U2 albums and songs sales

U2 are without any doubt one of the biggest groups of all time after almost 4 decades together. They are a great study case as they have been pretty much the greatest selling band ever since they formed.

Their success can be explained in several different ways. As seen with Metallica, U2 seem to be a case of an act being at the right time and the right place to capitalize the best possible conditions, including huge market’s size for the most important part of their career, that is from 1987 to 2000, plus a great level of airplay and praise from the critics. All resulted, of course, in massive sales.

But not everything was easy for them. On the contrary, they were a bit of a slow burner, getting bigger and bigger with every new release until they finally broke all barriers of success in 1987 with The Joshua Tree, their biggest classic album, after a string of albums that added great sales little by little. It was quite a progressive highway to stardom, which means that the band needed to be patient.

Whichever way you look at it, the Irish group are an incredible act to fully examine, and more now when they seem not to be at their peak and they aren’t equally talked about as in previous years. An analysis of their whole catalogue sounds like a great journey!

ChartMasters’ method: the CSPC

As usual, I’ll be using the Commensurate Sales to Popularity Concept (CSPC) in order to relevantly gauge the act’s results. It will not only bring you sales information for all albums, physical and download singles, as well as audio and video streaming. In fact, it will really determine the act’s popularity.

If you are not yet familiar with the CSPC method, below is a nice and short video of explaining the concept. I recommend watching it before reading on and to the sales figures. You’ll get the idea in just two minutes.

And if you want to know the full method as well as formulas, you can read the full introduction article.

Now let’s get into the artist’s detailed sales figures!

U2 original albums sales

Boy (1980)

R-1134155-1210078356.jpeg
  • America
    • US – 1,600,000
    • Canada – 220,000
    • Brazil – 100,000
    • Mexico – N/A
    • Argentina – N/A
  • Asia
    • Japan – N/A
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 70,000
    • New Zealand – 25,000
  • Europe – 1,460,000
    • UK – 400,000
    • France – 245,000
    • Germany – 200,000
    • Italy – 120,000
    • Spain – 50,000
    • Sweden – 75,000
    • Netherland – 75,000
    • Switzerland – 20,000
    • Austria – 15,000
    • Finland – N/A
  • World – 3,700,000

October (1981)

U2-October_2008-Frontal-300x300
  • America
    • US – 1,475,000
    • Canada – 180,000
    • Brazil – 100,000
    • Mexico – N/A
    • Argentina – N/A
  • Asia
    • Japan – N/A
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 70,000
    • New Zealand – 25,000
  • Europe – 1,490,000
    • UK – 450,000
    • France – 230,000
    • Germany – 200,000
    • Italy – 120,000
    • Spain – 50,000
    • Sweden – 75,000
    • Netherland – 75,000
    • Switzerland – 20,000
    • Austria – 15,000
    • Finland – N/A
  • World – 3,600,000

War (1983)

R-371185-1427871764-9871.jpeg
  • America
    • US – 5,000,000
    • Canada – 550,000
    • Brazil – 180,000
    • Mexico – N/A
    • Argentina – N/A
  • Asia
    • Japan – 150,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 240,000
    • New Zealand – 60,000
  • Europe – 4,200,000
    • UK – 1,000,000
    • France – 1,270,000
    • Germany – 380,000
    • Italy – 255,000
    • Spain – 125,000
    • Sweden – 150,000
    • Netherland – 160,000
    • Switzerland – 50,000
    • Austria – 30,000
    • Finland – N/A
  • World – 10,900,000

The Unforgettable Fire (1984)

The_Unforgettable_Fire_album
  • America
    • US – 3,600,000
    • Canada – 500,000
    • Brazil – 130,000
    • Mexico – N/A
    • Argentina – N/A
  • Asia
    • Japan – 150,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 200,000
    • New Zealand – 55,000
  • Europe – 3,000,000
    • UK – 1,100,000
    • France – 330,000
    • Germany – 330,000
    • Italy – 355,000
    • Spain – 75,000
    • Sweden – 100,000
    • Netherland – 150,000
    • Switzerland – 50,000
    • Austria – 25,000
    • Finland – N/A
  • World – 8,100,000

