100 of the Best Pop Songs of All Time

What makes a great pop song? A catchy melody, for sure. A beat that makes you want to move. Lyrics that speak to your heart and head. And a voice that catches your ear and holds your attention. The best pop songs contain all of these elements and more. 

Scientists at the University of London who have studied the psychology of pop music have identified three elements that can make a song grab your attention and even sing along:

  • Phrasing: The longer a singer holds a note or lyric, the more likely we are to listen. Think of Freddy Mercury's powerhouse vocals.
  • Chorus: Three different musical pitches seems to be the magical number to make a song's chorus memorable.
  • Strong vocals: Researchers say that test subjects show the most response to powerful male vocals, which trigger an emotional response. 

Ask a group of songwriters what makes a pop song great and you're likely to get a number of different answers. Lamont Dozier, who wrote dozens of classic Motown songs, has told interviewers that there's no secret formula; people like what they like. A good beat helps, says Max Martin, who's written hits for Britney Spear and Taylor Swift, but Martin also notes that musical tastes change over time: what works in one era may not be a hit in another.

In truth, the only thing you need to know about what makes a pop song great is your own passion for music. Find out if your favorite tunes are on this list of 100 of the best pop songs of all time.

At heart, "Take on Me" is just a simple synth-pop song. However, in the course of the song, the singer ranges nearly two-and-a-half octaves, soaring to high notes that are exhilarating to the listener. It became a No. 1 pop smash around the world and featured a highly memorable video using pencil sketch animation. The video took home six awards at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Watch Video

Included on the band's self-titled second album, "25 or 6 to 4"  is one of the best examples of the band's distinctive jazz-rock fusion with horns and electric guitars. The song became Chicago's first top-5 pop hit single in the U.S. and their first top-10 hit across the Atlantic in the U.K.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

John Lennon himself stated that "Imagine" is as good as anything he wrote with the Beatles. The song remains one of the most powerful and poignant requests in song to imagine a peaceful world. It reached the top 10 in both the U.S. and the U.K. upon initial release.

Watch Video

This pop standard written in 1933 was first sung by Ethel Waters at the Cotton Club in Harlem. However, Lena Horne's version of the song was included in the 1943 movie "Stormy Weather" and is probably the best-known recording of this classic. The song is built around a classic weather metaphor used to describe emotion. This recording is included in the Grammy Awards Hall of Fame.

Watch Video

"Over the Rainbow" was written specifically for the movie "The Wizard of Oz" by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Judy Garland singing the song was originally deleted from the movie, but Harold Arlen and executive producer Arthur Freed lobbied to get it back in the film. The version from the film remains the best-known recording, but other cover versions, particularly the one by Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, are well known. The "Songs of the Century" list compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts listed "Over the Rainbow" as No. 1 based on its historical significance.

Watch Video

"Bye Bye Love" is the song that introduced the world to the Everly Brothers. It had been rejected by at least 30 other recording acts. The duo's version topped the country chart, and also reached No. 2 on the pop chart and No. 5 on the R&B chart.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah" first appeared on his 1984 album "Various Positions." It remained relatively obscure until John Cale recorded a 1991 version that influenced Jeff Buckley's 1994 cover from his "Grace" album. Jeff Buckley's recording has been recognized by many as one of the most beautiful and powerful records of all time. Since then the song has become a contemporary pop standard recorded and performed by a wide range of artists, including k.d. lang's celebrated 2010 Winter Olympics performance and Alexandra Burke's No. 1 U.K. pop hit.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Although it is far from the Electric Light Orchestra's (ELO) biggest commercial success, "Mr. Blue Sky" is arguably the best example of all elements of group leader Jeff Lynne's pop approach coming together. Awash in strings with a pounding rock beat, "Mr. Blue Sky" expresses the pure joy of a sunny day with a heavily electronically manipulated vocal. The song is the fourth and final song that makes up the "Concerto for a Rainy Day" on the double album "Out of the Blue."

