List of best-selling albums by year in the United States

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This is a list of the best-selling albums by year in the United States. Billboard magazine began publishing year-end lists for album sales in 1956. Until 1991, the Billboard album chart was based on a survey of representative retail outlets that determined a ranking, not a tally of actual sales. Weekly surveys and year-end charts by Billboard and other publications such as now defunct Cash Box magazine sometimes differed. For instance, during the 1960s and 1970s, the number-one album as determined by these two publications differed in 10 out of 20 years. From 1992 onwards, the Billboard year-end and weekly charts were calculated by Nielsen SoundScan. Note that this slightly differs from prior Billboard year-end album charts, which were a measure of chart performances over twelve months from around December to November (cutoff determined by Billboard´s publication schedule) rather than actual total sales.

Synopsis[edit]

Harry Belafonte's 1956 record entitled Calypso was the first product to be recognized as a top-selling album for a year once Billboard magazine started tracking sales figures. Adele's 2011 record 21 currently holds the title for the US's top-selling digital album. American Pop/R&B singer-songwriter Mariah Carey, singer Whitney Houston, British glam rock performer Elton John, rapper Eminem, British singer-songwriter Adele, and Canadian artist Drake each have had two of their albums be top sellings in two separate years in the US. Pop singer Michael Jackson's 1982 Thriller became the best-selling record in the country for two consecutive years in the 1980s (and later became the best-selling album of all time). Other albums to achieve the same accomplishment included the My Fair Lady Original Cast Recording from the hit 1956 Broadway production between 1957 and 1958, the original soundtrack of West Side Story between 1962 and 1963, and the album 21 by Adele between 2011 and 2012. That album, along with her follow-up 25 which was the best-selling album of 2015 and 2016, made Adele the only artist to have the top-selling album of at least four separate years. However, Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) by American rock group Eagles currently holds the title of the U.S.'s biggest-selling album, with a 38× Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America. Taylor Swift is the first artist to have the best-selling records in five separate years with Fearless, 1989, reputation, Lover, and folklore in 2009, 2014, 2017, 2019, and 2020, respectively.

1950s[edit]

a photo of a bald smiling jamaican man. he is in his 80s and wearing a dark grey suit over a black collared shirt.
Harry Belafonte's Calypso was top-selling record of 1956.
Year[I] Artist(s) Nationality Album Ref.
1956 Harry Belafonte  United States Calypso [1]
1957 Original Broadway Cast My Fair Lady [2]
1958 [3]
1959 Henry Mancini  United States Music from Peter Gunn [4]

1960s[edit]

West Side Story's soundtrack became the best-selling for 2 years.
Year Artist(s) Nationality Album Ref.
1960 Original Broadway Cast The Sound of Music [5]
1961 Camelot [6]
1962 Soundtrack West Side Story [7]
1963 [8]
1964 Original Broadway Cast Hello, Dolly! [9]
1965 Soundtrack Mary Poppins [10]
1966 Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass  United States Whipped Cream & Other Delights [11]
1967 The Monkees  United States More of The Monkees [12]
1968 The Jimi Hendrix Experience  United States Are You Experienced? [13]
1969 Iron Butterfly  United States In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida [14]

1970s[edit]

A Caucasian man with light brown hair. He is wearing black framed glasses with orange lenses and a black suit over a white shirt. Behind him is a white wall with a blue square.
Two of Elton John's albums each became the best-selling record in the 1970s.
Year[I] Performing artist(s) Nationality Album Ref.
1970 Simon and Garfunkel  United States Bridge over Troubled Water [15]
1971 Various Artists Jesus Christ Superstar [16]
1972 Neil Young  Canada Harvest [17]
1973 War  United States The World Is a Ghetto [18]
1974 Elton John  United Kingdom Goodbye Yellow Brick Road [19]
1975 Elton John's Greatest Hits [20]
1976 Peter Frampton  United Kingdom /  United States Frampton Comes Alive [21]
1977 Fleetwood Mac  United Kingdom /  United States Rumours [22]
1978 Soundtrack / Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever [23]
1979 Billy Joel  United States 52nd Street [24]

1980s[edit]

A mid-twenties African American man wearing a sequined military jacket and dark sunglasses. He is walking while waving his right hand, which is adorned with a white glove. His left hand is bare.
Michael Jackson's Thriller was the best-selling album for two years in a row.
Year[I] Performing artist(s) Nationality Album Ref.
1980 Pink Floyd  United Kingdom The Wall [25]
1981 REO Speedwagon  United States Hi Infidelity [26]
1982 Asia  United Kingdom Asia [27]
1983 Michael Jackson  United States Thriller [28]
1984 [29]
1985 Bruce Springsteen  United States Born in the U.S.A. [30]
1986 Whitney Houston  United States Whitney Houston [31]
1987 Bon Jovi  United States Slippery When Wet [32]
1988 George Michael  United Kingdom Faith [33]
1989 Bobby Brown  United States Don't Be Cruel [34]

