Two by Four: Best-Selling Albums from Each Beatle After the Break-Up

Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney

None of the Beatles were older than 30 when they broke up and they all had loads of music left in them. Though nothing could quite live up to the influence and quality of their initial collective legacy, their vast solo catalogs include many artistic, critical, commercial successes. For John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the new found freedom allowed them to explore more personal work; for George Harrison and Ringo Starr, the change-up put their individual talents in the spotlight. Here is an overview of each of the Beatles two best-selling releases proving that sometimes there are second acts (for those from Liverpool).

George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (1970)
This was an artistic and commercial powerhouse and the one Beatle solo effort that matched the fanfare of the groups’ epic releases. Originally a three-disc vinyl box set, All Things Must Pass remains a watershed of George’s creativity which had been somewhat dormant while John and Paul were front and center. Many of the lyrics — including the title track and “My Sweet Lord” — are influenced by Eastern religion while Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound production adds power and depth to the album’s second best-selling single, “What Is Life.” The third disc is made up of instrumental jams highlighting the virtuosity of the backing musicians such as Eric Clapton, Jim Gordon and Billy Preston. (Total sales: Over 6 million units)

George Harrison’s Cloud Nine (1987)
George’s second best-selling album, “Cloud Nine,” came out seventeen years later, and was produced by another studio master, Jeff Lynne, who pushed George to levels of inspiration higher than he’d been in years. The album’s biggest hit was a remake of an obscure 1962 song called “Got My Mind Set on You.” Lynne’s George Martin-like production is evident, especially on a heartfelt reminiscence of the Beatles called “When We Was Fab” that features Ringo on drums. (Total sales: Over 1 million units)

John Lennon’s Double Fantasy (1980)
Although the album was released several weeks before Lennon’s murder, his untimely death brought an enormous amount of attention to this late work and pushed it up the charts until it became his biggest selling album. The album alternates between songs written by Lennon and Yoko Ono but the hits are all Lennon tunes, including “(Just Like) Starting Over,” “Woman” and “Watching the Wheels” whose lyrics eloquently address the contentment he found outside of the limelight. (Total sales: Over 3 million units)

John Lennon’s Imagine (1971)
Produced by Phil Spector, Imagine’s title track is probably Lennon’s most famous song. While Lennon’s 1970 album Plastic Ono Band explored introspective psychological insights, this release expands those concepts to more global themes like world peace. The LP also includes yet another strong ballad, “Jealous Guy” — a disarmingly honest love song. The track “How Do You Sleep?” is a diatribe against Macca that underscores the album’s message of harmony and brotherhood. (Total Sales: Over 2 million units)

Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run (1973)
McCartney’s undisputed masterpiece conveys a sense of joy and playfulness right from the album’s opening title track then on through “Jet” and “Bluebird” — a ballad that rivals “Blackbird” from his days with the Beatles. The pub sing-a-long “Picasso’s Last Words” were written as an on-the-spot challenge by Dustin Hoffman while Paul was on the set of Papillon. Interestingly, Band On The Run was released as a Wings project but the only other musicians are wife Linda and Denny Laine. (Total sales: Over 3 million units)

Paul McCartney’s McCartney (1970)
Paul’s first solo album is as laid back as the Beatles albums are structured. It opens with a short tribute to his wife, “The Lovely Linda” followed by the country blues-ish “That Would Be Something” and “Mama Miss America” an extended jam with Paul playing all the instruments. In” Teddy Boy” the lyrics explore the trials of a teenage boy in the 1950s. The big hit is of course “Maybe, I’m Amazed” — another declaration of his love for Linda that includes all the elements of a great single, including a fake ending! (Total sales: Over 2 million units)

Ringo Starr’s Ringo (1973)

Ringo’s solo career was at its height in the ‘70s, highlighted partly by a series of top-selling singles from his eponymous release. The biggest hit here is “Photograph” which he wrote with his BFF George Harrison. A great “break up song,” the lyrics are delivered by Ringo in his one-of-a-kind direct yet emotive style with great production from Richard Perry. The album also includes the nostalgic “You’re Sixteen” and “I Am the Greatest” — a John Lennon composition that he wrote for Ringo. (Total sales: Over 1 million units)

Ringo Starr’s Goodnight Vienna (1974)
This next effort was not as successful as Ringo but it still sold relatively well. It features another nostalgic number — the Platters’ “Only You” — but is likely most memorable for the “No No Song,” an anti-vice song, ironically recorded years before Ringo adopted a clean lifestyle. Special bonus: A fun Elton John/Bernie Taupin melody entitled “Snookeroo.” (Total sales: Over 500,000 units)

