You’ll Never Guess The UK’s Biggest Selling Album Of All Time

top-10-uk-albums-all-timeThe Official Album Chart of the UK celebrated its 60th anniversary this week by releasing a list of the best-selling albums of all time. Topping the chart was a surprise to me, 1981’s Queen’s Greatest Hits.

Queen guitarist Brian May was quoted by the Official Chart people as saying “what a great bit of news to wake up to! The most popular album? Well, I always thought the band showed promise, but this is beyond our boyhood dreams! Thanks folks!”

May might have been just as surprised as everyone else, but then again, best-seller lists are notoriously strange beasts. Obviously they’re a measure of popularity, but there’s more to it than that. Not even Brian May, I don’t think, would argue that Queen’s Greatest Hits was the UK’s most beloved album of all time.

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Sometimes stratospheric sales figures reflect those lightning-in-a-bottle albums that managed to catch a wave of affection at precisely the right time. Maybe they captured the zeitgeist of the moment, or maybe everything just went perfectly with their marketing and promotion. Whatever the case, these best-sellers lists always tend to include a few outliers that leave you scratching your head in wonder.

Here is the top 20 of the UK’s official 60 biggest selling albums of all time:

            TITLE                                                                       ARTIST

1          GREATEST HITS                                                        QUEEN
2          GOLD – GREATEST HITS                                           ABBA
4          21                                                                            ADELE
5          WHAT’S THE STORY MORNING GLORY                       OASIS
6          THRILLER                                                                  MICHAEL JACKSON
7          THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON                                  PINK FLOYD
8          BROTHERS IN ARMS                                                   DIRE STRAITS
9          BAD                                                                           MICHAEL JACKSON
10        GREATEST HITS II                                                       QUEEN
11        RUMOURS                                                                  FLEETWOOD MAC
12        THE IMMACULATE COLLECTION                                 MADONNA
13        BACK TO BLACK                                                        AMY WINEHOUSE
14        STARS                                                                       SIMPLY RED
15        COME ON OVER                                                         SHANIA TWAIN
16        LEGEND                                                                     BOB MARLEY
17        BACK TO BEDLAM                                                      JAMES BLUNT
18        URBAN HYMNS                                                           VERVE
19        BAT OUT OF HELL                                                      MEAT LOAF
20        1                                                                                BEATLES

Although there are several all-time great albums on the list, there are a couple that don’t belong anywhere near the words “all time great”. And yet, there they are, beneficiaries of circumstance as much as anything else – they were the right album released at the right time.

It’s fun to compare this list with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)’s list of top selling albums of all time in the U.S:

             TITLE                                                                         ARTIST

1          THRILLER                                                                   MICHAEL JACKSON
2          GREATEST HITS 1971-1975                                        EAGLES
3          GREATEST HITS                                                          BILLY JOEL
4          IV                                                                               LED ZEPPELIN
5          THE WALL                                                                  PINK FLOYD
6          BACK IN BLACK                                                          AC/DC
7          DOUBLE LIVE                                                              GARTH BROOKS
8          RUMOURS                                                                  FLEETWOOD MAC
9          COME ON OVER                                                         SHANIA TWAIN
10       THE BEATLES                                                              THE BEATLES
11       APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION                                      GUNS N’ ROSES
12       BOSTON                                                                     BOSTON
13       GREATEST HITS                                                          ELTON JOHN
14       NO FENCES                                                                GARTH BROOKS
15       1967-1970                                                               THE BEATLES
16       THE BODYGUARD SOUNDTRACK                                WHITNEY HOUSTON
17       JAGGED LITTLE PILL                                                   ALANIS MORRISETTE
18       HOTEL CALIFORNIA                                                   EAGLES
19       CRACKED REAR VIEW                                                 HOOTIE/BLOWFISH
20       PHYSICAL GRAFFITI                                                   LED ZEPPELIN

Interestingly, only three albums are on both lists, Rumours, Thriller, and Shania Twain’s Come On Over. I am fascinated that the White Album is the best-selling Beatles album in the U.S., while Sgt. Pepper takes the crown in the UK. And it amazes me that two Led Zeppelin albums make the Top 20 list in the U.S. but not in the UK, and that no Queen album even reaches the Top 100 in the U.S.

I guess the point is that there are so many variables that determine whether an album will sell big or not, and that your cultural reference point may be one of the biggest variables of them all. In any case, congrats to Queen for such noteworthy recognition, such as it is.

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