BBMAs 2018

Inside Billboard's Greatest of All Time: The Most Successful Songs, Albums and Acts of the Past 50-Plus Years

Greatest of All Time: The Most Successful Songs, Albums and Acts of the Past 50-Plus Years

Who are the top single and album artists in Hot 100 and Billboard 200 history? The Beatles (No. 1 all-time artist) and Adele (biggest album), but also Eminem, Rihanna and... Air Supply? For the first time Billboard reveals the most successful music.

Who are the top single and album artists in Hot 100 and Billboard 200 history? The Beatles (No. 1 all-time artist) and Adele (biggest album), but also Eminem, Rihanna and... Air Supply? For the first time Billboard reveals the most successful songs, albums and acts of the past 50-plus years.

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Check out the all-time top 10 Hot 100 Artists below.

1. The Beatles
2. Madonna
3. Elton John
4. Elvis Presley
5. Mariah Carey
6. Stevie Wonder
7. Janet Jackson
8. Michael Jackson
9. Whitney Houston
10. The Rolling Stones

For the full list of the all-time Hot 100 Artists, click here

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Even though she didn't arrive on the Billboard Hot 100 until 2005, with the No. 2-peaking dancehall reggae-splashed "Pon Decq Replay," Rihanna ranks prominently as the No. 13 artist of the chart's 57-year history. Her 13 No. 1s -- from 2006's "SOS" to 2013's "The Monster" (by Eminem featuring Rihanna) -- place her in rarefied historical air: She's tied with Michael Jackson for the third-best No. 1 singles total, behind only The Beatles (20) and Mariah Carey (18).

Billboard Greatest of All Time

Key to the 27-year-old Barbadian's success is her wide range, says Kid Kelly, SiriusXM vp music programming. "She has surprised fans with the ability to reinvent herself authentically album to album, song to song." She also deftly moves among genres, from dance music ("We Found Love," her 2011 smash with Calvin Harris, sits at No. 25 on the all-time Hot 100) and R&B/hip-hop (her Grammy-nominated 2010 No. 1 single "What's My Name?" showcased Drake) to pop (2008's "Take a Bow" and Altered the years inside the parentheses. "Disturbia"). Rihanna's most recent Hot 100 top 10 even found her in coffeehouse-folk mode, as she hit No. 4 in February with the Kanye West and Paul McCartney collaboration "FourFiveSeconds." Other acts with whom she has shared Hot 100 credit are also diverse: Bono, Jay Z, Maroon 5, Nicki Minaj and Slash.

With her eighth album on the way, her first since 2012's Billboard 200 No. 1 Unapologetic, Rihanna is poised to climb even higher on the all-time artist list. "She doesn't make any style sound forced," says WBBM-FM Chicago assistant program director/music director Erik Bradley. "Her versatility has helped her reach." 

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Check out the top 10 all-time Hot 100 Songs below.

Rank, Song Title, Artist, Peak Year

1, "The Twist," Chubby Checker, 1960
2, "Smooth," Santana Featuring Rob Thomas, 1999
3, "Mack The Knife," Bobby Darin, 1959
4, "How Do I Live," LeAnn Rimes, 1997
5, "Party Rock Anthem," LMFAO Featuring Lauren Bennett & Goon Rock, 2011
6, "I Gotta Feeling," The Black Eyed Peas, 2009
7, "Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix), Los Del Rio, 1996
8, "Physical," Olivia Newton-John, 1981
9, "You Light Up My Life," Debbie Boone, 1997
10, "Hey Jude," The Beatles, 1968

For the full list of the all-time Hot 100 Songs, click here.

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Carlos Santana says he was meditating in the late '90s, after 15 years without a hit, when an entity called "Metatron" urged him to return to the airwaves -- the kids needed him. Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas and songwriter Itaal Shur had the perfect offering, a pop song that varnished the guitarist's psych-rock for the so-called Latin Explosion era. As the centerpiece of aptly titled 1999's Supernatural, "Smooth" washeld No. 1 from Oct. 23, 1999 through Jan. 8 until Jan. 14, 2000 -- changed per request of charts team, and remained in the top 10 for 30 weeks. Thomas, for his part, still likes to hear the Y2K smash on the radio, but wishes the first line weren't so quotable. "If I could get a dollar for every time someone said to me, 'Man, it's a hot one,' " he says, "I could trade in my royalties on 'Smooth.'"

