Top Selling Rock Albums Of All Time

We dug up stats and 'making of' documentaries for our most authoritative 'Top 10' chart yet. Sit back and learn how to make a classic of your own.

Ultimate Guitar

Album sales aren't everything, but when opinions over records are divided, the stats can count for something.

Here, we round up the top ten best-selling rock albums ever made. It's important to note that this isn't the top albums ever sold, and in some cases there was more than one album that sold a certain number of records - for example, Nirvana got 8th place for selling 30 million copies of "Nevermind" but other artists made it to 30 million too. In this case, we bundled them all together for a joint place, so take a look at the notes where possible for clarity.

Rather than pick a video for one song from the album, we tried to find a documentary so you could learn more about how the record was made. They tend to be split into several parts, so when you finish watching one you can click through to the next part when YouTube links to them at the end. We couldn't find one for "Led Zeppelin IV", dammit, but the rest are intact.

There's one controversial placement at number 6, but we think she earned her place. If you disagree, make sure you sell more records than her before starting a war in the comments.

So sit back, and keep your weekend free to learn what it takes to make one of the best selling rock albums of all time.

01. AC/DC "Back In Black" (1980) 49 million copies

Another example of a major band losing their lead singer, this time Bon Scott to alcohol poisoning, but marching on and coming out with their best work ever. They recorded in the Bahamas, but tropical storms wreaked havoc on their equipment and electricity supply, which went on to inspire the "Hell's Bells" lyrics ("I'm rolling thunder, pourin' rain. I'm comin' on like a hurricane. My lightning's flashing across the sky. You're only young but you're gonna die"). Although it was their best selling record ever, it didn't actually chart as high in the US as their next album, having reached number 4 as opposed to the following number 1.

02. Pink Floyd "The Dark Side Of The Moon" (1973) 45 million copies

Pink Floyd could have collapsed after the departure of lead composer and singer Syd Barrett, but his declining mental state helped inspire the songs behind what became their biggest album ever. It is one of the defining British recordings, laced with the sound of Abbey Road studios, and used some seriously cutting edge techniques such as - shock - multitrack recording. Analogue synths became very, very cool with this album, and stayed in the charts longer than any other in history at 741 weeks. It remains a masterpiece.

03. Meat Loaf "Bat Out Of Hell" (1977) 43 million copies

This album could yet go up a few ranks in this chart, because it was still selling 200,000 copies last year. Wow. It wasn't always this way - almost everyone at Epic Records hated it, and critics weren't convinced. But it remains timeless in the sense that it doesn't fit into any other trend, and could be released at any point in history and still sound valid. But you could easily forget all that when you see Meat Loaf star in "Fight Club" with big fake boobs.

04. Fleetwood Mac "Rumours" (1977) 40 million copies

They say the best songs come from emotional strife, but this is only amplified when band members end up divorcing each other. Vocalist Christine McVie and bassist John McVie divorced, and would only stop arguing when writing music - but if that wasn't enough, the other vocalists Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks had their own fiery on/off relationship. Had enough? Well, drummer Mick Fleetwood also found the mother of his two children cheating on him with his best friend. The result was their biggest album ever.

05. Led Zeppelin "Led Zeppelin IV" (1971) 37 million copies

This was the first Zeppelin album not to have a title, so fans simply attributed the former Roman numeral naming convention instead. Jimmy Page specifically wanted no title, and instead had each band member choose a symbol to include on the sleeve, despite a press agent insisting this would be akin to "career suicide". Page may as well have told him to f--k right off, because it proved to be all about the music - and what music it was.

06. Alanis Morissette "Jagged Little Pill" (1995) 33 million copies

There was some debate over here at UG towers over whether we should include a relatively mainstream artist in this rock list. But what the hell does mainstream mean on a list of top selling albums anyway? But it's rock, she writes her own songs, and sold more copies than "Sgt. Peppers" for goodness sake. Credit where it's due, eh? It became the best selling album of the 90s despite dividing the opinion of critics, and won a Grammy for Album Of The Year at the age of 21 - the youngest to ever receive the award. Props.

