Best-Selling Rock Albums (all time)

It has now been more than 40 years since the Recording Industry Association of America started handing out awards for million-selling LPs. Which makes this a good time to count down the biggest selling classic rock albums of all time.

The Eagles' compilation Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) became the first album to be certified platinum back in February 1976. As you'll see in the gallery below, it's maintained a very high spot in this countdown. In fact, the classic rock genre pretty much dominates the RIAA's best-selling albums charts, with acts like Billy Joel, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and AC/DC taking eight of the top 10 spots and 13 of the top 20 overall.

If you're dreaming of earning a place in this hallowed ground for yourself, our research quickly uncovered two simple "shortcuts" to long-term sales success. First, make a greatest hits album. Eight of the 25 best-selling rock albums on this list are best-of albums. Second, consider a double- or multi-disc album, because the RIAA counts each disc individually. That's a big part of how seven of these albums earned their place in line.

If you really want to stack the deck, put out a double-disc greatest hits album – Billy Joel and the Beatles both used this "double dip" method to get themselves high perches on this list. The tricky part is writing and recording enough great songs to warrant your own greatest hits album. But hey, we've done our part just by pointing you on the path to success, right?


#24 - Def Leppard - Hysteria. Certified units: 12 million (1987)


Released four long years (and one life-threatening car crash) after they became superstars with the 10-times platinum 'Pyromania,' Def Leppard rode six hit singles to even greater success with 'Hysteria.' To date, the album has sold 12 million copies in America and reportedly more than twice that worldwide.


#23 - Bon Jovi - Slippery When Wet. Certified units: 12 million (1986)



After failing to catch fire with their first two albums, Bon Jovi brought in outside songwriters and used fan-based focus groups to select the songs for 'Slippery When Wet.' Their market research (and pop smarts) paid off, earning the band 12 million domestic album sales and a foothold among rock's biggest stars.


#22 - Steve Miller Band - Greatest Hits 1974-1978. Certified units: 13 million (1978)


If you're wondering exactly when Steve Miller's commercial peak happened, here's everything you need to know: Nine songs on this compilation were plucked from Miller's two previous studio albums, with just one represented from his earlier eight records. And if you were going to put it back together today, about the only song you'd have to find room for is 1982's 'Abracadabra.'


#21 - Bruce Springsteen - Bruce Springsteen & E Street Band Live 1975-'85. Certified units: 13 million (1986)


Hot on the heels of his bestselling 'Born in the U.S.A.' album (which we'll encounter shortly), Bruce Springsteen treated his fans to a three-CD, five-LP dive into his fabled live vaults. The set's already impressive four million-plus sales figure is multiplied by a factor of three in terms of platinum certifications, something you'll see again with the other multi-disc albums on this countdown.


#20 - Simon & Garfunkel's - Simon & Garfunkel's Greatest Hits. Certified units: 14 million (1972)



Two years after the groundbreaking duo's split, they complied 14 of their most popular tracks – 10 in their original studio form, four in previously unreleased live versions – for this slam-dunk greatest hits collection. (You should still buy 'Bookends' and 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' on their own).


#19 - Meatloaf - Bat Out Of Hell. Certified units: 14 million (1977)


Stepping about as far away from a traditional winning formula as possible, Meat Loaf teamed up with composer Jim Steinman and producer Todd Rundgren to craft a gloriously overblown and operatic concept album about teenage angst. Thanks to unlikely hits such as "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" and "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad," it sold more than 14 million copies and spawned two sequels ... so far!


#18 - The Beatles - The Beatles 1962-1966. Certified units: 15 million (1973)


Looking to craft a foolproof three-point plan for cracking the upper reaches of this chart? Here goes: Make a double-disc greatest hits collection focusing on the Beatles' barnstorming early years. It worked so well they did it again -- you'll find the companion "latter years" compilation coming up shortly.


