8 February

Given their implicit acceptance of the notion that those included in a list are winners, and that the entity ranked no. 1 in the list is the winningest of the winners, the ultimate list to which all creators of music-album rankings defer is that of the highest-selling albums. No matter how many users submit their own lists at Best Ever Albums, Album of the Year, and similar sites, no list will ever have the input of such a large number of individuals as sales charts do. Indeed, critics' list are both compared to the list of highest-selling albums in any given nation, and at times informed by a goal of making the list different from those charts. So any overview of critics' "best of" lists needs to keep in mind the "blockbuster" albums that have such a strong effect on listeners and musicians, especially when they are young and haven't been exposed to a broad array of music.

A problem arises, though, when we consider how long to make any list of the top-selling albums. It could go on forever, right down to self-released C D R's that have sold no copies or digital downloads with no downloaders. Even using a numerical determinant, such as one-million copies sold, is not as exact as one would like: the tabulations of sales has always been a source of controversy, especially before the launch of Sound Scan. The R I A A's official site provides of list of all albums that have been certified platinum five times (Top 100 Certified Albums, though the list is far greater than 100). In Britain, the Official Charts Company provides a list of The Official Top 40 Biggest Selling Albums of All-Time. Outside the U S and U K, sales have not been as consistently measured--nor would such lists be of significance to the history of popular music beyond a few nations like Germany (West Germany) and Japan, though hopefully they will be in the future.

In the Rock era at least, most of the albums that sold well were also good, though obviously not the best according to most standards, such is the relatively-objective nature of sales charts (though I suppose a populist could decide that the highest-selling albums are, by definition, the best). Following a transition era of 1985-1994, where an increasing number of the best-selling albums were either more obviously non-Rock in instrumentation and production, or blatantly-derivative and non-creative Rock music, mainstream music went to shit. The confounding success of the American Idol television program has only confirmed this--indeed, the participants unwittingly mock the very idea of popular music having any artistic value. Despite occasional great singles (Martin Solveig and Dragonette's 'Hello', Jeremih's 'Birthday Sex', Gorillaz's 'Dirty Harry', Usher's 'Yeah!', and this past year the two stand-out tracks on Frank Ocean's Channel Orange: 'Thinkin About You' and 'Bad Religion') the hit parade, especially the album charts, tends to be one disaster after another. In the list below, albums released from 1995 on have been crossed out, while those released 1985-1994 are put in brackets.

Since the "best of" lists done by magazines, writers, radio stations, etc., tend not to include compilations, or at least not generic "greatest hits" albums, a comparison between the best-selling lists, with compilations removed, and critics' lists is helpful (especially as the U K list includes three compilations in the top ten, the U S only one). I've also excluded movie-related albums, at least insofar as they are compilations, which they nearly always are (even if they emphasize a single artist, such as with Saturday Night Fever or The Bodyguard) the major exception being Prince's Purple Rain.

U S (The top 73, selling more than ten million copies):
Thriller - Michael Jackson
Led Zeppelin [IV] - Led Zeppelin
Back in Black - A C/ D C
Come On Over - Shania Twain
Rumours - Fleetwood Mac
[Appetite for Destruction - Guns n' Roses]
Boston - Boston
[No Fences - Garth Brooks]
Jagged Little Pill - Alanis Morissette
[Cracked Rear View - Hootie and the Blowfish]
[Metallica - Metallica]
Hotel California - The Eagles
The Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd
Santana - Supernatural
Born in the U S A - Bruce Springsteen
The Backstreet Boys - The Backstreet Boys
[Ropin' the Wind - Garth Brooks]
...Baby One More Time - Britney Spears
Bat Out of Hell - Meat Loaf
[Ten - Pearl Jam]
[Whitney Houston - Whitney Houston]
Millennium - The Backstreet Boys
Purple Rain - Prince and the Revolution
[Breathless - Kenny G]
[Hysteria - Def Leppard]
[Slippery When Wet - Bon Jovi]
[No Jacket Required - Phil Collins]
Wide Open Spaces - The Dixie Chicks
[II - Boyz II Men]
Led Zeppelin II - Led Zeppelin
The Woman in Me - Shania Twain
Yourself or Someone Like You - Matchbox 20
Pieces of You - Jewel
Abbey Road - The Beatles
Houses of the Holy - Led Zeppelin 
The Wall - Pink Floyd
[CrazySexyCool - T L C] 
No Strings Attached - 'N Sync 
Falling Into You - Céline Dion
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles
Human Clay - Creed
Devil Without a Cause - Kid Rock

[Double Live - Garth Brooks]
Tapestry - Carole King
Come Away With Me - Norah Jones 
The Stranger - Billy Joel
Let's Talk About Love -  Céline Dion
[Unplugged - Eric Clapton]
[Dookie - Green Day]
[Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em - M C Hammer]
21 - Adele
Oops!...I Did It Again - Britney Spears

The Marshall Mathers L P - Eminem
Led Zeppelin
Hybrid Theory - Linkin Park 
Like a Virgin - Madonna
Pyromania - Def Leppard
Fly - The Dixie Chicks
The Eminem Show - Eminem
1984 (MCMLXXXIV) - Van Halen
[Garth Brooks - Garth Brooks]
Confessions - Usher
Van Halen - Van Halen

Sevens - Garth Brooks 
Tragic Kingdom - No Doubt
Can't Slow Down - Lionel Richie
[Nevermind - Nirvana]
Elvis' Christmas Album - Elvis Presley
[The Joshua Tree - U 2]
Eliminator - Z Z Top

[Faith - George Michael]
Daydream - Mariah Carey
[Music Box - Mariah Carey]

'N Sync - 'N Sync

Two of these albums--The Wall - Pink Floyd and Double Live - Garth Brooks--are officially higher on the list than placed here, but only because of confusing R I A A rules that sometimes, but not always, count a release twice if it's a double album. The Beatles - The Beatles; Physical Graffiti - Led Zeppelin; Life After Death - The Notorious B I G; Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below - OutKast; Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness - The Smashing Pumpkins; Up! - Shania Twain; and Songs in the Key of Life - Stevie Wonder are generally included on the list of ten-million sellers for the same reason. So are Bruce Springsteen's Live/ 1975-85 and the 1990 Led Zeppelin boxed set because the R I A A will count boxed sets multiple times depending upon the number of discs or tapes. This rule has justly been subject to criticism. It should be ignored.

U K:
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles
(What's the Story) Morning Glory? - Oasis
Thriller - Michael Jackson
21 - Adele
[Brothers in Arms - Dire Straits]
The Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd
[Bad - Michael Jackson]
Back to Black - Amy Winehouse
[Stars - Simply Red]
Rumours - Fleetwood Mac
Come On Over - Shania Twain
Back to Bedlam - James Blunt
Urban Hymns - The Verve
Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon and Garfunkel
No Angel - Dido
Spirit - Leona Lewis
Bat Out of Hell - Meat Loaf
Talk on Corners - The Corrs
White Ladder - David Gray
Spice - The Spice Girls