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Best-selling album from the year you graduated high school

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Best-selling album from the year you graduated high school

Far more than the manipulation of sound for the mere sake of human enjoyment, great music can stir an epic range of emotions, actions, and memories alike at the drop of a melody. That’s not to mention music’s role as both a rite of passage and way of life for millions — if not billions — of people. It’s therefore no wonder that so many of us associate specific songs or albums with important moments, memories, people, and events, so much so that one could arguably compile a soundtrack to his or her life without thinking too hard about it.

Naturally, a great deal of those soundtrack-type songs or albums would be built around one’s teenage years, when music’s ability to capture an emotional state seems to be at its most profound. By extension, the songs and albums themselves often become snapshots of the era in which they were released, encompassing everything from cultural trends to dance moves to fashion statements. Driving that notion home are the album’s creators — the musicians and producers — many of whom reflect or even dictate the norms of their respective times.

Given music’s tendency to signify so many things at once, it’s only natural to wonder what the best-selling album was the year you graduated high school. Well cue up that nostalgia meter, because Stacker is here to put that curiosity to rest. We’re listing off the best-selling album from every year going all the way back to 1956. For the data, we went straight to the foremost authority: Billboard, which has been tracking popular music since before the SoundScan era. Speaking of which, sales data is included only from 1992 onwards, when Nielsen’s SoundScan began gathering computerized figures. Going in chronological order from 1956 to 2017, we present the best-selling album from the year you graduated high school.

Lawren // Flickr

1956: "Calypso" by Harry Belafonte

Bolstered by the hit song “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” Harry Belafonte’s “Calypso” is as catchy today as it was upon its 1956 debut. Drawing inspiration from both calypso and Jamaican music traditions, the album made Belafonte the first artist to ever sell more than 1 million copies of an album. These days, the 91-year-old singer and civil rights activist keeps mainly to himself, barring the occasional public appearance. Meanwhile, movie buffs seeking their Belafonte fix can always stream “Beetlejuice,” which features “Day-O” in what’s arguably the film’s most iconic scene.

Richard Maney-Photo by Friedman-Abeles, NYC // Wikicommons

1957: "My Fair Lady" soundtrack by the original Broadway cast

Before it was a popular film starring Audrey Hepburn, “My Fair Lady” was a wildly popular musical by Frederick Loewe with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Just how popular? For starters, it was the longest-running musical in Broadway history for its time. Then there’s the soundtrack, which was the #1 album for 15 weeks in a row, and the year’s best-selling album for both 1957 and 1958.


1958: "My Fair Lady" soundtrack by the original Broadway cast

As previously mentioned, the soundtrack for “My Fair Lady” was such a resounding success that it became the best-selling album for two years in a row. Not only did the album earn Columbia Records $5 million in one year — an unprecedented amount at the time — but it would go on to sell more than five million copies over the course of 10 years. Despite all that success, producers still thought it best to replace Julie Andrews with Audrey Hepburn, even though 95% of Hepburn’s singing parts had to be dubbed for the film adaptation. 

Kevin Dooley // Flickr

1959: "Music from Peter Gunn" by Henry Mancini

As one of old Hollywood’s most legendary composers, Henry Mancini penned a slew of iconic scores, many of which endure in the public consciousness to this day. Among his most popular works was the theme music for the TV series “Peter Gunn,” about a handsome private investigator with a love for the finer things in life. Mancini would later claim the jazzy score not only provided him with his big break, but “put music on everybody's mind as far as television was concerned."


1960: "The Sound of Music" soundtrack by the original Broadway cast

Two names synonymous with the best of Broadway are Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, who wrote the songs for “The Sound of Music,” a smash hit later adapted into an award-winning film. Originally, producer Richard Halliday envisioned the show as a traditional play (sprinkled with the occasional Austrian folk ditty) and he approached Rodgers and Hammerstein to see if they would contribute one song. In response, they suggested making the entire play a musical, and soon got to work turning it into one of the most beloved musicals of all time.