07. The Beatles "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1967) 32 million copies

Arguably the best Beatles album, though let's not open that can of worms. It was their eighth studio album, and over the 129 days of recording they worked with producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick and invented many recording techniques which are still widely used today. But this album became more than just the music, and became a flag for the 60s generation to wave forever.

08. Nirvana "Nevermind" (1991) 30 million copies

It was the album that told the world to forget about contrived star-spangled glam rock and look to the angst of youth for truly passionate songwriting. Kurt Cobain apparently said he hated the polished production style, but it was a means to take his charged garage style to the masses, and sparked countless sub-genres of independent music, both good and bad. Major labels started buying up indie labels, where they even defined the "indie" genre to market their alternative credentials.

Other artists who sold 30 million and deserve this place as much as Nirvana are Pink Floyd with "The Wall", Bruce Springsteen with "Born In The U.S.A." and Dire Straits with "Brothers In Arms".

09. Guns N' Roses "Appetite For Destruction" 28 million copies

Who could have predicted that the happy-go-lucky rockers in this video would go on to implode in a hail of drugs and despair? Hmm, probably everyone. This album sent the band to stratospheric levels of fame, and almost defined the glam rock life of rock n' roll excess. The songs were about the debauchery of the LA rock scene, run ins with the law, female company and heroin. Well why not, it was the 80s.

Equally deserving of this place is Bon Jovi who also sold 28 million copies of his album "Slippery When Wet".

10. Santana "Supernatural" (1999) 27 million copies

The number of collaborations here put off some critics, who argued that the album ultimately felt directionless and without a consistant voice. That said, they couldn't argue that it wasn't some of the best world music ever, and who's to argue with the buyers who lapped it up by the millions?

There's nothing to argue with here, since it's all based on stats, but we'd love you to discuss what you've learnt from the documentaries in the comments. Did anything surprise you?

