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.
Rod Stewart – 76 Million
With six consecutive number one albums, six number one singles on the UK charts and sixteen top ten singles in the US (four reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100), Rod Stewart is one of the most successful chart-topping British solo artists ever.
Britney Spears – 80 Million
Britney Spears is one of the greatest teen music stars the world has ever seen and her commercial success during the late 1990s and early 2000s can be compared only to the likes of Madonna and Michael Jackson. However, the claim of 200 million in total sales by her record company is highly exaggerated. There’s no doubt about this total when including her more recent digital sales, but the official physical sales of her albums and singles don’t exceed 80 million worldwide.
Phil Collins – 85+ Million
Phil Collins had a decorated music career during the course of which he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Genesis in 2010. Even though Collins’s worldwide sales as a solo artist are estimated to be over 150 million, his official certified units are just a little over 85 million.
Metallica – 90 Million
Metallica’s eponymous 1991 album has sold over 16 million copies in the United States over the past twenty-three years, making it the best-selling album of the SoundScan era. Metallica is without a doubt one of the most commercially successful bands of all time, with estimated sales of over 120 million worldwide, a number that seems to be realistic, especially if one takes into account that their official certified album sales in the United States are about 55 million.
Aerosmith – 90+ Million
Aerosmith is one of the longest-living bands in history (almost forty-five years) and claim to be the biggest-selling American rock band in history with more than 150 million sales worldwide, a claim that the Eagles can easily challenge. Even though nobody can be sure about the accumulative sales of any artist globally, from what we know from the available markets worldwide, Aerosmith hasn’t sold more than 95 million albums, which is less than the official sales of the Eagles in the US alone.