 The Joshua Tree (1987)

R-1341431-1433333697-9096.jpeg
  • America
    • US – 12,400,000
    • Canada – 1,800,000
    • Brazil – 425,000
    • Mexico – 400,000
    • Argentina – 225,000
  • Asia
    • Japan – 425,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 450,000
    • New Zealand – 220,000
  • Europe – 9,150,000
    • UK – 2,875,000
    • France – 1,225,000
    • Germany – 1,275,000
    • Italy – 800,000
    • Spain – 450,000
    • Sweden – 210,000
    • Netherland – 450,000
    • Switzerland – 150,000
    • Austria – 115,000
    • Finland – 45,000
  • World – 26,800,000

 Rattle And Hum (1988)

  • America
    • US – 5,700,000
    • Canada – 775,000
    • Brazil – 275,000
    • Mexico – N/A
    • Argentina – 125,000
  • Asia
    • Japan – 225,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 550,000
    • New Zealand – 130,000
  • Europe – 5,220,000
    • UK – 1,500,000
    • France – 530,000
    • Germany – 800,000
    • Italy – 500,000
    • Spain – 225,000
    • Sweden – 150,000
    • Netherland – 280,000
    • Switzerland – 150,000
    • Austria – 130,000
    • Finland – 40,000
  • World – 13,800,000

Achtung Baby (1991)

R-621105-1331382467.jpeg
  • America
    • US – 8,700,000
    • Canada – 1,100,000
    • Brazil – 225,000
    • Mexico – N/A
    • Argentina – 130,000
  • Asia
    • Japan – 320,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 400,000
    • New Zealand – 85,000
  • Europe – 5,730,000
    • UK – 1,425,000
    • France – 910,000
    • Germany – 700,000
    • Italy – 725,000
    • Spain – 225,000
    • Sweden – 205,000
    • Netherland – 255,000
    • Switzerland – 100,000
    • Austria – 95,000
    • Finland – 40,000
  • World – 17,500,000

Zooropa (1993)

R-6111097-1454621956-7341.jpeg
  • America
    • US – 2,700,000
    • Canada – 425,000
    • Brazil – 300,000
    • Mexico – 175,000
    • Argentina – 100,000
  • Asia
    • Japan – 225,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 275,000
    • New Zealand – 60,000
  • Europe – 3,060,000
    • UK – 700,000
    • France – 425,000
    • Germany – 380,000
    • Italy – 380,000
    • Spain – 200,000
    • Sweden – 140,000
    • Netherland – 125,000
    • Switzerland – 50,000
    • Austria – 55,000
    • Finland – 35,000
  • World – 8,000,000

Pop (1997)

u2pop
  • America
    • US – 1,800,000
    • Canada – 350,000
    • Brazil – 250,000
    • Mexico – 175,000
    • Argentina – 100,000
  • Asia
    • Japan – 275,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 125,000
    • New Zealand – 40,000
  • Europe – 2,830,000
    • UK – 525,000
    • France – 425,000
    • Germany – 330,000
    • Italy – 425,000
    • Spain – 175,000
    • Sweden – 100,000
    • Netherland – 100,000
    • Switzerland – 80,000
    • Austria – 85,000
    • Finland – 35,000
  • World – 6,700,000

All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)

u2-all-that
  • America
    • US – 4,650,000
    • Canada – 625,000
    • Brazil – 420,000
    • Mexico – 175,000
    • Argentina – 110,000
  • Asia
    • Japan – 250,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 350,000
    • New Zealand – 55,000
  • Europe – 4,790,000
    • UK – 1,200,000
    • France – 575,000
    • Germany – 530,000
    • Italy – 625,000
    • Spain – 350,000
    • Sweden – 130,000
    • Netherland – 285,000
    • Switzerland – 110,000
    • Austria – 80,000
    • Finland – 30,000
  • World – 12,300,000

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004)