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" is an epic recording. At the time of its release, it was the most expensive song ever recorded. Notably, the song does not have a traditional chorus but instead is organized in distinct movements. "Bohemian Rhapsody" topped the pop singles chart in the U.K. for nine weeks and is regularly cited as the greatest pop single of all time in U.K. polls. It reached the top 10 in the U.S. on two different occasions.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

The Canadian group The Band toured with and recorded "The Basement Tapes" with Bob Dylan before releasing their debut album "Music From Big Pink." The song is performed in the style of a southern American folk song and had influence well beyond its chart success. Aretha Franklin's soul interpretation of the song was a top-20 hit in 1969.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"Good Vibrations" is the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson's magnum opus. It became the band's third No. 1 pop single. Some consider the song to be a minisymphony of sorts in multiple sections. Production of the song is reported to have taken 17 sessions and ultimately cost over $50,000, a phenomenal cost at that time. The final segments of the song feature the electronic instrument the theremin. "Good Vibrations" is considered to have broken entirely new ground in what could be done in the recording studio with splicing together a wide range of discrete recorded components to create the final work.

Watch Video

Joni Mitchell's song "Big Yellow Taxi" has become a touchstone for the environmental movement with the distinctive line, "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." It was influenced by a trip Joni Mitchell took to Hawaii. "Big Yellow Taxi" did not become a significant pop hit until a live version of the song reached the top 25 in 1975.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"Your Song" made its first appearance on Elton John's self-titled second solo album. The simple, earnest love ballad ranks as one of the top love songs of all time. It became Elton John's first top-10 pop hit in the U.S. Ellie Goulding took the song to No. 2 in the U.K. in 2010 with a cover version. 

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"Mack the Knife" was originally composed and premiered onstage in German in Berlin in 1928. It was widely introduced to English-speaking audiences as part of an English version of "The Threepenny Opera" by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. The song is a murder ballad detailing the crimes of the highwayman MacHeath. Pop singer Bobby Darin recorded a version of "Mack the Knife" that hit No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts in 1959. It went on to win the Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

Watch Video

Bruce Springsteen has stated that he wrote "Born to Run" as a last-ditch effort to become a true star. His first two albums had been critically acclaimed but didn't sell particularly well. The song is essentially a passionate, heroic love letter to a girl named Wendy. The imagery in the song is powerful with "kids huddled on the beach in a mist" and "highways jammed with broken heroes." The song, along with the rest of the album "Born to Run," did help make Bruce Springsteen a star. He appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek, and the album hit No. 3 on the charts. Neither of his first two albums had placed inside the top 50. The song itself reached No. 23 on the pop singles chart in the U.S.

Watch Video

"Escapade" represents an upbeat, joyful peak in Janet Jackson's pop career. It was one of seven top-5 pop hit singles from the album "Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814." "Escapade" went all the way to No. 1 on the pop singles chart and is accompanied by a celebratory Mardi Gras-inspired music video.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"One" was released as the third single from U2's hit album "Achtung Baby." It was released as a benefit single for AIDS research. The song was written to express both group unity and as a response to German reunification. "One" was a top-10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Watch Video

Madonna worked with producer William Orbit to put together this dance classic. It became the top song played in dance clubs for the year 1998. The accompanying video was inspired by the time-lapse photography in the film 'Koyanisqaatsi." "Ray of Light" was a top-10 smash hit in both the U.K. and the U.S. It was one of the first recordings where Madonna fully embraced techno and electronica.

Watch Video

Madonna's classic "Like a Prayer" grew out of a concerted effort to record something more adult. She was inspired by the Roman Catholic belief in transubstantiation by which the bread and wine in Eucharist become literally the body and blood of Christ. The song and accompanying video generated controversy, but the anthemic sound of "Like a Prayer" and gospel backing chorus were enthusiastically received by fans, who turned it into a No. 1 pop smash.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"Don't Speak" was written in the wake of the end of a seven-year relationship between No Doubt's lead vocalist Gwen Stefani and bass player Tony Kanal. The emotional power of the song earned a Grammy Award nomination for Song of the Year. "Don't Speak" topped pop radio airplay charts for nearly four months.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

The Swedish pop superstars first performed "Dancing Queen" live as part of a televised gala honoring the wedding of Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf and his bride, Silvia Sommerlath. The song went on to be a No. 1 pop hit around the world and was certified gold in both the U.S. and the U.K. It is the legendary group's only No. 1 hit in the U.S.  

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"Blue Monday" is one of the most influential pop records of all time. New Order recorded it just two years after the group had risen out of the ashes of the postpunk band Joy Division, which fell apart when lead vocalist Ian Curtis died. The band incorporated influential elements from seminal dance artists Kraftwerk, Donna Summer, and Sylvester. The breakbeat production work of Arthur Baker in New York was also a strong influence. The 12-inch single became the biggest selling 12-inch recording of all time.

