The rock band The Eagles stand in a desert valley, from left to right: Bernie Leadon, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and Randy Meisner.

Bestselling albums of all time

Written by:
July 12, 2022
Henry Diltz // Corbis via Getty Images

Bestselling albums of all time

When Apple launched iTunes in 2003, the way people digest music changed forever. Instead of buying CDs, records, or cassettes, fans were able to pay for their favorite song without having to purchase the full album. When Spotify launched in 2008, it revolutionized the music industry even more, allowing listeners to surf through artist catalogs and create their own playlists without having to buy each track.

But before the 21st century, albums were king. Artists ranging from the Eagles to Britney Spears soared to superstardom thanks to album sales. And before the age of the playlist, greatest hits albums were the only way fans could listen to their favorite songs by an artist all in one place (unless you had the time and patience to make a mixtape). As a result, compilations were gold mines for artists in the 20th century.

Stacker took a look at Recording Industry Association of America record sales data and compiled a list of the 42 bestselling albums of all time, measured by certified units sold. (Note: RIAA only provides record sales in rounded-up millions, hence all the ties.) Only one album of the 21st century was able to sell enough units to make the list, and the album in the #1 spot might surprise you.

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A young Whitney Houston wearing a one shoulder gown and pearls.
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Arista

#37. ‘Whitney Houston’ by Whitney Houston (tie)

- Certified units sold: 13 million
- Record label: Arista

Whitney Houston was a star from the get-go. Her debut self-titled album ruled the Billboard 200 chart for 14 weeks in 1986 and spun off three #1 singles: “How Will I Know,” “Saving All My Love For You,” and “Greatest Love of All.”

The Dixie Chicks walking down the street.
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Monument

#37. ‘Wide Open Spaces’ by The Chicks (tie)

- Certified units sold: 13 million
- Record label: Monument

“Wide Open Spaces” may be the Chicks’ fourth studio album, however, it’s the one that made them mainstream thanks in part to new lead singer Natalie Maines. The album produced hits like “There’s Your Trouble,” “You Were Mine,” and the title track.

Prince, dressed in purple, on the famous motorcycle from the movie.
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Warner Bros. Records

#37. ‘Purple Rain Soundtrack’ by Prince & The Revolution (tie)

- Certified units sold: 13 million
- Record label: Warner Bros.

Most soundtracks feature various artists, but Prince recorded all the music for his film “Purple Rain.” In addition to the famous title track, the album also features hits like “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” and “I Would Die 4 U.” “Purple Rain” is also notable for being Prince’s first #1 album.

A group of hands reaching up to the sky together.
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Epic

#37. ‘Ten’ by Pearl Jam (tie)

- Certified units sold: 13 million
- Record label: Epic

“Ten” is Pearl Jam’s debut album, which earned two nominations at the 35th Grammy Awards, including Best Hard Rock Performance and Best Rock Song. It features some of the band’s most well-known songs, including “Jeremy,” “Alive,” and “Even Flow.”

Bruce Springsteen onstage dancing with a guitar.
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Columbia

#37. ‘Bruce Springsteen & E Street Band Live 1975-85’ by Bruce Springsteen (tie)

- Certified units sold: 13 million
- Record label: Columbia

“Bruce Springsteen & E Street Band Live 1975-85” is a monstrous live album that features 40 tracks recorded from various concerts across a 10-year period. It includes live versions of some of the Boss’ most popular songs, like “Born in the U.S.A.,” “I’m on Fire,” and “Born to Run.”

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The Backstreet Boys in all white posing for a cover.
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Jive

#37. ‘Millennium’ by Backstreet Boys (tie)

- Certified units sold: 13 million
- Record label: Jive

The third studio album by the Backstreet Boys, “Millennium” features the singles “I Want It That Way,” “Larger Than Life,” “The One,” and “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely.” The record also garnered the boy band five Grammy nominations.

Simon and Garfunkel smiling.
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Columbia

#30. ‘Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits’ by Simon & Garfunkel (tie)

- Certified units sold: 14 million
- Record label: Columbia

“Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits” is the first compilation released by the duo, which came out in 1972, two years after Simon & Garfunkel split up. In addition to studio recordings, the album also features four previously unreleased live recordings.

A naked man riding a motorcycle while a horse skeleton erupts from the grounds of a cemetery.
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Epic

#30. ‘Bat Out of Hell’ by Meat Loaf (tie)

- Certified units sold: 14 million
- Record label: Epic

“Bat Out of Hell” is Meat Loaf’s debut album and was developed from a musical called “Neverland.” It was so successful that it spawned two sequel albums: 1993’s “Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell” and 2006’s “Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose.”

