There are two basic ways to measure an artist’s popularity over time: by best-selling singles and by best-selling albums. The second is a better way to view an artist’s legacy. It is a large part of a body of work, which sometimes spreads over decades.
The first “microgroove long-playing phonographs” were introduced in 1948, according to Wired. Superstar Elvis Presley’s first album was released in 1958. By that time, albums had become a mainstay of how artists reached their public. Albums began to emerge in two genres: those made in a studio and live recordings of concerts.
The era of the album might be coming to an end, however. In this singles-heavy, streaming world, album sales are in decline. According to Billboard, the most recent year that they posted an increase in sales was 2011. In 2020, overall album sales across all formats were down by 9.2%. But there’s still a place for albums. Listening to a favorite song is one thing, but taking the time to take in a complete album from start to finish with no interruption offers a totally different experience.
To determine the best album of all time, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the rankings in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, published in September 2020. Considering only those albums, we developed an index based on Billboard chart performance and certified U.S. unit sales. An inverted ranking of an album’s performance on the Billboard 200 album charts (wherein a week at position number 200 is worth one point, a week at position number 199 two points and so on up to a week at position number 1 worth 200 points) was included in the index and given full weight. Certified U.S. unit sales in the United States came from the Recording Industry Association of America and were also given full weight.
The best album of all time was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Here are the details:
- Release date: December 30, 1982
- Peak position on Billboard 200: #1 (for 37 weeks)
- Total weeks on Billboard 200: 479
- Certified U.S. unit sales: 33 million