Chart Watch Extra: Where “Thriller” Ranks
Thirty years after its release, Michael Jackson's Thriller is tied with Eagles' Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 as the best-selling album of all time in the U.S., according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America. Both albums have shipped 29 million copies. (The RIAA measures shipments to stores, not actual sales.)
No album comes close to Thriller as the all-time international best-seller, but Eagles' hit-studded album has proved to be a surprisingly strong competitor in the U.S. Both albums have extraordinarily broad appeal. Thriller and its key hits brought Jackson Grammys in the pop, rock and R&B fields. Eagles are the only group to have won Grammys in the pop, rock and country fields.
Here's a factoid that will surprise you: Until 1976, there was no official recognition of sales achievements beyond gold, which denoted sales of 500,000 copies. That led the RIAA to introduce platinum awards for albums (released after Jan. 1, 1976) that sold 1 million copies. Eagles' Their Greatest Hits was the first album to qualify. On Feb. 24, 1976, it became the first platinum album.
In October 1984, the RIAA introduced multiplatinum certifications. Thriller led the pack. The album, which had been out less than two years, was certified at the 20 million level, far more than Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, which was in second place at 12 million.
Eagles' album was just platinum until August 1990, when it was belatedly submitted for multiplatinum certification. It was certified that month at the 12 million level. It first tied Thriller for the lead in the multiplatinum race in March 1997, when both albums stood at 24 million. The two albums have been battling it out ever since.
In 1999, the RIAA introduced Diamond Awards, signifying sales of 10 million copies. Thriller is Jackson's only Diamond album, but Eagles have two others besides Their Greatest Hits. Hotel California is certified at 16 million. Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 2 is certified at 11 million. (The Beatles and Garth Brooks are the overall Diamond champs, with six Diamond albums each. Led Zeppelin is runner-up, with five.)
Here's the RIAA's current list of the top 10 albums of all time.