Watch Video

Written by Paul Simon, "Bridge Over Troubled Water's" vocal is performed as an Art Garfunkel solo. There was conflict over that decision, but it remains a stunning vocal tour de force. The song spent six weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold over 6 million records worldwide. It won Grammy Awards for both Record and Song of the Year.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"My Heart Will Go On" had a somewhat rugged path on its way to becoming one of the biggest romantic pop hits of all time. It first was written as an instrumental motif for the film "Titanic," and film director James Cameron initially had no interest in it as a vocal song at the end of the movie. Ultimately, however, the stars aligned, and the song became a worldwide pop smash, winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song as well as Grammy Awards for Record and Song of the Year.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

76
of 100

Beatles: 'Yesterday' (1965)

The Beatles 1965
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

"The Guinness Book of Records" claims no song has inspired more cover versions than "Yesterday." It is a melancholy ballad recorded with simply the voice of Paul McCartney over a string quartet. It details the aftermath of a relationship gone sour. However, when something so simple is done so perfectly, it becomes a classic. The other Beatles members were at first adamantly against including the song on a Beatles album because the sound was so different from their other work. They did veto its release as a single at home in the U.K. In the U.S., the song was a No. 1 hit. A 1999 BBC poll voted "Yesterday" the Best Song of the 20th Century.

Watch Video

The biggest hit single by the band R.E.M. went to No. 4 on the pop singles chart. The sound of the song is built around a mandolin hook. The song's title comes from a southern colloquial phrase meaning to lose one's temper. R.E.M.'s lead vocalist has said the song is about unrequited love and romantic expression. The accompanying video was highly acclaimed. It won a Grammy Award for Best Short Form Video.

Watch Video

Written by Linda Perry, Christina Aguilera's single "Beautiful" has been adopted as an anthem for LGBT people. It received a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance as well as being nominated for Song of ​The Year and peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It went all the way to No. 1 on the pop singles chart in the U.K. 

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Britney Spears' commercial success seemed to be seriously fading when she headed into the studio to record this single from her album "In the Zone." It has a very high-pitched hook that is unforgettable. The song has been the subject of cover versions by artists ranging from bluegrass band Nickel Creek to French-Israeli folk-pop artist Yael Naim. The song brought Britney Spears back to the pop top 10 and earned her a Grammy Award for Top Dance Recording.

Watch Video

Lady Gaga debuted the song "Bad Romance" on the fashion runway at Alexander McQueen's Paris Fashion Week show in October 2009. According to Lady Gaga, the collaboration with producer RedOne was an experimental pop record. The song peaked at No. 2 in the U.S. but has become Lady Gaga's signature recording to many. It hit No. 1 in many different countries around the world while selling approximately 10 million digital copies. The accompanying music video received a Grammy Award and has been recognized as one of the top music videos of all time.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Stephen Sondheim, one of the most accomplished composers of stage musicals of all time, does not aim to write hit songs. However, the emotional power of "Send in the Clowns" from the musical "A Little Night Music" attracted the attention of a wide range of performers, including the legendary Frank Sinatra. In 1975 Judy Collins turned it into a pop hit, and "Send in the Clowns" received the Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"American Pie" is considered by many to be an allegorical history of rock music up to the time of its recording. The "day the music died" from the chorus is considered the day that Buddy Holly died in 1959 in an airplane crash with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. The actual meaning of the specific lyrics is the subject of ongoing speculation. However, many believe that such figures as the Byrds, Mick Jagger, and the Beatles are subjects mentioned in the song. "American Pie" was a No. 1 pop single for four weeks.

Watch Video

Vocal group the Association experienced its pop breakthrough with the top-10 hit "Along Comes Mary." They followed it with a love song with what the record label believed was an old-fashioned feel. However, pop fans felt differently and turned the love ballad "Cherish" into a No. 1 smash.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

The Rolling Stones topped the U.S. pop singles chart for the first time with this song. It has all of the components of a classic Rolling Stones hit, including an arresting guitar introduction from Keith Richards as well as classic preening vocals from Mick Jagger. The song was recorded at the Chess Studios in Chicago. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" was seen as subversive and threatening due to its sexual suggestiveness and attacks on commercialism. It was the song that turned the Rolling Stones into superstars.

Watch Video

The ballad "I Want It That Way" is seen by many as one of the ultimate boy band singles. The Backstreet Boys earned Grammy Award nominations for both Song and Record of the Year with the recording. It topped both mainstream pop and adult contemporary radio charts.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Rod Stewart's tale of a manipulative romance with an older woman is believed to be autobiographical. It became Stewart's first No. 1 pop single and is given credit for launching his career as a solo star. "Maggie May" brought a British folk-pop style and Stewart's trademark raspy vocals into the pop mainstream. Rod Stewart has said he's not sure why it became such a big hit because it has no melody.