Photographer-Friedman-Abeles, New York // Wikicommons

1961: "Camelot" soundtrack by the original Broadway cast

Adapted from the King Arthur tale “The Once and Future King,” by T.H. White, Broadway musical “Camelot” featured music by Frederick Loewe and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, the same talented duo behind “My Fair Lady.” Composing the music was so stressful on Loewe that he left the musical theater business for more than a decade upon completion. While the play itself was considered somewhat mediocre by Broadway standards, the soundtrack album was a smash hit.


1962: "West Side Story" soundtrack by various artists

Composed by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the “West Side Story” film soundtrack upped the production ante on the already-popular Broadway cast recording to wildly successful results. Not only is this album one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time, but it held the #1 spot on the Billboard main album chart for a record-breaking 54 weeks in a row. It also won the Grammy for Best Soundtrack Album – Original Cast, and went triple-platinum. As for the film itself, it opened to substantial acclaim and won no fewer than 10 Academy Awards. This may lead one to ask: why is Steven Spielberg bothering to remake this movie when it was executed so perfectly the first time around?


1963: "West Side Story" soundtrack by various artists

After famously spending more than a year at the top of the Billboard charts, it’s no surprise that the “West Side Story” soundtrack became the best-selling album for two years in a row. But did you know that many of the vocals weren’t recorded by the film’s actors and actresses? The producers brought in professional singers including Marni Nixon, who recorded the songs while actresses such as Natalie Wood took all the credit. So it goes in Hollywood.


1964: "Hello, Dolly!" soundtrack by the original Broadway cast

By 1964, high school girls across the country were catching Beatle fever, but that wasn’t enough to stop Broadway and film soundtracks from dominating in the album sales department. For proof, look no further than the resounding success of the “Hello, Dolly!” Broadway cast recording. With music and lyrics by Jerry Sherman, the play is sometimes pointed to as the “Hamilton” of its time, namely due to its status as the hottest ticket in town for a number of years in a row.


1965: "Mary Poppins" soundtrack by various artists

Rock and roll was everywhere by 1965, and so was the “Mary Poppins” soundtrack. Composed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, and featuring performances from a number of the film’s stars, the album won two Grammys: one for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or TV Show, and the other for Best Recording for Children. Likewise, the movie took home Academy Awards for Best Original Song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee” and Best Original Score, while also winning in non-music related categories.

Lawren // Flickr

1966: "Whipped Cream & Other Delights" by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass

Featuring iconic cover art and a range of legendary tracks, “Whipped Cream & Other Delights” from Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass debuted in 1965 and took the world by storm soon after, cementing Alpert’s status as a household name. The record won three Grammys and became the fourth best-selling album of the 1960s, trailing behind releases from Elvis, Frank Sinatra and The Beatles. 

Joe Haupt // Flickr

1967: "More of The Monkees" by The Monkees

It doesn’t take a history lesson to know that the 1960s represented a seismic cultural shift in Western society, one largely fueled by younger audiences. While that shift was years in the making, 1967 might be considered ground zero in signifying a point of no return. Does all this sound like a lead-up to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles? It sure does, but it was “More of The Monkees” that sold the most copies in 1967. The album came from The Monkees, a Beatles-esque, made-for-TV band that surprised audiences by releasing first-rate songs, albeit ones mostly written by outside professionals (at least at first).


1968: "Are You Experienced?" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Arguably the most influential guitarist to ever walk the Earth, Jimi Hendrix of The Jimi Hendrix Experience unleashed “Are You Experienced?” in 1967 and changed music forever. Garnering inspiration from a slew of genres, the album features hit songs like “Purple Haze” and “Hey Joe,” which remain as vital today as they did half a century ago. And while those two songs didn’t necessarily soar up the U.S. charts, they did receive steady airplay on underground radio, helping fuel the album’s success. Along similar lines, “Are You Experienced?” never reached #1 on the Billboard charts, despite being the best-selling album of 1968.

