How the Eagles’ Best-Selling Record Topped Both The Beatles and Zeppelin

If you look at the stats of history’s best-selling recording artists, we bet you’ll be surprised more than once.

Start with The Beatles’ cumulative record sales. While you might expect the number to be impressive, you might not think it could top the entire sales of Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones combined. (It does, at 183 million units.)

Another big surprise comes at the top of Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) list of best-selling individual albums. Neither the Fab Four nor Led Zeppelin manages to place in the top three.

Instead, both the No. 1 and No. 3 spots belong to a another super-group, the Eagles. The L.A. band’s greatest hits record from 1976 tops all albums with a staggering 38 million sales. Meanwhile, Hotel California (also from ’76) stands as the top-selling studio album by a rock band.

Top sellers by The Beatles and Led Zeppelin fell short of the Eagles’ No. 1 record.

The Beatles (left  to right) George Harrison (1943 - 2001), Ringo Starr, John Lennon (1940 - 1980) and Paul McCartney, hold the sleeve of their new LP, 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', at the press launch for the album, held at Brian Epstein's house at 24 Chapel Street, London, 19th May 1967.
The Beatles hold the sleeve of their new LP, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ The press launch happened at Brian Epstein’s house, London, May 1967. | John Downing/Getty Images

Since the release of Hotel California in December of ’76, the record has sold 26 million copies (26x Platinum). In addition to the legendary title track, “Life in the Fast Lane” might be the most recognizable song on the record.

Compare that to Zeppelin’s best-seller (Led Zeppelin IV, at 23 million units) and the Eagles maintain a healthy edge. The Beatles’ White Album, the Fab Four’s most popular record with 24 million copies sold, also trails the Eagles’s smash hit by a few million units.

Combined, the top two Eagles albums represent more sales than U2’s entire career (52 million units). You can easily see how the Eagles managed to outsell every recording artist in history other than Elvis, Garth Brooks, and The Beatles.

Meanwhile, Hotel California holds another special place in recording history. Among studio albums (not counting greatest hits), only Michael Jackson’s Thriller ever sold more copies.

‘Hotel California’ outsold every studio album except ‘Thriller’.

EAGLES; Bernie Leadon, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Don Felder, Randy Meisner
EAGLES: Bernie Leadon, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Don Felder, Randy Meisner | GAB Archive/Redferns

Thriller, the King of Pop’s best-selling record, has moved 33 million copies since it debuted in 1982. Nothing comes close. With Hotel California some seven million copies behind it, MJ’s recoding milestone will endure for some time.

Looking back to 1976 (or yesterday), you can see what a one-two punch the Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 and Hotel California represented for fans. With the former record, you got the best of the band’s early years. Adding on the latter, you were set for the foreseeable future.

Of course, selling 26 million copies has meant maybe 100 million people asking, “What is the ‘warm smell of colitas’?” over the years. (For the record, it’s slang for marijuana.) As for how a “smell” can be “warm,” we’ll leave that to you.

The Beatles and Zeppelin might hold a more prominent place in the hearts of many rock fans, but at least as far as individual album sales go, neither can top Hotel California.

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