#17 - Santana - Supernatural. Certified units: 15 million (2000)




#16 - Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon. Certified units: 15 million (1973)



Here's another helpful hint for those looking to score an all-time best-selling rock album: Stay on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart for more than 17 years, like Pink Floyd did with their 1973 masterpiece. As of December 2014, 'The Dark Side of the Moon' has spent an amazing (non-consecutive) 889 weeks on the countdown.

#15 - Journey - Greatest Hits. Certified units: 15 million (1988)



The biggest arena-rock band of the '80s closed out the decade with this perfectly timed collection of hits. They continue to reap the rewards, with 'Greatest Hits' reportedly still selling nearly a half-million copies a year.

#14 - Bruce Springsteen - Born In The U.S.A. Certified units: 15 million (1984)



After his previous album – the stark, uncompromising 'Nebraska' - the last thing anybody expected from Bruce Springsteen was a commercial, mainstream effort such as 'Born in the U.S.A.' But clearly everybody bought in really quickly, as the album spawned seven hit singles and has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide so far.


#13 - Metallica. Metallica. Certified units: 16 million (1991)



Thrash purists may have cried foul at the move to slower tempos and simpler song structures made by Metallica on their self-titled 1991 album. But they were pretty soundly drowned out by the millions and millions of new fans the band made with tracks like "Enter Sandman" and "The Unforgiven".


#12 - Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti. Certified units: 16 million (1975)



In these modern days of overbloated albums, Led Zeppelin's 82-minute 1975 landmark would barely squeak past the running time of a single CD. But luckily, before all that nonsense happened, 'Physical Graffiti''s place as one of the most impressive studio achievements in rock history was already cemented in place, to the tune of eight million U.S. sales and the corresponding double-album 16-times-platinum certification.


#11 - Elton John. Greatest Hits. Certified units: 16 million (1974)


Going into this project, we were worried about when we'd run out of ways to repeatedly explain the simple notion that well-assembled best-of albums from rock's biggest and most prolific superstars, such as this fantastic 1974 Elton John compilation, often go on to be big sellers. We're just about at that point now, and there's three more such collections to go. So stay tuned, this could get interesting!


#10 - Eagles - Hotel California. Certified units: 16 million (1976)



The Eagles reached their creative and commercial peak on this 1976 work of art, which probably would have won the Grammy for Album of the Year if it had hit the stores any other year – specifically, one that also didn't see the release of Fleetwood Mac's 'Rumours.' (More on that soon ... )


#9 - Boston - Boston. Certified units: 17 million (1976)


Boston's self-titled debut album has sold more than 17 million copies in the U.S. alone. And that number climbs every day, as nearly every one of its songs receives heavy airplay on rock radio. Not bad for a record that band mastermind Tom Scholz secretly recorded in his basement.


#8 - Guns N' Roses - Appetite for Destruction. Certified units: 18 million (1987)



With all of the controversy that's surrounded Guns N' Roses for most of their three-decade career, it's good to remember how much thanks we owe them for almost single-handedly killing hair metal with their astounding, air-clearing debut album. To date, it's reportedly sold nearly 30 million copies worldwide.


#7 - The Beatles - The Beatles (The White Album). Certified units: 19 million (1968)

Need another example of how the "double album" trick inflates platinum certifications? The Beatles' sprawling, somewhat challenging White Album has sold 1.5 million less units than the more eager-to-please 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.' But since each of 'The Beatles'' two discs count as one sale, the final tally stands at more than 19 million.


#6 - Fleetwood Mac - Rumours. Certified units: 20 million (1977)


Even if 'Rumours' didn't earn its amazing sales totals (reportedly more than 40 million copies worldwide) based solely on merit – which it does – the band members probably deserved the reward for all the damage they inflected on their bodies and souls via romantic dramas and drug abuse during the album's recording.


#5 - AC/DC - Back In Black. Certified units: 22 million (1980)



The fact that AC/DC managed to release this masterpiece just five months after the sudden death of singer Bon Scott remains one of the most remarkable stories in rock history. New vocalist Brian Johnson fit in perfectly, and with help from mega-producer Mutt Lange, the band came up with a set of anthemic rock songs that continue to dominate the airwaves to this day.


