The Billboard Hot 100 chart started life in 1958 and, over six decades later, it is still the ultimate indication of what is making waves at any given time in American music. In 2018 Billboard released an epic list of the chart’s all-time top songs and it was a true Who’s Who of popular music. This is the Top 40: in other words, the 40 biggest-selling songs ever recorded.
40. “Silly Love Songs,” Wings (1976)
“Silly Love Songs” was Wings’ most successful single. It stayed at the top of the charts for five weeks in total, and also went to number two in Paul McCartney’s native U.K. The legendary Beatle told Billboard magazine in 2001 that he wrote the song in response to accusations he only wrote lightweight love songs. His retort, as the song’s lyrics state, was, “What’s wrong with that?”
39. “Truly Madly Deeply,” Savage Garden (1998)
While Australian duo Savage Garden’s “Truly Madly Deeply” is number 39 on this list, it topped another prestigious Billboard chart. In 2011 it was ranked number one on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary Songs list. When asked how he felt about the song being so popular, singer Darren Hayes told Billboard, “I’m completely overwhelmed to be honest. I feel incredibly proud.”
38. “One Sweet Day,” Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men (1995)
“One Sweet Day” sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart for an enormous 16 weeks, making it the biggest single of both Mariah Carey’s and Boyz II Men’s careers. Carey wrote the song after David Cole, her friend and producer, died. The genuine, heartfelt tribute was widely praised by critics and the song holds a special place in the heart of Carey’s fans.
37. “The Battle of New Orleans,” Johnny Horton (1959)
This Johnny Horton classic, a recording of a tune originally written by Jimmy Driftwood, was Billboard’s number one song of 1959. The lyrics tell the tale of a soldier taking part in the eponymous conflict in 1815. Over the years the song has also been sung by country and western legends such as Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, but it is most strongly linked with Horton.
36. “Tossin’ and Turnin,’” Bobby Lewis (1961)
In 1961 Bobby Lewis’ “Tossin’ and Turnin’” topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for seven weeks, which was enough to make it the biggest-selling single of the year. The song, which would be featured 17 years later on the soundtrack for the raucous college comedy Animal House, was penned by Malou Rene and Ritchie Adams. It has been covered by Dusty Springfield, Joan Jett, and Lulu.
35. “Rolling in the Deep,” Adele (2011)
Adele told Spin magazine in 2010 that “Rolling in the Deep,” from her then-upcoming second album 21, was a gospel-disco break-up song. She described it as her way of telling a cheating partner to get out of her house, as opposed to pleading with him not to leave. The song became a massive hit and won the 2012 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
34. “Flashdance…What a Feeling,” Irene Cara (1983)
This tune is one of the most iconic elements of the 1983 film Flashdance. Fittingly the song, which was performed by Irene Cara, was number one for six weeks and then spent an amazing 14 weeks in the top ten. It also won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Strangely, though, it would prove to be Cara’s only career chart-topper.
33. “Despacito,” Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Feat. Justin Bieber (2017)
This song’s first release was fairly successful, with it reaching number 44 on the Billboard Hot 100. But when Canadian pop superstar Justin Bieber got involved with a remix, it became a gargantuan hit. It topped the chart for 16 weeks and in July 2017 became the most-streamed song ever on the major online platforms. Oh, and the music video was also the most-viewed in YouTube’s history too. Whoa.
32. “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Gotye Feat. Kimbra (2012)
Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” sold 13 million copies worldwide. Amazingly, though, it was written and recorded completely independently, at his parents’ farm in Victoria, Australia. This maverick spirit is clearly strong in Gotye, who refused to let YouTube play pop-up advertisements during the music video. News Australia estimated this was equivalent to turning down royalties of more than $7.5 million.
31. “Every Breath You Take,” The Police (1983)
In 2019 The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” became the most-played song on British radio. It was a worthy accolade for one of the greatest love songs ever written. Yet the man who wrote the song disagrees with that label. Sting once told BBC Radio 2, “I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it’s quite the opposite.” Whoops.
