George Michael – Careless Whisper
George Michael’s rise to fame came by means of the UK boy band, Wham! However, George Michael has also had an insanely successful solo career, partially aided by his devilish good looks.
If you’re a saxophone player, Careless Whisper is one of those songs that you absolutely must learn how to play. The song’s saxophone intro is undoubtedly one of the most famous musical passages of all time.
Nicki Minaj – Anaconda
The saying that “sex sells” is likely one of the biggest culprits for Nicki Minaj’s extreme success with Anaconda. Both the album cover and the music video are almost too risqué for casual television audiences.
But that’s not meant to discount the musicality that is present in Anaconda. Some epic samples from Sir Mix-a-Lot’s biggest hit play an important role in the subject content of the track.
Run-DMC – Walk This Way ft. Aerosmith
Walk This Way began as a hit track from Aerosmith’s legendary album, Toys In The Attic. What Run-DMC did with the song became the first conscious blending of both rap and hip-hop music.
Not only did Walk This Way give instant credibility to hip-hop, but it also cut racial tensions with a knife. Plus, the song hits just as hard today in the 2020s as it did in 1986.
Coldplay – Hymn For The Weekend
Coldplay is considered one of the greatest acts of the current millennium and has accomplishments others could only dream of. As a band, they have gone through an interesting evolution of sound, establishing themselves as trendsetters in pop music.
2015’s Hymn For The Weekend is a great example of this evolution. The song is almost appropriate for dance clubs and even features Beyoncé as a guest vocalist.
Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello – Señorita
Consider for a moment how many songs are uploaded to the Spotify platform on a daily basis. Then, consider how much it would take for a song to be the most streamed song in Spotify’s history.
Señorita, a collaboration between Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, ranks within Spotify’s top 10 most streamed songs. It’s a track that people still have in their playlists, receiving heavy rotation on a daily basis.
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – Ain't No Mountain High Enough
Love is a powerful thing, often prompting a limitless attitude toward the sacrifices one would give to their partner(s). This unconditional aspect of love has been one of the most popular subjects in written music (aside from broken hearts).
Love song Ain’t No Mountain High Enough is a duet between Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye, and one that stands the test of time. May all young hearts find a love that lasts as long as this song’s popularity.
Christina Perri – A Thousand Years
We’ve already touched on how songs and films can work to promote each other through individual successes. While more popular in the 1980s, this practice has been done well into the new century.
Who can forget the cultural phenomenon that the Twilight movie series would eventually become? Christina Perri’s track, A Thousand Years, became a smash hit, aided by its involvement in the Breaking Dawn sequel.
The Jacksons – Blame It On the Boogie
You are probably well aware that before hits like Billie Jean, Thriller, Smooth Criminal and Beat It, Michael Jackson’s career began with his family group The Jacksons. Just before embarking on his solo career, The Jacksons hit it big with this signature song, Blame It On The Boogie.
This is a feel-good track fitting for any lighthearted party, or perhaps, for starting the day on the correct foot. Interestingly enough, the song was actually written in hopes that Stevie Wonder would perform it.
Katy Perry – Dark Horse ft. Juicy J
Katy Perry has dominated the music scene, with the first woman to have 5 simultaneous chart-topping singles. She’s even had 2 music videos reach over 1 billion plays, with her track Dark Horse being one of them.
Dark Horse’s music video is set in ancient Egypt, with Katy Perry donned in a costume reminiscent of Cleopatra. The collaboration with Juicy J infuses a hint of rap into the cinematic downtempo pop feel.
Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come
Despite the popularity of black soul artists of the 1960s, a clear racial divide was still, unfortunately, present. Sam Cooke is one of the greatest soul singers ever, and even he experienced racism and a mysterious murder.
A Change Is Gonna Come is a track packing a potent punch, highlighting the racial injustices present in the US. It is often seen as being a musical counterpart to the Civil Rights Movement.
Outkast – Hey Ya!
Outkast is one of the few groups that really put Atlanta on the map as a noteworthy rap scene. They had some phenomenal releases in the 1990s, but the early 2000s is when they caught their mainstream stride.
Hey Ya! is one of the many tracks that Outkast found extreme success with throughout 2003. For 2 decades, this song has been frequently featured in movies, commercials, and televised sporting events.
The Notorious B.I.G. – Juicy
By the mid-1990s, rap was officially recognized as a music genre worthy of mainstream radio waves. One of the most legendary names in the East Coast sound is that of New York resident The Notorious B.I.G.
Juicy is actually the first single that The Notorious B.I.G. ever released, which highlights his own personal journey. The song was also co-produced by P. Diddy, further solidifying the song’s undying legacy.
James Blunt – You're Beautiful
If you were on Myspace during the glory days of social media, you probably encountered James Blunt’s song, You’re Beautiful. The track was a popular choice for people to have as their profile’s theme song.
