What was the greatest chart song of all time?

Search this site with Google

We all have personal opinions about which is the best song ever released, the 293,863 song/ chart combinations that are used to create these lists can contribute to that debate but are focused on the charts we have. The simple approach, even when it is as tuned as the one used for the main chart, has too much dependance on the input charts and makes it hard to compare one period with another.

Song Entries Chart

The plot above shows the number of entries in the 132 source song charts. The preponderance of entries after 1960 means that any acts active after that time would be liable to over representation in any combined results. As a result it is important to weigh results by year in an attempt to cancel the effect of the smaller number of entries in early charts.

Greatest Songs

A number of different approaches have been tried, and actually the top songs tend to be so far ahead of the rest that the technique used makes little difference to the order. For the plot above the average of the scores for the songs in the positions 10 to 15 was used as a scaling factor. When the results are plotted against the years, as shown above, it suggests that the factors don't introduce systematic bias for any one period.

This plot also clearly shows how far "White Christmas" is ahead of the other contenders and so it leads to the following list of the most successful songs of all time:

# Artist Song Title Year
1 Bing Crosby White Christmas 1942
2 Bill Haley & His Comets Rock Around the Clock 1955
3 Judy Garland Over the Rainbow 1939
4 Bryan Adams (Everything I Do) I Do it For You 1991
5 The Beatles Hey Jude 1968
6 Celine Dion My Heart Will Go On 1998
7 Leona Lewis Bleeding Love 2008
8 Whitney Houston I Will Always Love You 1992
9 Glenn Miller In the Mood 1940
10 Abba Dancing Queen 1976
11 The Beatles She Loves You 1963
12 Shakira & Wyclef Jean Hips don't lie 2006
13 Pink Floyd Another Brick in the Wall (part 2) 1980
14 Sinead O'Connor Nothing Compares 2 U 1990
15 Bobby Darin Mack the Knife 1959
16 George Harrison My Sweet Lord 1971
17 Fred Astaire The Way You Look Tonight 1936
18 Cher Believe 1998
19 John Lennon Imagine 1971
20 Elvis Presley Jailhouse Rock 1957
21 The Beatles I Want to Hold Your Hand 1964
22 Coolio Gangsta's Paradise 1995
23 Queen Bohemian Rhapsody 1976
24 The Beatles Let it Be 1970
25 John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John You're the One That I Want 1978
26 Usher Yeah! 2004
27 Kylie Minogue Can't Get You Out of My Head 2001
28 USA For Africa We Are the World 1985
29 The Village People YMCA 1978
30 Bing Crosby Pennies From Heaven 1936
31 Britney Spears Baby One More Time 1999
32 Nat King Cole Mona Lisa 1950
33 Al Jolson Swanee 1920
34 Stevie Wonder I Just Called to Say I Love You 1984
35 Spice Girls Wannabe 1996
36 Bing Crosby Swinging On a Star 1944
37 Terry Jacks Seasons in the Sun 1974
38 Ben E King Stand By Me 1961
39 Roy Orbison Oh, Pretty Woman 1964
40 Procol Harum A Whiter Shade of Pale 1967
41 Carl Douglas Kung Fu Fighting 1974
42 P Diddy & Faith Evans I'll Be Missing You 1997
43 Bee Gees Stayin' Alive 1978
44 Madonna Like a Prayer 1989
45 Elvis Presley Are You Lonesome Tonight? 1960
46 Kim Carnes Bette Davis Eyes 1981
47 Don McLean American Pie 1972
48 Lou Bega Mambo No 5 (A Little Bit of ...) 1999
49 Eminem Lose Yourself 2002
50 Irene Cara Flashdance... What a Feeling 1983
51 Elton John Candle in the Wind '97 1997
52 Elvis Presley It's Now Or Never 1960
53 Hanson Mmmbop 1997
54 The Rolling Stones (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction 1965
55 Ben Selvin Happy Days Are Here Again 1930
56 Michael Jackson Black Or White 1991
57 James Blunt You're Beautiful 2005
58 Glenn Miller Moonlight Serenade 1939
59 Chicago If You Leave Me Now 1976
60 Les Brown & Doris Day Sentimental Journey 1945
61 Madonna Hung Up 2005
62 A-Ha Take On Me 1985
63 Al Jolson California, Here I Come 1924
64 Madonna Vogue 1990
65 The Rolling Stones Angie 1973
66 No Doubt Don't Speak 1997
67 Falco Rock Me Amadeus 1986
68 Shakira Whenever, Wherever 2002
69 Vernon Dalhart The Prisoner's Song 1925
70 Mungo Jerry In the Summertime 1970
71 The Righteous Brothers Unchained Melody 1965
72 Eminem Without Me 2002
73 Aerosmith I Don't Want to Miss a Thing 1998
74 Lipps Inc Funkytown 1980
75 Phil Collins Another Day in Paradise 1989
76 The Monkees I'm a Believer 1967
77 Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya & Pink Lady Marmalade (Voulez-Vous Coucher Aver Moi Ce Soir?) 2001
78 Los Del Rio Macarena 1996
79 Eagles Hotel California 1977
80 Count Basie One O'Clock Jump 1937
81 Ray Charles I Can't Stop Loving You 1962
82 Isham Jones It Had to Be You 1924
83 Starsound Stars On 45 1981
84 The Black Eyed Peas Where is the Love? 2003
85 Michael Jackson Billie Jean 1983
86 The Fugees Killing Me Softly With His Song 1996
