One of the greatest debates in the music world among listeners and even between record companies revolves around the highly controversial topic of who’s the best-selling artist of all time. From time to time many record companies and music artists have claimed global sales that can’t be accurately stated by any logical standard, which only adds to the confusion.
From the primitive (organizationally speaking) and inaccurate charts of the ‘30s and ‘40s to the modern era of YouTube and digital sales, the criteria of commercial success have changed so drastically that we can’t realistically compare the artists of today with yesterday. For example, back in the ‘90s an album’s price started at $25 and could reach $40 or more (for a double album), while nowadays for ninety-nine cents you can download Taylor Swift’s and Rihanna’s new songs on your phone, which in theory counts as buying a record that cost twenty and thirty times as much in the ‘80s and ‘90s. For this reason the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) recently divided the all-time charts between physical record sales and digital sales.
Even though we intentionally excluded modern artists from our list for the aforementioned reason, we also left out music giants such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, ABBA, Bee Gees, Diana Ross, and Deep Purple among others, simply because we don’t have enough official figures for their actual sales, but only claims. After taking into account every official source we could find in the music industry we proudly present the most accurate (in terms of total certified units sold from official markets) chart of the 25 top selling music artists of all time.
Queen – 105+ Million
With eighteen number one albums and eighteen number one singles in the US, UK, and European charts combined and classic hits such as “We Will Rock You,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” and “We Are the Champions,” Queen’s place in music history is secure. Furthermore, their Greatest Hits (1981) album is the biggest-selling album in UK history with 6 million and their estimated total sales vary from 150 to 300 million, so we will stick with the accurate number of over 105 million certified copies sold.
AC/DC – 110 Million
It is estimated that AC/DC has sold more than 200 million albums worldwide, including 71.5 million in the United States alone, while their epic album Back in Black has sold an estimated 40 million units worldwide with 22 million of them in the US. Their certified sales stand at 110 million worldwide, but it’s 100 percent certain that they have sold more than that.
Whitney Houston – 112 Million
Whitney broke several records during her short but legendary prime: She is the only artist to chart seven consecutive No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hits; her 1985 debut album, Whitney Houston, became the best-selling debut by a woman at the time, and her famous remake of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” became the best-selling single by a woman in music history, while The Bodyguard is one of the highest-selling soundtracks to date. With certified sales of over 112 million and countless awards and honors under her belt, Whitney Houston’s greatest legacy will always be her incredible voice.
Eminem – 115 Million
Eminem is the best-selling hip-hop artist of all time and the best-selling artist of the 2000s with total official album sales reaching 45 million in the United States alone. His worldwide album and single sales (including digital) stand at more than 155 million, but we counted only the physical sales as we have done for the rest of the artists on our list.
Pink Floyd – 115+ Million
According to their record company the legendary band has sold more than 250 million records worldwide, including 74.5 million certified units in the United States. Despite their undeniable commercial success however, Pink Floyd’s claim to fame and musical legacy can be attributed to their unique use of philosophical lyrics, sonic experimentation, and elaborate live shows, which had a huge impact on many great groups and solo artists that followed.