30. “Too Close,” Next (1998)
“Too Close” was an enormous hit in 1998. It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and caused sales of Next’s debut album Rated Next to soar. It sold over 2 million copies, making it a platinum record. Unfortunately for the band, though, they only released two more albums, with their last release coming in 2002. They broke up soon after.
29. “I Just Want to Be Your Everything,” Andy Gibb (1977)
Andy Gibb was the younger brother of Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb, also known as the Bee Gees. In 1977 Andy released “I Just Want To be Your Everything,” his debut single in the U.S. and U.K. It hit the top of the charts and stayed there for three weeks. Amazingly, Barry reportedly wrote the song for his kid brother in 20 minutes. This may just explain why it sounds so much like a Bee Gees number.
28. “Low,” Flo Rida Feat. T-Pain (2008)
“Low” was hip-hop artist Flo Rida’s first-ever single. When your first release becomes the biggest selling digital single of all time and spends ten weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100, you know you’re unlikely to ever experience a bigger hit. Flo Rida told Billboard in 2018, “It was a global phenomenon,” before adding, “This record took me from a national star to a worldwide star.”
27. “We Found Love,” Rihanna Feat. Calvin Harris (2011)
Rihanna teamed with Scottish electronic music supremo Calvin Harris on “We Found Love,” and the result was one of the biggest-selling singles ever released. It was particularly beneficial to Harris’ career, as it helped him break the American market. He told British newspaper The Sun in 2012, “It changed absolutely everything. Career-wise it was the best thing that could ever have happened.”
26. “Eye of the Tiger,” Survivor (1982)
“Eye of the Tiger” is a song synonymous with cinema’s favorite underdog boxer Rocky Balboa. It was featured in Rocky III and became Balboa’s unofficial theme song. It has also been used countless times over the years to soundtrack sporting events, especially combat sports. The song was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks and also topped the U.K. singles chart for four weeks.
25. “How Deep Is Your Love,” Bee Gees (1977)
As hard as it is to believe, considering “How Deep Is Your Love” is arguably the Bee Gees’ signature song, the band initially didn’t plan on performing it themselves. They had written it for American singer Yvonne Elliman to voice on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, but the producer of the movie felt it would suit them better. It wound up being the Billboard Hot 100 number one for a record-setting 17 weeks.
24. “Le Freak,” Chic (1978)
Disco classic “Le Freak” has an interesting backstory. Chic’s Nile Rogers told magazine Sound On Sound that he and bandmate Bernard Edwards were denied entry to Studio 54 on New Year’s Eve 1977 as they weren’t on the guestlist. Angry and embarrassed, they went back to Rogers’ apartment and began to jam. The result was “Le Freak,” which became the first single to be a Billboard number one on three separate occasions.
23. “The Theme From ‘A Summer Place,’” Percy Faith & His Orchestra (1960)
The 1959 movie A Summer Place featured a gorgeous instrumental theme recorded by Hugo Winterhalter. The theme was subsequently covered by many artists, the most successful of which was the instrumental recording released by Percy Faith & His Orchestra. It spent nine weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was the top-selling single of 1960.
22. “I’ll Make Love To You,” Boyz II Men (1994)
“I’ll Make Love To You” was the third-biggest song of the ’90s and a signature song for Boyz II Men, who were all-conquering in that decade. As an illustration of their dominance, while the second-biggest song of the decade was Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” the number one was Boyz II Men’s collaboration with Mariah Carey, which previously appeared on this list. “I’ll Make Love To You” won a Grammy and two American Music Awards.
21. “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” Bryan Adams (1991)
Another song which is forever tied to a movie, Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” was an almighty hit. The rock ballad, which appeared in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, hit number one in 19 countries. In fact, in the U.K. it was at the top of the charts for a record 16 weeks. Oh, and it sold an astonishing 15 million copies worldwide in the process.
20. “You Were Meant for Me/Foolish Games,” Jewel (1997)
In late 1996 Jewel’s “You Were Meant For Me” hit number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed in the chart for an incredible 41 weeks. At this point, the singer-songwriter’s next single “Foolish Games” was released, although no official CD was printed in the U.S. Instead, the song appeared as a hidden track on a reissue of “You Were Meant For Me.” The single began selling again, peaking at number seven, and Billboard counted the singles as one.