87 Elvis Presley Hound Dog 1956
88 Band Aid Do They Know It's Christmas? 1984
89 Sousa's Band Stars & Stripes Forever 1900
90 Arthur Collins & Byron G Harlan Alexander's ragtime band 1911
91 Aqua Barbie Girl 1997
92 The Beatles Get Back 1969
93 Al Jolson Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody 1918
94 Gnarls Barkley Crazy 2006
95 The Mills Brothers Paper Doll 1943
96 Bruce Springsteen Streets of Philadelphia 1994
97 Madonna Music 2000
98 Artie Shaw Frenesi 1940
99 Bessie Smith Down Hearted Blues 1923
100 Meatloaf I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) 1993
101 Whitney Houston I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) 1987
102 Roxette Joyride 1991
103 Justin Timberlake Sexyback 2006
104 Artie Shaw Begin the Beguine 1938
105 Paul Whiteman Whispering 1920
106 Blondie Heart of Glass 1979
107 Boney M Rivers of Babylon 1978
108 Frank Sinatra Strangers in the Night 1966
109 Cab Calloway & His Cotton Club Orchestra Minnie the Moocher 1931
110 Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Cheek to Cheek 1935
111 The Beatles All You Need is Love 1967
112 Chubby Checker The Twist 1960
113 Patti Page Tennessee Waltz 1950
114 Rick Astley Never Gonna Give You Up 1987
115 Bert Williams Nobody 1906
116 Phil Collins A Groovy Kind of Love 1988
117 Eamon F**k it (I Don't Want You Back) 2004
118 Snow Informer 1993
119 Take That Back For Good 1995
120 Bobby McFerrin Don't Worry Be Happy 1988
121 Madonna Papa Don't Preach 1986
122 Jo Stafford You Belong to Me 1952
123 Johnnie Ray Cry 1951
124 Survivor Eye of the Tiger 1982
125 Nirvana Smells Like Teen Spirit 1992
126 Las Ketchup The Ketchup Song (Asereje) 2002
127 Culture Club Karma Chameleon 1983
128 Soft Cell Tainted Love 1981
129 Bee Gees Night Fever 1978
130 Chauncy Olcott When Irish Eyes Are Smiling 1913
131 Simon & Garfunkel Bridge Over Troubled Water 1970
132 Abba Fernando 1976
133 Culture Club Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? 1982
134 George McCrae Rock Your Baby 1974
135 Del Shannon Runaway 1961
136 The Beatles Help! 1965
137 Four Non Blondes What's Up? 1993
138 Harry Richman Puttin' on the Ritz 1930
139 Rod Stewart Maggie May 1971
140 Ace of Base All That She Wants 1993
141 Elton John & Kiki Dee Don't Go Breaking My Heart 1976
142 Barbra Streisand A Woman in Love 1980
143 The Andrews Sisters Rum & Coca-Cola 1945
144 The Kingston Trio Tom Dooley 1958
145 Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters Don't Fence Me In 1944
146 Kate Smith God Bless America 1939
147 Foreigner I Want to Know What Love Is 1985
148 Vaughn Monroe Riders in the Sky 1949
149 Tommy Dorsey & Frank Sinatra I'll Never Smile Again 1940
150 Benny Goodman Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing) 1938
151 Mr Big To Be With You 1992
152 George Michael Careless Whisper 1984
153 Billy Murray Give My Regards to Broadway 1905
154 Ricky Martin Livin' La Vida Loca 1999
155 The Chordettes Mister Sandman 1954
156 Snap Rhythm is a Dancer 1992
157 t.A.T.u. All the Things She Said 2003
158 Diana Ross Upside Down 1980
159 O-Zone Dragostea Din Tei 2004
160 Boyz II Men End of the Road 1992
161 The Police Every Breath You Take 1983
162 Chubby Checker Let's Twist Again 1961
163 Eiffel 65 Blue (Da Ba Dee) 1999
164 The Black Eyed Peas Shut Up 2003
165 Elvis Presley Return to Sender 1962
166 The Animals House of the Rising Sun 1964
167 Original Dixieland Jazz Band Tiger Rag 1918
168 Wings Mull of Kintyre 1977
169 Berlin Take My Breath Away 1986
170 The Beatles A Hard Day's Night 1964
171 The Beatles Paperback Writer 1966
172 Jerry Lee Lewis Great Balls of Fire 1957
173 The Beach Boys Good Vibrations 1966
174 Eminem Stan 2000
175 Norman Greenbaum Spirit in the Sky 1970
176 Ben Bernie Sweet Georgia Brown 1925
177 Nancy Sinatra These Boots Are Made For Walking 1966
178 Tony Orlando & Dawn Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'round the Old Oak Tree 1973
179 The Scorpions Wind of Change 1991
180 The Pussycat Dolls Don't Cha 2005
181 Ella Fitzgerald A-Tisket A-Tasket 1938
182 Mariah Carey Without You 1994
183 Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart & Sting All For Love 1994
184 Europe The Final Countdown 1986
185 Gene Austin Bye Bye, Blackbird 1926
186 Londonbeat I've Been Thinking About You 1990
187 Fred Astaire They Can't Take That Away From Me 1937
188 Britney Spears Oops!... I Did it Again 2000
189 Tears For Fears Shout 1985
190 Tennessee Ernie Ford Sixteen Tons 1955
191 Les Paul & Mary Ford Vaya Con Dios (may God Be With You) 1953
192 Archies Sugar Sugar 1969
193 David Bowie Let's Dance 1983
194 Bryan Adams Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman? 1995
195 Kingsmen Louie Louie 1963
196 Los Lobos La Bamba 1987
197 Mary Hopkin Those Were the Days 1968
198 Donna Summer I Feel Love 1977
199 Nelly & Kelly Rowland Dilemma 2002
200 The Andrews Sisters Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen 1938

