Top 20 Bestselling Pop Recording Artists of All Time

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20. U2

U2. Photo by Terry McGinnis / WireImage

Any list of this type is based on the best available information. These artists are ranked based on certified album sales combined with a track equivalent allocation of best numbers available for singles sales. For more on certified sales figures consult the RIAA.

Irish rock band U2 did not immediately take off in the pop mainstream. With the release of their 1980 debut album Boy, the group was lumped together with a range of British and Irish post-punk bands. The album climbed to #63 with strong critical acclaim. It was the third album War, released in 1983, which turned the group into international rock stars.  It included the powerful top 10 UK pop hit single "New Year's Day." By 1987 and the fifth studio album The Joshua Tree and the #1 pop hit single "With Or Without You," the world belonged to U2. Still going strong the group have album sales in the US in excess of 50 million.

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19. Van Halen

Van Halen
Van Halen. Photo by Fin Costello / Redferns

Not many groups survive the exit of a flamboyant front man and then release four consecutive #1 hit albums, but few groups have the staying power of Van Halen. The rock group have released 11 consecutive top 10 charting albums including the most recent 2012 album A Different Kind of Truth recorded after reuniting with original front man David Lee Roth. The group reached their pop chart peak with 1984's #1 pop hit single "Jump." The group have sold more than 55 million albums in the US.

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18. Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston. Photo by Mick Hutson / Redferns

Clive Davis knew Whitney Houston was something special when he met her. After signing her to his label Arista in 1983, she released one of the bestselling debut albums of all time. She then followed it with a second album selling nearly as well as the first. They included seven consecutive #1 pop hit singles. However, she wasn't finished yet. Her biggest hit single "I Will Always Love You" came in 1992 and spent 14 weeks at #1 on the way to winning two Grammy Awards. Whitney Houston tragically passed away in 2012, but not before selling more than 50 million albums and releasing 11 platinum certified singles.

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17. Metallica

Metallica. Photo by Fin Costello / Redferns

Heavy metal band Metallica was formed in Los Angeles in 1981 when guitarist James Hetfield responded to an ad placed by drummer Lars Ulrich. The group's 1983 first album Kill 'Em All broke into the album charts, but it was the 1986 Master of Puppets that was the group's breakthrough. With the song "One" released in 1989, Metallica broke into the top 40 of the pop singles chart and hit the charts with four consecutive songs includiing the #16 charting platinum single "Enter Sandman." The group have topped the album chart with their last five studio albums and have racked up album sales that exceed 60 million.

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16. Aerosmith

Aerosmith. Photo by Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic

Rock band Aerosmith did well with their first round of stardom in the 1970s. They released six consecutive platinum certified albums and the rock classic singles "Dream On" and "Walk This Way." However, it was their comeback in the late 1980s that turned them into rock legends. With four consecutive multi-platinum studio releases, the group became pop stars as well. The 1998 single "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing" debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for four weeks. Aerosmith have sold more than 65 million albums.

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15. Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey. Photo by Kevin Mazur / WireImage

Mariah Carey's 1990 self-titled debut album is one of the top selling debuts ever. Just after 2000, her career ran into a significant slowdown, but then in 2005 Mariah Carey staged one of the biggest pop comebacks of all time with her album . It included the single "We Belong Together" which spent a phenomenal 14 weeks at the top of the charts. All told, Mariah Carey has topped the pop singles chart 18 times, more than any artist but the Beatles. She has sold more than 60 million albums.

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14. Rolling Stones

Rolling Stones
Rolling Stones. Photo by David Redfern / Redferns

At first they seemed like just another British Invasion band following in the wake of the Beatles, however, by the early 1970s the Rolling Stones had earned the title of the "World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band." With impressive consistency the band have placed 36 albums in the top 10 including every studio album dating back to their first in 1964. In addition they have reached the top 10 on the pop singles chart 22 times. The group is still going strong more than 50 years after first coming together. The Rolling Stones have sold more than 65 million albums.

