Every year, the Billboard 100 chooses the best performing pop song from the previous year, based on units sold and chart performance.
Some of these songs never even hit number one, like “Hanging by a Moment,” but it was on a Billboard chart for almost a full year, ubiquitous on the radio and in pop culture.
There are also a few one-hit wonders on the list, ranging from “Bad Day” of “American Idol” fame to “Somebody That I Used to Know,” by Australian singer Gotye.
Scroll on to see what the top pop songs have been for the past 50 years.
1968: “Hey Jude” — The Beatles
“Hey Jude” was originally titled “Hey Jules,” after John Lennon’s son Julian.
1969: “Sugar, Sugar” — The Archies
The Archies were a virtual band comprised of characters from the Archie comics: Archie, Betty, Jughead, Veronica and Reggie.
1970: “Bridge Over Troubled Water” — Simon and Garfunkel
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” won five Grammys in 1971.
1971: “Joy to the World” — Three Dog Night
“Joy to the World” has pop culture longevity – 2016 film “Sausage Party” used the song in its end credits.
1972: “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” — Roberta Flack
Flack covered the 1957 folk song 15 years after it was written, and her rendition soon became the definitive version of the song. Miley Cyrus recently covered Flack’s version in 2017.
1973: “Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree” — Tony Orlando and Dawn
Legend says that “Yellow Ribbon” is about a criminal returning home, but it’s actually about a soldier coming home from a POW camp, according to one of the song’s writers, L. Russell Brown.
1974: “The Way We Were” — Barbra Streisand
The song was written for the hit 1973 movie of the same name starring Streisand and Robert Redford as star-crossed lovers.
1975: “Love Will Keep Us Together” — Captain & Tennille
Captain & Tennille were a married couple and pop duo. The two divorced in 2014 after 39 years of marriage.
1976: “Silly Love Songs” — Paul McCartney & Wings
McCartney wrote this song in response to music critics who believed his songs were too sappy. He told Billboard “‘Aw, he sings love songs, he writes love songs, he’s so soppy at times.’ I thought, Well, I know what they mean, but, people have been doing love songs forever. I like ’em, other people like ’em, and there’s a lot of people I love — I’m lucky enough to have that in my life. So the idea was that ‘you’ may call them silly, but what’s wrong with that?”
1977: “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)” — Rod Stewart
“Tonight’s the Night” is the longest-charting single in Stewart’s entire career. It remained at the top of the Billboard for eight weeks.
1978: “Shadow Dancing” — Andy Gibb
Gibb was the youngest of the Gibb brothers – better known as the Bee Gees. A live performance of this song in 1978 was the first time all four brothers performed together.
1979: “My Sharona” — The Knack
The lead singer of the Knack, Doug Fieger, wrote the lyrics for the song after meeting Alperin. She’d go on to be his girlfriend for four years.
1980: “Call Me” — Blondie
“Call Me” is the theme song for the 1980 film “American Gigolo,” starring Richard Gere.
1981: “Bette Davis Eyes” — Kim Carnes
Bette Davis was 73 at the time of the song’s release, and sent Carnes and the songwriters thank you notes for making her relevant again, and sent roses after the song won Grammys.
1982: “Physical” — Olivia Newton-John
1983: “Every Breath You Take” — The Police
1984: “When Doves Cry” — Prince
“When Doves Cry” was written for feature film “Purple Rain,” and would go on to be the first of many hits by Prince.
1985: “Careless Whisper” — Wham!
“Careless Whisper” and its iconic saxophone riff lives on in pop culture today – it played a prominent role in 2016’s “Deadpool.”
1986: “That’s What Friends Are For” — Dionne & Friends
The Dionne Warwick version of this song is much more famous than the original recorded by Rod Stewart. Warwick re-recorded the song with famous friends Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight as a charity single for AIDS research.
1987: “Walk Like an Egyptian” — The Bangles
What does it mean to walk like an Egyptian? Well, the writer of the song was inspired by a group of people he saw riding a ferry boat, trying to keep their balance. He said they threw their arms out and looked similar to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
1988: “Faith” — George Michael
“Faith” was Michael’s debut single after the disbandment of his duo Wham!, and continued to be a career-defining song in his solo career.
1989: “Look Away” — Chicago
While “Look Away” was the most popular song of 1989, it never actually hit number one that year – it hit the top spot for two weeks in December 1988.
1990: “Hold On” — Wilson Phillips
A whole new generation of Wilson Phillips fans were created when they were introduced to “Hold On” in a climactic scene of “Bridesmaids.”
1991: “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” — Bryan Adams
The classic cinematic ballad “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” was on two albums at once: the “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” soundtrack, and Adams’ own album “Waking Up the Neighbours.”
1992: “End of the Road” — Boyz II Men
At the time, “End of the Road” broke the record for longest time atop the Billboard Hot 100, staying there for 13 weeks. That record would be broken the next year by Whitney Houston – Boyz II Men would go on to match that record, and break it again with a duet with Mariah Carey.
1993: “I Will Always Love You” — Whitney Houston
“I Will Always Love You” is the song that ended “End of the Road’s” record-breaking 13-week run, topping the Billboard 100 for 14 weeks after its release on the soundtrack of “The Bodyguard,” Houston’s film debut.
1994: “The Sign” — Ace of Base
“The Sign” went nine-times Platinum when all was said and done, and became the first Swedish band top both the Billboard Singles and Billboard Albums charts. Not bad for a band that reportedly has former Nazi members.
1995: “Gangsta’s Paradise” — Coolio featuring L.V.