Garth Brooks posing in front of a blue sky wearing a black cowboy hat and blue and black striped western shirt.
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Capitol Nashville

#30. ‘Ropin’ the Wind’ by Garth Brooks (tie)

- Certified units sold: 14 million
- Record label: Capitol

“Ropin’ the Wind” is Garth Brooks’ third studio album and his first to debut at #1 on the Billboard 200 and Top Country Albums charts. It also features three #1 singles: “Shameless,” “What She’s Doing Now,” and “The River.”

Carole King sitting in a window seat with a cat.
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Ode

#30. ‘Tapestry’ by Carole King (tie)

- Certified units sold: 14 million
- Record label: Ode

Carole King’s sophomore album “Tapestry” won her four Grammy awards in 1972, including Album of the Year. Its lead singles, “It’s Too Late” and “I Feel the Earth Move,” also spent five weeks atop the Billboard 100 chart, as well as Billboard’s Easy Listening chart.

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Britney Spears sitting on the floor looking up and smiling.
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Jive

#30. ‘…Baby One More Time’ by Britney Spears (tie)

- Certified units sold: 14 million
- Record label: Jive

“…Baby One More Time” introduced Britney Spears’ music to the world in 1999. It may be a debut, but the collection is the pop star’s bestselling album thanks to singles like “(You Drive Me) Crazy,” “Sometimes,” and of course, “...Baby One More Time.”

The Backstreet Boys posing in all black against a red background.
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Jive

#30. ‘Backstreet Boys’ by Backstreet Boys (tie)

- Certified units sold: 14 million
- Record label: Jive

The late ’90s were the pinnacle of boy band fame. When the Backstreet Boys released their self-titled album, a compilation of their first two, it shot them to superstardom with such singles as “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” and “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).”

Adele in black and white.
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Columbia

#30. ‘21’ by Adele (tie)

- Certified units sold: 14 million
- Record label: Columbia

Adele’s sophomore effort saw the singer adapt more of a blues and country influence to the soulful sound of her debut album, and the change paid off. “21” ended up being the bestselling album in the world for two years in a row, spawning hits like “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You.”

The Beatles looking down from a railing and smiling.
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Apple

#24. ‘The Beatles 1962-1966’ by The Beatles (tie)

- Certified units sold: 15 million
- Record label: Apple

“The Beatles 1962-1966,” also known as “The Red Album,” is a compilation of greatest hits ranging from the dates in the title. Those singles include “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Yesterday,” and “Eleanor Rigby.”

A blue stallion head with a sparkling eye.
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Capitol

#24. ‘Greatest Hits 1974-1978’ by Steve Miller Band (tie)

- Certified units sold: 15 million
- Record label: Capitol

Compilation albums were all the rage in the ’60s and ’70s, and Steve Miller Band’s “Greatest Hits 1974-1978” ended up being the group’s bestselling record. The album includes the title track of 1973’s “The Joker,” as well as 13 songs off 1976’s “Fly Like an Eagle” and 1977’s “Book of Dreams.”

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A colorful painting of a mermaid surrounded by drums, a guitar and tribal motif.
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Arista

#24. ‘Supernatural’ by Santana (tie)

- Certified units sold: 15 million
- Record label: Arista

While some artists’ debut albums end up becoming bestsellers, for Santana, that prestigious designation came with their 18th. The Latin rock band was interested in writing more radio-friendly music and enlisted artists like Lauryn Hill, Rob Thomas, Eagle-Eye Cherry, Dave Matthews, Eric Clapton, and CeeLo Green for features. “Supernatural” won nine Grammys in 2000, including Album of the Year.

A triangle with a rainbow prism of light coming out of one side against a black background.
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Harvest

#24. ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd (tie)

- Certified units sold: 15 million
- Record label: Harvest

“The Dark Side of the Moon” is Pink Floyd’s eighth studio album. The concept album is revered as one of the best rock albums of all time and is still highly influential today. In 2013, it was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry for its cultural significance.

A beatle with bright orange, red and blue wings surrounded by graphics.
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Columbia

#24. ‘Greatest Hits’ by Journey (tie)

- Certified units sold: 15 million
- Record label: Columbia

Journey’s first “Greatest Hits” compilation is their bestselling album. It features some of the band’s biggest singles, including “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Any Way You Want It.”

Bob Marley close-up.
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Island

#24. ‘Legend’ by Bob Marley & The Wailers (tie)

- Certified units sold: 15 million
- Record label: Island

Bob Marley & The Wailers’ “Legend” may be a compilation, but it’s still the bestselling reggae album of all time. In addition to featuring some of Marley’s biggest hits, it also includes alternate versions of songs like “Buffalo Soldier,” “No Woman, No Cry,” and “Stir It Up.”

