5. Led Zeppelin
> Certified units: 112 million
> Most popular album: Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Hard rock with influences from British folk music and American blues characterized this highly influential quartet of virtuoso musicians — former Yardbirds guitarist Jimmy Page, multiinstrumentalist John Paul Jones, singer Robert Plant, and drummer John Bonham. Tracks of theirs like “Whole Lotta Love,” “Ramble On,” and “Good Times Bad Times” became FM radio standards. Their most famous song, “Stairway to Heaven,” which appears on “Led Zeppelin IV,” has arguably the best-known guitar intro in rock. Spurred by the popularity of “Stairway,” the album sold more than 37 million copies. The band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. Independently, Jimmy Page was also inducted in 1992 as a member of The Yardbirds.
> Certified units: 120 million
> Most popular album: Eagles/Their Greatest Hits 1971 – 1975 (1976)
One of the most successful American bands of the 1970s, this L.A.-based ensemble, going strong today after a couple of hiatuses, had No. 1 hits with “Best of My Love,” “One of These Nights,” “Tequila Sunrise,” and “Already Gone,” (all on their 1975 greatest hits offering), as well as such classics as “New Kid in Town,” “Hotel California,” and “Heartache Tonight.” Along the way they picked up six Grammys and five American Music Awards — and in 1999, the Recording Industry Association of America certified their 1976 greatest hits album as the Best-Selling Album of the Century. In 1998, they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
3. Elvis Presley
> Certified units: 139 million
> Most popular album: Elvis’ Christmas Album (1970)
Fans of “The King” — and who isn’t? — might be surprised to learn that his best-selling album was the 1970 release “Elvis’ Christmas Album” (at more than 20 million copies, it is also the best-selling Christmas album of all time by any artist). Of course what this legendary performer is best known for isn’t “Here Comes Santa Claus” or “Silent Night” but such iconic rockers as “Heartbreak Hotel,” “All Shook Up,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” Also a prolific actor and a larger-than-life personality reflected in virtually every area of popular culture, Elvis was a member of the first class of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees, in 1986.
2. Garth Brooks
> Certified units: 157 million
> Most popular album: Double Live (1998)
Country singer Garth Brooks has sold more records than almost anyone, in any genre — more than Eagles, Led Zeppelin, even Elvis. He is also the only recording artist in history to have won Diamond status (sometimes by many multiples) for nine of his albums — including “Double Live,” recorded during a 1996-1998 world tour. It includes versions of such Brooks standards as “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up),” “Standing Outside the Fire,” “Friends in Low Places,” and “American Honky-Tonk Bar Association.”
1. The Beatles
> Certified units: 183 million
> Most popular album: The Beatles (1968)
What is there to say about The Beatles, other than that their musical and cultural influence is incalculable and that they all but defined popular music in the 1960s? Considered by many to be one of the most original — and best — albums of all time, the two-disc set called simply “The Beatles” (known popularly as “the White Album” for its blank white cover), recorded the year before the band broke up, contains songs in many styles and moods. These range from the hard rock parody “Back in the U.S.S.R.” to the lyrical “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” to the novelty song “Rocky Raccoon” and the experimental “Revolution 9.” (“Hey Jude” isn’t on the album, but was recorded in the same sessions and released as a single a few months before the album came out.) It seems almost anticlimactic to note that The Beatles were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.