“As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I take a look at my life and realise there’s nothin’ left.” With that opening line, “Gangsta’s Paradise” would go down in rap history as a huge crossover hit.
1996: “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)” — Los del Río
The most famous version of this song, the Bayside Boys remix, isn’t the original version. Los del Rio originally recorded the song in all Spanish. A radio DJ heard the song, brought it to a record label, and a songwriter added English lyrics – the rest is history.
1997: “Candle in the Wind 1997″/”Something About the Way You Look Tonight” — Elton John
The two songs were released as double A-side singles when Princess Diana (a good friend of John’s) died in 1997. “Candle in the Wind” was originally released in 1974, but was rereleased in 1997 with new lyrics dedicated to the princess.
1998: “Too Close” — Next
Though Next is still active today – the group just released their first single since 2002 in March 2018, they never reached the same level of success as they did with “Too Close.”
1999: “Believe” — Cher
“Believe” set three records for Cher when it went number one. It made her the oldest female artist to do so (she was 52), it also set the record for longest gap between number one hits (her previous number one, “Dark Lady,” was released in 1974), and it broke George Harrison’s record for longest span between an artist’s first number one and their most recent one. Cher’s first number one was released in 1965 when she was in the duo Sonny & Cher.
2000: “Breathe” — Faith Hill
“Breathe” is the second song ever that – despite being the Billboard top song of 2000 – never actually hit the top of the charts during its 53 weeks there.
2001: “Hanging by a Moment” — Lifehouse
“Hanging by a Moment” was Lifehouse’s debut single from their very first album “No Name Face.” 2000 and 2001 consecutively had the top song of the year never reach number one, the second and third time this ever happened in Billboard history.
2002: “How You Remind Me” — Nickelback
16 years after the Nickelback song was released, it’s still circulating pop culture. The March 10, 2018 episode of “SNL,” hosted by “This Is Us” star Sterling K. Brown, featured an absurd sketch starring a dying old woman who loves Nickelback, singing “How You Remind Me.”
2003: “In da Club” — 50 Cent
“In da Club” was 50 Cent’s first single that reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that hasn’t heard “Yo shawty, it’s ya birthday, we’re gonna party like it’s ya birthday.” Rolling Stone ranked it the 448th best song of all time.
2004: “Yeah!” — Usher featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris
2005: “We Belong Together” — Mariah Carey
After declining popularity in the early 2000s, “We Belong Together” signalled the return of Carey, and proved that she could still put out smash hits. After her confusing performance at a 2017 New Year’s Ever performance, streams of “We Belong Together” jumped by 251%.
2006: “Bad Day” — Daniel Powter
“Bad Day” will forever be known as the “American Idol” elimination song.
2007: “Irreplaceable” — Beyoncé
Even though Ne-Yo wrote the lyrics of this instant classic about a woman dumping her boyfriend for cheating on her, it can’t help but feel eerily prescient, given recent events in Beyoncé’s marriage to Jay Z.
2008: “Low” — Flo Rida featuring T-Pain
2009: “Boom Boom Pow” — The Black Eyed Peas
“Boom Boom Pow” was the lead single of the group’s first album in four years, “The E.N.D.” It was also their first number one in the US, kicking off a year of total domination from the Black Eyed Peas.
2010: “Tik Tok” — Kesha
Kesha’s debut single “Tik Tok” was atop the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks – the longest-running number one debut single of all time.
2011: “Rolling in the Deep” — Adele
The lead single off of Adele’s second album “21,” “Rolling in the Deep” is the biggest crossover hit of the past 25 years, according to Billboard. The song appeared on 12 different charts.
2012: “Somebody That I Used to Know” — Gotye featuring Kimbra
Seven years after the music video premiered in 2011, “Somebody That I Used to Know” hit one billion views on YouTube in January 2018. It proves the song’s longevity – it won five ARIAs (an Australian music award) in 2011, and won three Grammys in 2013.
2013: “Thrift Shop” — Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Wanz
Even though “Thrift Shop” is remembered as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ first big hit, it was actually released after “Same Love” and “Can’t Hold Us,” which are usually thought to be the duo’s follow-ups. “Thrift Shop” was released in August 2012, while “Same Love” came out in July 2012, and “Can’t Hold Us” came out in August 2011.
2014: “Happy” — Pharrell Williams
The inescapable ode to happiness was originally released as part of the “Despicable Me 2” soundtrack, before Williams added it to his album “Girl.”
2015: “Uptown Funk” — Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars
“Uptown Funk” has over 2.9 billion views on YouTube, making it the fifth-most viewed video on YouTube of all time.
2016: “Love Yourself” — Justin Bieber
“Love Yourself” was Bieber’s third consecutive number one single from his 2015 album “Purpose,” after “What Do You Mean?” and “Sorry.” The song was written by Ed Sheeran, who appears as an artist himself elsewhere on this list.
2017: “Shape of You” — Ed Sheeran
“Shape of You” was everywhere in 2017. It officially became the most-streamed song in Spotify history in 2017, and Sheeran himself was the most popular artist on the streaming service last year. Whether you love him or hate him, Sheeran is definitely here to stay.
2018: “God’s Plan” — Drake
The year of 2018 was a roller coaster for Drake, ranging from a feud with Pusha T, admitting he has a son, a feud with Kanye West, reuniting with his “Degrassi” co-stars for a music video – and garnering the top spot for his smash song “God’s Plan.”
- Read more:
- The true meaning of 15 popular songs that everyone gets wrong
- 20 people shared the songs that make them cry every time – and the reasons why will break your heart
- 12 iconic songs you didn’t realise were actually covers
- 100 songs everyone should listen to in their lifetime
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.