The data here was calculated off-line from data version 1.8.0049. The way the scores are adjusted has been slightly refined so the order is different from our previous listings (especially for the lower numbered entries). We believe that this new ordering provides a better estimate of chart success.

As with all the complex calculations described on the site you can decide to try a different approach. If your analysis shows something interesting tell us about it.

Back to Introduction


Comment on the contents of the 'What was the greatest chart song of all time?' page
Subject: Email to Reply To (optional):  

Previous Comments (newest first)

27 Oct 2014

Over the Rainbow vs. Smooth, etc.+

First of all I want to state that the whole music project is so muchimpressive with all the workload and presentations, thanks a lot for giving access! Nevertheless, since i am also deeply interested in chart hits of all time and have access to many data I could not understand why "Over The Rainbow" with Judy Garland's version is no. 3 of "all time" (1900-2008) and Santana's "Smooth" from 1999 (or Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together" from 2005 and some more titles) don't even exist among your TOP 200 list (Mariah's "Without You" is the only song of her and from my point of view it could not be a bigger world hit than "We Belong Together"). Coming back to "Over The Rainbow": There were some versions of the song in the Billboard "charts" (as chart fans do know, at this time no charts did exist in the USA before 1940 in a way we are familiar with now). In Billboard's "Record Buying Guide" the song was listed first for six weeks but with Glenn Miller as leading version, and in "Your Hit Parade" it was no. 1 for seven weeks (but also the Glenn Miller version was indicated as leading version. It's hard to believe that in the rest of the world this song (and Judy Garland's version) had such a great audience at the same time thinking about other problems that existed at this time and the the lack of technical or logistical possibilities that we have today ... Compared with "Smooth" from Santana (1999/2000: 12 wks. #1 US, 30 weeks in the US TOP 10, 58 weeks in HOT 100) and many other songs that even do not appear or are listed at much lower positions than "Over The Rainbow" I have some doubts .. What about world hits like "Candle In The Wind 1997" (pos. 51 in your list) or "I Will Always Love You" (pos. 8) all seen in relation with their lower position vs. "Over The Rainbow"?

