Top 20 Best-Selling Country Artists of All Time: No. 12 Willie Nelson

by Jim Casey

Willie Nelson is unmatched when it comes to musical output. The Country Music Hall of Fame member has been cranking out albums—well over 100—since dropping his debut, And Then I Wrote, in 1962.

However, in addition to quantity, there’s plenty of quality. And all that quality output has landed Willie at No. 12 on our list of the Best-Selling Country Artists of All Time, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

The RIAA tracks domestic album sales in the U.S. with its luminous designations: Gold (500,000 units), Platinum (1 million units), Multi-Platinum (2 million units and more), and Diamond (10 million units).

No. 12: Willie Nelson

  • 31.5 Million Units Sold
  • 6 Multi-Platinum Albums
  • 9 Platinum Albums
  • 3 Gold Albums
  • 2 Platinum Singles

Star Album

Willie’s best-selling album is 1978’s Stardust. The 10-song collection of pop standards includes Nelson’s renditions of “Unchained Melody,” “All of Me,” “Georgia on My Mind,” and more. The RIAA certified the record as 5X Platinum for sales of 5 million units.

Not only did Willie’s performance of “Georgia On My Mind” earn him the Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance – Male in 1979, but also the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2015. Rolling Stone ranked the album No. 260 on its 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums.

In addition, Willie has three albums certified 4X Platinum, including Always on My Mind, Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits (& Some That Will Be), and Willie & Family Live.

Always Loved

Willie has two songs certified Platinum for sales of 1 million units: “Always on My Mind” and his duet with Julio Iglesias, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.”

Release in 1982, “Always On My Mind” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot County Songs chart. The tune earned Willie another Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance – Male in 1983. In 2008, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Willie and Julio joined forces in 1984 to record “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.” The crossover hit reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and No. 5 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100. Willie and Julio were named Duo of the Year at the 1984 CMA Awards, while the tune earned Single of the Year at the 1985 ACM Awards.

In Defense of Willie

The reason for Willie’s tremendous musical output could be because he’s 176 years old. Well, not exactly, but the 88-year-old does celebrate two birthdays.

Willie was born just before midnight on April 29, 1933, in Abbott, Texas. However, the county courthouse didn’t record Willie’s birth until the next morning on April 30. As a youth, Willie celebrated his birthday on April 29, until he joined the Air Force at age 18 and got a look at his birth certificate, which noted April 30. Then, he started celebrating it on April 30. Well, years later in the late 1980s, his cousin Mildred (who was 13 when Willie was born) broke the news to him that he was indeed born on April 29.

Now, Willie celebrates two birthdays. And he deserves both.