178 comments sorted by best / new / date

    it's funny how nothing from this century is in there : )
    Because these albums have been (and still do) outsell any other albums produced. Do you see the trend in new music today? "Let's put out ANOTHER crap album with no regard to quality or sensible creativity. These albums spoke to the generations they were created for and STILL speak to the generations to come. This is why they are referred to as The Classics--they will NEVER die. As we've seen-bands like Metallica just need to die already-they've been beating THAT dead horse for years now and just need to be laid to rest. If ANYONE gets mad because of that statement- you just need to get a life and get over it already.
    Some "facts" should be clarified before they make it on here UG. ...And yes **** heads, Money is in 7/4. I have no idea why there is a flame war about Money's time signatures when it is a thread about the highest selling rock records ever.
    For the love of God why are people complaining about who was left off this list, and who is better and should be on it, and what time signatures songs are in. This article (while debatable in its accuracy of albums sold) is about NUMBER OF ALBUMS SOLD. Not how much money an album made made or which band is better. Learn to read and comprehend. At least it's funny to listen to you turds wax intellectual about something completely irrelevant to the article you are commenting on.
    This whole list is so wrong. Yes these albums sold highly, but the figures and placings are completely off! Who the **** did this?
    For those of you arguing time signature, how it's written plays an important role as well. As someone who is taking music theory and composition in university, I've lost plenty of marks on assignments because I said a piece was in 4/4 even though it was in 2/2 or something along that line. They sound the same and the accents are relatively similar (2/2 is S-W, 4/4 is S-W-M-W) but on paper one will look a lot cleaner and will be easier to read. Money works a lot better in 7/4 but you can make it 7/8 if you really want too since you'd just be splitting every measure in 2. It just be harder to read and you'll be accenting more notes. As for the article itself, some of these numbers seem wrong
    Alanis is a great songwriter. Fact. Deal with it. Tell me it's opinion, I don't give a ****. Fact. Factity fact fact.
    Root Beer wrote: Paramecium302 wrote: Root Beer wrote: tume wrote: i have none of above What a sad, sorry life you must lead. Oh yes, can you imagine? There are only about 30 albums in the world - there's no way he has his mind open to other forms of music that delve deeper than four chords. No WAY! Lol, you call Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt Pepper, and Led Zeppelin IV "four chord rock"? I can guarantee you whatever crazy shit you listen to is in some way influenced by at LEAST one of these albums. These are some of the greatest albums ever made. Just because they're popular doesn't mean they're not worth digging into. Don't get sucked into the whole "POPULAR = SHIT DERP I'M A REBEL DERP DERP" thing. THAT'S being closed-minded. I encourage that you to pick up Dark Side and hear what an album is SUPPOSED to sound like.
    beatles was basically crap....good thing they're not on the list...effin OVERRATED
    huh, didn't realize meatloaf had an album that was that popular. learn something new every day...
    Who made this list? Usually there's a link to another site. If this list has been compiled by UG then it's the worst ever, and you guys make some bad ones! Can anybody find any info online that shows Santana's Supernatural selling 49 million copies? Wikipedia has it at 27 million. And if Alanis and The Beatles are on the list then The Eagles deserve to be there as well, Greatest Hits or not.
    fifopher wrote: How is Stunt by Barenaked Ladies not on this list???
    Afff FACT
    Ok, other than the santana album, which did not sell that many albums, the list is solid. Yes, the complete list with EVERY GENRE not just rock, has more stuff on it than this, but does anyone think backstreet boys needs to be on a rock list? Also, since it's only counting studio albums and not greatest hits, eagles don't belong on it. Finally, if you look at any list that shows EVERY album, you will see that the black album has only sold 22 million. With that number, it does NOT belong in the top ten. I swear some of my fellow UG users have horrible reading comprehension. Also, brothers in arms and born in the usa push appetite off the list because santana is listed as too many copies sold.
    not that I like Meatloaf, but anyone here who does should give thanks to Todd Rundgren. W/out him, the album would never have been made, and Loaf might not ever have gotten a record deal
    Iliekgitaz wrote: I'm really shocked Metallicas Black album is not on here.
    And now you can't sleep? Get over the fact that the black album just sold about 22 million, thus it doesn't belong to the top ten, maybe in a top 50 of rock it would be around.
    Iliekgitaz wrote: I'm really shocked Metallicas Black album is not on here.
    that was sellout album,at least AC/DC made bestseller in their style not in another
    There will never be a way to truly say "rock" or "metal" or "grunge" without recognizing that it is ALL rock. Some people even call it (gasp) pop.
    Amuro Jay
    lupinitic wrote: "1" from The Beatles sold more than 30 milions of copies
    I don't think compilation albums count
    I love how everyone is getting mad about album sales...these aren't opinions, these are facts. If your precious Black album isn't on here, then maybe you should look at the title of the article.
