Top Artists Of All Time…Beatles vs Stones!

It’s almost unbelievable that over 50 years after the “British Invasion” the “Top Artist of All Time” title came down to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones!

Billboard magazine’s 125th Anniversary turned into a battle of the bands with The Beatles at #1 and The Stones at #2.  The way the magazine ranked all the artists was a combination of their U.S. chart success on the Hot 100 singles chart, along with the success of their albums on the Top 200 chart.  We’ll look at the top thirty artists, but first let’s compare the two biggest artists.

The Billboard statistics are actually overwhelming for The Beatles compared with The Stones (or anybody else).  The Beatles spent 132 weeks at #1 on the album chart, and that’s about double the next highest artist, Elvis Presley.  Taylor Swift is a not-too-distant third.

The Beatles had 20 #1 singles, The Stones had 8.  The Beatles had 19 #1 albums, and The Stones had 9.  One way The Stones surpassed The Beatles is that they stayed together!  That means they charted 37 albums over the years, and that’s the impressive reason they earned the #2 position on the top artists list.  The Beatles vs The Stones was always a rivalry between friends, and in the end, they both won in their own ways.  By the way, the only artist to make this list in a group and as a solo artist is Paul McCartney.

Here’s the list of the top thirty artists in Billboard’s 125th Anniversary issue:

  1. The Beatles
  2. The Rolling Stones
  3. Elton John
  4. Mariah Carey
  5. Madonna
  6. Barbra Streisand
  7. Michael Jackson
  8. Taylor Swift
  9. Stevie Wonder
  10. Chicago
  11. Whitney Houston
  12. Paul McCartney
  13. Elvis Presley
  14. Janet Jackson
  15. Rod Stewart
  16. Drake
  17. Prince
  18. Rihanna
  19. Billy Joel
  20. Garth Brooks
  21. Herb Alpert
  22. Eminem
  23. Usher
  24. Bruce Springsteen
  25. Neil Diamond
  26. The Supremes
  27. Eagles
  28. Bee Gees
  29. The Beach Boys
  30. Fleetwood Mac

You can see the #3 position and top solo artist went to Elton John.

The top female artist is right behind Elton at #4, Mariah Carey.

There are three surprises in the Top 10.

  1. The Easy Listening/Broadway recordings of Barbra Streisand placed her high at #6.
  2. The only recent star is Taylor Swift at #8…which is very impressive for someone who’s only been charting for 13 years.  It also means she easily out-performed all her contemporaries.  (update 1/06/23: Since the list was published, Swift has added five #1 albums.)
  3. Chicago at #10 beat out many acts that might have been expected to outrank them.

Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, contemporaries of Chicago, are at #27 & #30.  Of course Eagles recorded the #1 and #3 best-selling albums of all time, and Fleetwood Mac is not far behind.  It accents that these rankings are based on Billboard’s weekly charts, which are not the same as overall sales.  For instance, Billy Joel has actually outsold Elton John and Michael Jackson in the U.S., even though he is ranked lower here.

In their explanation of how they did the rankings Billboard said…Due to changes in chart methodology and title turnover rates, certain periods for each chart recap were weighted differently to ensure as equal a representation as possible among all eras.”  The cynical interpretation would be “We just make this stuff up”.  The fact is, sales and radio airplay no longer drive Billboard’s charts, and streaming is not an accurate measurement either, so they just do the best they can.

It’s actually impossible to directly compare chart success from one era to another, but we can still have fun with The Beatles vs The Stones.  We just can’t let it be, because there’s a certain satisfaction to it.

2 Replies to “Top Artists Of All Time…Beatles vs Stones!”

  1. I don’t know…does it really count as staying together when you only have 3 out of the original 6 Stones still in the band? Can we really even say they’re still a band when they seldom play together. Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of their music, particularly the 1965-1973 era, and would say their LPs from 1968-1972 were as good as or better than anyone else’s, including the Beatles, but as you note by statistics, Beatles vs. Stones isn’t even a contest…it’s like Muhammad Ali vs. Alfred E. Newman.

    As for the rankings, yeah, they just did whatever they wanted to and included more than a little pandering to try to appear hip and relevant. There are really no charts that matter now, nor will their likely ever again be an act with the near-universal appeal of the Beatles. Really the list should be:

    1. Beatles

    30. Everybody else

  2. When they leave out Led Zeppelin, this whole list is a joke.

    Editor: You’re right that Led Zeppelin is one of Rock’s very best bands. Unfortunately, this type of list is based on performance on Billboard’s singles and album charts. Led Zeppelin was not a singles band. Even “Stairway To Heaven” wasn’t released as a single. It’s just the wrong kind of list for the band.

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