Atco Records // Wikicommons

1969: "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" by Iron Butterfly

There are a number of myths surrounding the title of Iron Butterfly’s one hit song, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” which clocks in at more than 17 minutes on the best-selling album of the same name. According to most sources, however, the title came about after the band’s vocalist and keyboardist, Doug Ingle, slurred the words to “In the Garden of Eden” during a soundcheck, apparently while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Meanwhile, the engineer was recording, and apparently he liked what he heard. Audiences would end up liking it, too.

Piano Piano! // Flickr

1970: "Bridge over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel

Legendary folk-rock duo Simon & Garfunkel released their fifth album, “Bridge over Troubled Water,” the same year they broke up. Indicating troubled waters indeed, the album features a number of songs wherethe two vocalists don’t sing together. Not only did the album shoot to #1 on the Billboard charts, it went on to win two Grammy Awards. Along similar lines, the title song would sell millions of copies and win its own Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

NBC Television Network // Wikicommons

1971: "Jesus Christ Superstar" soundtrack by various artists

Legendary composer Andrew Lloyd Webber was just 21 when he penned the music for “Jesus Christ Superstar,” a hit concept album that spawned both a Broadway play and hit film. For the album, Webber and lyricist Tim Rice enlisted an array of reputable talent, then released the work with some impressive packaging to drive home its rock-opera vibe. While the album was briefly banned by the BBC in England as sacrilegious, it was a surprise hit all across America, including among many Christian leaders.


1972: "Harvest" by Neil Young

Featuring hits like “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man,” Neil Young’s “Harvest” endures as the artist’s most popular and best-selling album to-date, even if some critics found it to be uninspired upon its initial debut. Twenty years later, Young would release a follow up, “Harvest Moon,” which featured a number of the same musicians. Meanwhile, "Heart of Gold” remains Young’s only #1 single in the U.S.


1973: "The World Is a Ghetto" by War

The fifth album from War — and their third without Eric Burdon of The Animals — “The World is a Ghetto” rocketed to success on the back of its lead song, “The Cisco Kid.” Incorporating a variety of influences, the album explores jazz, funk, rock, soul, and blues to brilliant effect. That’s joined by top-notch production and socially relevant themes that are as poignant today as they were 40 years ago. 

ABC Television // Wikicommons

1974: "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John

Considered by many to be Elton John’s quintessential masterpiece, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is a sprawling double album, replete with a number of his greatest songs, including “Benny and the Jets,” “Candle in the Wind,” and the title track. Elton John and writing partner Bernie Taupin originally went to Jamaica to make the album, but found the studio in such a state of disrepair that they ended up recording in France instead. It was a wise move — the album spent eight weeks at the #1 spot on the Billboard charts, and was certified eight-times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.



1975: "Elton John's Greatest Hits" by Elton John

Fresh off the wild success of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Elton John released a greatest hits compilation in 1974 that’s likely to still be found in quite a few record and CD collections across the country. The album sold more than 16 million copies in the U.S. That makes it one of the 21 best-selling albums in the U.S. of all time

badgreeb RECORDS // Wikicommons

1976: "Frampton Comes Alive" by Peter Frampton

If you were in high school in 1976, you probably have vivid memories of “Frampton Comes Alive!” spinning on the turntable ad nauseam. With its squelching guitar lines and hit songs like “Show Me the Way” and “Baby I Love Your Way,” the album would go on to sell an estimated 11 million copies worldwide, six million being sold in 1976 alone. It’s therefore no surprise that this was the best-selling live rock album in history until 1998.

Warner Bros. Records // Wikicommons

1977: "Rumours" by Fleetwood Mac

An aural document of Fleetwood Mac’s perennial internal struggles, “Rumours” landed in 1977 and hasn’t lost steam since. Proving that a little behind-the-scenes friction can indeed pay off in spades, the impeccable album has sold more than 40 million units worldwide, and was even the fifth best-selling vinyl record of 2016. It also won Album of the Year at the 20th Grammy Awards. In spite of all that success, the friction persists — the band recently parted ways with lead guitarist Lindsey Buckingham before going on tour. 

