When people think about the top-selling bands of all time, they often pick the Beatles. Indeed, with 290 million records sold worldwide, the Beatles are at the top of many lists. Not surprisingly, the artist with the most No. 1 hits is the Beatles.
In terms of solo artists, many people would guess Elvis Presley. That is right. Elvis, long gone now, has sold nearly 1.5 billion records. It’s harder to determine Elvis’s No. 1 hits as part of his career predated many benchmarks. Oddly, that means that the top-selling music artists had careers that ended decades ago. Amazing or not, it is true.
There is more than one way to rank music artists. One popular way is using No. 1 hits. The often used benchmark is the Billboard Hot 100. Billboard has measured record sales for years. For a band or solo artist, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts can be a dream come true. (Here are the most popular hit singles of the 21st century.)
The top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 is more than just a listing of who’s selling the most records at any given time. It’s a reflection of the era, a glimpse into where popular culture stood in certain years, and a time capsule of sorts into the history of popular music. To have five or more songs hit No. 1 means that an artist has truly staked his, her, or their claim in music and pop culture history.
The top 40 artists on this list certainly left their mark, with at least five No. 1 hits. The four lads from Liverpool known as the Beatles had an astonishing 20 No. 1 hit singles during their six-year tenure, and it’s fair to say that they flat-out changed the world during that time.
Their hits spent 59 weeks at No. 1. The first chart-topper was “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (Feb. 1, 1964), and the last was “The Long And Winding Road/For You Blue” (June 20, 1970).
Tracking their chart-toppers reveals an almost supernatural transformation from bubble gum pop (“I Want to Hold Your Hand”) to flower-power psychedelia (“All You Need is Love”) to world-weary maturity (“Let It Be”). Along the way, they did more than anyone else to shape the pop culture of the 1960s with timeless classics like “Help!” “Yesterday,” and “Hey Jude.”
John, Paul, George, and Ringo all went on to have successful solo careers after the band’s tumultuous 1970 breakup, but for those six magical years there was nothing else quite like the Beatles, and there most likely never will be again.
Believe it or not, Bruce Springsteen, Backstreet Boys, Nirvana, and Bob Dylan are among those who have never had the honor of reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. They did, however, have top-selling records. These are the artists with the most hit albums.
To determine the artist with the most No. 1 hits, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on the Billboard Hot 100 going back to August 1958, when the chart debuted. In cases where artists had the same number of top hits, the one who spent more overall weeks in the No. 1 position was given the higher rank. (Note that some of Elvis Presley’s career predates the first Hot 100 chart, meaning that such hits as “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and “Jailhouse Rock” are not included in Presley’s tally.)
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