19. “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright),” Rod Stewart (1976)
Before “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)” was released, Rod Stewart hadn’t had a song hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for five long years. He broke his cold streak in the most spectacular way, though, with this single sitting pretty atop the chart for eight long weeks. In fact, it was somehow the top-selling single of 1977, despite initially coming out in September ’76. Now that’s staying power.
18. “Endless Love,” Diana Ross & Lionel Richie (1981)
In 2011 Billboard published a list of the 40 biggest duets in history. “Endless Love,” which united Diana Ross and Lionel Richie in 1981, topped the list. It stayed on the Hot 100 for a mammoth 27 weeks, with nine of them spent at number one. In some ways it acted as a passing of the torch, as it was Ross’ final number one U.S. hit and Richie’s first. He would go on to enjoy four more.
17. “Bette Davis Eyes,” Kim Carnes (1981)
“Bette Davis Eyes” began life in 1974 when Jackie DeShannon and Donna Weiss were watching the iconic Old Hollywood actress in Now Voyager. They were inspired to write the song, but it didn’t truly break out into the public consciousness until Kim Carnes covered it. Her 1981 version spent nine weeks at number one. Charmingly, Davis reportedly wrote to DeShannon, Weiss and Carnes, thanking them for introducing her to a modern audience.
16. “Yeah!” Usher Feat. Lil Jon & Ludacris (2004)
This track stayed at number one for 12 weeks. Amazingly, this meant the song which finally pushed it off the top was Usher’s own follow-up single, “Burn.” The former track was the biggest song of 2004 and won the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration gong at the Grammy Awards. In 2020 the three men reunited for a new jam entitled “SexBeat.” Usher told Zane Lowe of radio station Beats 1, “When Usher, Jon and Luda come together it’s always amazing.”
15. “Un-Break My Heart,” Toni Braxton (1996)
“Un-Break My Heart” was such a colossal hit that, when Billboard collated 40 years of chart data in 1998, it was declared the biggest-selling song ever recorded by a solo artist. It’s dropped down that list over the ensuing years, but there’s no doubt it was a phenomenon in the mid-’90s. This is despite Braxton herself being initially resistant to the song, as she reportedly wasn’t keen on singing another song about a failed romance.
14. “We Belong Together,” Mariah Carey (2005)
In 2005 “We Belong Together” was something of a comeback song for Mariah Carey, as it came after a few high-profile misfires. It brought her right back to the top of the charts and into the cultural zeitgeist again, bagging two Grammys in the bargain. In 2018 she told People magazine, “I get goosebumps thinking about it because it was really such a special time in my life when we did that record.”
13. “Closer,” The Chainsmokers Feat. Halsey (2016)
Electronic duo The Chainsmokers experienced a hit of epic proportions when they released “Closer,” which also featured Halsey on vocals. Only two years after its 2016 release, it hit Diamond status in the U.S., which entails sales of over 10 million. Interestingly, the tune was inspired by a song by pop-punk legends Blink-182, though the Chainsmokers couldn’t remember whether it was “Feeling This” or “I Miss You.” D’oh.
12. “Hey Jude,” The Beatles (1968)
Saying that “Hey Jude” is the most successful single of The Beatles’ illustrious career is really saying something. In a career of countless hits and total dominance over popular music, it stands atop the rest. It was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks and wound up the top-selling single of 1968 in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia. Oh, and it’s also considered one of the greatest songs ever written.
11. “You Light Up My Life,” Debby Boone (1977)
The story behind “You Light Up My Life” becoming the biggest single of the ’70s is a strange one. It was originally sung by Kasey Cisyk and featured in the 1977 film You Light Up My Life, where actress Didi Conn lip-synced. This version was released as a single but barely made an impression while, almost simultaneously, Pat Boone’s daughter Debby released her version, which became a monster hit. How bizarre.