Finally, to avoid misunderstandings:I like "Over The Rainbow" very much, its really a great song ..I only like to understand the evaluations :-) +Thanks in advance for some information

In terms of sales there is clearly no way to compare, the number of sales in the 1990s with those in the 1930s. For a start in the 1990s you could buy CDs while even the first 12" albums were not available until 1948.

So we had to work out how we could best contrast the popularity of songs in the 1930s with those in the 1990s. Our decision was to employ charts to track success.

The way we have assigned scores for different achievements in each chart, how we have then adjusted them to align with different country's actual sales levels, and then finally to take account of the way the availability of charts varies with time are all documented on the site.

The analysis you mention is a bit out of date. Our current estimate places "Over the Rainbow" at number 15 (with "We Belong Together" at 239). Whether that is an appropriate ranking we don't know, but the calculation is as unbiased as we can make it.

Since we supply the data you could try a different approach, tell us if you find something interesting


21 Aug 2014

Can album sals based on song be apportioned?

I've always wanted to see a chart like this, and I hope to make extensive use of it. A big problem with "song" charts it that they universally ignore associated album sales. If you factor in the sales of the Thriller album, Beat It, Billie Jean and perhaps a few others would chart higher. When you look at a song like "Something" that was on both the Abbey Road and Beatles 1 album, that track would place higher, as would the rare charting album tracks like Stairway to Heaven. I think I may work on that...

RockGolf

We'd be interested to hear what you come up with (and what your results are)


5 Aug 2014

Elvis Presley

Generally over the years Elvis's Its Now Or Never has been cited as hisbiggest hit single with sales of over 20 million worldwide.It was a million seller in England alone which is a feat not often done and certainly not in the sixties so its position this low down is surprising.

As is the ommission of other of his massive sellers to be frank which is why I find this chart somewhat lacking in credibility.

Our estimate is that "It's Now Or Never" was Elvis's 3rd most widely charted song. So being 52nd on this list seems at least arguable.

This list is not for Elvis fans (or Beatles fans, or Michael Jackson fans or anyone that is invested in "wanting" a particular outcome). This list is an honest attempt to use real data to see what it can tell us.


3 Jul 2014

Wow

Bleeding love is higher than I will always love you? Wow didn't expect that lol


8 Aug 2012

Greatest Chart Song

The list ends in 2008. What about the songs published later e.g. by Adele, Bruno Mars, Rihanna etc.?

Our view is that any song published after 2007 has not yet had enough time to accumulate the exposure that is required to be a candidate.

That is not to say that, at some future date, they may turn out to be worthy of being in the list. But that will only become apparent in a few years time.


14 May 2012

Michael Jackson

I'm sorry, and I do respect the science that was put into this. But compared to all the chart success of Michael Jackson, having all those number 1 hits being on the charts for over 28 weeks, not to mention all the songs he had that peaked at number 2-10. Please explain how he could possibly only be on this list 2 times.

That's the result the actual chart numbers deliver.


20 Sep 2010

Madonna

Can you please explain how come Madonna's Hung Up is higher than Madonna's Vogue and Music? Because in the page where Madonna's songs are listed from the most successful to the least successful, Vogue and Music are higher than Hung Up respectively

The adjustment factor for 2005 is lower than that for 1990.


20 Sep 2010

Michael Jackson

Can you please explain how come Michael Jackson's Black or White is in a higher position than Michael Jackson's Billie Jean? because in the page where all his hits are listed from most successful song to least successful song Billie Jean is higher than Black Or White.

As the introduction to the page explains the raw scores are adjusted to take account of the number of chart entries in each year. The adjustment for 1991 is greater than that for 1983, that is it was easier to get a higher score in 1983 than it was in 1991.