U2_-_How_to_Dismantle_an_Atomic_Bomb_(Album_Cover)
  • America
    • US – 3,500,000
    • Canada – 540,000
    • Brazil – 285,000
    • Mexico – 125,000
    • Argentina – 140,000
  • Asia
    • Japan – 300,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 300,000
    • New Zealand – 50,000
  • Europe – 4,190,000
    • UK – 1,300,000
    • France – 500,000
    • Germany – 380,000
    • Italy – 500,000
    • Spain – 240,000
    • Sweden – 150,000
    • Netherland – 200,000
    • Switzerland – 100,000
    • Austria – 70,000
    • Finland – 30,000
  • World – 10,200,000

No Line On The Horizon (2009)

2744514
  • America
    • US – 1,400,000
    • Canada – 180,000
    • Brazil – 120,000
    • Mexico – 100,000
    • Argentina – 40,000
  • Asia
    • Japan – 120,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 95,000
    • New Zealand – 20,000
  • Europe – 2,010,000
    • UK – 425,000
    • France – 340,000
    • Germany – 260,000
    • Italy – 240,000
    • Spain – 80,000
    • Sweden – 50,000
    • Netherland – 160,000
    • Switzerland – 30,000
    • Austria – 25,000
    • Finland – 17,000
  • World – 4,400,000

Songs Of Innocence (2014)

large-1-300x3001
  • America
    • US – 150,000
    • Canada – 20,000
    • Brazil – 60,000
    • Mexico – N/A
    • Argentina – N/A
  • Asia
    • Japan – 20,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 20,000
    • New Zealand – N/A
  • Europe – 730,000
    • UK – 65,000
    • France – 180,000
    • Germany – 100,000
    • Italy – 115,000
    • Spain – 30,000
    • Sweden – 10,000
    • Netherland – 50,000
    • Switzerland – 10,000
    • Austria – 15,000
    • Finland – N/A
  • World – 1,100,000

Original Album Sales – Comments

We don’t need to comment much given the numbers, they actually speak for themselves. The Joshua Tree, not surprisingly, appears at the very top with 26,8 million, a number it conquered not only because of its initial massive sales but ongoing back catalogue activity as they released new albums, toured everywhere and grew in status during the subsequent years.

Achtung Baby is well behind but shows comfortably at number 2 with 17,5 million, whilst Rattle And HumAll That You Can’t Leave Behind and War complete the the band’s personal top 5 on sales of 13,8 million, 12,3 million and 10,9 million respectively.

Their first two albums, Boy and October, sold mostly via catalogue. And, as it is widely known, their two nineties experiments didn’t reach a similar level of success as previous and post records. We are talking about Zooropa and Pop, which still garnered 8,0 and 6,7 million respectively, both remarkable totals considering the change in profile shown by the group on them.

Overall, U2 have sold 127,1 million studio albums, counting in Rattle & Hum.

1980 Boy – 3,700,000
1981 October – 3,600,000
1983 War – 10,900,000
1984 The Unforgettable Fire – 8,100,000
1987 The Joshua Tree – 26,800,000
1988 Rattle And Hum – 13,800,000
1991 Achtung Baby – 17,500,000
1993 Zooropa – 8,000,000
1997 Pop – 6,700,000
2000 All That You Can’t Leave Behind – 12,300,000
2004 How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb – 10,200,000
2009 No Line On The Horizon – 4,400,000
2014 Songs Of Innocence – 1,100,000

U2 physical singles sales

As a reminder, the weighting is done with a 10 to 3 ratio between one album and one physical single.

U2 became huge all over the world at a time of relatively low singles sales, so their physical titles didn’t quite reach the heights managed by other big selling acts. This results in huge albums sales, but not so much for their physical singles.

That said, their 20 million physical singles sold overall are nothing to feel shy of. On the contrary, it is pretty strong given the circumstances.

The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby and Rattle & Hum generated the most sales. From 1993 onwards, we see a natural decline.