Atco Records. // Wikicommons

1978: "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack by the Bee Gees

Released at the height of disco mania, “Saturday Night Fever” was both a wildly popular film and seminal best-selling album. Featuring hit music from the Bee Gees, Kool & the Gang, and The Trammps, the soundtrack is the only disco album to win a Grammy for Album of the Year. Call it a hunch, but we have a feeling it will remain the only disco album to win Album of the Year for a long time to come.

The Obento Musubi // Wikicommons

1979: "52nd Street" by Billy Joel

Billy Joel’s first #1 album, “52nd Street,” finds the piano man incorporating jazz influences to develop a new swing sound. Featured on the album is the hit song “My Life,” which would become the theme music for a TV show called “Bosom Buddies,” starring Tom Hanks. Produced by Phil Ramone, the album won both Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance at the Grammy Awards.

Keith Moseley // Wikicommons

1980: "The Wall" by Pink Floyd

Motivated by feelings of alienation and even hostility between himself and his audience, Pink Floyd bassist and lead songwriter Roger Waters created “The Wall,” a stunning concept album that grapples with this internal struggle. The band was famously falling apart during the recording, with keyboardist Rick Wright getting the boot before the album was completed  — though he was subsequently hired as a session musician for the tour. As with Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours,” the constant friction paid off generously. Not only is the "The Wall" one of the best-selling albums of all time, but Waters recently toured the album and raked in $460 million in profit. And let’s not forget about the accompanying 1982 film, which remains a cult classic to this day. 

Michael Osborn // Wikicommons

1981: "Hi Infidelity" by REO Speedwagon

Adapting to ‘80s production standards with exceptional panache, REO Speedwagon released their ninth studio album, “Hi Infidelity,” to massive success. Bolstered by hits like “Keep On Loving You,” and “Take It On the Run,” the album would end up selling more than 10 million copies in the U.S. alone. The band still tours to this day.


1982: "Asia" by Asia

Nothing screams early ‘80s prog rock quite like Asia’s self-titled debut, which comes complete with overproduced vocals, campy—albeit well-executed—instrumentals, and a writhing sea dragon on the album cover. The self-appointed supergroup plowed into the hearts of teenagers everywhere by way of songs like “Only Time Will Tell” and “Heat of the Moment,” hitting the #1 spot on the Billboard charts as a result. Speaking of “Heat of the Moment,” it holds up quite well, presuming you use it for semi-comedic purposes the way film producer Judd Apatow did in “The 40-Year Old Virgin.”

Drew H. Cohen // Wikicommons

1983: "Thriller" by Michael Jackson

Not only was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” the best-selling album for the class of 1983, but teenagers today are still getting down to this certifiable classic. And when we say “certifiable,” we’re talking the highest-certified album in U.S. history. Indeed, who can argue with the album’s all-killer, no-filler lineup, which includes timeless songs like “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”? No one, that’s who.

celebrityabc // Flickr

1984: "Thriller" by Michael Jackson

Just how popular is Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”? For starters, it was best-selling album of the year for two years in a row at a time when the competition was fierce. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To date the album has sold 33 million equivalent album units in the U.S. alone, making it just one of 22 albums to achieve Diamond certification, and the first album to achieve 30-timemulti-Platinum Recording Industry Association of America Certification. As if all that wasn’t enough, the Jackson estate claims that the album has sold an insane 105 million copies worldwide. They didn't call him the King of Pop for nothing.

Falcorian // Wikicommons

1985: "Born in the U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen was already the stuff of legends by the time he released “Born in the U.S.A.” in 1984; however, the album launched him into the uppermost echelon of talent, where only the most widely recognized artists reside. The album hit #1 on the Billboard chart and then spent a whopping 84 weeks in the top 10, with seven of its 12 songs cracking the top 10 on the Billboard singles chart. Perhaps some of that success was due to a diverse audience — including President Ronald Reagan — mistaking the title song for a patriotic rally cry (when it was of course a bitter critique of America).

