Greatest Billboard 200 Albums & Artists of All Time: Adele's '21' & The Beatles Are Tops
Adele's '21' is the top Billboard 200 album, while The Beatles are the biggest act. Plus: 'The Sound of Music' soundtrack is the runner-up title, and Taylor Swift sizzles on the all-time artist list.
For the first time, Billboard has ranked the top albums and artists ever on our signature Billboard 200 albums chart.
This unique recap of the chart begins with the Aug. 17, 1963-dated chart, when Billboard combined our two leading pop album charts for stereo and mono releases into one all-encompassing weekly chart. The new chart, then-called Top LP's, would later become known as the Billboard 200.
On this all-time list, albums are ranked based on an inverse point system, with weeks at No. 1 earning the greatest value and weeks at the lower reaches of the chart earning the least. Due to changes in chart methodology through the years, eras are weighted differently to account for chart turnover rates over various periods. Artists are ranked based on the combined point totals of their albums, as outlined above.
ALL-TIME No. 1 BILLBOARD 200 ALBUM: ADELE'S '21'
Adele's blockbuster 21 tops the Billboard 200's all-time albums ranking, fueled not only by the set's 24 nonconsecutive weeks atop the list (the most weeks at No. 1 for an album by a woman), but also its lengthy chart run in the upper reaches of the tally.
21 debuted on the chart dated March 12, 2011 and spent its first 78 weeks in the top 10 (and then returned for three more frames … so far). The album has yet to leave the list since its release, and has lingered on the tally for more than 245 consecutive weeks.
At the end of 2011, Billboard spoke to Adele about the success of 21 and what the future held for her. "I'm just going to lay some concrete, set up home and just 'be' for a bit," she said. "I'll disappear and come back with a record [when it's] good enough. There will be no new music until it's good enough and until I'm ready."
Clearly, Adele is now ready, as 21's follow-up, 25, will be released globally Nov. 20. And, who knows, perhaps 25 will find its way to the next all-time Billboard 200 ranking.
Below Adele's 21 on the Billboard 200 recap is the soundtrack to The Sound of Music, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2015. The album, led by the film's star Julie Andrews, spent two weeks at No. 1 on the weekly Billboard 200, and earned a record 109 weeks in the top 10. The album was so hot that it was in the weekly top 10 from the May 1, 1965-dated chart through July 16, 1966. It was a regular (but not quite weekly) presence in the top 10 off and on through early 1968.
Earlier in 2015, Andrews spoke to Billboard about the movie's half-century anniversary and its enduring appeal. "I don't think I could have possibly guessed, ever, that it was going to be iconic as it has become. If anyone had told me that 50 years after the fact I'd be still speaking to you about it and its magic, I could not have anticipated that or believed it."
At No. 3 on the all-time list is Michael Jackson's Thriller, which clocked 37 weeks at No. 1 on the chart in 1983-84. In total, the set (which would also be the first to spawn seven top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart) would spend 78 weeks in the top 10.
ALL-TIME No. 1 BILLBOARD 200 ACT: THE BEATLES
The Beatles triumph as the top all-time act on the Billboard 200, bolstered by the band's record 19 No. 1s which spent 132 weeks atop the list (again, another record).
Five of the group's albums are among the all-time Billboard 200 titles, led by, at No. 54, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which spent 15 straight weeks at No. 1 in 1967.
Some might wonder how a 15-week run at No. 1 didn't enable the album to place higher on the all-time list. Although Sgt. Pepper's spent a long stretch at the summit, it totaled a relatively short amount of time in the top 10 (33 weeks) and in the top 40 (63 weeks) compared to other high-ranking titles on the all-time list. As noted earlier, titles on the recap earn a greater number of points from spending a long time in the upper reaches of the tally.
Another British band places second on the all-time artists list: The Rolling Stones. The group, which owns a record 36 top 10 albums, debuted on the chart four months after the arrival of The Beatles. The Rolling Stones bowed on the June 27, 1964 chart with England's Newest Hit Makers, shortly after The Beatles' chart debut: Meet the Beatles! (Feb. 1, 1964).
While both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones started their Billboard 200 chart careers in 1964, there's an act among the top 10 that wasn't even born until 25 years later: Taylor Swift.
The country-to-pop superstar, who was born Dec. 13, 1989, made her Billboard 200 chart debut Nov. 11, 2006. Since then, she's logged eight chart entries, all of which reached the top 20, with four albums hitting No. 1.
The sustained performance of Swift's albums (four of which are on the all-time titles list) enable her to rank at No. 8 on the all-time artists list. She is the only act among the all-time top 30 to have started their chart career since 2000.