Boy (1980) – 75,000  equivalent albums

I Will Follow – 200,000
A Day Without Me 
– 50,000

October (1981) – 75,000  equivalent albums

Gloria – 150,000
Fire & A Celebration 
– 100,000

War (1983) – 330,000  equivalent albums

New Year’s Day – 500,000
Two Heart Beat As One 
– 200,000
Sunday Bloody Sunday 
– 400,000

The Unforgettable Fire (1984) – 420,000  equivalent albums

Pride – 900,000
The Unforgettable Fire 
– 500,000

The Joshua Tree (1987) – 1,215,000 equivalent albums

With Or Without You – 1,750,000
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For 
– 1,250,000
Where The Streets Have No Name 
– 650,000
In God’s Country & One Tree Hill 
– 400,000

Rattle And Hum (1988) – 870,000 equivalent albums

Desire – 1,300,000
Angel Of Harlem 
– 600,000
All I Want Is You 
– 600,000
When Love Comes To Town 
– 400,000

Achtung Baby (1991) – 1,215,000  equivalent albums

The Fly – 900,000
Mysterious Ways – 1,000,000
One – 1,250,000
Even Better Than The Real Thing – 600,000
Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses – 300,000

Zooropa (1993) – 315,000  equivalent albums

Numb – 250,000
Lemon – 200,000
Stay – 600,000

Pop (1997) – 675,000  equivalent albums

Discotheque – 1,250,000
Starring At The Sun – 500,000
Last Night On Earth, Please, If God Will Send His Angels & Mofo 
– 500,000

All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000) – 555,000  equivalent albums

Beautiful Day – 900,000
Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of 
– 450,000
Walk On & Elevation 
– 500,000

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004) – 255,000 equivalent albums

Vertigo – 450,000
All Because Of You, Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own & City Of Blinding Lights – 400,000

No Line On The Horizon (2009) – 30,000 equivalent albums

Get On Your Boots – 50,000
Magnificent & I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight 
– 50,000

Songs Of Innocence (2014) – 0 equivalent albums

No physical singles

Orphan Album – 735,000 equivalent albums

Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me – 1,500,000
Miss Sarajevo – 500,000
Other singles – 250,000

U2 digital singles sales

As a reminder, the weighting is done with a 10 to 1,5 ratio between one album and one digital single.

With over 40 million digital downloads sold across the world, U2 have had another strong avenue to sell massively well during the past decade, now on decline.

The Joshua Tree accounts for the biggest share of that total, with 12 million singles sold. The runner up is All That You Can’t Leave Behind, mostly driven by Beautiful Day, which has sold some 4,500,000 downloads worldwide.

Achtung Baby with 5 million digital sales added by its songs may seem lower than expected, but it still is a strong total.

Very good digital sales for all their other albums, except, to some extent and not surprisingly either, Zooropa and Pop.

Boy (1980) – 105,000   equivalent albums

Total tracks – 700,000

October (1981) – 60,000   equivalent albums

Total tracks – 400,000

War (1983) – 375,000  equivalent albums

Total tracks – 2,500,000

The Unforgettable Fire (1984) – 345,000  equivalent albums

Total tracks – 2,300,000

The Joshua Tree (1987) – 1,845,000   equivalent albums

Total tracks – 12,300,000

Rattle And Hum (1988) – 255,000   equivalent albums

Total tracks – 1,700,000

Achtung Baby (1991) – 750,000   equivalent albums

Total tracks – 5,000,000

Zooropa (1993) – 120,000   equivalent albums

Total tracks – 800,000

Pop (1997) – 90,000 equivalent albums

Total tracks – 600,000

All That You Can’t Leave Behind – 1,005,000  equivalent albums

Total tracks – 6,700,000

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004) – 390,000  equivalent albums

Total tracks – 2,900,000

No Line On The Horizon (2009) – 390,000  equivalent albums

Total tracks – 2,600,000

Songs Of Innocence (2014) – 75,000  equivalent albums

Total tracks – 500,000

Orphan Album – 225,000  equivalent albums

Total tracks – 1,500,000

U2 streaming sales

The table below lists Spotify streaming of all songs from the albums we are studying. The Comprehensive Streaming is reached by multiplying Spotify figures by 68/26. In fact, as shown in IFPI 2015 Report, there were 68 million paying subscribers to all streaming platforms by the end of 2015. While the exact count of Spotify paying subscribers by the end of 2015 is unknown, that figure reached 20 million in June 2015 and 30 million in March 2016, thus an estimated 26 million is used as of the end of 2015.