PH2 Mark Kettenhofen // Wikicommons

1986: "Whitney Houston" by Whitney Houston

In the 1980s and ‘90s, Whitney Houston was the voice that wouldn’t quit and couldn’t be beat. With a seemingly indestructible vibrato at her disposal, she belted her way through a self-titled album that would not only sell in massive quantities, but launch her epic career into stardom. Not counting “The Bodyguard Soundtrack,” which consists of performances by Houston as well as other artists, “Whitney Houston” would remain the artist’s best-selling effort both nationally and internationally, with more than 30 million units sold. Sadly, Houston would struggle later in life to retain her soulful voice, before passing away prematurely in 2012

Rosana Prada // Wikicommons

1987: "Slippery When Wet" by Bon Jovi

Despite the glam-hair aesthetic and heavy guitar riffing, Bon Jovi distinguished itself from the hair-metal bands of its day in a number of ways, even if “Slippery When Wet” seems to dictate otherwise at first glance. Dig just beneath the slick surface, and you’ll find mainstream hits like “Livin’ on a Prayer” or “Wanted Dead or Alive,” which eschew the overt sexual swagger of L.A.’s Sunset Strip in favor of something slightly deeper. It’s no wonder the band has enjoyed a longer and more prosperous career than most of its counterparts, much of that success originating with this massively popular album. 

University of Houston Digital Library // Wikicommons

1988: "Faith" by George Michael

Already synonymous with hit songs like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” singer George Michael proved he was far more than a synth-pop star by unleashing “Faith,” his solo debut. It spent six non-consecutive weeks at #1 on the Billboard chart and won the Grammy for Album of the Year. Somewhat overwhelmed the album’s reception — not to mention his newfound status as a bona fide sex symbol — Michael quickly tried to distance himself from the work. As a result, his career would never again reach the same heights as it did here. Sadly, Michael passed away in 2016 at the age of 53.


1989: "Don't Be Cruel" by Bobby Brown

The second studio album from former New Edition member Bobby Brown, “Don’t Be Cruel” sees the artist taking a no-frills approach to his newly adopted persona as an adult force to be reckoned with. Featuring five singles — each of which cracked the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 — the album would end up going eight-times platinum.

Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis

1990: "Rhythm Nation 1814" by Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson's fourth album was different than anything the pop and R&B singer had ever released before. Taking inspiration from the current events and issues unfolding before her, Jackson packed her record with social commentary about racism, gun violence, sexuality, and poverty in addition to the romantic ballads fans and producers expected from her. As a result, seven of Rhythm Nation's singles reached the ranks of the top five in the Billboard Hot 100 chart between the years 1989 and 1991.


1991: "Mariah Carey" by Mariah Carey

In the vein of singers like Whitney Houston came Mariah Carey, who flaunted a five-octave vocal range on her award-winning debut. Featuring four hit singles, the album would go on to sell more than five million copies. Of course, it was just the beginning of Carey’s extraordinary career, which would include numerous best-selling albums, sold-out concerts, movie appearances, and a short-lived gig as a judge on “American Idol.”

U.S. Navy photo by Matthew D. Leistikow // Wikicommons

1992: "Some Gave All" by Billy Ray Cyrus

Sales: 4,700,000

The debut album “Some Gave All” from Billy Ray Cyrus—better known today as the father of Miley Cyrus—rocketed to #1 on the back of its breakout single, “Achy Breaky Heart.” Indeed, you didn’t need to be a country fan in the early 1990s to know the lyrics and adjoining dance moves to Cyrus’ hit song, which was ubiquitous at "supervised dances" across the country.

Asterio Tecson // Wikicommons

1993: "The Bodyguard" soundtrack by Whitney Houston

Sales: 5,460,000

While Whitney Houston only appears on the first half of “The Bodyguard" soundtrack, the album delivers three of her biggest post-’80s hits. Among them is “I Will Always Love You”—written by Dolly Parton—which won two Grammy Awards, and was on such heavy rotation that MTV might as well have dedicated a separate channel to it. As a result of that song and two others, the album spent 20 weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts, and ended up selling 45 million copies. The film, which starred Houston and actor Kevin Costner, is basically a footnote. 

