The bestselling albums of all-time – reranked by streaming stats

Who’s bigger: Adele or the Beatles? We rewrote the record books using Spotify figures and found that the bangers top the chart

On Wednesday, we brought you the most popular singles of all time, reimagined for the digital age, by ranking them according to their streaming numbers on Spotify. Now we’re doing the same with albums – once again, the people at Spotify have been through their data, revealed the all-time most popular albums, and produced their own top 20 according to streaming data. These figures were correct as of 22 March.

Once again, the differences between the old chart – based on physical sales – and the new one are stark. Spotify launched only in October 2008, and so there is an inbuilt bias among its users to gravitate towards new music. Even so, the results are startling.

  • Adele’s power is demonstrated by 21 topping the reranked bestsellers list, with more than three times as many streams as the No 2 entry, Metallica’s self-titled album. However, 21 doesn’t appear on Spotify’s top 20, even though Adele is regarded as the biggest star in the world. It suggests two things: that she has an older fanbase who still want to own physical CDs and that her strategy of pushing people towards buying, rather than streaming, works.
  • The top 10 of the new list of bestsellers is dominated by artists who are either still active, or whose music remains heavily recirculated, reissued and repromoted. Adele, Metallica, Bruce Springsteen and AC/DC remain at work, and the Eagles continued to tour until recently. Nirvana, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles still have a profound influence, and have had their music extensively reissued and repromoted in recent years. Conversely, huge albums that stayed on the charts for years but drifted off the cultural radar appear much lower than on the sales list (Bat Out of Hell down from No 5 to No 20, The Dark Side of the Moon falling to No 26 from No 3).
  • There are some interesting anomalies in the new list. For instance, who would have guessed that Michael Jackson’s Dangerous would be twice as popular on Spotify as Thriller? There’s also a demonstration of the power of the very biggest bands. AC/DC and the Beatles were late entrants to Spotify (AC/DC last summer, the Beatles last Christmas) yet both feature in the top 10.
  • As with the singles figures, Spotify’s young audience is reflected by its own top 20. This, again, is a pop list – with only AM by Arctic Monkeys representing rock. In Spotify’s world, Calvin Harris and One Direction are the dominant artists. Although we don’t have the streaming figures for this list, we are told that Ed Sheeran’s x is a clear leader in the No 1 position, which shouldn’t be a surprise given he was able to sell out three nights at Wembley Stadium, in London, with just an acoustic guitar for company.
  • There’s no sign, though, of the artists who generate the most heat – those whose profiles are high and are kept high, who are media staples (as well as affiliates of streaming service Tidal): no Kanye West, no Rihanna, no Jay Z. Beyoncé only creeps in at No 20. For Spotify’s listeners, it’s all about the bangers, not the personalities.

The all-time top 30 albums, reranked by streaming numbers

1. (No 21 in the all-time bestsellers list) Adele – 21 (806,023,008 streams)
2. (No 28) Metallica – Metallica (229,955,391)
3. (No 29) Nirvana – Nevermind (121,970,542)
4. (No 23) Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA (94,855,753)
5. (No 10) Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV (93,040,647)
6. (No 22) The Beatles – Abbey Road (69,365,618)
7. (No 7) Bee Gees/Various Artists – Saturday Night Fever (65,580,111)
8. (No 4) Whitney Houston/Various Artists – The Bodyguard (59,972,881)
9. (No 2) AC/DC – Back in Black (56,449,731)
10. (No 15) Eagles – Hotel California (55,650,887)
11. (No 8) Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (53,960,342)
12. (No 25) Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston (51,724,446)
13. (No 13) Celine Dion – Falling Into You (46,108,840)
14. (No 20) The Beatles – 1 (44,736,403)
15. (No 12) Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill (42,863,108)
16. (No 17) Michael Jackson – Dangerous (39,327,430)
17. (No 16) Mariah Carey – Music Box (22,228,518)
18. (No 1) Michael Jackson - Thriller (19,260,591)
19. (No 18) Various Artists – Dirty Dancing (16,471,861)
20. (No 5) Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (14,177,469)

Spotify’s all-time top 20 most streamed albums

1. Ed Sheeran – x
2. Justin Bieber – Purpose
3. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness
4. Calvin Harris – Motion
5. Calvin Harris – 18 Months
6. Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear
7. Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour
8. Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
9. Bruno Mars – Unorthodox Jukebox
10. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist
11. Ariana Grande – My Everything
12. Jack Ü – Skrillex and Diplo present Jack Ü
13. Avicii – True
14. Imagine Dragons – Night Visions
15. One Direction – Midnight Memories (Deluxe)
16. One Direction – Four
17. Arctic Monkeys – AM
18. Meghan Trainor – Title
19. One Direction – Take Me Home: Yearbook Edition
20. Beyoncé – Beyoncé


Michael Hann

The GuardianTramp

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