the ground—or rather the airwaves—running. Though he had released four solo albums while still a member of the Jackson 5, it was 1979's "Off the Wall" that marked his true solo debut. Singles "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Rock With You" both topped the Billboard Hot 100, and the album was a Billboard top 10 the year of its release.

Jackson quickly became the most successful Black music artist in the U.S., but even that did nothing to prepare the world for 1983's "Thriller," which swiftly became the bestselling album of all time, spending an astonishing 37 weeks at Billboard's top spot and spawning an unprecedented run of hits singles, from "Billie Jean" to "Beat It." In fact, seven of the album's nine tracks were released as singles.

The release of "Bad" in 1987 cemented Jackson's position as the King of Pop, selling 11 million (as of 2021) and clocking five #1 singles. 1991's "Dangerous" was also a chart-topper and the release of its hit single "Black or White" was hailed "a cultural event."

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