You’re Beautiful conquered the top of the charts in 11 different countries and is Blunt’s greatest achievement. Today, the song still holds the same power it delivered back in 2005.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thrift Shop ft. Wanz
Thrifting has always been a hobby, with some circles embracing thrift fashion as an aesthetic. The indie music community has always been especially embracing of vintage fashion.
Well, all of that changed when Macklemore’s Thrift Shop dropped in the fall of 2012. All of a sudden, thrifting became a phenomenon, just in time for the kids to do their back-to-school shopping.
Amy Winehouse – Back To Black
Drugs and music often seem to be intertwined, often resulting in the downward spiral of an artist’s life. Amy Winehouse’s story continues to be one of the most tragic modern examples of songs released under these circumstances.
However, she did leave behind Back To Black, which many consider to be the greatest album of her career. The track is full of vintage vibes, with Winehouse’s vocals being especially intoxicating.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama
There are a few names associated with the sound of southern rock, with Lynyrd Skynyrd being the most prominent. Their multi-guitar approach and beer-stained vocals are some of the hallmark features of the classic rock genre.
Sweet Home Alabama continues to be one of the most popular classic rock songs to date. It’s full of iconic guitar parts, many of which are common learning fodder for beginning guitarists.
Blake Shelton – God's Country
If you’ve been trying to actively avoid popular country music, you probably still know about Blake Shelton. He’s definitely considered to be one of the modern giants of the pop country genre.
His song, God’s Country, is a relatively recent release that displays the prowess Shelton commands in his delivery. In sonic terms, Shelton taps into that Hollywood frontier cowboy movie sound with that Southern sparkle.
Gorillaz – Feel Good Inc.
In a world where AI music artists actually exist, it isn’t too hard to conceive of an animated band. But, despite being a fictional group, Gorillaz remains legendary in the lexicon of pop culture.
The group produced a number of hits, with Feel Good Inc. being one of the most successful. There’s a lot to like here, especially in its infectious bass line driving the song.
Billie Eilish – Bad Guy
Billie Eilish is generally considered to be one of the artists that brought bedroom pop to the mainstream. It is her DIY ethic that sets her apart from so pop artists who have infinite funds at their disposal.
This authenticity is on full display with her hit track, Bad Guy, accompanied by an innovative music video. It had the viral qualities necessary to knock Old Town Road out of the #1 chart position.
Kendrick Lamar – HUMBLE.
Kendrick Lamar hit upon sonic gold when he released his album, DAMN., in 2017. Many consider it to be the greatest modern rap album released in the last decade.
The song, HUMBLE., is just a small taste of a masterpiece with what this epic album has to offer. It would top the charts and win a basket of awards for both the song and the music video.
Chris Stapleton – Tennessee Whiskey
David Allan Coe is probably not what you think of when it comes to songwriters penning genre-transcending songs. This is likely something that David Allan Coe himself would probably be willing to admit.
But, when Chris Stapleton did a cover of Tennessee Whiskey, it became a country hit with massive crossover success. The song’s smooth guitar leads and smoky vocal delivery is impossible to deny.
Sia – Chandelier
Sia has seemingly always been a presence in the music community since the 1990s, bouncing between various projects. It wasn’t until 2000 that she was given a record deal to embark on her own solo career.
Sia has always been moderately successful, but it was 2014’s Chandelier that broke her into the mainstream. The song is perfectly complimented by an artistic music video featuring a young girl performing choreographed dance moves.
Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe
Carly Rae Jepsen is one of the many modern artists who got their start on a singing competition television show. Her international success is more of a byproduct of incubation and percolation rather than forceful feeding.
Before Call Me Maybe was released in 2012, Jepsen was primarily known in Canada. This love song would help Jepsen go on to become one of the biggest pop stars of the modern era.
Frank Sinatra – Somethin’ Stupid
Crooner music is generally defined by a few singers, with Frank Sinatra being one of the most famous. His baritone voice, and relaxed delivery (along with maybe some underworld help) turned him into an absolute giant.
Somethin’ Stupid is one of the most popular tracks in the massive catalog of Frank Sinatra recordings. This track features a delightful duet with Nancy Sinatra, his daughter.
Jay-Z & Kanye West – Ni**as In Paris
Collaboration between artists has generally been a successful strategy for building community in the rap scene. When 2 of the genre’s giants come together for a collaboration, the results are usually catastrophic (in a good way).
Despite not being released as a single, Ni**as In Paris went on to chart exceptionally well. It is still considered a landmark during the golden age of Kanye West’s career.
Imagine Dragons – Radioactive
In a genre dominated by electronic producers, it’s rare for an actual band to break through to the pop mainstream. However, Imagine Dragons are perhaps one of the most recent bands that have become a household name.
One of the group’s earliest (and most successful) hits is the track, Radioactive, from their debut album. The song has a stripped-down electronic pop feel with some catchy melodic vocal hooks.