Watch Video

Jimi Hendrix' only significant pop hit single is a cover of a Bob Dylan song. It was recorded for his album "Electric Ladyland" and released only six months after the Bob Dylan version. The Jimi Hendrix interpretation is widely considered the superior take on "All Along the Watchtower." Bob Dylan has acknowledged that he now performs the song Jimi's way.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Although Jon Bon Jovi did not like the original recorded version of "Livin' on a Prayer," a reworking of the song has turned into the band Bon Jovi's signature hit. It has become a favorite for jukebox singalongs and has sold more than 3 million digital copies.  

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Recorded in just two takes, this No. 2 pop hit is one of Motown's most memorable records and the signature song of vocal trio Martha and the Vandellas. Controversy erupted around the song in the late 1960s when it was adopted as a civil rights anthem by militant protesters. As a result, some radio stations banned the song. "Dancing in the Street" was officially added to the National Recording Registry in 2006 by the Library of Congress. 

Watch Video

Although it was never officially released as a single in the U.S., "Stairway to Heaven" is widely recognized as one of the greatest rock recordings of all time. It was adopted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003. The stellar Jimmy Page guitar solo is one of the most acclaimed of all time.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"Son of a Preacher Man" is the centerpiece of English singer Dusty Springfield's landmark "Dusty in Memphis" album. The song was first recorded by Aretha Franklin's sister Erma, and she decided to record it herself after hearing Dusty Springfield's interpretation. "Son of a Preacher Man" became Dusty Springfield's fourth top-10 hit in the U.S. and her 10th at home in the U.K.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"Unchained Melody" began its recorded life as a theme song for an obscure 1955 prison film, "Unchained." It hit the pop charts shortly after in an instrumental version by Les Baxter and a vocal version by Al Hibbler. The song was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Song From a Motion Picture. Phil Spector recorded the best-known version of "Unchained Melody" as a solo performance by the Righteous Brothers' Bobby Hatfield but it was still credited to the duo upon release. Their version of the song was a top-5 pop hit, and it returned to the charts in 1990 after being included on the soundtrack to the film "Ghost." "Unchained Melody" remains one of the most romantic pop songs of all time.

Watch Video

Despite the fact that the true subject of this song is still not known, it is one of the most devastating portraits of conceit ever recorded. Mick Jagger, Warren Beatty, Kris Kristofferson, and James Taylor are all potential influences. Various clues to the identity have come out over time. Musically, "You're So Vain" is one of the best examples of a confessional style of singer-songwriter pop. The song is Carly Simon's only No. 1 pop single.

Watch Video

Tricky Stewart and The-Dream wrote "Umbrella" with Britney Spears in mind. Her record label rejected it, claiming they had enough songs for her upcoming collection. The song then caught the attention of L.A. Reid at Island Def Jam, and after he sent it to Rihanna she immediately wanted to record it. Upon release, the song quickly became the biggest hit of Rihanna's career, reaching No. 1 around the world. "Umbrella" remained at the top of the chart in the U.K. for 10 weeks, the longest of any song in the decade. It was nominated for Grammy Awards for Song and Record of the Year while winning a Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.

Watch Video

The Black Eyed Peas debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 with "I Gotta Feeling," just behind their "Boom Boom Pow."  It later went to No. 1 and spent 14 weeks at the top, giving the Black Eyed Peas chart dominance for six months. The celebratory party feel of "I Gotta Feeling" earned a Grammy Award nomination for Record of the Year.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

To many fans, the upbeat, inspirational words of reggae hit "Three Little Birds" are the essence of reggae legend Bob Marley. It was released as a single from his 1977 gold-certified album "Exodus."

