Best selling albums of the 80s
I love 80s music, it being the decade during which I grew from a 6-year-old to a 16-year-old. Back then I had many of the classic albums of the time on vinyl. But were any of them in the best selling albums of the 80s list?
As I recall, my collection included vinyl LPs by Madonna, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Terence Trent D’Arby, Kylie Minogue and more. I still have CDs by more of the 80s greats, such as Duran Duran, Queen and Dire Straits. But were any of those among the best selling artists of the 80s, in terms of LP sales?
The saddest thing is that I donated my vinyl 80s albums to charity over a decade ago. Gone forever. Apart from my collection of limited edition Bros records in the loft, that is. If I could turn back time…
So I’ve done a little research. Here they are – the top selling albums of the 80s. In reverse order, here is the top ten, culminating in the biggest selling album of the 80s, here in the UK.
And for the purposes of comparison, the list of the top selling albums of the 80s in the US is also detailed in this post.
Whether you’re a Gen X-er like me, a millenial or even belong to Gen Z, these are the top selling albums of the 80s. Ownership is, of course, optional.
As for the greatest albums of the 80s? Could these be so described? Their beauty is in the eye of the listener, so it’s down to you to decide…
Best selling albums of the 80s contents
- The UK top 10 albums of the 80s
- The US top 10 albums of the 90s
The top ten best selling albums of the 80s in the UK
One artist makes the list twice, while the UK’s highest selling album of the 80s came as something of a surprise to me. Here’s the British rundown.
Yes indeed, I had this one. As well as the patchouli-scented one that came after it – Like a Prayer. This is true – the album sleeve was actually impregnated with patchouli oil. I remember reading about it at the time. Can you imagine anyone doing that now?
Anyway, back to True Blue. My personal favourite is La Isla Bonita. I love the Spanish flamenco sounds, and the idea of the pretty, unspoiled island with its warm, tropical breezes.
Papa Don’t Preach is a key track, too. Speaking volumes about the times and the gradually shifting society and its attitudes, following on from the free love movement of the 60s and 70s. Not everyone was accepting of children being conceived out of wedlock, of course. A statement sometimes still holds true today.
I also loved Where’s The Party? At that age, didn’t we all want to free our souls and lose control? Incidentally the working title of this LP was Live to Tell, but it was changed before release.
See Madonna: True Blue here
9. The Joshua Tree – U2
The Joshua Tree was U2’s fifth album, and with it came seminal singles including I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Where The Streets Have No Name and With Or Without You.
The LP was received well by both music critics and the public. It became the UK’s quickest-selling album ever and topped the album charts in more than 20 countries.
While I do see the appeal of Bono’s gravelly tones, the rock tunes and the yearning lyrics, I’m not really a U2 fan. I don’t dislike them, but then I don’t particularly like them either. Each to their own and all that. Their songs are not the kind of track I’ll ask Alexa to play – but then I don’t tend to skip them, either.
I’m more into them since I discovered that Bono was very friendly with my idol Michael Hutchence. (Yep, any excuse to bring him up, you got me.)
See U2: The Joshua Tree here
8. No Jacket Required – Phil Collins
From a band whose tracks I wouldn’t choose but will listen to, to an artist whose music I frequently do ask Alexa to skip. Phil Collins. I’m afraid I’m not a fan.
I must be alone, however. The list of artists involved in No Jacket Required is incredibly impressive. There are backing vocals from Sting and Peter Gabriel – both very successful artists in their own right.
If I had to pick a track (like we used to pick a product from every page of the Argos catalogue back in the day, or was that just me and my mates?), then it would be Sussudio. Because at least it’s upbeat. Unlike One More Night.
For me, Phil Collins’ finest hour was a non-starring role in the hilarious and much-missed Vic and Bob sitcom House of Fools. You had to see it, really. ‘German honeymoon horses – some galloping, some not so galloping’. Pure silliness and utterly entertaining.
See Phil Collins: No Jacket Required here
7. Tango in the Night – Fleetwood Mac
I love, love, love the cover of this one – isn’t that image beguiling? Like Phil Collins and U2, though, I’m not a big fan of Fleetwood Mac. No big love there, I’m afraid.
The story goes that the cover artwork came from a painting displayed in Lindsey Buckingham’s house. She left the band later in 1987, making Tango in the Night was Fleetwood Mac’s fifth and final album with that particular line-up. As a band, it was actually their fourteenth studio album.
