In a time when streaming services dominate the music industry and singles and individual plays drive the business, some might consider albums to be a dying art form.
Since the emergence of Napster in 1999, music lovers have had the choice to download only their favorite individual tracks without hearing another song from the album. It wasn’t long ago, however, that full album sales were the engine that powered the music industry. As recently as the mid-1990s, physical album sales topped over $20 billion annually in the United States.
While some critics cite this single-driven model as the downfall of critical listening, full-length releases are alive and well outside of mainstream pop. In fact, this year’s Record Store Day event helped push the industry to its third highest vinyl record sales week since 1991. So while pop mega-stars may live and die by singles, it’s clear that music fans still crave the immersive experience that only a full-length album can offer. For those who prefer singles, these are the best songs in history.
Though music fans often agree on which albums they prefer, we may never find a truly acceptable metric for what constitutes a great album. Today’s music industry is more diverse than ever as artists use the internet to meld genres and cross boundaries. Listeners have also developed more expansive tastes since access to music has become easier. As the old adage says, there’s no accounting for taste and what stands as a collection of truly great songs to one listener may be unlistenable to another. The few undeniable measures of greatness we have for albums are albums sales and chart success.
To find the 100 best albums of all time, 24/7 Tempo ranked albums based primarily on commercial success. Unlike some critics’ lists, we’ve left our opinions out of it and ranked these albums on sales figures, public reach, and fan appreciation. Our list includes albums by artists like The Beatles, who achieved critical acclaim, as well as by some that took the music world by storm without gaining much love from industry tastemakers. These are 50 fascinating facts about the Beatles.
To determine the best albums of all time, 24/7 Tempo generated an index based on an album’s rankings on the Billboard 200 chart, lifetime album sales, and user ratings on Ranker.com’s “The Greatest Albums of All Time.”
A band’s total certified U.S. album sales came from the Recording Industry Association of America. The RIAA tracks album sales released in the U.S. market with a threshold of 500,000 units sold. How well an album performed on the Billboard 200 was determined by awarding points based on the number of weeks it was on the list and its rank for each week.
To be included, an album was required to have a rating of at least 4 out of 5 from both users as well as critics on the music website AllMusic.