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"Hey Jude," the Beatles' biggest pop hit single, began as a song written by Paul McCartney titled "Hey Jules" and meant to comfort a young Julian Lennon while his parents were going through a divorce. With a four-minute fade, "Hey Jude's" length made it one of the longest No. 1 pop hit singles of all time. The song earned Grammy Award nominations for Record and Song of the Year.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Gnarls Barkley is a collaborative project between producer Danger Mouse and vocalist Cee Lo Green. Their debut single "Crazy" became one of the most acclaimed pop hits of the decade. It became the first song to spend nine weeks at No. 1 in the U.K. in over 10 years and reached No. 2 in the U.S. Musically, "Crazy" was inspired by the spaghetti western film scores of Ennio Morricone. Lyrically, the song emerged out of a conversation between Cee Lo and Danger Mouse.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"Like a Rolling Stone" is Bob Dylan's pop epic. It had its origin in a short story Bob Dylan wrote. At more than six minutes long, it is extraordinary for a pop hit of the time. The subject matter of the lyrics has been frequently discussed and may be seen simply as a rant and warning about excessive materialism. However, closer observation unveils the stunning poetry throughout Dylan's best material. Musically, Al Kooper's organ work is highly prominent and lends an air of gathering storm clouds to the entire song. "Like a Rolling Stone" reached No. 2 on the pop singles chart and remains Bob Dylan's biggest pop hit.

Watch Video

The organ introduction for "Light My Fire" was influenced by the work of Johann Sebastian Bach. It gave the mainstream pop world their first introduction to the groundbreaking pop and rock work of the Doors. Although the original seven-minute album version of the song was provided to pop radio in a heavily edited three-minute cut, the full-length song was often requested by listeners. "Light My Fire" was a three-week No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Gospel singer Sam Cooke turned to the secular world with this single. Its crooning, romantic R&B style is considered a rock-and-roll landmark. "You Send Me" remains Sam Cooke's only No. 1 pop single.

Watch Video

Pop songwriter Jimmy Webb wrote "Wichita Lineman" after driving in Oklahoma noticing a seemingly endless line of telephone poles broken only by the silhouette of a lone lineman atop a pole in the distance. He imagined the loneliness of the solitary worker and turned it into a song. Glen Campbell's recording of "Wichita Lineman" became a No. 3 pop smash and turned him into a star. It also topped both the country and adult contemporary charts.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Propelled by a distinctive drum line, "Peggy Sue" became one of Buddy Holly's three top 10 pop hits. Like many early rock-and-roll hits, it was a major success on the R&B chart as well. "Peggy Sue" was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

This song featured in the film "The Graduate" also speaks about American culture memorably in the form of Joe DiMaggio. "Mrs. Robinson" details the hidden lives of middle-class families in the late 1960s. It was a No. 1 hit single for Simon and Garfunkel. The song itself is almost hushed in tone until the chorus breaks through referencing a nation looking for a hero.

Watch Video

"ABC" is filled with the barely contained energy of the young Jackson 5. It was the second of four consecutive No. 1 pop hits that kicked off the group's career.  

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"Fame" was recorded during a one-day recording session in which John Lennon took part. He contributed the song title to a tune based around guitarist Carlos Alomar's riff. The result was the first No. 1 pop hit of David Bowie's career. John Lennon's backing vocals can be heard on the record.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Many consider this one of the sexiest recordings of all time. It was reportedly written after a case of serious writer's block. Marvin Gaye was struggling to come up with material to follow his landmark "What's Going On" album. The song was first written from a spiritual point of view and then with political overtones. Ultimately it became one of the most celebrated odes to lovemaking ever recorded.

Watch Video

Frank Sinatra, one of the top pop artist of all time, had not had a No. 1 pop single since 1955 when he recorded this song. It won three Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year. One of the most distinctively remembered components of the recording is the scatted "doo-be-doo-be-doo" as the song fades.

Watch Video

This song introduced the world to Britney Spears as a pop artist. It is also a landmark hit in the career of songwriter and producer Max Martin. Although Britney Spears was only 16 at the time of recording, the song has a decidedly sexual tone enhanced by the sexy schoolgirl theme of the accompanying music video. "...Baby One More Time" has been frequently covered by other artists, including Fountains of Wayne and Panic at the Disco. The song became a chart-topping hit in more than a dozen countries around the world.

Watch Video

"Dreams" was written in the midst of the emotional and personal upheaval for the members of the Fleetwood Mac that ultimately resulted in the legendary album "Rumours." Stevie Nicks says she wrote "Dreams" in the studio in about 10 minutes. Christine McVie found the song a bit dull until Lindsey Buckingham put together a three-section arrangement that pulled everything together. "Dreams" became the group's first No. 1 pop hit in the U.S. and one of the group's most distinctive recordings.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Arguably, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" is the iconic pop song of the World War II years. It was recorded by the Andrews Sisters in January 1941 before the U.S. entry into the war, but after a peacetime draft had been initiated. The song was included in the Abbott and Costello film "Buck Privates" and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. Bette Midler brought the song to the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1973.  

