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Top-selling artists worldwide from 1954 to 2016

Perhaps unsurprisingly, British rock band The Beatles are top of the list for best-selling artists worldwide, with 257.7 million certified sales. Second is Elvis Presley with almost 207 million sales, followed by Michael Jackson with 169.7 million. All the artists who made the top twenty list are internationally renowned for their contributions to music and range from Canadian singer Celine Dion to American singer-songwriter Garth Brooks.

What do the top-selling artists have in common?

The artists in the top twenty ranking for worldwide certified sales all made their mark in music in their own unique way. However, what is notable is that many of the artists in the list achieved fame and success several decades ago and were fortunate enough to have a lasting impact. Most of the musicians in the list were born in the United States or the United Kingdom and began their musical career in the 1960s or 1970s.

The music of the 1960s is often considered revolutionary, with politically-minded music from the likes of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez achieving huge popularity and psychedelic rock becoming one of the musical hallmarks of the era. British psychedelic/progressive rock band Pink Floyd as well as rock groups The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin all formed in London in the 1960s, as well as The Beatles who began their career in Liverpool at the beginning of the decade.

Which artists are still active today?

As of early 2019, only a few of the artists who made the list remain active. American band the Eagles have toured regularly throughout their long career, as well as Irish group U2. Rihanna, the youngest artist by far to make the top twenty ranking, continues to make and play music as well as exploring other avenues such as acting and fashion.

Sadly though, several of the world’s top-selling musicians have now passed, including Elvis Presley, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. Certain groups are still musically active but few have retained their original line-up – namely Queen who have continued to play since the death of front man Freddie Mercury in 1991. Australian rock and roll band AC/DC have undergone multiple line-up changes over the years, the most recent being the replacement of vocalist Brian Johnson with Guns n’ Roses singer Axl Rose.

Top-selling artists worldwide from 1954 to 2016, based on certified sales

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Release date

September 2016



Survey time period

1954 to 2016

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