10. “Physical,” Olivia Newton-John (1981)
Grease star Olivia Newton-John skewered her nice girl image with the sexually suggestive “Physical” and reaped the rewards for it. It became the most successful single of the ’80s and had a ten-week run at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981. Amazingly, though, it wasn’t originally intended for her. Songwriters Terry Shaddick and Steve Kipner offered it to Tina Turner, who said no, but recommended Newton-John instead.
9. “Shape of You,” Ed Sheeran (2017)
In December 2019 Spotify released a list of its most-streamed songs of the 2010s. Ed Sheeran’s megahit “Shape Of You” was number one with an astonishing 2.4 billion streams. To put that in perspective, the song in second position was Drake’s “One Dance,” which enjoyed 1.7 billion streams. It also hit the top position on Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40 chart of the decade. It was an all-conquering track for the English artist.
8. “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)” Los Del Rio (1996)
The Macarena was a bona fide dance craze in the summer of 1996. It’s just so much fun. Interestingly, the song had originally been released by Los Del Rio in 1994, but it wasn’t until the Bayside Boys remixed it, complete with English vocals, that it became a hit. It did hit number one on the Hot 100, but took 46 weeks to do so, the longest any track has ever taken to make it to the summit.
7. “I Gotta Feeling,” The Black Eyed Peas (2009)
“I Gotta Feeling” was a dance-pop behemoth that hit the top of the charts in 20 countries. In 2009 Black Eyed Peas’ Will.i.am told Marie Claire magazine that the song was written for party-lovers all over the world who use music to forget their problems. He said, “Times are really hard for a lot of people and you want to give them escape and you want to make them feel good about life, especially at these low points.” Well said, sir.
6. “Party Rock Anthem,” LMFAO Feat. Lauren Bennett & GoonRock (2011)
Speaking of party songs, the next entry on the list is arguably the purest such track ever recorded. The appropriately-named “Party Rock Anthem” by electronic duo LMFAO has soundtracked many crazy club nights since it debuted in 2011. The song spent a huge 29 non-consecutive weeks in the Hot 100 Top 10 and, as of 2020, the music video had over 1.9 billion views on YouTube.
5. “How Do I Live?” Leann Rimes (1997)
A situation extremely similar to what happened with “You Light Up My Life” occurred again with 1997’s “How Do I Live?” The song was recorded by two different artists, Trisha Yearwood and Leann Rimes, with Rimes’ version going on to totally eclipse Yearwood’s. This is despite Yearwood’s being the recording included in the hit movie Con Air. In a weird twist of fate, the song was part of a Rimes album entitled…You Light Up My Life.
4. “Uptown Funk!” Mark Ronson Feat. Bruno Mars (2015)
Before “Uptown Funk!” was unleashed in 2014, Mark Ronson told Billboard, “It’s definitely one of the best things I’ve ever done. And I know that it’s one of Bruno’s favorite things that he’s ever done, as well.” These were prophetic words, as the single would become the most commercially successful of Ronson’s and Mars’ careers. The music video alone has 4 billion views on YouTube, making it the seventh-biggest clip in the platform’s history.
3. “Mack the Knife,” Bobby Darin (1959)
According to The X-Factor and America’s Got Talent supremo Simon Cowell, “Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin is “the best song ever made.” Cowell made this revelation on an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2011. He’s not alone in loving the song, which hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959 and stayed there for nine weeks. It also won the Grammy for Record of the Year.
2. “Smooth,” Santana Feat. Rob Thomas (1999)
The second-biggest song in history is “Smooth,” which saw iconic Mexican-American guitarist Carlos Santana collaborate with alt-rock singer Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty. It was an enormous hit, cementing a place as Hot 100 number one for 12 weeks and remaining in the top ten for 30 weeks in total. It even had a renaissance in 2016 as an hilarious internet meme. Man, it is a hot one.
1. “The Twist,” Chubby Checker (1960)
When Chubby Checker performed a cover version of Hank Ballard & the Midnighters’ “The Twist” on American Bandstand in 1960, a craze was born. Over the next few years, people all across America would be doing the signature dance in nightclubs. Amazingly, it is still the biggest single ever released. The song was such a phenomenon that Checker was able to cash in for years, recording the follow-ups “Let’s Twist Again” and “Slow Twistin’.”