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13. Madonna

Madonna. Photo by Georges de Keerle / Hulton Archive

When Madonna first hit the pop singles chart in 1983 with "Holiday," few observers would have expected she was on the way to becoming one of the top pop artists of all time. She owns the record for the most top 10 pop hit singles of any artist with 38. All 13 of her studio albums have reached the chart top 10. Eight of them went all the way to #1. Madonna's career continues to run strong with her 2015 album . Madonna has sold approximately 65 million albums.

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12. George Strait

George Strait
George Strait. Photo by Pam Francis / Hulton Archive

Although he has never crossed over to the pop charts in a major way, country star George Strait has a phenomenal record within his genre. He is the only artist in any genre to have at least one single hit the top 10 in 30 consecutive years. He also owns 44 #1 hits on the country singles chart, more than any other artist.  He has topped the country album chart 25 times. Five of those have topped the overall album chart. George Strait's most successful single on the Billboard Hot 100 is 2002's "She'll Leave You With a Smile" which climbed to #23. George Strait has sold nearly 70 million albums.

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11. AC/DC

AC/DC. Photo by Fin Costello / Redferns

Australian rockers AC/DC were just beginning to erupt into the rock mainstream in 1980 when their lead vocalist Bon Scott passed away. After the band considered breaking up, Brian Johnson was hired to front the band, and the group took off like never before. Their next album Back In Black broke into the album chart top 10 and spun off the group's first top 40 pop hit single "You Shook Me All Night Long." Ultimately the album sold more than 20 million copies. AC/DC continue strong hitting the top 5 with the November 2014 album Rock Or Bust. AC/DC have sold a total of more than 70 million albums.

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10. Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Rock band Pink Floyd own the longest charting album of all time. Even accounting for years in which Billboard deemed it ineligible for placement on the official album chart, The Dark Side of the Moon has spent more than 880 weeks on the chart. Certified sales for the collection are in excess of 15 million. However, it is not Pink Floyd's only success. Eight consecutive albums beginning with 1973' s The Dark Side Of the Moon have topped the album chart. Four of those went to #1. Pink Floyd also stormed the pop singles chart with the 1979 #1 pop hit single "Another Brick In the Wall, Part Two." Pink Floyd have sold more than 75 million albums in total. 

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9. Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand. Photo by Max B. Miller / Getty Images

Barbra Streisand ranks as the bestelling female solo recording artist of all time. She is the only recording artist ever to reach #1 on the album chart in each of six consecutive decades. Her most recent #1 album was 2014's Partners. Despite recording much of her material outside the pop mainstream, Barbra Streisand has topped the pop singles chart five times. She ranks as one of the most successful artists of all time on the adult contemporary chart. Barbra Streisand has sold more than 70 million albums.

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8. Elton John

Elton John
Elton John. Photo by David Redfern / Redferns

Elton John has reached the pop top 40 more than 50 times. For 31 consecutive years he placed at least one single on the Billboard Hot 100. His single "Candle In the Wind 1997" ranks as the bestselling single ever. It sold more than 33 million copies worldwide. He is the winner of Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, and a Tony Award. Beginning in 1972 with Honky Chateau, Elton John topped the album chart with seven consecutive releases. His 195 album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy became the first album to debut at the top of the album chart in the US. Elton John has sold nearly 75 million albums.

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7. Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson. Photo by Frank Edwards / Getty Images

Michael Jackson was part of one of the most successful family acts the Jackson 5. However, he saved his greatest success for his years as a solo artist. Michael Jackson's 1982 album Thriller ranks as one of the two bestselling albums of all time in the US selling nearly 30 million copies. His next three albums Bad, Dangerous, and HIStory were nearly as successful. Bad is one of only two albums to generate five consecutive #1 pop hit singles. Michael Jackson passed away in 2009, and his sales took off once again as fans around the world mourned. Michael Jackson has sold more than 75 million albums.

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6. Billy Joel

Billy Joel
Billy Joel. Photo by Mick Hutson / Redferns

Although he ended recording of any new pop material in 1993, Billy Joel remains one of the most popular singer-songwriters of all time. His two disc greatest hits collection is one of the bestselling albums of all time certified with a double diamond status. Billy Joel reached the top 10 on the pop singles chart with 13 singles. Eight consecutive studio albums from 1977's The Stranger through 1993's The River of Dreams hit the top 10 on the album chart and all have been certified multi-platinum. Billy Joel has sold more than 80 million albums.

