The first double album was recordings from the Carnegie Hall Concert headlined by Benny Goodman, released in 1950 on Columbia Records, that label having introduced the LP two years earlier. The first studio double album was French singer-songwriter Léo Ferré's Verlaine et Rimbaud, released in December 1964 on Barclay Records. The first rock double album was Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde released on May 16, 1966. It was soon followed by Frank Zappa & the Mothers Of Invention's debut record, Freak Out!, released on June 27, 1966.
The best-selling double album of all time is Michael Jackson's HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I with over 33 million copies (66 million units) sold worldwide. The second best-selling double album and best-selling concept double album ever is Pink Floyd's The Wall with over 30 million copies (60 million units) worldwide. Other best-selling double albums are The Beatles' White Album, The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St., Billy Joel's Greatest Hits I & II, Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, and The Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
The double album has become less common since the decline of the vinyl LP and the advent of compact discs. A single LP had two sides, each of which had a capacity of up to 30 minutes (although 20-25 minute sides were more typical to avoid compromising sound quality), for a maximum of 60 minutes per record. A single CD has a capacity of 80 minutes (originally 74 minutes until the 1990s): accordingly, many old double albums on LP have been re-released as single albums on CD. However, other double albums on LP are re-released as double albums on CD, either because they are too large for a single CD, or simply to retain the structure of the original (in the early days of CD production double albums were sometimes made to fit onto a single CD disc by cutting one or more songs).
There are also double-LP albums, such as Mike Oldfield's Incantations and Chick Corea's My Spanish Heart, for which some tracks were removed or shortened for a single 74-minute CD release, though both were later re-released in their entirety when 80-minute CDs were developed.
Though the average album length has increased since the days of LPs, it remains rare for an artist to produce more than 80 minutes of studio material for one album. Thus, the double album is now more commonly seen in formats other than studio albums. Live albums that either present all or most of a single concert, or material from several concerts, are commonly released as double albums. Compilations such as greatest hits records can also often comprise double albums. Soundtracks and scores are also commonly released on two CDs; particularly soundtracks to musicals, which typically last longer than 80 minutes, are commonly released in their entirety as double albums, occasionally offering a second single-disc version featuring the most notable songs. The double album format is also frequently used for concept albums.
The double album is not entirely obsolete when it comes to studio albums, however. Some artists still occasionally produce a large enough quantity of material to justify a double album. For example, progressive rock band The Flower Kings have released four double albums out of eleven studio albums. Barenaked Ladies recorded 29 songs (initially intending more than 30) for their first original album following the completion of their contract with Reprise Records, including several songs that were cut from past albums under that contract. Without needing to get a label's approval, they were able to release a 25-track "deluxe edition" double album Barenaked Ladies Are Me, as well as releasing the album as two separate single albums, as well as a variety of other formats. Guns N' Roses famously insisted on releasing their Use Your Illusion I & II albums simultaneously but separately so as not to burden their fans with the expense of having to buy a double CD set. Nellie McKay reportedly fought with her label to get her debut album, Get Away from Me released as a double album, even though the material would have fit on a single disc. She has been said to be the first female artist to have a double album as a debut.
A recent development is the release of a double studio album in which the two discs contain different mixes of the same tracks. An example is Shania Twain's Up!, which was sold with a pop-mix disc and a country-mix disc in North America, or a pop-mix disc and a filmi-mix disc internationally.
DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince were the first hip hop artists to release a double album, 1988's He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper which at eighty-five minutes warranted a double vinyl package but was edited by thirteen minutes to allow a single CD release. However, in 1995 "Master P pres. Down South Hustlers" was released as being supposedly the first double rap album to ever be entirely of an original album format, and was one of the earliest double rap albums to have not been edited by thirteen minutes for a final release. A year later, The Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death was released, later becoming the first hip hop double album to be certified Diamond.
Many albums since the recent rise in popularity of vinyl records, while released as a single disc on the CD version, have been released as double albums, typically because they may slightly exceed the limitations of a single record. Many of these releases stretch the album to cover four sides, while some only fill three sides and leave the last one for a bonus track(s), or occasionally an etching. These albums are usually released as two 12-inch records but occasionally as two 10-inch records.
Jamaican recording artist Eldie Anthony was the first reggae artist to release a double debut album at the launch of his career on February 17, 2015. The album, entitled Break Free, was produced by the Reggae Embassy.
On June 30, 2015 Long Beach rapper Vince Staples released Summertime '06 as a double disc debut album. The two discs had 20 songs with 10 on each.