Make no mistake, bands are businesses -- which means a family band takes one of the trickiest types of business and adds drugs, alcohol, and rock and roll and takes it on tour.
Most of the bands on this best-selling list are at retirement age, not because music was at its best in 1975 -- as many readers will no doubt argue -- but because people just don’t buy albums anymore. That said, few can argue that these five groups are the best known and most successful family bands of all time.
The core members of Australia’s biggest musical export are Scottish-born brothers Malcolm and Angus Young. A total of 18 people can lay claim to having been members of the band since it formed in 1973 but the founding pair are the only constants.
Back in Black, AC/DC’s most successful album, achieved double diamond status in the US, with 22 million albums sold. It’s also the fifth largest selling album ever released in the country, according to the band.
With global sales topping an estimated 200 million, there’s an interesting lesson here for business --- innovation isn’t always the answer. Forbes recently argued that part of what makes AC/DC so loved is its resistance to change. Over 40 years the band’s shunned musical trends and kept its offering constantly geared to to the guitar-heavy rock and roll that made it famous in the first place. Rock on.
Angus and Malcolm’s older brother is also an important part of the team, producing for the band and filling in all sorts of roles over the years including band coach, composer and backup singer, bass player and drummer. Before that he was the guitarist for another hugely successful band -- The Easybeats.
The Bee Gees
Founded in 1958 by brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, the Bee Gees are disco royalty, having sold an estimated 200 million albums. They also did more for the Australian falsetto movement than any other artists in history.
Being the kings of disco comes with solid salaries, but 56 years after the band began Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb’s financial standings are quite varied. Barry Gibb is worth $50m, Maurice, who died in 2003, left behind $90m, and Robin’s estate was estimated at $148m after he died in 2012, according to The Richest.
Van Halen is synonymous with big hair and spandex, but it also represents the rarest of all family bands -- the second generation.
In 2006, Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang became the band’s bass player at just 15 years old. He’s still playing alongside his dad and uncle, Alex, as the band continues to tour.
Since starting the band in 1972, Eddie and Alex Van Halen have seen David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar and Gary Cherone all come and go from the microphone, but the brothers stayed together and the band has sold just under 100 million albums worldwide.
While AC/DC were being as loud as possible, and the Bee Gees were giving John Travolta a whole new reason for being, brother and sister duo Karen and Richard Carpenter went in the other, more gentle direction -- and it worked. Between 1969 and 1983 the Carpenters sold an estimated 100 million albums and singles without ever shouting or boogying.
As the band’s name suggests, these are flag-waving southern boys -- and never underestimate the appeal of that in the US of A.
What makes Alabama a unique addition to this list, besides the estimates of more than 75 million albums sold and 30 number one country songs, is that the band is made up of cousins.
Randy Owen sings, Teddy Gentry plays bass and Jeff Cook handles lead guitar, keyboard and fiddle.
The Jackson 5
Plenty of massive family bands are missing from this list, but overlooking the Jacksons would be too much of a crime.
The band itself doesn’t rank as highly as the others on this list in terms of total album sales, but the influence Joseph and Katherine Jackson’s children have had on modern music is difficult to overstate. The central figure is of course Michael, who as a solo artist sold more than 400 million albums and is the most awarded person in the history of popular music. Michael’s list of achievements is long and well-known, and it all started in 1968 alongside brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon.
Also worth noting, on the family front, is that Michael and his little sister Janet still hold the record for the most expensive video clip ever made with the 1995 single Scream, which cost $7m (closer to $11m adjusted for inflation).
Here we have the most successful double date in musical history. The AB (Agnetha and Björn) were married in in 1971 and the BA (Benny and Anni-Frid) were married in 1978 after a four-year engagement.
Does love put people into the family category? Yes. But for the purposes of this list, no -- sorry, we’re taking a hard line on this one.
In 1980 Agnetha and Björn divorced and Benny and Anni-Fred again followed suit, divorcing in 1981. In a way, the marriages saw them through the height of their fame.
Last year The Daily Mail estimated that Gold by ABBA had sold 5.1 million copies in the UK, putting it level with Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. In other words, one in five British households owns one of those two albums -- and considering The Beatles have the home ground advantage, that’s pretty impressive.
Liam Gallagher joined his brother Noel’s band and they went on to sell more than 70 million albums. They were active between 1991 and 2009, which seems like a long time when you consider how famously volatile the brothers were.
The brothers publically feuded with other bands (most famously with rival British band Blur) and with each other. At one point Liam threatened to sue his brother for suggesting that he wasn’t actually sick when he pulled out of a show.
Kings of Leon
The Followill boys have been busy since forming Kings of Leon (Leon is their dad’s first name), and the band is the only one on this list still topping the charts. Brothers Anthony Caleb (lead vocals), Ivan Nathan (drums) and Michael Jared (bass) formed the band with their cousin Cameron Matthew (lead guitar) in 1999 and released their sixth album last year, which pushed total album sales to more than 16.5 million.
When they released MMMBop in 1996, the world went completely nuts for these three Oklahoma brothers.
But when you think about it, the mania wasn’t particularly unique. These kinds of boy bands come and go -- The Jonas Brothers have sold over 17 million albums by targeting the same pre-teen female audience.
Hanson gets a special mention because after 22 years Isaac, Taylor and Zac are still playing together.
Also worth noting is they were just 12, 9 and 7 when the band formed.