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Prince wrote "Nothing Compares 2 U" for his proteges in the group the Family. It was released on their debut album. However, the song received little attention until released as a single by Irish artist Sinead O'Connor in 1990. Her stark, emotional vocal was a No. 1 smash hit around the world. It accomplished the rare feat of being both a major alternative and adult contemporary hit.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

This Eagles' classic has been the subject of widespread speculation for decades about the exact meaning of its mysterious lyrics. In 2013 group member Don Henley said it's about "a journey from innocence to experience...that's all." Featuring a distinctively beautiful guitar solo, "Hotel California" went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and received a Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

The electronic pop band Human League was skeptical about the release of "Don't You Want Me" as a single and thought it would stall the band's commercial progress. To their surprise it went to the top of the pop singles chart in both the U.S. and the U.K. It has since become known as a defining song of New Wave pop. The match of deadpan vocal delivery with an aggressive electronic hook is unforgettable.

Watch Video

Dolly Parton wrote, recorded, and topped the country chart with the original version of "I Will Always Love You," but it was Whitney Houston's dramatic reading of the song for the soundtrack to the film "The Bodyguard" that became one of the biggest pop hits of all time. The song reached the top 3 of the Billboard Hot 100 once more after Houston died in 2012.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Depeche Mode reached the pop top 10 in the U.S. for the first time and still only time with this second single from the album "Violator." The notable accompanying music video depicts lead vocalist Dave Gahan as a king wandering the Scottish highlands with a deck chair.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" was first recorded by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles but was rejected by Motown label owner Berry Gordy. A Gladys Knight and the Pips version was released and became a No. 2 hit. However, Marvin Gaye's mysterious, brooding recording made the song a classic. His recording was a No. 1 pop and R&B smash.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Released as Johnny Cash's fourth single, "I Walk the Line" established him as both a country and pop star. The song is driven by his distinctive freight-train backing rhythm. Johnny Cash hums before each verse to establish the new key that changes with each new verse.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

The pulsing bass line is the introduction to "Billie Jean." The song's tale of patrimonial accusations is based on a real-life incident. Michael Jackson's vocal hiccups became a trademark. Like so many classics, "Billie Jean" almost missed the cut to be included on the "Thriller" album. It went straight to No. 1 and was a top-10 smash across Europe. 

Watch Video

"I Love Rock 'n Roll" was first recorded in 1975 by the Arrows. Joan Jett heard the song when she was touring the U.K. with her band, the Runaways. Her later recording with her band the Blackhearts became a huge success at home in the U.S. It topped the pop singles charts for seven weeks. It remains one of the hardest rocking songs to spend such a long time at the top of the pop chart.

Watch Video

31
of 100

Beatles: 'Help!' (1965)

Beatles - Help!
Courtesy Capitol Records

This Beatles classic was primarily written by John Lennon to express the extraordinary stress he felt from the band's meteoric rise to success. "Help!" was the title song for the Beatles' second feature film. John Lennon has stated it was among his favorite songs he wrote due to its honesty. It did mark a shift in subject matter for Beatles songs to concerns about a wider range of life than simply love songs.

Watch Video

Included in the 1942 hit movie "Holiday Inn," Bing Crosby's version of "White Christmas" ultimately became the bestselling record of all time, selling an estimated 50 million copies. The song was written by Irving Berlin and reminisces about an old-fashioned Christmas. "White Christmas" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"Since U Been Gone" was written for Kelly Clarkson's album "Breakaway" by Max Martin and Dr. Luke. Kelly Clarkson has stated that she insisted on adding the rock feel to the recording. The result was a record that captured the prevailing sound of mainstream pop with near perfection. "Since U Been Gone" went to No. 1 on the U.S. pop singles chart and was a top-10 hit around the world. The reputation of the song has grown since its original release, and it is frequently covered by other artists.

Watch Video

Utilized for the futuristic segment of Donna Summer's disco album "I Remember Yesterday," "I Feel Love" became a landmark in electronic music. The entirely synthesized backing track brought electronic music into the pop mainstream. Producer Giorgio Moroder was one of the key architects of the sound. It was a top-10 pop hit for Donna Summer, but the highly synthesized electronic sound is not something she explored extensively in later recordings. However, "I Feel Love" inspired waves of electronic bands and artists for decades to come.