– Bob Condren

Photo Credit: Ringo Starr and Sir Paul McCartney in Los Angeles, CA (2009). Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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39 comments on “Two by Four: Best-Selling Albums from Each Beatle After the Break-Up

  1. Yes, they did some extraordinary work after breaking up. We need not forget that.

    • For a couple decades of music listening, I didn’t bother with anything but Plastic Ono Band based on what I kept hearing from people I respected. A year or so ago I finally decided to hear everything from John, Paul and George (still working on Ringo), and enjoyed most of it immensely. Apart from maybe one album each by John and George, and a few by Paul (proportional to how much stuff they’ve put out, not a slight), I really really enjoyed their solo careers immensely, and there is a level of quirkiness and randomness in some of it that has probably kept getting dismissed in favor of a blanket statement such as “not as good as Beatles”. And there is also that element of not giving it a fair shake compared to what you already know so so well from the Beatles.
      There is a point after which you wanna move on no matter how good something is, and I highly highly recommend their solo albums to anyone unsure.

      • Dennis White

        It’s interesting to see a list that is comprised solely of the top-sellers. Of course “top seller” doesn’t mean “best work”. I’ll leave it to each individual to determine which they believe is best. I’ll just add my two cents in by saying that I think both John’s and Paul’s initial solo albums included some of their best work. Lennon’s album was a real departure and opened so many doors….and Paul’s solo included what I believe is the best song he ever wrote “Baby, I’m Amazed”. In fact, one of the greatest singles of all time.
        These are only my personal observations based on my own taste. I don’t pretend to be any more correct in my assessment than anyone else Music is such a personal thing that is shaded by our ages, our experience, our belief that the music serves the lyrics or the other way around, etc.
        I’m only happy to say that I like all the albums listed here, an a few that aren’t. Although I never got to see The Beatles live, I have been fortunate to see all four of them during their solo careers.

    • McCartney outsold allaof them combined actually. Look it up. The author only listed 2 albums of each Beatle. By 1980 with John alive Paul McCartney was given the Guiness book of world records for most successful musician even. That’s not even including his other platinum albums and single songs that sold millions. It’s a fact. He just had a number 1 album a few months ago…that’s incredible..

      • gates Perron

        Total album sales worldwide till now Paul 111 million albums John 74 million albums George 63 million al bums for John his production was done in a six year time George 33 years Paul 51 years looking at these numbers I think if John had equal amount of time would win easily

        • Roland Johnson

          John and george would have had increased sales due to their demise. Let’s see how many extra sales paul gets due to his demise before making such comments. It is a known fact that when artists die their work sells at a much higher level.

        • If you look at all the sales in the 70’s when all were alive, Paul’s sales were all good with BOTRun being the best a close to 4 million units. 7 lps went to #1 plus his live album. George got over 3 million for ATMPass which was counted as 2 lps (and a bonus disc_ so his total best seller tops 6 million for 2 lps or 3 million + for the box set in units sold. John was often in the 2 million for each lp. It took his death to bring his sales higher.
          Paul still has the most sales but George and John are competitive not to far below.

  2. Ringo did not play on the Imagine album.

  3. Umm, excuse me….

  4. spinetingler

    “The track “How Do You Sleep?” is a diatribe against Macca that underscores the album’s message of harmony and brotherhood. ”

    I think the word that you are looking for is “undermines”, not “underscores.”

    • Stephen Hoffman

      That makes sense. I wondered about the wording of that; it seems contradictory.

  5. Mr Mustard

    Bluebird rivals Blackbird? Blackbird kills and eats Bluebird for breakfast. And Ringo played on Plastic Ono Band album, not Imagine

  6. I would take Paul”s “Ram” over his self tit led album any day of the week!

  7. Are these UK sales?

    • Hi Pmjc,
      The numbers are from the Record Industry Association of America and according to it’s website only U.S. sales and U.S military base sales are included. I personally am not aware of how U.K. sales are compiled.

      Bob Condren

      • Are you aware that Band of the Run and Double Fantasy have both outsold All Things Must Pass?

        As of Auguest 2014:

        Band of the Run: 3,700,000
        Double Fantasy: 3,500,000
        All Things must Pass: 3,325,000

        Now because American sales count double albums twice albums like All Things Must Pass or the White Album sales get counted twice.