Ernst Vikne // Wikicommons

1994: "The Lion King" soundtrack by Elton John

Sales: 4,934,000

After floundering somewhat in the 1980s, Walt Disney Studios launched a major comeback in 1989, which arguably culminated with 1994’s “The Lion King.” Handling the songwriting duties were Elton John and Tim Rice, while seasoned composer Hans Zimmer provided the score. Consequently, the film became as cherished for its music as it did for its engaging story, with songs such as “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” achieving steady airplay on mainstream radio. Speaking of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” it would win Best Original Song at the Academy Awards, though Elton John reportedly thought “Circle of Life,” from the same film, was more deserving of the honor.

Mysti Cabasug, U.S. Air Force // Wikicommons

1995: "Cracked Rear View" by Hootie and the Blowfish

Sales: 7,020,000

The quintessential example of 1990s rock, “Cracked Rear View” was the debut album from Hootie & the Blowfish, and a majorly successful debut at that. Featured on the album were five hit singles, including “Let Her Cry,” which won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance. On the heels of its success, the band slowly dwindled into obscurity. Then, in 2008, frontman Darius Rucker emerged as a country star with the solo album “Learn to Live,” which contained a surprising number of hit songs.

42/ // Wikicommons

1996: "Jagged Little Pill" by Alanis Morissette

Sales: 7,380,000

In 1995, American audiences were introduced to Canadian singer Alanis Morissette by way of her third studio album, “Jagged Little Pill,” which took a refreshingly candid approach toward relationships. Nowhere was that approach more evident than on the album’s lead single, “You Oughta Know,” where Morissette calls out a former lover for his indiscretions. According to legend, the song is about actor Dave Coulier of “Full House” — and now “Fuller House” — fame, though that claim has never been verified

Kura.kun // Wikicommons

1997: "Spice" by Spice Girls

Sales: 5,302,000

If you graduated high school in the 1990s, it’s likely you heard the Spice Girls blaring through the speakers at more than a few school dances. The British girl group burst onto the scene with “Wannabe,” the lead single from their debut album, “Spice.” Over the next few years, the group dominated airwaves and TV screens, though nowadays they’re more likely to make headlines for reasons totally unrelated to music.

FERT98 // Wikicommons

1998: "Titanic" soundtrack by James Horner

Sales: 9,338,000

As the biggest movie of its time, “Titanic” delivered epic scenes and music alike. Accordingly, the film’s soundtrack is one of just seven soundtracks to receive Diamond-certification by the Recording Industry Association of America. That’s largely thanks to Celine Dion’s rendition of “My Heart Will Go On,” which director James Cameron was initially reluctant to include. As legend has it, Dion nailed the song on her first take

Justin Higuchi // Wikicommons

1999: "Millennium" by Backstreet Boys

Sales: 9,446,000

In the late 1990s, two boy bands reigned supreme. One of those bands was the Backstreet Boys, and their third album, “Millennium,” was 1999’s best-seller. Included on the album is the hit song “I Want It That Way,” which earned a major following, despite the fact that the lyrics make no sense. Meanwhile, the Boys are still at it, having just released a new single in 2018.

Fashionby He // Wikicommons

2000: "No Strings Attached" by NSYNC

Sales: 9,936,000

Speaking of the world’s biggest boy bands, it doesn’t get any bigger than NSYNC, which featured a young Justin Timberlake. Not a group to be upstaged by the Backstreet Boys, they released their third studio album, “No Strings Attached,” to massive fanfare. This was also the second best-selling album of the 21st century, bested only by a Beatles compilation.

mooinblack // Shutterstock

2001: "Hybrid Theory" by Linkin Park

Sales: 4,813,000

True to its name, Linkin Park’s “Hybrid Theory” blends electronic music, hip-hop and heavy metal to perfection. And while the group wasn’t the first to bridge multiple genres, they carved out their own unique aesthetic and sensibility in the process, becoming nu-metal pioneers. While recording the album, the band had to fight tooth and nail against the record label, who suggested bringing in a guest vocalist on certain tracks. Sticking to their guns, the band made the debut album they wanted to make, which became the biggest-selling debut of the 21st century, and launched the band into mega-stardom. Things would come crashing to a halt after the untimely death of lead singer, Chester Bennington in 2017.