#4 - Pink Floyd - The Wall. Certified units: 23 million (1979)


The death of a young boy's father, the overbearing reactions of his mother, abusive schoolteachers and the isolation of fame may not seem like obvious subject matter for one of rock's best-selling albums. But somehow that's exactly how Roger Waters' uncompromising vision has been rewarded by Pink Floyd fans, who have so far snapped up 11.5 million copies of this double-disc set.


#3 - Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV. Certified units: 23 million (1971)



After this, all that's left are greatest-hits collections. In other words, Led Zeppelin's fourth studio effort is the best-selling original single-disc rock album of all time. Without, as they'll proudly tell you, the band's name or faces on the cover, or even an official title -- despite the objections of their label. On the other hand, it did have "Black Dog," "Rock and Roll," "Stairway to Heaven".


#2 - Billy Joel - Greatest Hits Volume 1 & Volume 2. Certified units: 23 million (1985)


This is pretty much a perfectly timed greatest hits collection, released after the last excellent Billy Joel studio album, 1983's 'An Innocent Man," and therefore containing all of his most important songs. (1997's 'Greatest Hits Volume III' collected the numerous but less essential hits from his last three studio efforts.) It's also - say it with me, class - a DOUBLE ALBUM, meaning that 11.5 million actual sales count as 23 million here.


#1 - Eagles - Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975). Certified units: 29 million (1976)


On Feb. 17, 1976, the Eagles' 'Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)' became the first album to be certified platinum by the RIAA. From the looks of things, nobody else ever caught up, as they stand six million copies ahead of their nearest rock competitor. And most impressively, they did it with a single-disc collection, pulled from just four studio albums. (Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' is three million copies in U.S. sales ahead of the Eagles, who are No. 2 on the overall chart).


#1 - Eagles - Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975). Certified units: 29 million (1976)
#2 - Billy Joel - Greatest Hits Volume 1 & Volume 2. Certified units: 23 million (1985)
#3 - Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV. Certified units: 23 million (1971)
#4 - Pink Floyd - The Wall. Certified units: 23 million (1979)
#5 - AC/DC - Back In Black. Certified units: 22 million (1980)
#6 - Fleetwood Mac - Rumours. Certified units: 20 million (1977)
#7 - The Beatles - The Beatles (The White Album). Certified units: 19 million (1968)
#8 - Guns N' Roses - Appetite for Destruction. Certified units: 18 million (1987)
#9 - Boston - Boston. Certified units: 17 million (1976)
#10 - Elton John - Greatest Hits. Certified units: 17 million (1973)

#11 - Eagles - Hotel California. Certified units: 16 million (1976)
#12 - Elton John. Greatest Hits. Certified units: 16 million (1974)
#13 - Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti. Certified units: 16 million (1975)
#14 - Metallica, 'Metallica' (1991). Certified units: 16 million (1991)
#15 - Bruce Springsteen - Born In The U.S.A. Certified units: 15 million (1984)
#16 - Journey - Greatest Hits. Certified units: 15 million (1988)
#17 - Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon. Certified units: 15 million (1973)
#18 - Santana - Supernatural. Certified units: 15 million (2000)
#19 - The Beatles - The Beatles 1962-1966. Certified units: 15 million (1973)
#20 - Meatloaf - Bat Out Of Hell. Certified units: 14 million (1977)
#21 - Simon & Garfunkel's - Simon & Garfunkel's Greatest Hits. Certified units: 14 million (1972)
#22 - Bruce Springsteen - Bruce Springsteen & E Street Band Live 1975-'85. Certified units: 13 million (1986)
#23 - Steve Miller Band - Greatest Hits 1974-1978. Certified units: 13 million (1978)
#24 - Bon Jovi - Slippery When Wet. Certified units: 12 million (1986)
#25 - Def Leppard - Hysteria. Certified units: 12 million (1987)

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