Watch Video

John and Michelle Phillips wrote "California Dreamin'" while living in New York and longing for their native California. The song became a top-5 smash and the first hit by the Mamas and the Papas. It has become a standard for anyone suffering through a long, cold, dark winter.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

This protest against rigid schooling was one of the most surprising hit songs of all time. It is one of the songs used to set up the withdrawal and depression of the main character in the rock band Pink Floyd's "The Wall." The song was banned in South Africa. "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)" features vocals from the Islington Green School choir. A distinctive component of the song are the shouted orders and mocking statements by presumed teachers. The song became Pink Floyd's only No. 1 pop single in the U.S. and the U.K.

Watch Video

The Ronettes' hit single "Be My Baby" is often considered the epitome of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound production style. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys has declared it the best pop record ever made. "Be My Baby" utilizes a full orchestra on the recording. It reached No. 2 on the U.S. pop chart.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Before "Saturday Night Fever," the Bee Gees created one of the top disco hits of all time. "You Should Be Dancing" is their only No. 1 disco chart hit and was significantly featured later in the movie "Saturday Night Fever." The uptempo, thumping disco mix combined with a massive pop hook makes "You Should Be Dancing" one of the catchiest disco records of all time.

Purchase / Download

Co-written with guitarist Steve Cropper, Otis Redding recorded what became his signature song just days before his tragic death in a plane crash in December 1967. Released in January 1968, it became the first posthumous No. 1 pop hit in the U.S. Otis Redding began writing the lyrics to the song while sitting on a rented houseboat in Sausalito, California.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"Moon River" was composed by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer for the film "Breakfast at Tiffany's." It won Grammy Awards for Record and Song of the Year as well as the Academy Award for Best Original Song. It became a top-20 pop hit single in versions both by Henry Mancini and R&B singer Jerry Butler.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Although it is not one of the group's biggest hits, "God Only Knows" is one of the Beach Boys' most daring and successful. It was one of the first major pop releases to use the word "God" in the title and includes both French horns and accordion in the introduction. Paul McCartney has declared that "God Only Knows" is his favorite record.  

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Although not a success in its initial 1992 release, Radiohead's "Creep" became the band's breakthrough hit single when re-released the following year. Part of the song's initial failure was due to the BBC's decision to not play the song because it was "too depressing." It first became a hit in Israel with supportive radio airplay and slowly spread around the world, being adopted by alternative radio in the U.S.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Legendary pop songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote "Stand by Me" with singer Ben E. King, basing it on the spiritual "Lord Stand by Me." Ben E. King had first gained fame as a member of vocal group The Drifters. "Stand by Me" was his first No. 1 hit as a solo artist. The song went back to the pop top 10 in 1986 as the title song for the movie "Stand by Me."

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell wrote "Georgia on My Mind" in 1930 in tribute to Hoagy Carmichael's sister Georgia. It first became a hit in 1931 with a recording by Frankie Trumbauer. However, Ray Charles' soulful version became the legend. His recording topped the pop and country charts while going to No. 3 on the R&B chart. In 1979 it was officially adopted as Georgia's state song.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"Respect" was originally written and recorded by R&B legend Otis Redding in 1965. However, it is Aretha Franklin's 1967 version that has become definitive and a signature song for her. The showstopping "R-E-S-P-E-C-T / Find out what it means to me" line is unforgettable. The song went to No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts and won two Grammy Awards for Best R&B recording and Best R&B Female Vocal Performance.

Watch Video

"Sugar Sugar" is the pinnacle of bubblegum pop and also the biggest pop hit single in the U.S. ever by an animated act. Given credit as being performed by the stars of the Saturday morning cartoon series "The Archie Show," the vocals on the record are performed by Ron Dante, co-producer of Barry Manilow's first nine albums, Toni Wine, and Canadian pop star Andy Kim.  

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Written by Neil Diamond, "I'm a Believer" is the biggest pop hit by manufactured TV pop band The Monkees. The song received over a million advance orders at the peak of the group's success and ultimately sold over 10 million copies worldwide.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Sting's tale of creepy obsession in "Every Breath You Take" is the biggest hit single in the U.S. by The Police. Although some view it as a love song, at the core it is about pernicious stalking. "Every Breath You Take" won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year and topped the pop singles charts in both the U.S. and U.K.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"The Way We Were" is considered one of the greatest movie songs of all time. The American Film Institute included the reflective ballad on their all-time list of movie songs, ranking it No. 8. It also took home both a Golden Globe and Academy Award. The song also brought Barbra Streisand her very first No. 1 pop hit and her first visit to the top 10 in three years.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"Hey Ya" was released as one of the two lead singles, along with "The Way You Move," from OutKast's double-disc set "Speakerboxxx / The Love Below." Its catchy, uplifting pastiche of rock, pop, hip-hop, and R&B was instantly celebrated as brilliant work. The song reached No. 1 on the pop singles chart and ended the year as a frequent mention in critics' choices for the top single of the year. The video that accompanies the song references the Beatles' historic appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." The song's memorable line, "Shake it like a Polaroid picture," was later used in advertising by Polaroid.

