AC/DC's 'Back in Black' album defies odds and logic when it comes to album sales

AC/DC produced one of the greatest albums in rock history with 'Back in Black.'
AC/DC Perform In London
AC/DC Perform In London / Watal Asanuma/Shinko Music/GettyImages

In 1980, AC/DC released one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time - the classic Back in Black. It was the first effort for the band with Brian Johnson on the mic. AC/DC had six previous records with the legendary Bon Scott as the lead singer, but Scott had tragically died in February of 1980.

It's pretty amazing that AC/DC was not only able to find a replacement for Scott but to turn out an album all within six months. Not only did they do it, but the results were spectacular.

That album is filled with classic rock tunes like the title track, "Hell's Bells", "You Shook Me All Night Long", and "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution." There isn't a bad track to be found.

Where does AC/DC's Back in Black album rank in all-time record sales?

According to I Spy Tunes, Best Selling Albums, and others, Back in Black ranks second all-time with around 50 million albums sold. One should note that there are a lot of sites that have varying rankings based on different criteria, but even if not listed second on every list, this album is almost always near the top. Also, the list remains fluid. The site, which was updated on June 20, 2024, has AC/DC just ahead of the equally impressive Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd.

One of the amazing things about the sales for Back in Black is the numbers were put up without much commercial success or radio airplay. Sure, rock stations of the time played songs from the record plenty, but few Top 40 stations were cranking AC/DC.

Consider this - the undisputed top-selling album is unsurprisingly Thriller by Michael Jackson. According to Billboard, that record had seven top-10 hits, six top-five hits, and two number-one hits. Thriller spent 37 weeks atop the album chart. 37 weeks!

Back in Black, on the other hand, had zero number-one songs, zero top-ten songs, zero top-20 songs, and zero top-30 songs. Only "Back in Black" (37) and "You Shook Me All Night Long" (35) made it onto Billboard's Hot 100 at all. The album peaked at number four on the album chart and was in the top 10 for three weeks.

That is quite the stark difference in initial commercial success between the albums ranked first and second all-time. Back in Black also just missed the MTV era, which boosted rock artists in the mid-eighties, and helped push Thriller sales through the roof.

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Longevity has certainly helped Back in Black, and other albums in the top 10. According to Best Selling Albums, 11 of the 25 highest-selling albums of all time were released in 1980 or earlier. In the 21st century, music is consumed by audiences differently, which makes it harder and harder for modern artists to have a chance to crack these kinds of lists.

Still, it is amazing that Back in Black, and Dark Side of the Moon for that matter, were able to reach such sales heights without commercial success, and without MTV's help. It's a testament to the timelessness of the songs and their ability to appeal to rock and roll fans through the generations.

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