The 50 Biggest U.S. Albums: 24 Never Reached #1

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Despite U.S. sales of 14 million, the album never rose higher than #14

In 2018, Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) overtook Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the top-selling album in the U.S., with 38 million copies sold versus MJ’s 33 million (now 34). Eagles’ Hotel California ranks third with 26 million, followed closely by AC/DC’s Back in Black with 25 million.

Here’s where it gets a bit tricky: each copy sold of a double album, with its higher suggested list price, gets credit for two sales.* Thus, The Beatles’ 1968 self-titled double album (aka “The White Album”) with 12 million is therefore considered to have sold 24 million copies. Similarly, Billy Joel’s two-volume greatest hits collection and Pink Floyd’s The Wall, each with 11.5 million in actual sales, are credited with 23 million.

Five other single LPs, including classic rock staples Led Zeppelin IV and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, have sold 20 million or more. As a result, only 12 albums have been certified by the Recording Industry Association of America, better known by its acronym, RIAA, with sales of at least 20 million copies.

Incredibly, three of those titles never reached #1 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart.

An examination of the U.S.’s Top 50 LPs reveals that no less than 24 of them never topped the sales chart. See the full list below, including their chart peak. (The list is actually made up of 59 titles because 16 of them, all tied at #42 in the ranking, have been certified 12x Platinum.)

AD/DC’s 1980 release, Back in Black, has become the best-selling rock studio album of all time, with worldwide sales estimated at some 50 million, trailing only Thriller. Yet the album never reached higher than #4 in any given week on the Billboard chart.

Related: How AC/DC turned tragedy into triumph

Led Zeppelin’s November 8, 1971 release, IV, is the group’s top-selling album. However, though it reached #1 on the Record World chart, it peaked at #2 on Billboard.

Related: The #1 albums of 1971

Also surprising are a pair of late ’70s releases, both marketed, promoted and sold by Epic Records, Boston’s self-titled 1976 release and Meat Loaf’s 1977 Bat Out of Hell. The former began dominating FM radio stations almost immediately upon its release and was certified Platinum within three months, the first of its 17 million sold.

Not so with Meat Loaf’s album which languished upon its October 21, 1977 release. A confluence of factors, including his appearance on Saturday Night Live in March 1978 began to stoke the buzz as the album had multiple tracks airing on rock radio. Incredibly, despite its cumulative sales of 14 million, it never rose above #14.

Related: The inside story of Bat Out of Hell‘s success

Many of the releases on the list got a boost when the RIAA began to consider streams, as well as sales, in 2013, with 1,500 streams (on online services such as Spotify, YouTube and Pandora) the equivalent of one album sale.

There are many unique ways to look at the results. No less than 12 of the 59 are greatest hits collections from such superstar acts as Journey, Billy Joel, and the Steve Miller Band. Four are movie soundtracks. By decade: Just three were released in the 1960s, 17 were released in the 1970s, 14 in the 1980s and 23 in the 1990s. Only two arrived in the 21st century.

The Beatles have the most releases – four – in the Top 57. Two acts have three: Garth Brooks and Led Zeppelin. Three acts have two each: Backstreet Boys, Eagles, Pink Floyd and Shania Twain.

The 57 Biggest U.S. Albums of All-Time (as of Nov. 2021)

Rank Year Artist Title Sales (in millions) (Chart Peak if other than #1)
1 1976 Eagles Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) 38
2 1982 Michael Jackson Thriller 34
3 1976 Eagles Hotel California 26
4 1980 AC/DC Back in Black 25 (4)
5 1968 The Beatles The Beatles 24
5 1971 Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin IV 24 (2)
7 1985 Billy Joel Greatest Hits – Volume I and Volume 2 23 (6)
8 1979 Pink Floyd The Wall 23
9 1998 Garth Brooks Double Live 21
10 1994 Hootie & the Blowfish Cracked Rear View 21
11 1977 Fleetwood Mac Rumours 20
12 1997 Shania Twain Come On Over 20 (2)

13 1990 Garth Brooks No Fences 18 (3)
14 1987 Guns N’ Roses Appetite For Destruction 18
15 1992 Soundtrack/Whitney Houston The Bodyguard 18
16 1976 Boston Boston 17 (3)
17 1974 Elton John Greatest Hits 17
18 1973 The Beatles The Beatles 1967-1970 17
19 1995 Alanis Morissette Jagged Little Pill 16

This ad appeared in the Nov. 26, 1977 issue of Record World

20 1977 Soundtrack/Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever 16
21 1975 Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti 16
22 1991 Metallica Metallica 16
23 1984 Bob Marley & the Wailers Legend 15 (5)
24 1984 Bruce Springsteen Born in the U.S.A. 15
25 1988 Journey Greatest Hits 15 (10)
26 1973 Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the Moon 15
27 1999 Santana Supernatural 15
28 1978 Steve Miller Band Greatest Hits 1974-1978 15 (18)
29 1973 The Beatles The Beatles 1962-1966 15 (3)

30 2011 Adele 21 14
31 1997 Backstreet Boys Backstreet Boys 14 (4)
32 1999 Britney Spears …Baby One More Time 14
33 1991 Garth Brooks Ropin’ the Wind 14
34 1977 Meat Loaf Bat Out of Hell 14 (14)
35 1972 Simon & Garfunkel Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits 14 (5)
36 1999 Backstreet Boys Millennium 13
37 1986 Bruce Springsteen Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band Live 1975-85 13
38 1971 Carole King Tapestry 13
39 1991 Pearl Jam Ten 13 (2)
40 1984 Prince and the Revolution Purple Rain (Soundtrack) 13
41 1998 The Chicks Wide Open Spaces 13 (4)
42 1985 Whitney Houston Whitney Houston 13
43 1986 Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet 12
44 1994 Boyz II Men II 12
45 1996 Celine Dion Falling Into You 12
46 1987 Def Leppard Hysteria 12
47 1995 Jewel Pieces of You 12 (4)
48 1992 Kenny G Breathless 12 (2)
49 1980 Kenny Rogers Greatest Hits 12
50 1969 Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin II 12
51 2000 Linkin Park Hybrid Theory 12 (2)
52 1996 Matchbox Twenty Yourself or Someone Like You 12 (5)
53 1985 Phil Collins No Jacket Required 12
54 1995 Shania Twain The Woman in Me 12 (5)
55 1994 Soundtrack Forrest Gump 12 (2)
56 1969 The Beatles Abbey Road 12
57 1971 The Rolling Stones Hot Rocks 1964-1971 12 (4)
58 1994 TLC CrazySexyCool 12 (3)
59 1993 Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits 12 (2)

* Incredibly, the RIAA insists that if an album in the pre-CD era, originally released on two LPs but now short enough to fit on a single CD, should only count for one copy sold, even though it had a higher suggested list price than a single LP when originally released.

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  1. Don
    #1 Don 6 February, 2021, 01:23

    Glad to have found you
    I am 68 years young, discovered your web site somehow. I’ve signed up, mostly listen to the hard rock and roll of the 60’s and 70’s. Wife goes to bed, I will be found on the computer, head phones on and the volume turned up. Love your work. Keep it up.

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