1990s[edit]

Mariah Carey's eponymous debut album was the best-seller of 1991.
Year[I] Performing artist(s) Nationality Album Sales Ref.
1990 Janet Jackson  United States Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 [35]
1991 Mariah Carey  United States Mariah Carey [36]
1992 Billy Ray Cyrus  United States Some Gave All 4,700,000 [37]
1993 Whitney Houston / Soundtrack The Bodyguard 5,460,000 [38]
1994 Elton John / Soundtrack The Lion King 4,904,000 [39]
1995 Hootie and the Blowfish  United States Cracked Rear View 7,020,000 [40]
1996 Alanis Morissette  Canada Jagged Little Pill 7,380,000 [41]
1997 Spice Girls  United Kingdom Spice 5,302,000 [42]
1998 James Horner / Soundtrack Titanic 9,338,000 [41]
1999 Backstreet Boys  United States Millennium 9,445,732[41] [43]

2000s[edit]

Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory album was the best-selling in 2001.
Year[I] Performing artist(s) Nationality Album Sales Ref.
2000 NSYNC  United States No Strings Attached 10,000,000 [41]
2001 Linkin Park  United States Hybrid Theory 4,813,000 [41]
2002 Eminem  United States The Eminem Show 7,608,000 [44]
2003 50 Cent  United States Get Rich or Die Tryin' 6,536,000 [45]
2004 Usher  United States Confessions 8,000,000 [46]
2005 Mariah Carey  United States The Emancipation of Mimi 4,968,606 [47]
2006 Soundtrack High School Musical 3,719,000 [48]
2007 Josh Groban  United States Noël 3,699,000 [49]
2008 Lil Wayne  United States Tha Carter III 2,880,000 [50]
2009 Taylor Swift  United States Fearless 3,217,000 [51]

2010s[edit]

Adele's second studio album 21 was the best-selling record of 2011 and 2012 while her third studio album 25 was the best-seller of 2015 and 2016, making her the only act to have their albums top four years in the same decade.
Year[I] Performing artist(s) Nationality Album Sales Ref.
2010 Eminem  United States Recovery 3,415,000 [52]
2011 Adele  United Kingdom 21 5,824,000 [53]
2012 4,410,000 [54]
2013 Justin Timberlake  United States The 20/20 Experience 2,430,000 [55]
2014 Taylor Swift  United States 1989 3,661,000 [56]
2015 Adele  United Kingdom 25 7,441,000 [57]
2016 1,731,000 [58]
2017 Taylor Swift  United States Reputation 1,903,000 [59]
2018 Various Artists N/A The Greatest Showman 1,491,000 [60]
2019 Taylor Swift  United States Lover 1,085,000 [61]

2020s[edit]

Folklore by Taylor Swift was the best-selling album of 2020, the fifth time she had the top selling album of a year.
Year[I] Performing artist(s) Nationality Album Sales Ref.
2020 Taylor Swift  United States Folklore 1,276,000 [62]

Notes[edit]

^[I] Each year is linked to the article about music that year.

  • After Billboard began obtaining sales and airplay information from Nielsen SoundScan and Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems, the year-end charts are now calculated by a very straightforward cumulative total of yearlong sales points. This gives a more accurate picture of any given year's most popular titles, as an entry that hypothetically spent nine weeks at number one in March could possibly have earned fewer cumulative points than one spending six weeks at number three in January. Albums at the peak of their popularity at the time of the November/December chart-year cutoff many times end up ranked lower than expected on a year-end tally, yet are ranked on the following year's chart as well, as their cumulative points are split between the two chart years. Sometimes, the best-selling album of the year by Billboard is different than best-selling album of the year of Nielsen SoundScan, because Billboard calculates the year from December to November and Nielsen calculates the year from January to December.
  • In this list, from 1956 to 1991, the Billboard year-end tracking was used. From 1992 to date, Nielsen SoundScan's year-end tracking was used.
  • Since 2015, Billboard and MRC Data (formerly Nielsen SoundScan) used album-equivalent units to determine the year's top albums, thus there is a discrepancy between the best-selling album (based on pure sales) and the best-performing album (based on sales+streaming). For information regarding the best-selling albums in the MRC Data era (from 1991 to present), see List of best-selling albums in the United States of the Nielsen SoundScan era.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]