The same image – by an Australian artist and apparently a Rousseau homage – was also used for the cover of Big Love, arguably the band’s best known single. Mister cannot stand the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ of this song. It’s one he always gets Alexa to skip!
See Fleetwood Mac: Tango in the Night here
6. Whitney – Whitney Houston
Hurrah! As we enter the top 6 I can honestly say I’ve owned five of the six of these at some point. The only one I haven’t ever owned is actually the number one best selling album of the 80s, but we’ll get to that later.
Whitney Houston’s music brings back happy memories for me. I used to regularly spend the weekend with my cousin in Newcastle, and on the way back to my home town, she, me and my auntie and uncle would always listen to Whitney.
Ms Houston – aka Mrs Bobby Brown – was such a huge global star. And that voice. It makes what happened to her – and later, her daughter – seem even more tragic. Fame and fortune are sometimes far from a recipe for happiness, it seems.
Tracks like I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) appear to have timeless appeal. I’ve even seen t-shirts for sale, bearing the title and Whitney’s face, in very recent times.
See Whitney Houston: Whitney here
5. Kylie – Kylie Minogue
The only PWL (Pete Waterman Ltd) album in this list of the best selling 80s albums. Thankfully, some might say. Stock, Aitken and Waterman were massive in the 80s, their ‘hits factory’ churning out one pop hit after another.
Whether those cheerful ditties have stood the test of time is another matter, but Kylie herself certainly has. There are few artists in the world who go by their first name only – and certainly no other Australians.
Sugary, lightweight pop it is, but sometimes no less enjoyable for that. The cheerful I Should Be So Lucky, released in late 1987, was actually PWL’s first single, and it was the first ever to top both the Australian and UK charts.
My personal favourite from Kylie (the album) is Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi. I just find the melody and beat really catchy. In fact, Alexa – play that tune.
See Kylie Minogue: Kylie here
4. Greatest Hits – Queen
This is one I own to this day. Not on vinyl, alas, but on CD. (Yes, I’m still more than a bit old school.) It’s the only Greatest Hits album to make this list of the top 80s LPs. (No compilations are present here, either, you may notice.)
Where to start with the track listing on this? I do indeed like to ride my bicycle. I loved the use of You’re My Best Friend in the film Peter’s Friends, starring Stephen Fry. I once belted out Killer Queen when seeing a Queen tribute act. And so it goes on.
We Are The Champions is such a great melody for celebrating success, while Another One Bites The Dust is a top pick for lauding it over the rivals. On the sporting royalties alone surely one could live in the lap of luxury. Not to mention the masterpiece that is Bohemian Rhapsody.
See Queen: Greatest Hits here
3. Thriller – Michael Jackson
Despite all the allegations since, it is impossible to exaggerate Michael Jackson’s musical success. The guy was a global phenomenon. As well as the only artist to appear in this top ten. At positions three and two, no less.
I’m actually surprised that Thriller is not number two (or one). That video was ground-breaking, and still, in my opinion, the best music video ever made. Wacko Jacko – as he was often dubbed back then – showed he could move as just well as compose and sing, too.
Paul McCartney became the first artist to guest on a Michael Jackson album – and what an artist. Who could beat a Beatle? John Lennon, sadly, was long gone by then, but The Girl Is Mine saw two of the greatest musicians ever tussling over a girl. A fictitious one, presumably. Not an under-age one, hopefully.
The best tracks from Thriller are the classics – the title track as well as Beat It and Billie Jean.
See Michael Jackson: Thriller here
2. Bad – Michael Jackson
Bad was MJ’s seventh album, and his final collaboration with Quincy Jones. It was more experimental than Thriller, including nods to rock, funk and soul as well as pop – and a huge worldwide success. Here in the UK, it’s the second in the list of the best selling albums of the 1980s.
Stevie Wonder is featured on Just Good Friends. Smooth Criminal, later covered by Alien Ant Farm, is my favourite. Closely followed by Man In The Mirror, Dirty Diana and Leave Me Alone.
Bad sold in excess of two million copies in the US within just a week of its release. Here in the UK – where the population is much smaller – it sold half a million in the first five days.
Due to the success of preceding Thriller, Bad was eagerly anticipated the world over. Fans were far from disappointed, making it their number two album purchase from the entire decade.