THE DANCE CRAZE THAT WOULDN'T DIE

The biggest Hot 100 song of all time, Chubby Checker's "The Twist" is the only single to reach No. 1 in two release cycles: once in 1960, after Checker first performed the tune on American Bandstand, and again in 1962. Written by Hank Ballard & The Midnighters -- whose original hit No. 28 in 1960 -- the classic re-emerged in 1988, when The Fat Boys peaked at No. 16 with a beatboxed cover.

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Check out the all-time top 10 Billboard 200 Artists below.

1. The Beatles
2. The Rolling Stones
3. Barbra Streisand
4. Garth Brooks
5. Elton John
6. Mariah Carey
7. Herb Alpert
8. Taylor Swift
9. Chicago
10. Michael Jackson

For the full list of the all-time Billboard 200 Artists, click here.

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Marshall Mathers, 43, is the top hip-hop artist of all time on the Billboard 200, ranking at No. 14 overall -- even significantly higher than rap demigod Jay Z (No. 43). Eminem's remarkable run began in March 1999 with the No. 2 arrival (and peak) of his second full-length, The Slim Shady LP. Since then, all seven of the rapper's subsequent releases have debuted at No. 1, including 2013's The Marshall Mathers LP 2 -- in total, Eminem's albums have spent 132 weeks in the top 10. He is also only one of four top 20 acts whose Billboard 200 careers began in the last 25 years. The others? Garth Brooks and Mariah Carey, who both emerged in 1990, and Taylor Swift, who arrived in 2006.

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Check out the all-time top 10 Billboard 200 Albums below.

Rank, Album, Artist, Peak Year

1, 21, Adele, 2011
2, The Sound Of Music, Soundtrack, 1965
3, Thriller, Michael Jackson, 1983
4, Fearless, Taylor Swift, 2008
5, Born In The U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen, 1984
6, Ropin' The Wind, Garth Brooks, 1991
7, Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette, 1995
8, Doctor Zhivago, Soundtrack, 1966,
9, All The Right Reasons, Nickelback, 2005
10, Tapestry, Carole King, 1971

For the full list of the all-time Billboard 200 Albums, click here.

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The KING OF COUNTRY HAS 9 NO. 1s

The first country album ever to debut at No. 1 was Garth Brooks' third studio release, 1991's Ropin' the Wind -- the first of the superstar's nine chart-topping full-lengths. In total, the Oklahoma native's records have spent 52 weeks atop the list, the most for any country performer.

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See the All-Time Charts: Billboard 200 Albums | Billboard 200 Artists | Hot 100 Songs | Hot 100 Artists

CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS

Billboard vp charts and data development Silvio Pietroluongo explains the methodology behind the all-time charts. 

How did you assemble these charts?

First, we used a sliding scale to rank each title: A No. 1 record would get X amount of points, a No. 2 a little less and so on. Second, since chart rules and chart behavior changed over time, we weighed the years and eras differently. For example, songs and albums moved up and down the charts faster in the 1970s than in other eras, so a record that was No. 1 for five weeks in 1975 would be granted a higher point value than a record that was No. 1 for the same duration in 2010.

Thriller is the best-selling album of all time, according to the RIAA. So why isn't it No. 1 on the all-time Billboard 200?

These lists reflect the behavior of albums and songs on our charts, not overall sales. Albums such as Thriller continue to sell for quite some time even if they're no longer on the weekly Billboard 200.

How else has chart behavior changed?

Things changed dramatically in 1991 when Billboard introduced Nielsen-based point-of-purchase sales data. Before '91, only six albums had debuted at No. 1. Now, that's normal.

By the end of 2016, will Adele's 25 be the No. 1 album of all time?

Not quite. You need a few years of sustained success to make the all-time list. But ask me again in 2018.

This story originally appeared in the Nov.  21 issue of Billboard.