We all have personal opinions about which is the best song ever released, the 323,062 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.
The plot above shows the number of entries in the 138 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.
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:
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.
Previous Comments (newest first)
13 Jun 2018
How to get 'A Day In The Life' in such a list, I wonder.
10 Nov 2017
I only saw one Mariah Carey song and it is not even her biggest hit. Whathappened to the two songs of her that were considered songs of the decade?
It turned out they were artifacts of the biased way scores used to be calculated. Of course any calculation method will have some strange results, but the current approach is better than it was.
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...
We'd be interested to hear what you come up with (and what your results are)
5 Aug 2014
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
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
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
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
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.