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5. Eagles

Eagles. Photo by RB / Redferns

The Eagles 1976 greatest hits album ranks alongside Michael Jackson's Thriller as one of the two bestselling albums ever in the US selling nearly 30 million copies. The group released three consecutive #1 studio albums in the late 1970s and scored six consecutive top 10 pop hit singles. However, they went their separate ways at the end of the decade and did not record anything new until Hell Freezes Over 15 years later. In popularity, it took off where the group left off and sold more than nine million copies. The group's latest studio album, 2007's Long Road Out of Eden, has sold more than seven million copies. The Eagles have sold a total of more than 100 million albums.

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4. Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin. Photo by Chris Walter / WireImage

Only they only released nine studio albums, rock band Led Zeppelin are legendary. All of their studio releases from the 1969 self-titled debut through 1982's Coda reached the top 10 on the album chart and have been certified platinum for sales. Six of those reached #1. Led Zeppelin IV, which includes the song "Stairway To Heaven," has sold more than 20 million copies. Led Zeppelin rarely released singles, but 1969's "Whole Lotta Love" stormed to #4 on the pop chart and four more singles charted inside the top 25. The group's legendary live reputation has been well documented with three more top 10 charting albums. Although the group officially disbanded in 1980 with the death of John Bonham, Led Zeppelin reached the top 10 on the album chart as recently as 2012 with the reunion concert film soundtrack Celebration Day. Led Zeppelin have sold a total of more than 110 million albums. 

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3. Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks. Photo by James Schnepf / Hulton Archive

Garth Brooks is the bestselling country artist of all time. He topped the country album chart with his second release, 1990's No Fences, and eight consecutive studio albums have gone to #1. Five of those have topped the overall album chart. Four of those studio albums have received diamond certifications for sales in excess of 10 million. Garth Brooks has topped the country singles chart 19 times. Garth Brooks' most successful pop hit single is the top 5 charting "Lost In You" recorded under the pseudonym Chris Gaines. Garth Brooks has sold more than 130 million albums.

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2. Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

With his career beginning in the 1950s, Elvis Presley's sales totals are difficult to total up, particularly his singles sales. However, he clearly ranks as second only to the Beatles in overall sales. After a series of three top 10 charting country hits, Elvis Presley stormed the pop chart with his 1956 #1 hit "Heartbreak Hotel." It helped revolutionize popular music in the US making rock 'n' roll the predominant genre. He had an even bigger hit later that year with the double A side "Don't Be Cruel" and "Hound Dog." By the time of his death in 1977, Elvis Presley had reached the Billboard Hot 100 148 times. He first topped the album chart in 1956 with a self-titled release. Elvis Presley topped the album chart eight more times. The official RIAA certification for more than 130 million albums is likely an underestimate.

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1. Beatles

'The Beatles' perform during rehearsals for their appearance on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' on February 9, 1964 in New York City. Michael Ochs Archives/ Getty Images

Although only together as a group for a decade, the Beatles revolutionized popular music worldwide. Few would argue with a statement that they are the most influential pop group of all time. Between 1964 and 1970, the Beatles released 14 #1 hit studio albums. They also released 20 #1 pop hit singles which is an all-time record. Repackaging and remastering of the group's past material continues to generate impressive sales. The 2000 collection of #1 hits simply titled 1 has sold more than eight million copies. Due to royalty disputes, Beatles music was not released for digital download until 2010. The Beatles have sold more than 175 million albums.

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Your Citation
Lamb, Bill. "Top 20 Bestselling Pop Recording Artists of All Time." ThoughtCo, Aug. 22, 2016, Lamb, Bill. (2016, August 22). Top 20 Bestselling Pop Recording Artists of All Time. Retrieved from Lamb, Bill. "Top 20 Bestselling Pop Recording Artists of All Time." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 24, 2017).