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 is second, Taylor Swift is third.
The Beatles had 20 #1 singles, The Stones had 8. The Beatles had 19 #1 albums, and The Stones had 9. Where 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.
Here’s the list of the top thirty artists in Billboard’s 125th Anniversary issue:
- The Beatles
- The Rolling Stones
- Elton John
- Mariah Carey
- Barbra Streisand
- Michael Jackson
- Taylor Swift
- Stevie Wonder
- Whitney Houston
- Paul McCartney
- Elvis Presley
- Janet Jackson
- Rod Stewart
- Billy Joel
- Garth Brooks
- Herb Alpert
- Bruce Springsteen
- Neil Diamond
- The Supremes
- Bee Gees
- The Beach Boys
- Fleetwood Mac
There are three surprises in the Top 10.
- The Easy Listening/Broadway recordings of Barbra Streisand placed her high at #6.
- 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.
- 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. There’s a certain satisfaction to it, so we can’t just let it be.