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Reader smackdown: Queen vs. The Beatles

Yeah? Well my band can whip your band with one guitar tied behind their backs!


I really hadn't intended to start a battle of the bands back in 2006 when I published a blog post about some research conducted by the Official UK Charts Company, which, as you no doubt surmised from the name, is the go-to place for albums and singles charts in the British Isles.

Okay, maybe my headline, Bigger Than The Beatles? was just a tiny bit provocative, but it turns out to have had the desired result of getting readers' attention.

What's the fuss?

Queen in 1973
Queen in 1973, photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images
In a nutshell, the keepers of the UK charts had studied album sales between 1956 and 2006, and one of their report's findings was that over that 50 year period, Queen had sold more albums in the UK than The Beatles.

Little did I know that this innocent little three paragraph blog post would ignite a spirited verbal battle among About.com Classic Rock readers, a battle that was still going more than six years after it started!

The blog post did point out that the results were "based strictly on sales figures, not fan voting or expert analysis" but that didn't do anything to quell the outcry.

Says who?

The Beatles in 1964
The Beatles in 1964, photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images
The first reader to react found no fault with the findings, saying, "Queen's songs were more artistic." There followed in quick succession, a denunciation of charts in general; another Queen fan ("Quite simply the most brilliant, intelligent and creative foursome to ever record popular music"); a strong Queen detractor ("The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin are all infinitely better than Queen"); plugs for KISS and Rush.

At some point (along about 2009, actually) the fact that the issue was simply album sales in the UK seemed to have fallen almost completely by the wayside, but then it came back into focus with the comment, "Queen have the best selling album in UK chart history ... but worldwide The Beatles have sold more." Thank you, voice of reason!

Will it ever end?

As recently as April 2013 the give-and-take continued. "Pink Floyd have sold more albums on two titles then Queen have across their complete catalog world wide." Ah, yes, but again we lost sight of the fact that, as I pointed out in my response to that comment, "this was a report restricted to sales only in the UK."

In all, about three dozen people have commented on this one blog post over the past 6+ years. For the most part, the comments have been civil, and have made some good points about the differences between the two bands. We even heard from a thoughtful, reasonable 13-year-old who summed the whole thing up pretty well. "I never really realized how strongly I felt about this debate. And the fact that people are discussing this, so long after both bands are defunct, just goes to show both of their popularity, does it not?" Indeed, my young friend, it does.

The numbers game

Elvis  Presley
Bigger than The Beatles (Photo by Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Images)
The results of the Official UK Chart Company research that lit the fire to begin with will never change. The study was restricted to a fixed 50 year period, 1956-2006. But there's little doubt that for the foreseeable future, any UK music research will reference The Beatles as the benchmark that other bands and artists will be compared to.

A 2013 report based on the UK Album Chart stats was headlined "Emeli Sandé beats The Beatles" by the British music magazine, NME. In this case, the report was about how the Scottish singer's debut album had just reached its 63rd consecutive week the Top 10, besting The Beatles' Please Please Me by one week. There was no suggestion that Sandé is better than The Beatles, or that she has been in the Top 10 longer outside the UK.

To put it all into perspective, when you look at worldwide estimates for albums, singles and videos combined (based on figures from various sources, primarily Billboard, Rolling Stone, MTV and VH1) here's how classic rockers fare in the Top 10:

Rank   Artist        Units sold
2      The Beatles -- 600 million
4      Led Zeppelin -- 300 million
6      Pink Floyd -- 250 million
7      Elton John -- 250 million
8      Queen -- 200 million
9      The Rolling Stones -- 200 million

Perhaps the most significant factor here is that six of the top 10 are classic rock artists. Only Elvis is bigger than The Beatles in total worldwide sales. Michael Jackson - #3, Madonna - #5 and Whitney Houston - #10 are the others in the top tier. But I digress ...

Excuse me while I pour some petrol on the flames

I like a spirited debate, especially when it continues as long as this one has. It really wouldn't surprise me if comments about that 2006 blog post are still coming in on the post's 10th anniversary in 2016!

So, step up to the microphone and let your voice be heard. Add your perspective by leaving a comment on the original blog post. Let's keep this party going as long as possible!
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