Mika-photography // Wikicommons

2002: "The Eminem Show" by Eminem

Sales: 7,608,000

Detroit native rapper Eminem was on top of the world by 2002, when he released his fourth album, “The Eminem Show.” As opposed to his previous two records, this one was only partly produced by hip-hop legend Dr. Dre, with some tracks being produced by the artist himself. Consequently, the album lacked the same level of consistency and acclaim as his first two, though it still yielded tons of great songs and sold millions of units. Featured on the album is a track called “Superman,” which finds Eminem in rare form as a romantic lead...before he bursts into a misogynistic tirade, naturally. 

Alex Const // Wikicommons

2003: "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" by 50 Cent

Sales: 6,536,000

Still riding high off his success with Eminem, acclaimed producer Dr. Dre turned his attention to an ambitious rapper who went by the name of Curtis Jackson, better known as 50 Cent. The result was “Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” which included hit tracks like “In Da Club,” and “21 Questions.” Striving for street cred, 50 Cent and company used actual guns to sample gunshots on the song “Heat.”


Georges Biard // Wikicommons

2004: "Confessions" by Usher

Sales: 7,979,000

By 2004, music piracy was in full swing, especially among high schoolers. But, that didn’t stop Usher’s “Confessions” from selling nearly eight million copies in the U.S. To think, the album’s most popular song “Yeah!” almost didn’t make the cut. Usher still performs today, that is, when not mentoring young artists, or dealing with various legal troubles


Steve Gawley // Wikicommons

2005: "The Emancipation of Mimi" by Mariah Carey

Sales: 4,968,606

Fifteen years after her mega-selling debut, Mariah Carey released “The Emancipation of Mimi,” which saw the popular singer collaborating with the hottest names in the game, propelling herself out of a creative slump. In addition to selling millions of copies, the album would go on to win three Grammy Awards, including Best Contemporary R&B Album. Carey still makes headlines these days, though rarely for her music.

cw // Wikicommons

2006: "High School Musical" soundtrack by various artists

Sales: 3,719,000

By the year 2006, the music industry was in a state of volatile transition, with physical album sales continuing to dwindle, and numerous labels struggling to adapt to new technologies. Reflecting as much, the year’s best-selling album, “High School Musical,” sold fewer copies than the best-selling album from any previous year during the SoundScan era. Of course, it could have been much worse for the soundtrack, which only sold 6,000 copies in its first week. Meanwhile, the movie was a cultural phenomenon, launching a franchise that would rake in roughly $1 billion dollars for Disney.

WEBN-TV // Wikicommons

2007: "Noël" by Josh Groban

Sales: 3,699,000

The Christmas album is a long-standing tradition among famous crooners, and by 2007, Josh Groban was most definitely a famous crooner. That brings us to "Noël," his fourth studio album, which includes covers of holiday classics such as “Silent Night” and “The Little Drummer Boy.” Refusing to let the album rest on its laurels — pun intended, Groban released a deluxe edition in 2017.

RJ // Wikicommons

2008: "Tha Carter III" by Lil Wayne

After releasing an endless stream of mixtapes and earning his keep in the underground, rapper Lil Wayne found himself at the top of the hip-hop world by 2008. That made it the perfect time to release “Tha Carter III,” which famously sold a million copies in a single week. Not only did the work win Best Rap Album at the Grammys, but its most popular single, “Lollipop,” won Best Rap Song.