    amurrica wrote: People really don't understand 7/8. Money was very much not in 7/8. 7/4 =/= 7/8. toats different. 7/4 is counted like four...just with an added three beats in the measure. 7/8 involves some hard to write out counting that i feel is almost waltz two, one two, one two three. Anyways, most musicians end up writing songs in 7/4 because it's easier and more aligned with rock music and that's what the Floyd did.
    So here I ask the question: Do you know how to read a time signature? 7/8 isn't hard to write out, just irregular. It's just 7 beats per measure, where the eighth note gets the beat, and 7/4 is 7 notes per measure where the quarter note gets the beat. They are different, like you said, but by no means hard to write out, just irregular, and the only reason it seems irregular is because we are so accustomed to 4/4 and it's slight variants. When you think about it, 4/4 should be weird to us when we use a number system based around 10. We should be doing 10/10 because it's more natural to us, but because we don't, it seems weird. It's a matter of perspective really.
    Led Zeppelin IV should be moving up the list since its poked its head back into the Billboard Top this year after its 40th birthday making #166, a far cry from the four weeks it spent at #2 on its 1971 debut, but still pretty damn good!
    That can't even be remotely close...the eagles have had the highest grossing album (greatest hits 71-75) for years, going back and forth with Thriller. I have no idea where these stats came from but they are flat out wrong.
    Oh forgot to mention Money is in a 7/4 timing except for the solo which is in 4/4 this is even said by Gilmour in Guitar World in 1993. GW: Let's move on to Dark Side of the Moon. Where did the famous 7/4 time signature for "Money" come from? DG: It's Roger's riff. Roger came in with the verses and lyrics for "Money" more or less completed. And we just made up middle sections, guitar solos and all that stuff. We also invented some new riffs - we created a 4/4 progression for the guitar solo and made the poor saxophone player play in 7/4. It was my idea to break down and become dry and empty for the second chorus of the solo. ur93.htm
    7. Alanis Morissette "Jagged Little Pill" (1995) 33 million
    Well that's ironic, if you use the Alanis Morissette definition of ironic.
    arnolddrummer wrote: truiteleague wrote: Addzam wrote: They claimed "Money" to be written in 7/8... meh Money was in 7/4!!! It's pretty much the same thing, but in terms of the accents i think it is 7/4. and people who don't understand time signatures gtfo.
    If you knew anything of time signatures you would know that there is a fairly big difference between 7/4 and 7/8. 7/4 is 7 crotchet beats per bar. 7/8 is 7 quaver beats per bar.
    Yeah guys. Rock and metal are SO MUCH DIFFERENT that it's worth calling people out when they ask about The Black Album. Get a job
    catherineblake wrote: uhm....metallica anyone?? the black album?? master of puppets??
    Master of puppets only went 7 times platinum
    Gee Halen
    Wonder why SOAD's "Steal This Album" isn't on the list. There must be a reason for that. #trollingrulz
    The Exodius
    prelude222 wrote: catherineblake wrote: uhm....metallica anyone?? the black album?? master of puppets?? Once again, Metallica fans astonished that Master of Puppets isnt included on a Best Of list. First of all, it was Best Rock albums, not metal. Second, open your eyes people, the music world does not start and end with Metallica.
    Yes it does.
    crackerface wrote: it's funny how nothing from this century is in there : )
    thats because a shift in genre popularity happened in the 90s with hip hop. Eminem, and I believe a few other MCs have sold close to some of these artists. One things for sure, when the Marshall Mathers LP came out, it was so huge that even rock radio stations were playing it, no other genre in my opinion had that much cross over success. Just so you guys know, the Eagles have sold 42 million copies of "their greatest hits" making them alot bigger than most of these acts on this list... heres the wiki URL for proof:
    bonjidonk wrote: Why is Metallica's Black Album not on there? It might have something to do with the fact that 22 million is less than 28 million. If you want that album on there, go and buy 10 million copies of it!
    Give it ten more years and it will have outsold GNR at least. The Black album is still on the billboard top 200 I believe...
    this is one bad list... check Wikipedia for the real one, peeps!! About the list, I still can't believe ACDC has the best selling album EVER. Prob just shows how loyal their fans are, opposed to other bands. I do agree with the other person stating that if illegal downloads counted, this list would be filled with the most random and idiotic band names from the nillies
    Aerosmith are the best selling american rock band, surprised they're not on here
    Only one I own is Supernatural. Gotta get Appetite for Destruction still!
    I always assumed that The Eagles greatest hits was the highest selling album. Apparently sold more than Thriller, but I doubt that statement..
    thank god a top 10 list that doesn't include muse in 1st place. i guess that it this time it would be impossible for muse fanboys to jump to the stores to buy tons of albums
    lincjones wrote: arnolddrummer wrote: truiteleague wrote: Addzam wrote: They claimed "Money" to be written in 7/8... meh Money was in 7/4!!! It's pretty much the same thing, but in terms of the accents i think it is 7/4. and people who don't understand time signatures gtfo. If you knew anything of time signatures you would know that there is a fairly big difference between 7/4 and 7/8. 7/4 is 7 crotchet beats per bar. 7/8 is 7 quaver beats per bar.
    Yeah but technically, you can write money in 7/8 or 7/4 and make it fit. The general sound of a 7/4 would be different from the sound of a 7/8 because of where the accents are. Money sounds more like a 7/4.
    "If you disagree, make sure you sell more records than her before starting a war in the comments." wtf ug...