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The 20 Best Selling Musical Artists of All Time

FUN FACTS September 15, 2017 By Vincent

No one really buys CDs anymore and so the general consensus is that we will never see another record breaking artist in terms of physical music sold as it is all about downloads and streaming these days. That being said, there are some artists who still have the ability to shift quite a few albums and make some money out of it.

But who has sold the most albums? Here we take a look at the top 20 artists according to their total certified album units sold in the US, as provided by the RIAA. 

20. Van Halen - 56.5 Million Units

The hard rock band that formed in 1972 became one of the most successful rock acts of the 1980s and became a massive touring machine off the back of their incredibly successful album 1984 which sold 12 million units in the US alone.

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In 1985 they replaced lead singer David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar and went on to score 4 more Number 1 albums. Continuing to tour with original singer Lee Roth the band are still making a lot of money from their endeavors although commercial success from album sales is very much limited now.

19. Whitney Houston - 57 Million Units

During her lifetime, Houston released seven studio records, all of which have diamond, multi-platinum, platinum, or gold certification due to her crossover appeal of music that took influences from R&B, pop, soul and gospel genres.

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Houston is the only artist to chart seven consecutive No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 songs and has sold over 200 million records worldwide.

18. Metallica - 63 Million Units

The heavy metal band were once the biggest touring band in the world with their legions of metal-head fans and this translated to record sales as well despite their inability to hold onto a bass guitarist.

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Considered one of the founding bands of the genre of 'thrash metal',  the band's eponymous 1991 album has sold over 16 million copies in the United States whilst, in total, they have sold over 110 million records worldwide.

17. Mariah Carey - 64 Million Units

The diva extraordinaire has managed to become a phenomenal success due to her massive crossover appeal by mixing genres such as R&B, pop, hip-hop, and soul, and became the world's best-selling recording artist of the 1990s.

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The power of her voice has been the cornerstone of her success as she has a five-octave vocal range, power, melismatic style and signature use of the whistle register.

16. Madonna - 64.5 Million Units

Noted for her ability to constantly reinvent her musical style and image throughout the years, Madonna managed to stay relevant for an elongated period thanks to her boundary-pushing manner in both her lyrical and video content.

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Having sold more than 300 million records worldwide, Madonna is recognized as the best-selling female recording artist of all time.

15. Bruce Springsteen - 65.5 Million Units

'The Boss' managed to tap into a sense of Americana and working-class spirit with his brand of poetic lyricism and chunky guitar riffs through his more commercially accessible rock tunes to his more toned down folk-inspired works.

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 He has sold more than 120 million records worldwide and more than 64 million records in the United States, making him one of the world's best-selling artists of all time.

=13. The Rolling Stones - 66.5 Million Units

Rolling Stone magazine ranked the band fourth on the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time" list and their estimated album sales are above 250 million worldwide but they still only come in 13th in terms of US sales (which is still nothing to be sniffed at).

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A rock n roll band from England, the band first charted in 1963 and have been consistently popular ever since.

=13.  Aerosmith - 66.5 million Units

Rooted in blues-based hard rock, the Boston band formed in 1970 and continue to tour to this day and is the best-selling American hard rock band of all time, having sold more than 150 million records worldwide.

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Despite this, the band have only ever had only one number 1 single in I Don't Want to Miss A Thing.

12. Barbara Streisand - 68.5 Million Units

An incredibly talented performer whose career has spanned six decades and multiple fields of entertainment of which she has dominated all becoming part of a select group of entertainers who have been honored with an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award, and is one of only two artists in that group who have also won a Peabody.

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On top of this, she has sold extremely well worldwide with the RIAA and Billboard recognizing Streisand as holding the record for the most top 10 albums of any female recording artist: a total of 34 since 1963.

11. George Strait - 69 Million Units

A country singer considered 'the King of Country', George Strait is one of the most influential recording artists ever is known for his neotraditionalist country style, cowboy look, and being one of the first and main country artists to bring country music back to its roots and away from the pop country era in the 1980s.

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As such, Strait is best known in the US and this is where most of his 100 million global sales have come from.

10. AC/DC - 72 Million Units

An Australian rock band formed in Sydney in 1973 by two brothers, they went on to become one of Australia's most prominent cultural exports around the globe.

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It was their album Back In Black that launched them to serious mainstream success as it sold 22 million copies in the US alone.

9. Pink Floyd - 75 Million Units

An English rock band known for their experimental turns and psychedelic use of sounds and rhythm alongside poetic and philosophical lyricism, they managed to combine experimentalism with commercial success and become one of the most influential rock bands of all time.

By 2013, the band had sold more than 250 million records worldwide, including 75 million certified units in the United States.

8. Elton John

Born with perfect pitch, the British musician used his piano playing talents to team up with some of the best lyricists of the 20th century to launch himself to pop superstardom.

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 In his five-decade career, Elton John has sold more than 300 million records, making him one of the best-selling music artists in the world.

7. Michael Jackson - 81 Million Units

Often referred to as the 'King of Pop', Jackson was the best-selling musical artist of all time up until his death with his contributions to music, dance, and fashion along with his publicized personal life making him a global figure in popular culture for over four decades.

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Starting out as a member of the Jackson 5, it was as a solo career that Michael really excelled moving to more poppy tones as opposed to the soul come R&B rooted ones of his family band.

6. Billy Joel - 82.5 Million Units

A noted songwriter and performer, Joel had Top 40 hits in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, achieving 33 Top 40 hits in the US, all of which he wrote himself.

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One of the first US musicians to play in the USSR, Joel stopped writing and releasing pop music in 1993 but still tours and plays his music from all eras of his career.

5. Eagles - 101 Million Units

With five number-one singles, six Grammy Awards, five American Music Awards, and six number one albums, the Eagles were one of the most successful musical acts of the 1970s.

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The Eagles are one of the world's best-selling bands of all time, having sold more than 150 million records —100 million in the U.S. alone—including 42 million copies of Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) and 32 million copies of Hotel California.

4. Led Zeppelin - 111.5 Million Units

Considered to be one of the originators of heavy metal, the band are known for their unique style drew from a wide variety of influences, including blues, psychedelia, and folk music.

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Zeppelin are widely considered one of the most successful, innovative, and influential rock groups in history. They are one of the best-selling music artists in the history of audio recording; various sources estimate the group's record sales at 200 to 300 million units worldwide. 

3. Elvis Presley - 136 Million Units

Some 40 years after his death and Elvis Presley's musical legacy lives on after he shook up the world with his rock n' roll hits, outrageous hip thrusting and soulful delivery of songs such as Suspicious Minds, The Wonder of You and You Were Always On My Mind.

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The singer died in 1972 aged 42 and is still one of the most highly regarded and widely impersonated artists of all-time and is often dubbed 'The King' by fans for his string of hits and the way he revolutionized pop-culture.

2. Garth Brooks - 148 Milion Units

Brooks is immensely popular in the United States for integrating elements of rock music into country but elsewhere country doesn't quite have the same reach, as such this only adds to his impressive 160 million record sales but most of those come domestically.

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As of September 23, 2016, Brooks is the only artist in history to have released seven albums that achieved diamond status in the U.S

1. The Beatles-  178 Million Units

Given that they are the most successful pop musicians of all time, it is odd to think that, at one time, The Beatles had trouble breaking into America but soon enough they became "bigger than Jesus", in the words of John Lennon.

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Rooted in skiffle, beat and 1950s rock and roll, the Beatles later experimented with several musical styles, ranging from pop ballads and Indian music to psychedelia and hard rock, often incorporating classical elements and unconventional recording techniques in innovative ways.


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