See Michael Jackson: Bad here
1. Brothers in Arms – Dire Straits
I’ve never owned this one – yet I used to hear it on a daily basis. Because Papa was a Rolling Stone. Or something. Back in mid 1980s my Dad bought this LP on vinyl, and as far as I recall he seemed to play it every day. For weeks, or maybe even months. In the lounge we had with peach and green sofas, on the family music centre on the G-plan sideboard.
Money For Nothing seems to get the most airtime, but my top track is Walk Of Life. The tune is so upbeat. Apparently Mark Knopfler was keen to invest in technology that improved musical quality, and Brothers in Arms was thus one of the first ever albums to be recorded on a high-tech Sony digital tape machine.
I love the cover – simple but very effective. Now, somewhat iconic. Who’d have thought that the singer of the number one 80s album would hail from the north east, just like me?
View Dire Straits: Brothers in Arms here
The Top Ten Best Selling Albums of the 80s in the US
10. Slippery When Wet – Bon Jovi
A great start to the US list of the best selling albums of the 1980s, don’t you think? Well I do. If you can resist strumming or singing along to Livin’ on a Prayer then you’re maybe being watched more than I am. Working from home alone does have its advantages 😉
9. Brothers in Arms – Dire Straits
So the UK’s number 1 selling album of the 80s made it as number 9 on the US list. Not bad for a lad from the Toon (Newcastle, north east England). It held the top spot for 9 weeks stateside too.
8. Live 1975 to 1985 – Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
To be honest I might have expected to see The Boss in the UK list, but he wasn’t as big over here as in the US. This was one of just three albums to debut at number one during the 80s – Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson (with Bad) were the only other artists to manage it.
7. Purple Rain – Prince and the Revolution
Oh my – how I want that purple vinyl LP (pictured above). Just to look at. Like the owner of Paisley Park, purple is also my favourite hue. The music’s not bad either, mind. Another iconic artist gone far too soon.
6. No Jacket Required – Phil Collins
Here he is again. Still soldiering on at the time of writing too, bless his heart – he’s looking rather frail these days. In the US, this was in the top ten for 31 weeks, which is pretty impressive.
5. Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston
Interesting that it’s not the same album from Whitney as the one that made the UK top ten. At number one for 14 weeks in her home country, this was a bigger hit in the US.
4. Appetite for Destruction – Guns ‘n’ Roses
Love it – another heavier one here that was a bigger hit across the pond than here in Blighty. Guns ‘n’ Roses were enormously popular where I come from, so I’m disappointed they didn’t make the UK list too.
3. Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen
Here he is again. Rear view this time. Springsteen was one of a few artists with the most album sales of the decade. Although his hit recordings didn’t go down quite as well over here, this all-American rock star could do no wrong.
2. Back in Black – AC/DC
Well, I have to say – good people of 1980s USA, you are impressing me! Three heavier albums in your top ten – the most rock albums sold were to Americans rather than Brits, that’s for sure. I’m sure AC/DC will go down in history as the greatest ever band from Sydney, though there’s another that will always pip them to the top in my book.
Great band, though. Even if they’re not named Farriss, Beers, Pengilly or Hutchence. Brian Johnson is a Geordie too. Top man.
1. Thriller – Michael Jackson
I was surprised that Bad rather than Thriller was number one in the UK, but the US Billboard told a different story. Thriller took the top spot with 37 weeks at number one, as well as one of the longest runs in the top 10 ever (78 weeks – that’s well over a year). One of the only artists who spend longer in the top 10 album chart was none other than Bruce Springsteen.
Which are your favourite 80s albums?
Did this list surprise you? For me, I expected to see maybe David Bowie in the UK list. Adam Ant, Duran Duran – and of course I’d want to see INXS in there. I always do, I play them every day.
If I’m honest, I prefer the US top ten to the UK one. There’s more rock in there, and less pop. It’s interesting, too, that the same artist, Whitney Houston, featured in each with different album. And that Bad didn’t even make the US top ten, whereas it topped the British chart.
I miss those days. Listening to the top 40 every Sunday night, as the Official Charts Company (or was it Gallup back then?) gave us the weekly rundown. Watching Top of the Pops every Thursday and buying Smash Hits.
The 80s were musical gold – for me, at least. While the albums chart wasn’t as popular a listen as the 80s singles chart, it was often seen as a sign of true success. Owning any of the best selling albums of the 80s is therefore to possess a small piece of music history.
- 90s top selling albums
- 80s party compilations
- NOW! That’s What I Call Music 80s albums
- 1980s Eurovision winners
- UK 100 number 1 80s singles
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