Black album cover with a snake on the side.
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Elektra

#20. ‘Metallica’ by Metallica (tie)

- Certified units sold: 16 million
- Record label: Atlantic Records / Elektra Records

Metallica’s self-titled album, also known as “The Black Album,” is actually the band’s fifth studio album. Its five singles—“Enter Sandman,” “The Unforgiven,” “Nothing Else Matters,” “Wherever I May Roam,” and “Sad but True”—are some of Metallica’s best-known songs.

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A building with the album name spelled out as letters in each window.
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Swan Song

#20. ‘Physical Graffiti’ by Led Zeppelin (tie)

- Certified units sold: 16 million
- Record label: Swan Song

“Physical Graffiti” is Led Zeppelin’s sixth studio album. When they were done recording the album, it barely covered three sides of an LP, so the band included previously unreleased songs from their “Led Zeppelin III,” “Led Zeppelin IV,” and “Houses of the Holy” sessions to fill a double album.

John Travolta on the dancefloor with the Bee Gees in the background.
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RSO

#20. ‘Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack’ by Bee Gees (tie)

- Certified units sold: 16 million
- Record label: Capitol

The Bee Gees’ soundtrack for the film “Saturday Night Fever” is the second-bestselling soundtrack of all time and features the band’s hit “Stayin’ Alive.” In 2012, it was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry for its cultural significance.

Alanis Morissette in an abstract graphic design.
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Maverick

#20. ‘Jagged Little Pill’ by Alanis Morissette (tie)

- Certified units sold: 16 million
- Record label: Maverick

“Jagged Little Pill” is Alanis Morissette’s third studio album and her first to be influenced by alternative rock, spawning hit singles like “You Oughta Know,” “Hand in My Pocket,” and “Ironic.” It was nominated for nine Grammy Awards and won five, including Album of the Year.

The Beatles looking down from a railing and smiling.
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EMI

#16. ‘The Beatles 1967-1970’ by The Beatles (tie)

- Certified units sold: 17 million
- Record label: EMI

“The Beatles 1967-1970,” also known as “The Blue Album,” features some of the band’s biggest songs from that time period. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “Hey Jude,” “Across the Universe,” and more hits are included on the double LP.

Elton John in a white suit and hat in front of a piano.
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Island

#16. ‘Greatest Hits’ by Elton John (tie)

- Certified units sold: 17 million
- Record label: Island

“Greatest Hits” is Elton John’s first compilation album. Though he’d go on to release four more, this first collection is his bestselling. It was released in 1974 and contains singles spanning the years 1970-74 including “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time),” and “Bennie and the Jets.”

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Bruce Springsteen's backside in front of an American flag.
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Columbia

#16. ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ by Bruce Springsteen (tie)

- Certified units sold: 17 million
- Record label: Columbia

“Born in the U.S.A.” is Bruce Springsteen’s seventh studio album and was praised at the time for being more pop-oriented and radio-friendly than his older work. It features seven Top 10 singles, including “Dancing in the Dark,” “I’m on Fire,” and the album’s title track.

Boston spaceship in outer space with blue flames coming out of the bottom.
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Epic

#16. ‘Boston’ by Boston (tie)

- Certified units sold: 17 million
- Record label: Epic

Boston’s self-titled debut album took the rock world by storm in August 1976, thanks to its hit single “More Than a Feeling.” It sold 500,000 copies in just a few weeks and went platinum by November 1976.

Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner on the movie poster and soundtrack of The Bodyguard.
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Arista

#13. ‘The Bodyguard Soundtrack’ by Whitney Houston (tie)

- Certified units sold: 18 million
- Record label: RCA Records

“The Bodyguard” soundtrack may technically feature various artists, but it’s Whitney Houston that is synonymous with the album (and who also starred in the film). “The Bodyguard” is the bestselling soundtrack of all time, thanks to hits like “I Will Always Love You” and “I’m Every Woman.”

Band members of Guns N' Roses as skulls with hair on a cross.
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Geffen

#13. ‘Appetite for Destruction’ by Guns N’ Roses (tie)

- Certified units sold: 18 million
- Record label: Geffen

When “Appetite for Destruction” came out in 1987, it flew under the radar. It wasn’t until the next year, after a subsequent tour and airplay of singles “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Paradise City,” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” that Guns N’ Roses’ freshman effort took off and eventually became the bestselling debut album of all time.

Garth Brooks in black and white.
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Capitol Nashville

#13. ‘No Fences’ by Garth Brooks (tie)

- Certified units sold: 18 million
- Record label: Pearl Records, Inc.

“No Fences” is Garth Brooks’ sophomore album and the one that shot him to superstardom. The collection features some of the country icon’s biggest hits, including “The Thunder Rolls” and “Friends in Low Places.”

