Ask Billboard: Battle Of The Rock Bands, Part 2

Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. Submit your burning music questions to Gary Trust at Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.


Hi Gary,

Following up on last week's question about who's sold more albums, Def Leppard (the winner) or Poison, how about comparing Guns N' Roses and Metallica?

G N' R is the reason I like rock & roll!

Tiago Cardoso
Franca, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Hi Tiago,

Happy, again, to analyze sales of rock bands with origins in the '80s, when the genre produced so many more fun party songs, and gave off more of a rock star vibe, than today.

Maybe in this economy, bands just don't want to trash hotel rooms and have to pay for the damages.

Utilizing Nielsen SoundScan data, which dates to 1991, Guns N' Roses have totaled 24,914,000 albums sold in the U.S. 1991's "Use Your Illusion 2" leads with 5,587,000 units, followed closely by "Use Your Illusion 1," at 5,502,000.

In that span, Metallica has sold 52,271,000 albums in the U.S., led by 1991's "Metallica" with sales to date of 15,525,000.

According to the Recording Industry of America (RIAA), whose data encompasses the bands' entire careers, Metallica leads Guns N' Roses, 59 to 43.5 million. Among all artists, Metallica ranks 18th, Guns N' Roses 30th.

It does help Metallica that the band has released more albums. The band has placed 14 titles on the Billboard 200, compared to G N' R's eight.

As for why the bands' totals are so much closer using RIAA data as opposed to SoundScan's, Guns N' Roses' opus "Appetite for Destruction" was released in 1987, four years before the advent of SoundScan information. Since 1991, the set has sold 5,008,000 copies. The RIAA, however, has certified the album with sales of 18 million dating to its release.

How does the RIAA stack up the U.S.' top-selling rock groups of all-time? The list looks like this:

Rank, Artist, Certified Units (in millions)
1, the Beatles, 170
2, Led Zeppelin, 111.5
3, Eagles, 100
4, Pink Floyd, 74.5
5, AC/DC, 71
6, Aerosmith, 66.5
7, the Rolling Stones, 66
8, Metallica, 59
9, Van Halen, 56.5
10, U2, 51.5
11, Fleetwood Mac, 48.5
12, Journey, 47
13, Guns N' Roses, 43.5
14, Santana, 43
15, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, 41