The equivalent album sales is the division of the comprehensive streaming figure by 1500 as it is now the norm in the new industry model.

Streaming Part 1 – Early albums

The band’s first two albums failed to truly put them on the map in a worldwide scale, but they were still starting to make some noise here and there. Of course, they continued to generate sales in subsequent years while they got even bigger.

CSPCU2part1

Streaming Part 2 – Getting Bigger

War is U2 pre-The Joshua Tree album that gets the greatest stream results on Spotify and similar online platforms, with over 104,000 equivalent albums sold, largely thanks to both Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year’s Day.

The Unforgettable Fire has nothing to feel shy about too thanks to the inclusion of Pride, another of the group’s biggest early hits. This classic song released as a single in 1984 achieved almost 27 million plays via Spotify, accounting for well over a half of the album’s total and equivalent album sales.

CSPCU2part2

Streaming Part 3 – Stardom

This third part opens with The Joshua Tree, their all time biggest album and one of the biggest overall by any act. Not only does it contain U2‘s first hit to cross the 100 million mark on Spotify with the cult With Or Without You, but it also has I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, which has almost 66 million plays, plus Where The Streets Have No Name with more than 14 million. Plus, all the original tracks have managed to be streamed at least 1 million times over. Controversial, and debatable, is the inclusion of Sweetest Thing here, a song originally recorded at the time of The Joshua Tree but widely popular in 1998, when listed on the band’s first compilation, The Best Of 1980-1990. Some would say it should have been classed as an Orphan Album track but the song was included on the most recent deluxe edition -2007-, so we decided to respect that criteria. The group itself seem to regard it as belonging to that era.

Achtung Baby reached 166,000 equivalent albums sales, well behind the 416,000 accumulated by The Joshua Tree but still strong regardless of that.

Although Rattle And Hum sold nearly as much as The Joshua Tree during their respective first years, we easily understand why nowadays the 1987 classic is almost twice as high in album sales as Rattle And Hum. In fact, this latter album truly lacks a real hit.

Streaming Part 4 – 90s struggles

Without much surprise, Zooropa and Pop rank well behind their previous albums due to them lacking a proper and really huge hit. Stay, from the former, is the biggest track out of both titles with no less than 4 million streams on Spotify.

CSPCU2part4

Streaming Part 5 – Beautiful Years

All That You Can’t Leave Behind is definitely more successful that it is generally recognized, even by the fans. At the time of its release, it served to reconnect with old school fans who, by that point, had kind of given them up. It brought U2 back to their classic trademarks and they seem to respect that. Beautiful Day, its lead single, is their second most streamed track on Spotify with an impressive 87 million total overall. Over 227,000 equivalent album sales for this record released in 2000. We will see in latter parts how much bigger this album had a relevant impact on both 2002 and 2006 major selling compilations successes.

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was initially as successful as its predecessor but streaming figures reveal that it didn’t have the same long lasting appeal, with it not being able to cross the 100,000 equivalent album sales. No Line On The Horizon wasn’t their most successful adventure by any mean and the above stream figure proves it.

CSPCU2part5

Streaming Part 6 – Unusual Releases

Just like No Line On The Horizon, the band’s most recent work, Songs Of Innocence, didn’t quite make the degree after being available for free via Itunes a month before going on sale everywhere. Meanwhile, let’s just say that U2 aren’t at their peak anymore but they reached a point where they don’t have to justify anything. Songs Of Innocence achieved 155,000 equivalent album sales at the end of the day, not particularly huge when one considers it belongs to the modern streaming era.

