The pop music genre had its beginnings in the 1950s. For many years since then, it has included rock music, although the distinction has never been clear. Music critic Bill Lamb pointed to the confusion: “What is pop music? The definition of pop music is deliberately flexible. It accommodates the fact that the specific music identified as pop is continually changing.” Some distributors of music have made pop its own category. This includes the widely used Apple iTunes.
24/7 Tempo generated a weighted index using data from the Billboard 200 chart and record sales numbers from the Recording Industry Association of America to pick the best pop album of all time. (Well, the best since 1967, since that is the year Billboard began tracking the top 200 albums).
Iconic rock bands like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin had some of the earliest record-breaking album sales. To date, Led Zeppelin has put out five of the best pop albums we looked at, more than any other band or recording artist.
While six of the best pop albums we considered are from the 1960s, the three subsequent decades feature an increasing number. Mariah Carey dominated the ‘90s, releasing four of the best albums in a span of five years. Other artists who were dominant in the genre include Michael Jackson, Taylor Swift and The Beatles.
The best pop album of all time is 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
- Rolling Stone Greatest Albums rank: #12
Methodology: To determine the best pop album of all time, 24/7 Tempo created a custom score measuring an album’s performance on the Billboard 200 chart, covering albums released between 1967 (the chart’s first year) and Jan. 15, 2022. The score is based on a tally whereby a week at number 1 is worth 200 points, a week at number 2 is worth 199 points and so on, up to a week at number 200 worth 1 point.
To this was added each album’s total certified U.S. album sales from the Recording Industry Association of America, which tracks album sales in the American market with a threshold of 500,000 units. Both numbers were weighted equally. Only albums classified as pop, pop rock or pop rap and given a rating of at least 4 out of 5 on the music database AllMusic were included.
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