From Shania Twain and Adele, Led Zeppelin & Michael Jackson - these are just some of the artists on the list of The 10 Best-Selling Albums of All Time.
#10. Alanis Morissette: Jagged Little Pill Year: 1995 Label: Maverick/Reprise Total certified sales: 24 million (33 million claimed) U.S. sales: 16 million As grunge’s dominance began to wane in the mid 1990s, its influence could still be felt on pop music, and nowhere was that more evident than Canadian Alanis Morrissette's meteoric rise
with her third album Jagged Little Pill. Co-written and produced by Glen Ballard—who also wrote a track for the #1 best selling album of all time—Morissette married grunge, pop, and raw, universal emotions in that most ’90s of genres, alternative rock. “You Oughta Know,” “All I Really Want” and “Hand in My Pocket” spurred sales, but it was really the fourth single off the album, “Ironic,” a song that would cause much hand-wringing among English majors, that put Jagged Little Pill on this list. Emotionally raw, frequently bitter and universally accessible, Morissette put her heart into these dozen tracks, and 24 million listeners responded.
#9. Adele: 21 Year: 2011 Label: XL, Columbia Total sales: 25 million (31 million claimed) U.S. sales: 14 million Ahh, the wisdom that comes with old age. British alt-soul prodigy Adele Adkins’ debut, 19, was stunning in spots, earning both a watchful eye from critics and a should-have-been-huger hit single, “Chasing Pavements,” that perfectly demonstrates what makes her offbeat charm so appealing: a panache for gigantic hooks strung together in melismatic webs of old-school vigor; an instrumentally-dense arrangement equally referencing big-band and indie-rock; and most importantly—that voice. Oh, God, that voice—a raspy, aged-beyond-its-years thing of full-blooded beauty. On 21, she sounds refreshed and poised to attack. There’s no change in style—this is still the stuff of a sensual modern pop-noir landscape, heavy on retro textures and relationship drama. But she’s sacrificed some of her debut’s sparse moodiness, resulting in a more cohesive, immediate batch, littered with knock-outs. Working with an eclectic all-star production team (including Paul Epworth, and Ryan Tedder), Adele emerges with a well-manicured batch of songs that, while still showcasing her interest in layered musicality, shoot straight for the pop charts with each go-round—which is exactly where she should be aiming. This is what American Idol should sound like. This is what pop radio should sound like. This is what Adele should sound like.
#8. AC/DC: Back in Black Year: 1980 Label: Epic Total certified sales: 26 million (50 million claimed) U.S. sales: 22 million When 1980 rolled around, AC/DC was on top of the world. They’d just released Highway to Hell, the album that made the band famous well outside their Australian home. But on Feb. 19, with the band working on songs in the studio for their follow-up, lead singer Bon Scott went on a drinking binge and died of acute alcohol poisoning. The remaining members—brothers Angus and Malcolm Young, Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd—almost called it quits. Instead they recruited Brian Johnson to take over lead vocals and released Back in Black with an all-black cover in mourning for their lost bandmate. With songs like “Hells Bells,” “You Shook Me All Night Long” and the title-track, it was an immediate hit worldwide, cementing the band’s legacy as one of the greatest hard-rock bands of all-time.
#7. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours Year: 1977 Label: Warner Bros. Total certified sales: 27 million (40 million claimed) U.S. sales: 20 million By 1977, hitmaking couple Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks had lost each other in a psychotropic haze. On Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, that haze is thick enough to suck the air out
of the room. These 11 tracks saturate in bad faith. “Second Hand News” and “Don’t Stop” put on a happy face, but even they evoke violent sensations: the stinging drip of a cocaine high; the lurking, painful realization that your wedding vows were meaningless. This tension climaxes in “The Chain,” where all five members air out their grievances in a somewhat bizarre dance of kabuki theater. The Nicks-anchored “Dreams” is even darker, employing a theme of inconsolable suffering. From the slo-mo churn of “Oh Daddy” to the boogying disco shuffle of “You Make Loving Fun,” Rumours hasn’t aged a day in 35 years. It might be a snapshot of a band in peril, but it refuses to yellow.
6. Whitney Houston (Various Artists): The Bodyguard Soundtrack Year: 1992 Label: RCA Total certified sales: 28 million (42 million claimed) U.S. sales: 18 million Oh, Whitney! You timeless diva, you. Whitney Houston carried half of a soundtrack that won the 1992 Album of the Year Grammy award in her definitive peak. The movie’s lead track, “I Will Always Love You,” also won the Record of The Year Grammy and highlighted a slate of songs that also included “I Have Nothing,” “Queen of The Night,” “I’m Every Woman,” and “Queen of The Night.” Pretty ridiculous right? Not to be forgotten, is the fan-frickin-tastic collaboration between Kenny G and Aaron Neville, “Even If My Heart Would Break,” along with a Joe Cocker and another Lisa Stansfield track. Say what you will about the suspect film (Kevin Costner!) but this soundtrack was early ‘90s gold and make no mistake about it, it’s all because of Whitney.
