While the popularity of listening to entire albums straight through has waned in recent years, musicians continue to release music in this format. Certain artists’ albums are exceptionally popular among listeners, selling millions of copies in an age when many fans prefer to stream their music one single at a time.
Listeners’ favorite albums have changed dramatically since the LP (long-playing) format gained popularity in the 1950s. Soundtracks for movies and plays were initially hugely fashionable. The 1960s ushered in the era of what we now consider classic rock, which eventually gave way to pop music by artists such as Michael Jackson. Today’s top albums come from musicians such as Taylor Swift, Adele, and Kendrick Lamar.
24/7 Tempo reviewed Billboard’s Year-End Top Album charts to find the most popular album for each year starting in 1956, when Billboard began tracking the top 200 albums. These rankings are primarily based on physical album sales but include streaming and downloads starting in 2014.
As music tastes have changed, so have the ways that people consume it. Music industry revenue is in the doldrums due to widespread abandonment of physical media — even as music consumption, because of digital platforms, has never been higher.
But there is a bright spot for physical media. Sales of vinyl records are poised to top revenue from CDs for the first time since 1986. Data from the Recording Industry Association of America’s mid-year report shows that sales of vinyl totaled $224.1 million in the first half of 2019, up 12.9% from the same period of a year ago. Sales of CDs totaled $247.9 million, up less than 1%.
A big part of the vinyl comeback is the resurgence in interest in groups such as Queen, which was boosted by the Oscar-winning film “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Other groups enjoying a rebound are Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, and the Beatles, all of whom recorded some of the most popular albums ever. Here are the 100 best albums of all time.
In 1999 – the top-grossing year for the music industry – Backstreet Boys’ album “Millennium” was the most popular record of the year, going 11x Multi-Platinum, meaning 11 million copies of the record were distributed by its label. It has since been certified 13x Platinum.
Artists have reached similar heights since, such as the most popular album of 2016 – Adele’s “25” – which shipped 10 million copies that year and an additional 1 million units since. Speaking of Adele, the British singer has won the Grammy for Song of the Year twice. Here is every Song of the Year since the Grammys started.
To find the most popular album for each year starting in 1956, 24/7 Tempo reviewed Billboard’s Year-End Top Billboard 200 Albums charts. Billboard’s album rankings are based on Nielsen SoundScan sales data and identify each “year’s most popular albums across all genres, ranked by album sales as well as audio on-demand streaming activity and digital sales of tracks from albums.”
Certified U.S. sales refers to certified units as reported by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). These figures reflect albums distributed to retail stores and consumers in the United States, minus returns, as well as digital downloads and streaming.