Of the millions of records, CDs and digital downloads that have been sold, only a handful of artists have sold more than anyone else. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is a trade organization representing the major U.S. record companies and tracks music-industry sales. Based on documented sales figures as of April 2011, the RIAA has named the five best-selling music artists of all time.
An independent RIAA audit of unit sales resulted in the Eagles being listed the fifth best-selling musical artist of all time, with album sales of 100 million. The RIAA also named the Eagles' "Their Greatest Hits: 1971-1975" the top-selling album of the 20th century after it sold 26 million units, topping the record previously held by Michael Jackson's "Thriller."
Led Zeppelin came in at No. 4, with more than 111 million albums sold. Led Zeppelin has four albums certified as diamond, meaning each album sold more than 10 million units. The group's four diamond albums are "Led Zeppelin," "Led Zeppelin IV, "Led Zeppelin II," "Houses of the Holy" and "Physical Graffiti." The only acts to attain more diamond albums are the Beatles and Garth Brooks, who each have six.
Country artist Garth Brooks came in at No. 3, with certified album sales of 128 million. In fact, Brooks had previously held the No. 2 spot, which made him the top-selling male solo artist in American recording history. This was a contentious issue for fans of Elvis Presley, who felt the late singer was cheated of this title due to difficulty in documenting exactly how many Presley records were actually sold during the 1950s and 1960s. This became a moot point in 2010 when Presley overtook Brooks to claim the No. 2 spot.
Despite being deceased since 1977, Elvis Presley's records continue to sell consistently, and his RIAA-certified sales are 129.5 million. According to the Elvis Information Network, determining how many Presley records were actually sold is problematic: "The RIAA certifications are based on documented sales figures and in the case of older artists these figures simply do not exist any more. In the case of Elvis the RCA figures are incomplete, most importantly sales during the 12 months after Elvis' death are unaccounted for." It further points out that Presley's greatest success during the peak of his popularity came from the sales of singles, and the RIAA criteria only counts album sales.
With certified album sales of 177 million, the Beatles are the biggest-selling musical artists of all time. These numbers are certain to climb even higher now that, as of 2011, all 16 of the Fab Four's studio albums have finally been made available for digital download on iTunes. According to the RIAA, the Beatles' 1968 double album "The Beatles" is the band's best-selling album, which is ranked as the 10th top-selling album of all time as of early 2011.