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Shania Twain on album cover.
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Mercury Nashville

#11. ‘Come on Over’ by Shania Twain (tie)

- Certified units sold: 20 million
- Record label: Mercury Nashville

Shania Twain’s third album, “Come on Over,” is not only her bestselling album, it’s also the biggest-selling studio album by a female solo artist, according to Guinness World Records. Of the album’s 16 tracks, a whopping 12 were released as singles, including her biggest hit, “That Don’t Impress Me Much.”

Stevie Nicks in dark robes holding hands with Mick Fleetwood.
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Warner Bros. Records

#11. ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac (tie)

- Certified units sold: 20 million
- Record label: Warner Bros.

For their 11th studio album, Fleetwood Mac sought to make a pop record, and they succeeded. “Rumours” spawned hits like “Dreams” and “Go Your Own Way,” and it took home the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1977.

Blurred out silhouettes of the band and other pictures in a collage.
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Rhino

#9. ‘Cracked Rear View’ by Hootie & The Blowfish (tie)

- Certified units sold: 21 million
- Record label: Rhino

“Cracked Rear View” is another insanely successful debut album. It topped the Billboard 200 chart five separate times in 1995 and features Hootie & The Blowfish’s biggest single, “Only Wanna Be With You.”

Garth Brooks in front of flags from many different countries.
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Capitol Nashville

#9. ‘Double Live’ by Garth Brooks (tie)

- Certified units sold: 21 million
- Record label: Capitol Nashville

“Double Live” is Garth Brooks’ first live album and comprises songs from his 1996-1998 world tour. The two-disc set is the bestselling live album in history.

A white subway tiled wall with the Album cover and band name in black.
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Columbia

#7. ‘The Wall’ by Pink Floyd (tie)

- Certified units sold: 23 million
- Record label: Columbia

Pink Floyd’s 11th studio album, “The Wall,” is their most successful release. The rock opera spent 15 weeks atop the Billboard 200 chart and is considered one of the greatest albums of all time.

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Billy Joel in black and white.
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Columbia

#7. ‘Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II’ by Billy Joel (tie)

- Certified units sold: 23 million
- Record label: Columbia

“Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II” is Billy Joel’s first compilation album and features songs from 1973 through 1985. It also includes two previously unreleased tracks, “The Night Is Still Young” and “You’re Only Human (Second Wind).”

White Album cover by The Beatles.
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Apple

#5. ‘The Beatles’ by The Beatles (tie)

- Certified units sold: 24 million
- Record label: Apple

The Beatles’ self-titled record, famously known as “The White Album,” is the band’s ninth studio album. The double album is praised for its diversity, incorporating a number of genres including folk, ska, and blues.

A hunched over man carrying a bundle of sticks on his back.
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Atlantic

#5. ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ by Led Zeppelin (tie)

- Certified units sold: 24 million
- Record label: Atlantic

Led Zeppelin’s fourth untitled album, commonly referred to as “Led Zeppelin IV,” is the band’s bestselling album. That’s probably because it features their signature song, “Stairway to Heaven.”

A black background and just the name of the band etched in white.
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Columbia

#4. ‘Back in Black’ by AC/DC

- Certified units sold: 25 million
- Record label: Columbia

“Back in Black” is the seventh album by AC/DC and their first with vocalist Brian Johnson. The band recruited Johnson after their original singer, Bon Scott, died from alcohol poisoning in February 1980.

A large hotel with blue neon writing in the corner.
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Rhino

#3. ‘Hotel California’ by Eagles

- Certified units sold: 26 million
- Record label: Rhino

The Eagles struck gold with their fifth studio album “Hotel California.” It was their first with guitarist Joe Walsh and its title track won Record of the Year at the 20th Annual Grammy Awards.

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Michael Jackson posing on the ground with a white suit jacket on.
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Epic

#2. ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson

- Certified units sold: 34 million
- Record label: Epic Records

Michael Jackson revolutionized pop music with his sixth studio album “Thriller.” Produced by Quincy Jones, the album features seven hit singles: “Beat It,” “The Girl Is Mine,” “Human Nature,” “Billie Jean,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),” and “Thriller.” It’s Jackson’s first #1 album and spent a whopping 37 nonconsecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 chart.

Blue album cover with painted skull in center.
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Asylum

#1. ‘Eagles/Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975’ by Eagles

- Certified units sold: 38 million
- Record label: Rhino

1976 was a great year for the Eagles. Before releasing “Hotel California” that December, the band released its first compilation album, “Eagles/Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975.” The set features songs off their first four albums and spent five weeks at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. It was also the first album to be certified platinum by the RIAA (a designation for a million units sold), which it achieved in its first week of release, and has since gone platinum 38 times. In 2017, it was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry for its cultural significance.

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