Watch Video

Legendary folk musician and songwriter Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land Is Your Land" as an answer to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," which Guthrie felt was simplistic and unrealistic.  Although originally written in the 1940s, the song came to prominence in the folk-pop boom of the early 1960s. The Library of Congress added "This Land Is Your Land" to the National Recording Registry in 2002.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" blasted grunge into the mainstream pop world. The band's Kurt Cobain says he was trying to write the ultimate pop song by ripping off the Pixies, his favorite band. The shouted and muddy lyrics mystified some and were seen as an anarchic celebration by others. The song was promoted with one of the most heralded videos of all time, depicting a crazed high school pep rally. The song became a top 10 smash hit in the U.S.

Watch Video

Amy Winehouse's signature song originated out of a conversation she had with producer Mark Ronson about her father trying to convince her to go to rehab. The Motown-style production combined with Amy Winehouse's distinctive vocals hit the pop top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. "Rehab" took home Grammy Awards for Record and Song of the Year.  

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

"Heartbreak Hotel" was the first No. 1 pop single by Elvis Presley and the bestselling single of the year 1956. The song's subject matter of extreme sadness at the end of a love relationship was inspired by the songwriter Thomas Durden reading a story about a suicide in a newspaper. A note was left saying, "I walk a lonely street." The intense bluesy sound with a slow rock-and-roll beat was a radical change from Elvis Presley's earlier recordings.

Watch Video

Stevie Wonder originally wrote the song "Superstition" for guitarist Jeff Beck. However, with insistence from management, he recorded it himself. The song was notable as indicating Stevie Wonder's move into personal exploration with a funkier sound and the use of innovative arrangements of synthesizers and horns. The song was the lead single for Stevie Wonder's "Talking Book" album and hit No. 1 in the U.S. in early 1973.

Watch Video

This is one of the definitive songs exhibiting producer Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" recording technique. Cher was among the background singers on "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." It went to No. 1 on the pop singles charts in the U.S. and the U.K. in the midst of the peak of interest in the British Invasion. Daryl Hall and John Oates took the song back into the top 20 in the U.S. in 1980.

Watch Video

Beyonce's solo debut away from Destiny's Child was one of the most anticipated pop events of 2003. Her first single, "Crazy in Love," with its powerful hook did not disappoint. Blending an early 1970s soul feel with hip-hop attitude, the song went straight to No. 1, spending eight weeks at the top in the U.S. and topping the pop singles chart in the U.K. as well.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

There has been a significant amount of discussion through the years about what was actually the first rock-and-roll song. However, there is no disputing the first rock-and-roll song to reach No. 1 on the pop chart in the U.S., and that is "Rock Around the Clock." Although initially released in 1954, the song did not take off until it was used in the hit film "The Blackboard Jungle" in 1955.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

This gospel-influenced classic was written by Curtis Mayfield of the vocal group the Impressions. It only reached No. 14 on the pop singles chart, but its social and political overtones were perfect for the times. The song has been covered many times—by a range of artists from Bob Dylan to Dionne Warwick.

Watch Video

"Fantasy," driven by a sample from Tom Tom Club's hit "Genius of Love," was released at the peak of Mariah Carey's commercial success. The song became the second song to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The recording is an effortless blend of pop, R&B, and light hip-hop and became one of the top 20 pop hits of the 1990s.

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

The image of Prince in a bathtub that opens the music video for "When Doves Cry" is one of the most memorable from the golden era of MTV. Turning into a No. 1 pop smash, "When Doves Cry" established Prince as a superstar. It served as an introduction to the film soundtrack "Purple Rain."

Watch Video

Purchase / Download

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Lamb, Bill. "100 of the Best Pop Songs of All Time." ThoughtCo, Nov. 18, 2017, thoughtco.com/top-pop-songs-of-all-time-3248395. Lamb, Bill. (2017, November 18). 100 of the Best Pop Songs of All Time. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/top-pop-songs-of-all-time-3248395 Lamb, Bill. "100 of the Best Pop Songs of All Time." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/top-pop-songs-of-all-time-3248395 (accessed December 11, 2017).