#5. Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin IV Year: 1971 Label: Atlantic Total certified sales: 29 million (37 million claimed) U.S. sales: 23 million It’s difficult to call Led Zeppelin IV the greatest “hard rock” album in music history—only because (in spite of its legacy) it’s much, much more than a “hard rock” album. Led, as always, by the black-magic mojo of guitarist-producer Jimmy Page, Led Zep truly indulged in 1971, branching out into extended progressive-rock (the sweeping, majestic epic “Stairway to Heaven”), medieval folk (the witchy “The Battle of Evermore”) and psychedelic balladry (the emotional centerpiece, “Going to California”), in addition to their trademark electrified blues (“Rock and Roll,” “Black Dog,” “Four Sticks,” “When the Levee Breaks”). Eight tracks, eight classics: It’s one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded, whatever it is.
4. Shania Twain: Come on Over Year: 1997 Label: Mercury Nashville Total certified sales: 29 million (33 million claimed) U.S. sales: 20 million If pop anthems are your thing, Shania Twain’s got more than your due dose of singable refrains. Ruling radio in the ’90s with hits like “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” and “That Don’t Impress Me
Much,” 1997’s Come On Over debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and hung out at the top for 50 consecutive weeks. It wasn’t just country fans that bought into the hype: Twain was praised for ditching the honky-tonkin’ that had one characterized country music, giving it a pop and rock appeal that reached an audience who wasn’t necessarily well-versed in twang before. The track list is punch after punch of iconic singles for Twain, from “Honey I’m Home” to “Don’t Be Stupid” and ballad “From This Moment,” and it’s required listening for anyone looking to go deep on just how country music got so huge.
#3. Eagles: Hotel California Year: 1976 Label: Rhino Total certified sales: 32 million (42 million claimed) U.S. sales: 26 million Incredibly, the Eagles first greatest-hits collection came out 10 months before the release of Hotel California, and now both reside among the best-selling albums ever. Their ubiquitous modern-Bakersfield country sound was barely country, not really rock ’n’ roll in the rebellious, anarchic sense, and shot through with keyed-up metaphors and allegories about being a rich, drug-addicted American in the post-hippie, pre-yuppie USA. Before The Eagles recorded Hotel California, founding guitarist Bernie Leadon, who had played in country-rock pioneers The Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram Parsons, quit the band and was replaced by Joe Walsh, he of the gleaming guitar riff on “Life in the Fast Lane.” Hotel California consequently found the Eagles at their most rock-ish, diluting much of the country feel that populated their first four studio albums. Parsons, who was more or less the messiah of the country-rock sound that the Eagles had turned into something mass consumable, famously called the band’s early sound “a plastic dry fuck.” But the record-buying public ate it up, sending two singles to No. 1—”New Kid in Town” and “Hotel California”—and buying a million copies within a week of release.
#2. Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 Year: 1976 Label: Rhino Total certified sales: 41 million (51 million claimed) U.S. sales: 38 million The Eagles dominated FM radio in the 1970s with five songs from this compilation album charting in the Top 10, including Number One singles “One of These Nights” and “Best of My Love.” Don Henley originally complained about the album as “nothing more than a ploy by the record company to sell product without having to pay additional production costs,” but upon learning it had become the best-selling album in U.S. history, he offered a more thankful note towards those who’ve supported the bands music over the years: “We are grateful for our families, our management, our crew, the people at radio and, most of all, the loyal fans who have stuck with us through the ups and downs of 46 years,” he said in a statement to the AP. “It’s been quite a ride.”
#1. Michael Jackson: Thriller Year: 1982 Label: Epic Total certified sales: 47 million (66 million claimed) U.S. sales: 33 million Every now and then, an album comes along that we can all agree upon. It’s impossible to talk about the music of the ’80s without mentioning this watershed record by the King of Pop. The Quincy Jones-produced 1982 classic was able to transcend genre and appeal to fans of all
demographics, and it’s not surprising that it remains the best-selling record of all time, with 110 million copies sold. Since its release, countless others have tried to replicate its pop perfection, but no one can touch the killer bassline on “Billie Jean,” Jackson’s impassioned snarl on “Beat It,” the danceability of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” or, yes, even Vincent Price’s campy spoken-word part on the omnipresent title track. It produced a whopping seven Top 10 hits for Jackson, and while that’s obviously not a measure of artistic merit (we’re looking at you, Katy Perry), it’s safe to say that Michael Jackson was pop music in the ’80s and that the legacy of Thriller is one that cannot be ignored.
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