CSPCU2part6

U2 full length related records sales

In more than three decades as an active group, it is no surprise and no secret that U2 have released a lot of other full length records, in multiple formats. They haven’t flooded the market with many compilations -although they released no less than three ones in 8 years, from 1998 to 2006-, while they did put out plenty of live stuff, mainly in music video format.

Full Length Migration Part 1 – Compilations, Lives, EPs

By the look of the figures, their eighties songs are the most enduring and widely regarded by the general public, with not just The Joshua Tree but also War and The Unforgettable Fire generating the most sales out of their discography.

As an example, The Joshua Tree generated a gigantic 12 million of The Best Of 1980-1990 sales, 3 million for War and 2 million for The Unforgettable Fire.

The second compilation, Best Of 1990-2000, focused on later material. We notice a bit of a surprise: Achtung Baby is overshadowed by All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which gets more than half of its sales. Beautiful Day is a bigger hit than any track on their 1991’s album and that paid for it in the end.

18 Singles, from 2006, showed a similar pattern albeit in the form of just one album.

Last but not least, we find another sign of what is coming. War gets a massive 7,8 million from Under A Blood Red Sky, their live album released during 1984. This latter release managed 9,6 million as an album, with additional sales coming from the music video on next page.

CSPCU2LP1

Full Length Migration Part 2 – Music videos

The Unforgettable Fire gets some great sales from Wide Awake In America, live EP that dates us back to 1985.

Furthermore, there are a number of live music videos bringing good sales to all the albums, with The Joshua Tree getting the biggest share of them.

Some of those music videos are especially massive, notably Go Home and Vertigo 2005. Apart from the previously noted trends, we have a new confirmation of the great status achieved by All That You Can’t Leave Behind, having milked it as much as possible during its subsequent tour and still playing several key tracks to this day.

Not included is the recent Innocence + Experience: Live In Paris, still in its early stage and selling well at the moment.

Overall, U2 sold 10 million music videos, one of the biggest selling acts of all time in this format.

CSPCU2LP2

U2 career CSPC results

So, after checking all figures, what’s the most successful album by U2 and how many overall equivalent albums sales have they achieved? Well, at this point we barely need to do the addition of all figures defined all over this article!

In the following results table, all categories display figures in equivalent album sales. If different, pure sales are listed between parentheses.

'Av.' stands for Average, 'LD' for Last Day.

As a reminder:

  • Studio Album: sales of the original album
  • Other Releases: sales of compilations generated thanks to the album
  • Physical Singles: sales of physical singles from the album (ratio 3/10)
  • Download Singles: sales of digital singles from the album (ratio 1,5/10)
  • Streaming: equivalent album sales of all the album tracks (ratio 1/1500 for Audio stream and 1/6750 for Video stream)

Artist career totals

See where the artist ranks among remaining singers


What do we see here? The Joshua Tree is the predictable winner. Up to an incredible 47,7 million, the only albums we studied so far topping it are Nirvana‘s Nevermind, the Grease Soundtrack and Led Zeppelin‘s fourth album, all over 52 million.

There is more to highlight. Whilst on pure sales Achtung Baby is their second biggest selling title by far, with the CSPC’s approach that crown goes to War at 24,6 millionsomething that not many would have seen coming a few pages earlier. Achtung Baby, on its own hand, still cumulated a great 24,4 million CSPC’s sales.

Driven by Beautiful Day, All That You Can’t Leave Behind reaches 20,5 million CSPC’s sales, proving, once again, it is far bigger than How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, despite having similar pure album sales and being remembered as about equally successful. As it generates more yearly sales now than both Achtung Baby and War, it may even challenge the band discography runner up spot in the future.

The Unforgettable Fire looks now better with 13 million CSPC’s sales, although still lower than Rattle And Hum at 16,7 million. In the other side, Boy, October, Zooropa and Pop didn’t get much outside their original sales.

You may be wondering about U2‘s final CSPC total. Well, the final result is an astonishing 194,5 million, only 6 million short of Led Zeppelin‘s total.

As usual, feel free to comment and / or ask a question!

Sources: IFPI, Spotify, Chartmasters.org.

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