A Considered Wrap-Up of the Best-Selling Albums of All Time

So I’ve gone through the whole list, and the last thing to do, obviously, is to see how this weird, often-arbitrary set of records stack up against their contextual 1 peers. This is, of course, the final and absolutely correct ranking of this set of records, obviously.  

In a lot of ways, this was more interesting than evaluating them as they are. In every way, this was difficult to the point of absurdity – there comes a point in the list 2 where it’s a matter of degrees, and things basically stop being “better” and start being “less terrible”.   

Also note that artists tend to clump up. It’s because at the gajillion-selling record it all has a kind of sameness, and that means that records from the same period by the same band that sell astronomically tend to be functionally very, very similar, and so of similar quality 3

  1. Nirvana – Nevermind
  2. Led Zeppelin – IV
  3. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
  4. U2 – The Joshua Tree
  5. The Beatles – 1
  6. The Beatles – Abbey Road
  7. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP
  8. Bob Marley – Legend
  9. The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  10. Oasis – What’s the Story (Morning Glory)
  11. Prince – Purple Rain
  12. Metallica – Metallica
  13. Pink Floyd – The Wall
  14. TLC – CrazySexyCool
  15. AC/DC – Back in Black
  16. Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman
  17. Adele – 25
  18. George Michael – Faith
  19. Green Day – Dookie
  20. Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water
  21. Norah Jones – Come Away With Me
  22. Usher – Confessions
  23. Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA
  24. Adele – 21
  25. Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell
  26. Michael Jackson – Thriller
  27. Boston – Boston
  28. Santana – Supernatural
  29. Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms
  30. Michael Jackson – Bad
  31. Supertramp – Breakfast in America
  32. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
  33. Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory
  34. Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill
  35. Michael Jackson – Off the Wall
  36. Queen – Greatest Hits
  37. Guns n Roses – Appetite for Destruction
  38. Cyndi Lauper – She’s So Unusual
  39. James Horner – Titanic: Music From the Motion Picture (soundtrack)
  40. Michael Jackson – Dangerous
  41. Bon Jovi – Cross Road
  42. Carole King – Tapestry
  43. The Eagles – Their Greatest Hits
  44. Various Artists – Dirty Dancing (soundtrack)
  45. ABBA – Gold
  46. Backstreet Boys – Millenium
  47. The Bee Gees/Various Artists – Saturday Night Fever (soundtrack)
  48. Michael Jackson – HIStory: Past, Present and Future Book 1
  49. Whitney Houston/Various Artists – The Bodyguard (soundtrack)
  50. Eric Clapton – Unplugged
  51. Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston
  52. Britney Spears – ….Baby One More Time
  53. The Eagles – Hotel California
  54. Whitney Houston – Whitney
  55. Backstreet Boys – Backstreet Boys/Backstreet’s Back
  56. The Spice Girls – Spice
  57. Madonna – The Immaculate Collection
  58. Ace of Base – Happy Nation/The Sign
  59. Various Artists – Grease (soundtrack)
  60. Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet
  61. Various Artists – Flashdance (soundtrack)
  62. Shania Twain – The Woman in Me
  63. Celine Dion – Falling Into You
  64. Madonna – Like a Virgin
  65. Phil Collins – No Jacket Required
  66. Britney Spears – Oops!…I Did it Again
  67. Def Leppard – Hysteria
  68. Lionel Richie – Can’t Slow Down
  69. Shania Twain – Come On Over
  70. Mariah Carey – Daydream
  71. Celine Dion – Let’s Talk About Love
  72. Mariah Carey – Music Box
  73. Madonna – True Blue

 


  1.  a context which is, in this case, the fact that they sold unfathomable numbers of copies, by whatever means they did so. 
  2.  somewhere around Supernatural things take a sharp turn for the “not actually good,” and by Appetite for Destruction we’re in “basically nothing works here” territory. 
  3.  although this is not true for Pink Floyd or the Beatles, who appear in multiple entries at the top, and are sort of grouped together because, well, there just aren’t that many of these records that are actually good. 

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