The Best-Selling Rock Albums of the 1990s

“Facts” are funny things—everything from history to science can be debated, depending on whom you ask. Music is no exception. Record companies will often self-report sales figures, artificially boosting numbers. Gold and platinum statuses differ among countries (United States: 500,000 and 1 million copies; the U.K.: 100,000 and 300,000 copies).

We also counted only original material— Eric Clapton’s Unplugged and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Greatest Hits would have charted without this stipulation.

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Kid Rock - Devil Without a Cause

Kid Rock Devil Without a Cause

(1998, Atlantic)
13 million worldwide, 11 million in the United States 

He was the “Bullgod,” the “Cowboy” that roped himself three top-10 Mainstream Rock singles off this devilish hybrid album. His down-home, don’t-give-a-care approach appealed to suburban and rural youth tired of the humble mumbling of most alternative musicians. With a cigar in his mouth and a thuggish hat on his head, Robert Ritchie put “hick-hop” on the map. His brash celebration of all things Americana is said to have influenced Toby Keith, Blake Shelton, Gretchen Wilson and other self-proclaimed “redneck” performers.

Honorable mention: Pearl Jam, Ten
(1992, Epic)
13 million worldwide, 10 million in the United States
Buy Ten

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Matchbox 20 - Yourself or Someone Like You

Matchbox Twenty Yourself or Someone Like You

(1996, Lava/Atlantic)
15 million worldwide, 12 million in the United States

Their abuse-tackling second single, “Push,” propelled these Floridians into stardom. From there, Rob Thomas wooed with his nice-guy persona, collecting radio hits like bouquets of flowers. The lovelorn “3 A.M.” had elements of Billy Joel and the Wallflowers in it, with Thomas singing a devotional for his cancer-stricken mother. Yourself or Someone Like You was aptly named, as its pensive everyman nature could appeal to rockers, bubblegum enthusiasts and easy listening fans. 

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No Doubt - Tragic Kingdom

No Doubt Tragic Kingdom

(1995, Trauma/Interscope)
16 million worldwide, 10 million in the United States

The second those magnificent horns fired up in opening track “Spiderwebs,” you knew you were in for something to behold. No Doubt conquered a decade of obscurity with this proclamation of womanhood, making singer Gwen Stefani the poster girl for punk-pop. The audacious “Just a Girl” challenged gender roles, and deeper cuts such as “World Go ‘Round” and “Different People” introduced many adolescents to reggae. The ballad “Don’t Speak” raised the Orange County band’s profile even more, landing at number one on the Billboard Top 40 in 1996.

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Hootie and the Blowfish - Cracked Rear View

Hootie and the Blowfish Cracked Rear View

(1994, Atlantic)
16.5 million worldwide, 7 million in the United States

Named after two of Darius Rucker’s college buddies, Hootie and the Blowfish blew up in 1994 with their country-rock sophomore release. On the strength of emotive singles such as “Let Her Cry” and “Hold My Hand,” people were able to look past the group’s goofy name and indulge in this soulful, sing-along record.

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Green Day - Dookie

Green Day Dookie

(1994, Reprise)
20 million worldwide, 10 million in the United States

“Am I just paranoid, or am I just stoned?” Billie Joe Armstrong wondered in the spastic “Basketcase.” He and his band mates probably did have to look over their shoulders once Dookie thrust them into the mainstream— their old stomping ground, 924 Gilman Street in their hometown of Berkeley, Calif., banned them after they signed to Reprise. Those still longing for their days in the underground wanted Armstrong’s head. And everyone else watching MTV just wanted to put “Welcome to Paradise” on full blast.

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Creed - Human Clay

Creed Human Clay

(1999, Wind-Up)
20 million worldwide, 11.7 in the United States

Prior to battling addiction and bipolar disorder, Scott Stapp and Creed were the saviors of Christian rock. Their first album, 1997’s My Own Prison, was a successful grunge sermon, but Human Clay was their Billy Graham moment. The U2 volcanism of “Higher” dominated the charts, and power ballad “With Arms Wide Open” won them a Grammy for Best Rock Song.

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Santana - Supernatural

Santana Smooth

(1999, BMG Arista)
20.5 million worldwide, 15 million in the United States

A stunning crossover success, this aural fiesta by guitar legend Carlos Santana secured his place in the Guinness Book of World Records. The Latin artist called up a bunch of his friends – including Rob Thomas – for an album that got even the most timid Midwestern housewife to boogie. Appearances by Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean of the Fugees, members of the Dave Matthews Band and rapper Everlast helped nab the Album of the Year award at the Grammys in 2000.

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Nirvana - Nevermind

(1991, DGC)
16.7 worldwide, 10 million in the United States

Before Nevermind, hair metal roamed the airwaves freely and real men wore Lycra. But Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic barreled through the bawdiness with the power of grunge, a heavy rock sound that hailed Black Sabbath and the Pixies equally. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” with its unwashed ennui and ragged spunk, changed music forever. You’ll still see Nirvana shirts flying off the shelves at trendy stores such as Hot Topic. More than 20 years after his death, Cobain remains a rock deity. 

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Metallica - Metallica

Metallica Black Album
Warner Bros.

(1991, Warner Bros.)
19.9 worldwide, 16 million in the United States

Nineteen ninety-one was a pivotal year for rock music. While Nirvana was crushing the competition, this Bay Area foursome were shoving metal into mainstream America’s face holes. The super creepy “Enter Sandman” entered the charts in July 1991 and never left heavy radio rotation. This platinum single spawned one of the greatest guitar riffs of all time and turned the planet into one giant Headbanger’s Ball.

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Alanis Morissette - Jagged Little Pill

Alanis Morissette Jagged Little Pill

(1995, Maverick)
25 million worldwide, 15 million in the United States

This former Canadian pop star won everyone over “Head Over Feet” in the mid-1990s with her young adult friction. Jagged Little Pill became the feminist manifesto of the decade, taking lascivious men to task on “You Oughta Know” and questioning Catholicism in “Forgiven.” Was it “Ironic” that mega-producer Glen Ballard had such a hand in crafting Pill’s feel? Hardly. The record was Morissette at her bravest. All she really wanted was global domination— and she got it.