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 been charting for fewer years.  It also means she easily out-performed all her contemporaries.  (update Nov., 2023: Since the list was published, Swift has added seven #1 albums, and her having 13 #1 albums passed Barbra Streisand’s total (11).  Swift would rank significantly higher if the list was updated.)
  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 the 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.

8 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

    1. Well I have to disagree.

      People have different opinions on which band is better, the Rolling Stones or the Beatles. However, there are some factors that make the Rolling Stones bigger and better than the Beatles in my opinion. Firstly, the Rolling Stones have a far greater image with a rebellious, bad-boy reputation. They’re known for their wild antics, hard-partying ways, and unconventional lifestyles. Fans who resonate with the free-spirited, rock ‘n’ roll attitude that the band projects will be drawn to them.

      Secondly, the Rolling Stones have been active for more than 50 years and they’ve maintained a consistent level of popularity and success. All these unoriginal band members you speak of have earned the right to be a Rolling Stone in their own way and are all highly regarded by the fans. In contrast, the Beatles were active for only about a decade before they disbanded, although their influence on popular music is undeniable.

      Thirdly, the Rolling Stones have explored a wider range of genres than the Beatles. While the Beatles are known for their pop and rock sound, the Rolling Stones have incorporated blues, soul, country and funk influences into their music. The diversity in their music is unbelievable and appeals to fans who appreciate a broader musical spectrum.

      In my opinion, when people talk about the Beatles it becomes a statistical analysis of number ones. What the Stones have done for music is unmatched

      “Living in a Ghost Town” released in 2020 and was extremely successful which is just remarkable when you think about their ages and lack of influence on the younger generations. For me the Stones are the greatest band of all time and will never be matched, I don’t care how many number 1s the Beatles have.

      Editor: You did a great job of making the case for The Rolling Stones, but one assertion is incorrect. The Beatles were extremely varied in their musical styles. On the White Album alone, they had several more types of music than you mentioned.

      1. Sorry, I love Mick and the Stones, but any argument for them being greater than the Beatles is honestly laughable for me. The Beatles (especially George) also helped the Stones get a record deal in the first place and also wrote one of their early hits (I Wanna Be Your Man).

    2. I would not go that far. I mean the Beatles were amazing musicians. Through so many years though the stories about the Beatles have been half the attraction The conspiracies,’ Paul is Dead” The publicized arguments, Yoko, John’s mystery weekend?Rooftop Concert. These all were part of the band reality and the myths Don’t get me wrong. I love the Beatles but I also love Stones. Mick and the boys could always create a show. They wrote and still write great music They have never wavered much in their musical style. It’s always rock and roll and it knows no age boundaries Their stages now are not concerts, they are huge productions to out do every other. So let’s look at it this way . The Beatles as the original band that learned how to use a studio. The Stones taught others how to use a stage. Different styles of music Different attitudes. Beatles were pop. Stones were rock. I would rather not compare Just listen.

      Editor: If you listened to The Beatles in 1964, they were Rock & Roll at a time when most of the music was Pop. “Twist & Shout” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” had much more energy. “Helter Skelter” is a blueprint for harder Rock that was to come. During the sixties everyone thought of The Beatles as Rock, it’s only after Hard Rock and Heavy Metal that younger generations look back and call it Pop.

  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.

    1. Led Zeppelin as much as it pains to say it were for a large Part,a cover band or more correctly ,they stole many songs and took credit for them They blatantly took from at least 10 artists. Many of those artists names are now on their albums jackets under”written by”They were sued by many with Plant saying along the lines of” By the time these law suits are settled we will have made our money” They played great music but not #1

  3. If you question why the Beatles are #1 then you haven’t done a deep enough dive. Dont misunderstand, the Stones are the best Rock band ever but The Beatles are as important to music as Mozart or Beethoven.

  4. I think this whole argument for who is the better band- The Beatles or The Stones. I think The Stones were and are the better band. It’s all about relevance and The Stones stayed relevant throughout the decades.
    But if you are talking about the G.O.A.T you would be remiss to leave out The Pink Floyd in this conversation. Although Floyd’s band members listened and were fans of The Beatles and black blues, the Pink went completely off to a new genre. If it weren’t for The Velvet Underground Pink Floyd would have stood alone in this genre. Another way to look at this: Pink could write a Beatles album BUT The Beatles wouldn’t and couldn’t dream of writing a Floyd album. Besides some would argue that The Animals were the better musicians during the British invasion .

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