        • Scott Craig

          All Things Must Pass is a triple album, so it’s sales should be counted as 3x, which puts it at almost 10 million!

          • No the 3rd lp was a jam album, considered a bonus and was not counted. George got credit for 2 lps sold per unitj. Just over 3 million is accurate.

  8. Frank Capurro

    Red Rose Speedway is far better than Paul’s first album. Excluding the fact Paul plays every instrument on the album.

  9. Mark Levine

    For fun you might want to include “Hayman’s Green”, a not-bad-at-all album by that other ex-Beatle, Pete Best.

  10. Steven George Johnson

    Look at McCartney’s post Beatles, I’mean assuming Condren is considering record sales? I’d consider quality over timing. McCartney was enjoyable just for the sake of it being listened to by a Beatles fan. Yes, it contained some catchy, simple numbers, but compared to Wings at the Speed of Sound, and Venus & Mars, along with lesser produced Ram, it would be hard to consider McCartney among his best work.

    As for Harrison, I actually enjoyed 33 1/3 and some of his work in the later 1970’s. George is always my favourite Beatle but I do think Peter Brown was correct when he stated in his book, The Love You Take, that George seemed to have spent his load on All Things Must Pass. Peter Brown didn’t seem to think highly of George but, to me, Harrison was such a force in completing the mystique of the Beatles.

  11. FivebyFive

    I always thought All Things Must Pass sold more copies than Band on the Run, too. But when you look closer at the actual figures, BOTR sold more copies than ATMP. The only reason for the 6 million figure is that they counted each copy of ATMP as 3 albums (because it was a triple album). But when you look at the actual sales of each album as a single purchase (after all, you can’t buy those 3 albums separately), then BOTR sold more copies than ATMP.

  12. FivebyFive

    Here are the actual certified sales figures for BOTR and ATMP:

    Band On The Run………………………………. PLAT x 3……3,700,000……..406k-SScanJan06

    All Things Must Pass…………………………… PLAT x 6……3,325,000 …..561k-SScanAug12, 2-discmultiplier for cert

    I was surprised to see that BOTR sold more copies.

    • I was not. BOTR is a great album. ATMP is also a great abum but it cost much more than BOTR or Imagine or any other solo Beatle album.. And I believe they sold it for a lower cost than normal for the time to encourage sales. George should have put out a Best of ATMP sngle LP album along with it at the lower price of albums.

      • Greg Phelps

        Most of the 3rd lp could easily have been tossed aside, IMO

        • ATMP would have been a great single album. It would have been (and was) a good double album with some filler. The 3rd disk was a joke. I’m surprised he didn’t include a 4th disk of Ravi Shankar warming up on sitar

    • So ATMP ALBUM SALES were double the 3.325 million UNITS sold as it was considered a double album (with a bonus disc). I know it’s gone platinum (1 mil) 6 times. So which (ATMP or BOTR) really wins the sales contest?sold more? Hellifiknow

  13. I’ll take plastic ono band as the best album tho

  14. Monstrosity

    Paul McCartney clearly had the best solo career. He had the most hits and most successful colloborations as well as the best touring career.

    • Roland Johnson

      McCartney’s solo album’s are more like the Beatles than the other three. I think Lennon sounded totally different on his solo albums to his time with the Beatles. I think Lennon was overshadowed by McCartney when the later Beatles become more sophisticated. To me Lennon’s strength was as a rock& roller, I much prefer his earlier output and I think his best solo album by a mile was Rock and Roll. Of the four I think McCartney epitomised the Beatles the most after they split, and although ATMP was a great album it was also Harrison’s peak and his later output was pretty average. I have all of the Beatles solo albums but I find I play McCartneys the most because they are very Beatles.

  15. Margus Kiis

    If Macca would be better band leader and had a better taste, Wings had a real potential to outsold and outdo The Beatles.

  16. Eduardo Bonafoux

    I’m digging that George ( my fave ) outsold them all.

  17. Cybe Graham

    Paul McCartney had way more record sales and hits then all the other Beatles combined. Just his duos with Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder sold millions of copies, not to mention his own singles like silly live songs which went platinum on its own. His album output and live for playing live has given him the award ias the most successful musician of all time. His output of music far exceeded the others regardless if which Beatle you prefer. Without McCartney many Beatles songs would never if been heard live again. At his age, He is just amazing.

  18. Scott Dambois

    Some of you make it sound like a competition, the world is lucky to have heard all 4 of them.

  19. Allan Degner

    I’ll stick with the Rutles.

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