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.
Celine Dion –125 Million
Celine Dion is the only female artist to have two singles to sell more than a million copies in the UK and her 1995 album D’eux is the best-selling French-language album of all time to date. Not bad for a girl who started her music career because of a cheesy Eurovision Song Contest. In 2004, she was presented with the Chopard Diamond Award at the World Music Awards for becoming the best-selling female artist of all time, an award that was highly disputed for its accuracy.
Nonetheless, Dion undoubtedly remains one of the best-selling female artists of all time with certified sales of over 125 million copies while her record company makes claims of over 200 million albums sold worldwide.
Mariah Carey – 130 Million
Let’s take a deep breath and start with Mariah’s commercial achievements: her duet with Boyz II Men, “One Sweet Day,” spent a record sixteen weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100, and remains the longest-running number one song in US chart history; she was the best-selling recording artist of the 1990s; she has eighteen number one singles in the US, which makes her the female artist with the most number one singles in history, and to top it all off, she has a five-octave vocal range and her signature use of the whistle register made her famous worldwide. Want more?
Eagles – 130+ Million
Despite what Aerosmith might claim, according to the official numbers the Eagles are the biggest-selling American band of all time, with an estimated total of over 150 million records worldwide, which seems to be realistic if one takes into account that their certified album sales are over 130 million with a little more than 100 million of those in the US alone. Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) shares the top spot with Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the best-selling album ever in the US with 29 million copies sold and is one of the highest-selling albums globally with 45 million copies sold worldwide.
Led Zeppelin – 140 Million
According to various sources, Led Zeppelin’s official record sales are supposed to be somewhere between 200 and 300 million units worldwide. With RIAA-certified sales of 111.5 million, they are the second best-selling band in the United States behind the Beatles and one of the most commercially successful music acts in history.
Garth Brooks – 145 Million
Garth Brooks is statistically the biggest-selling music artist in US history and overall third behind the Beatles and Elvis Presley. He’s the solo artist with the most diamond albums in RIAA’s history, with six of his albums achieving sales of over 10 million copies. As of now his albums continue to break records and according to Nielsen Soundscan, his albums sales up to 2014 are about 70 million, which makes him the best-selling artist in the United States since the advent of the SoundScan era (1991 to the present). Simply put, Garth is Country’s absolute king.