Best Selling Albums of All Time

  • Music is an integral part of culture; specific albums occasionally become cultural phenomena. Crafting an album that goes on to sell millions of copies is no small task.

These top-selling albums cover everything from traditional rock to contemporary pop, including compilations, greatest hits, and soundtracks.

Thriller by Michael Jackson

Thriller became the first album to sell over four million copies worldwide and remains one of the best-selling albums. A monumental success that broke records and revolutionized music history, Thriller elevated Michael Jackson from pop idol to cultural icon status overnight.

  1. Billie Jean had already become a huge hit, but Thriller catapulted Michael Jackson to unparalleled fame and success. By year’s end, he held onto his title of having sold more records than any other artist ever in history while appearing on several magazine covers.

Thriller was Michael Jackson’s most successful album to date and featured some of his greatest hits ever recorded, with two number ones and two Top Tens, making this record a monumental success. This production- and engineering-led record was an extraordinary feat, and more importantly, it showcased Michael’s immense artistic talents. Throughout Thriller recording sessions with Quincy Jones’ help, Jackson and Quincy used his obsessions as material for beautifully executed pop-funk tunes that still sound timeless today.

This album showcases an eclectic range of sounds, from the urgent funk of Wanna Be Startin’ Somethingin’ to P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing). Additionally, one song inspired by rap icons The Beastie Boys made clear that hip hop had indeed taken hold.

Human Nature stands out as one of the standout tracks on Thriller. Although originally written as an optimistic tune, Jackson asked producers and Jackson himself to give it a darker edge at his request. Temperton still produced a catchy tribute to schlock horror music, while Jackson gave an unforgettable vocal performance characterized by humor and sensuality.

John Landis (American Werewolf in London) directed an eerie short film that perfectly complimented this song: an iconic short featuring Jackson sprouting whiskers while fleeing a werewolf. This unique imagery embodies everything from punk rock brashness to sexual desire hedonism; no wonder its music video became one of the most beloved in history!

Their Greatest Hits by The Eagles

The Eagles were an enormously popular band in the 1970s, selling millions of albums with their country-rock sound. Henley and Frey took turns as lead vocalists on most songs in an equal partnership that produced chart-topping albums until their eventual breakup in 1994. Still, they remain trendy today, their Greatest Hits becoming one of the top-selling greatest hits albums of all time.

As its title indicates, this collection includes their greatest hits from 1971-1975. This was their inaugural greatest hits album and sold over 11 million copies in its initial run alone; since its release, over 45 million copies worldwide have been sold!

This compilation differs significantly from their first four albums, intended to showcase that the Eagles were an equal team, with each member contributing equally in songwriting credit and lead singing responsibilities. Unfortunately, this equality did not extend to singles, showing Henley and Frey essentially taking charge. This album contains melodic country-rock tunes featuring strung acoustic guitars strumming alongside a rock rhythm section playing a shuffle beat topped off with tenor-dominated harmonies that complement Henley and Frey perfectly.

Henley and Frey have continued as solo artists since the disbandment of The Eagles, each enjoying various degrees of success in doing so. Reuniting for Long Road Out of Eden in 2007, which featured all-new material, was critically and commercially well received.

One drawback of this set is its limited representation of Eagles’ top-40 hits; all others can be found on the reissued two-CD version of Their Greatest Hits released in 2002 (the original 1994 release only had one disc and did not contain Hotel California or The Long Run album tracks). The second CD features eight songs from Eagles’ highest charting albums, a live way from Eagles Live, and an outtake from One of These Nights album released in 1975.

Bat Out of Hell by Meat Loaf

Bat Out of Hell, one of the best-selling albums ever made, was an extraordinary musical success story. After being rejected by multiple record labels, this 1977 record by Meat Loaf became a phenomenon that continues selling millions worldwide. Influenced by works of Richard Wagner and Phil Spector with vocalist Meat Loaf himself (born Marvin Lee Aday). Bat Out of Hell was produced by Jim Steinman, with orchestral arrangements being provided by Todd Rundgren.

Bat Out of Hell was initially composed for a workshop musical called Neverland, a futuristic rock version of Peter Pan, but Steinman used these songs on Bat Out of Hell to showcase his talents. The lyrics included funny and heartbreaking moments, with its title taken from an accident that killed Steinman’s girlfriend.

The album was an enormous success, with singles like “I’d Do Anything for Love” and “The One That I Want” reaching number one in America. Their song, “Love Never Dies,” was nominated for a Grammy award but lost out against Bonnie Tyler’s “I Would Die for You.” Additionally, “Love Never Dies” spent over 14 weeks on the Australian charts, making it one of their longest-running singles ever.

Rundgren provided orchestral and choral arrangements for this album and guitar and keyboard parts. His production style resembled that of Spector; together with Steinman, they ensured arrangements were clear for singers. Members of E Street Band, such as Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan, joined as orchestra members; Edgar Winter also provided his saxophone expertise.

The original Bat Out of Hell album has sold over 43 million copies worldwide and is considered one of the most successful albums ever. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it 343rd among their 500 most excellent albums list. At the same time, Steinman wrote hits for artists like Bonnie Tyler, Air Supply, Barbra Streisand Sisters of Mercy, and Barry Manilow before passing away at age 73 in 2021.

Supernatural by Santana

Supernatural was Santana’s 18th studio album on Arista Records, released on June 15, 1999. The album produced several top 20 singles, including Grammy Award-winning “Smooth,” co-written by Rob Thomas and producer Itaal Shur, that peaked at #1 for 12 weeks on the pop charts. Supernatural helped revive its popularity beyond its initial early ’70s success.

Santana’s Supernatural album was an enormous commercial success, becoming their first number-one album since 1988. Supernatural featured numerous guest artists and producers from contemporary rock acts, including Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty, Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, and more, to produce an album that would resonate with modern radio listeners.

Supernatural retains Santana’s longstanding musical style despite many contemporary guest artists, beginning with “(Da Le) Yaleo,” with its definitive Santana guitar lead and Latin percussion. Following that is “Love of My Life,” an album cut featuring slow keys with pleasing vocals for added atmosphere.

Supernatural’s tracks follow a similar trajectory. “Smooth,” its most well-known single, was at number one for 12 weeks on Billboard’s soft rock chart before falling off; yet its longevity remains uncertain, being featured at every radio station that plays it at some rate or another. Unfortunately, other tracks don’t hold up nearly as well – for example, “Day of Celebration,” with its funky bossanova-cum-heartland rock Muzak, is likely much shorter. Although millions were sold between 1999 and 2000, Supernatural may well have been their final stop when seeking rock music by them or similar artists like Santana.