Jana Zills // Wikicommons

2009: "Fearless" by Taylor Swift

Sales: 3,217,000

Taylor Swift is such a ubiquitous force in the pop world these days, it’s almost easy to forget she began her career as a successful country singer, releasing albums such as “Fearless.” The album finds Swift in a typical self-reflective mood, exploring personal relationships while name-dropping various people in her life. The album spent 11 weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts, the longest run since 1999–2000

Mika-photography // Wikicommons

2010: "Recovery" by Eminem

Sales: 3,415,000

Never one to repress his feelings or struggles, Eminem let it all out on “Recovery,” his seventh album, in which the famous rapper talks candidly about addiction, depression, desire, and everything else he was struggling with. As usual, the catharsis paid off, as this was not only the best-selling album of 2010, but the first album in history to sell more than a million digital copies.

Marc E. // Wikicommons

2011: "21" by Adele

Sales: 5,824,000

An album that seemed to almost single-handedly lift the record industry out of its perennial slump, Adele’s “21” features hit songs including “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You.” Between those songs and the album itself, Adele would take home a whopping six Grammy Awards in 2011.


2012: "21" by Adele

Sales: 4,410,000

Adele’s “21” hot streak continued into 2012, with considerable sales to show for it. In fact, Adele stayed on the charts for so long that she broke a record for female artists, previously held by Madonna’s “Immaculate Collection”. Eventually, Adele’s most iconic album would sell 30 million copies worldwide.


Georges Biard // Wikicommons

2013: "The 20/20 Experience" by Justin Timberlake

Sales: 2,430,000

By 2013, Justin Timberlake had come a long way since his NSYNC days, earning accolades for both solo work and a handful of big-screen performances. That was the year he released “The 20/20 Experience,” his first album since 2006’s “FutureSex/LoveSounds.” As on the previous effort, this one sees hip-hop legend Timbaland handling the main production duties, and the music remains both experimental and thoroughly propulsive as a result. Given the lukewarm, if not overwhelmingly negative reaction to Timberlake’s most recent effort, “Man of the Woods,” “The 20/20 Experience” holds up quite well.

GabboT // Wikicommons

2014: "1989" by Taylor Swift

Sales: 3,661,000

Taylor Swift’s conversion from country superstar to full-blown pop idol was complete by “1989,” which yielded three #1 singles and sold more than a million copies in its first week. Named for the year Swift was born, the album finds her once again in an autobiographical mood as she dishes on her relationships against a synth-heavy, ‘80s-inspired backdrop. Swift claimed the films of John Hughes served as a major influence while she was making the album.

Kristopher Harris // Wikicommons

2015: "25" by Adele

Sales: 8,008,000

When she was only 21, Adele blew the music world’s collective mind with “21.” At age 25, she released “25,” and fans went justifiably hog-wild. The album was such an instant smash that it became the best-seller of 2015 in its first week, outselling every other record on the Billboard 100 combined. Adele hasn’t released a new album since, and audiences are waiting eagerly to discover what age will title her next album.

The Come Up Show // Wikicommons

2016: "Views" by Drake

Sales: 4,140,000

If you were in high school in 2016, then Canada-born artist Drake was probably part of your life in one way or another. To make sure he didn’t disappoint fans with his 2016 album “Views,” Drake reportedly enlisted help from a small army of producers, including Kanye West. In spite of all that effort, reviews were somewhat tepid (not that it stopped fans from buying the album in droves). 

Ludmila Joaquina Valentina // Flickr

2017: "÷" by Ed Sheeran

Sales: 2,764,000

When multi-talented artist Ed Sheeran isn’t writing hit songs for artists like Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift, he’s churning out his own best-selling albums, all of which seem to be named after math symbols. Accordingly, his most recent work, “÷” (or “Divide”), took 2017 by storm, and is still going strong in 2018. That continued momentum is largely fueled by songs such as “Castle on the Hill” and “Perfect,” the former of which broke a record after being in the Billboard Top 10 for 33 weeks, while the latter is likewise staying its course on the Billboard singles chart.

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