Top albums – Full list – Equivalent album sales (EAS)
Remember to use the searching, filtering, and sorting options to make the most out of the ranking, like top sellers per year or per decade!
Please keep in mind that some artists are missing, because their analysis has not been done yet. Here is the complete list of covered artists.
Top albums ranking – How we build it
Ever since we talk about the best-selling albums of all time, we refer to pure sales of a specific release. American pop legend Michael Jackson‘s Thriller is often listed as the #1 album ever, accurately so, although many uneducated or pro-clickbait media (see ) used US-only RIAA certifications to claim that the Eagles‘ 71-75 Greatest Hits album holds the crown.
Taking indirect sales into account
Apart from the usual US vs World confusion, a more implicit issue has been corrupting the perception of the truly best selling albums of all time for the general public. That’s the difference between pure sales of a precise album, against sales of all records powered by one era.
This led the Worlds Music Awards to claim that Thriller had sold 104 million units as of 2006. In reality, these were total sales of all albums which included the song Thriller on their tracklist at that point, rather than sales of the 1982 pop LP.
It highlights the importance of indirect sales to gauge the real success of an album. For example, let’s take the fact that Pink Floyd‘s Dark side of the moon charted for roughly 740 weeks between 1973 and 1988. It’s true, but it’s only one part of the story.
Many studio albums would remain longer in charts if they weren’t replaced by subsequent compilation albums. This creates an unfair environment, where albums which were never challenged by subsequent best of albums seem much stronger than they really were, and vice versa.
That’s why we introduced our original CSPC approach, to put all albums on par, we account for every sale generated by one studio album, weight them on par with albums, and see which ones are indeed the best selling albums of all time.
It means we take streaming into account, as well as compilations which are linked to the studio albums they cover.
Conversion ratios between formats
The table above shows the best-selling albums ever using the following ratios:
- Studio album: sales of the original album (ratio 1/1)
- Other LPs: sales of compilations generated thanks to the album (ratio 1/1)
- Physical singles: sales of physical singles from the album (added to CSPC total with a ratio 3/10 for 2-tracks, 5/10 for EPs and Maxis)
- Digital singles: sales of digital singles from the album (ratio 1.5/10 for CSPC total)
- Streaming: EAS of all the album tracks (ratio 1/1500 for Audio stream and 1/6750 for Video stream)
Sales figures reflect the value as collected at the time of the artist’s respective articles while streams are updated daily. Albums from unstudied artists which gained significant streams are listed but miss the sales component.
Highlights among the best selling albums ever
The final ranking is fascinating. The leader is the expected one, as at 121 million overall, Thriller is in a league of its own, no matter if we look at all units produced or strictly at pure sales from the studio album. Naturally, it’s also the #1 album of the 80s and from the last millennium.
Albums pushed by their record labels ever since their release, like IV by Led Zeppelin, or the aforementioned Dark Side, feature high at 8 and 9 respectively, but maybe not as high as expected. They are still monumental smashes.
Also lower here than where they stand on many lists available online are artists who’s popularity is largely US-driven. As these lists are often barely based on US certified sales, they make Garth Brooks, among others, look much bigger than he is globally. It’s especially true when this is combined with the effect of the RIAA multi-certifying albums with several discs. This shoots albums like Garth Brooks‘ Double Live or Billy Joel‘s Greatest Hits Volume I & II to the all-time top 10, which is ludicrous when we look at the best-selling albums of all time in the world.
These albums, which exploit already existing material, aren’t listed by themselves below as their sales have been dispatched into the studio albums which are responsible for their tracks. That is why popular releases like Bob Marley & the Wailers‘s Legend or ABBA‘s Gold do not appear, but instead their big studio albums like Exodus or Arrival, respetively.
In the other side, albums which moved countless units through various formats end up showing their real strength, with Eagles‘ Hotel California, Bee Gees‘ disco classic Saturday Night Fever, Jackson‘s Bad and Fleetwood Mac‘s Rumours making the top 5. The former is the biggest album from the 1970s, beating stiff competition.
Nevermind by Nirvana has been invariably increasing. Now sitting at 7, it’s the most successful album from the 90s.
Plenty is happening outside of the global top 10 too. Elvis Presley‘s Christmas Album destroys the competition among pre-1960 albums. The Beatles couldn’t miss, with Abbey Road dominating the 1960s on top of 5 more albums in the top 10.
The last couple of decades are led by iconic female albums. Lady Gaga tops the 2000s with The Fame while 21 by Adele is a clear leader as part of the 2010s. So far, the 2020s are still very young with 8 albums spread out by less than 5 million.
As for the most successful female album of all time, it’s either the Bodyguard soundtrack if you regard it as a female album, or Adele‘s big one. In any case, the British singer is likely to move on top in the long run.