A Brief History
On November 30, 1982, Michael Jackson, known as “The King of Pop” for good reason, released his 6th solo album, the “monster” hit “Thriller.” Although actual sales numbers are hard to pin down, it is likely Thriller has sold between 1/3 and ¾ more copies than the next best-selling album. Today we list our nominees for the 10 Greatest Record Albums of All Time, based on sales, impact on the music industry and what we consider to be great music. (Hey, it’s our opinions, but feel free to nominate those albums you think should be on this list.) As it is hard enough to narrow down all the great albums to only 10, there is no significance to the order listed here.
1. Thriller, Michael Jackson, 1982.
Depending on the source, this fantastic work of art sold between 47.3 and 66 million copies. Best songs from the album include “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and “Thriller.” The video for “Thriller” is iconic, perhaps one of the greatest videos ever made. Weird Al Yankovic’s parody of “Beat It” (“Eat It”) is so good the Jackson estate should get royalties. Thriller was MJ at his thrilling best, and really put him on top of the music world. This was long before he became a public spectacle and suspected weirdo. Despite the commercial success of the album, several industry lists of “greatest albums” do not include Thriller in one of the top 10 slots.
2. Tapestry, Carole King, 1971.
By 1973 Tapestry had already become the best selling album of all time, and despite a brief dethroning (by The Sound of Music in 1975-1976) regained that title until Saturday Night Fever took it away in 1979. The album won 4 Grammys, including Album of the Year, and its best hit single, “It’s Too Late,” was a #1 hit for 5 weeks. Tapestry was one of those “must have” albums for any music connoisseur to own, not necessarily a subject of great passion, but accepted by seemingly everyone. Sales of 25 million copies bear this opinion out.
3. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf, 1977.
Perhaps the 5th best selling album of all time (as many as 43 million copies), Bat Out of Hell spawned a few attempts by Meat Loaf to regain the old magic, but the original was never matched by the later efforts. The Hard Rock/Progressive Rock motif of the album stood in stark contrast to the Disco music that was permeating the country (world?) at the time. The songs are pure genius, some of our favorites of all time. What is your favorite song from the album?
4. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles, 1967.
Winner of 4 Grammys, including Best Album (the first rock album to win that award), Sgt. Pepper set a new standard of musical art for the Beatles and redefined rock music. Between 13.1 and 33 million copies of the album were sold, making this one of the best selling Beatles albums (probably their best selling album), which considering the Beatles are the biggest band in history (sales, influence, intangibles), means this album is by definition something special. A fascinating aspect of this iconic album is that the Beatles recorded the record in the alter ego of a different band, certainly a groundbreaking idea. When the #1 rock band in the world goes in a new direction, people notice.
5. Saturday Night Fever, Bee Gees, et al, 1977.
Definitely the peak of the Disco era, the soundtrack from the movie by the same name defined the era. Some of the non-Bee Gees contributions such as “Disco Inferno” and “A Fifth of Beethoven” are not only Disco classics, but great fun songs as well. Even if you are not a Disco aficionado, you are almost certainly familiar with some of the big hits from the album, including “Stayin’ Alive,” “More Than a Woman,” “If I Can’t Have You,” and “Jive Talkin’.” Within 2 years of release, Saturday Night Fever became the biggest selling album of all time until eclipsed by Thriller in 1984. Spending 24 weeks atop the album charts and a total of 120 weeks on the Billboard Album charts make this album of great musical importance.
6. Days of Future Passed, The Moody Blues, 1967.
Rock music was due for a transition (see Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) in 1967, and the Moody Blues certainly supplied something different with a theme oriented album, sort of an original rock opera. Featuring the eternal hits, “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Nights in White Satin,” this album became another one of those must have staples in every music lover’s collection. With psychedelic music that made the first transition to progressive rock, Days became a watershed album of major importance. The use of orchestral music as an integral part of the album was another innovation at the time.
7. Appetite for Destruction, Guns N’ Roses, 1987.
The debut album by these hard rock/heavy metal rockers with a glint of glam thrown in (perhaps punk, too?), took the music world by storm, topping the Billboard charts in the US and selling about 30 million copies. Hit songs “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Paradise City” and “Welcome to the Jungle” let the listener know a new and exciting brand of music is out there, decidedly rougher and tougher than the mainstream rock/pop music on the radio and at the Grammy Awards.
8. The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd, 1973.
How about sales of 45 million copies and 741 weeks (into 1988) on the charts for credentials? Often ranked near the top on various “best albums of all time” lists, the album features softer music than some of the other albums on the list, but delves into deep subjects, such as mental illness. The technical engineering, provided by Alan Parsons, is likewise groundbreaking, creating a deep, multi-textured tone, complex but not confusing. Although the concept of quadrophonic sound was explored as early as 1954, it was not until the 1970’s when a serious effort was made to harness the “surround sound” effect of quadrophonic, notably on Dark Side and Quadrophenia by the Who. The album launched the career of Alan Parsons and made big time stars of Pink Floyd. “Money,” “Time,” and “Us and Them” are some favorite tracks from the album.
9. Tommy, The Who, 1969. A
lthough not the first album (in this case, a double album) considered a “rock opera,” Tommy certainly is the first major hit album of the rock opera genre. Written by Pete Townshend, the idea of a rock opera is to have a series of related songs tell a story (like an opera!). The title character of Tommy is a “deaf, dumb, and blind kid,” and his trials and relationships are the story. The album spawned a major rock motion picture (1975), a major Broadway musical and a production by the Seattle Opera (1971). The album sold 20 million copies and is largely considered an important work of rock history. The biggest single from the album, “Pinball Wizard,” was a hit for The Who and also for Elton John. (The movie featured stars such as Roger Daltrey, Jack Nicholson, Ann-Margaret, Oliver Reed, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Elton John and Arthur Brown.)
10. Sugarhill Gang, Sugarhill Gang, 1980.
Whether you are a Rap fan or not (honestly, I’m not), you cannot deny the major importance of this genre to modern music, and the first rap single to make it to mainstream charts was “Rapper’s Delight” by the The Sugarhill Gang on their self-titled album. This album was not the incredible commercial success that the other albums listed here were, but its influence is perhaps as great or greater than any of the other albums. Although popularly believed to be a “Black” musical genre, estimates of 60 to 80% of the rap (or “hip hop”) audience is White. White rappers such as Eminem and the Beastie Boys have enjoyed great success. Although sales of rap music are in a decline, the genre is still a major part of the music scene and you can thank The Sugarhill Gang for putting it there.
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