Rema – Calm Down
As an artist, Rema has a story that is likely worthy of the Hollywood treatment on the big screen. He was discovered by means of an Instagram post, resulting in a record deal and dominating Nigerian pop charts.
Rema’s track, Calm Down, eventually broke into international acclaim with a remix featuring Selena Gomez. If anything, Calm Down shows how remixes can play a vital role in the marketing strategy for a music single, even if the originally written song was better for many.
Nas – Nas Is Like
Nas is widely regarded as one of the greatest rappers of all time, especially with his landmark debut album, Illmatic. It isn’t always easy to maintain meteoric momentum, but Nas capitalized on his success throughout the 1990s.
His track, Nas Is Like, comes from his double album, I Am…, displaying the smooth flow Nas is known for. Even by today’s standards, Nas’s delivery serves as a source of inspiration for up-and-coming artists.
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Is This Love
Bob Marley is essentially the artist that made reggae famous on a worldwide level. While politics and cannabis likely first come to mind when you think of Bob and The Wailers, Marley’s sermons always had hints of fundamental human truths.
Is This Love is of course a love song, one that embraces the feel-good attitude reggae is known for. Its memorable chorus and theme of positivity have made it a bonafide international hit that stands the test of time.
The Black Eyed Peas – Where Is The Love?
The Black Eyed Peas are generally considered pop royalty, especially since they’ve performed at the Super Bowl. But most people’s introduction to the group actually came with the 2003 album, Elephunk.
The track that broke the group to mainstream success was the song, Where Is The Love? This is actually the first track the group released after adding Fergie to its lineup, which ultimately proved fortuitous.
Bryan Adams – (Everything I Do) I Do It For You
Bryan Adams is no stranger to the heights of the pop charts. His sentimental tracks are generally considered to be some of the greatest songs ever written.
If songs are measured the “best” by their success, (Everything I Do) I Do It For You ranks up there. This soft ballad absolutely dominated pop charts around the world and continues to be one of the greatest love songs.
The Pointer Sisters – I'm So Excited
Music is all about conveying different emotions, with common moods including love, heartbreak, and everything in between. But, when you think about it, excitement is one mood that generally seems to be overlooked.
The Pointer Sisters perfectly encapsulate how it feels to be excited with the song, I’m So Excited. Be honest, how many times has this song popped into your head during your own moments of excitement?
Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing
Speaking of musical moods, there is probably no song more associated with sex than Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing. Maybe the only contender is Gaye’s other track, Let’s Get It On.
Marvin absolutely dominated the industry during the 1970s, eventually hanging up the phone in the early 1980s. Sexual Healing is actually his last single, showing that Marvin Gaye was still in his prime after all these years.
Missy Elliott – Get Ur Freak On
The early 2000s really could be considered a monumental evolution in the direction of pop music. After a decade dominated by rock elements, rap, and hip-hop rose to take over the landscape.
In 2001, Missy Elliott released Get Ur Freak On, which has an exotic musical hook that is instantly memorable. It's songs like these that you will want to revisit if you’re seeking out a dose of nostalgia.
Bobby McFerrin – Don't Worry Be Happy
If you were alive during the early 2000s, you probably remember Big Mouth Billy Bass. For those of you who weren’t, this was essentially a robotic singing fish that was mounted onto a plaque.
One of the songs that Big Mouth Bill Bass sings is Bobby McFerrin’s hit single, Don’t Worry Be Happy. It's a song that every human could benefit from taking to heart, no matter what decade it is.
2Pac – Hit ‘Em Up
During the 1990s, a divide began to exist between rap artists on the East Coast and those on the West. The resulting violence often made the “gangsta” in gangsta rap appear to be all too real.
At one point in time, 2Pac believed The Notorious B.I.G. had placed a contract out for 2Pac’s life. Though they were once friends, Hit ‘Em Up is a potent diss track regarding this scenario. It showed him to be a top young songwriter at the time.
The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter
Many often forget that The Rolling Stones were just as important as The Beatles with regard to the British Invasion. They began as a group influenced heavily by blues music before reinventing their sound again and again.
In the late 1960s, psychedelic elements of music began to seep into the common consciousness of mainstream audiences. Gimme Shelter might be one of the most psychedelic songs to exist from that time period.
Prince – Purple Rain
The importance of Prince as an artist cannot be understated, though he is often overlooked when compared to Michael Jackson. But anybody in their right mind knows that Prince was just as big of a star in his own right.
The song that is most commonly associated with Prince is Purple Rain, from the soundtrack to the movie, Purple Rain. This trio of releases was a crowning achievement and instantly made Prince a legend. Other big Prince hits include When Doves Cry.
Alicia Keys – No One
It seems as if Alicia Keys was destined for greatness from a very young age. The power of the combination of her piano playing and emotional vocal delivery cannot be understated.
One of the tracks that help to display this power is, No One, which came out in 2007. Throughout the following year, No One became the most-played song on the US radio, gaining numerous awards along the way. Her New York themed hit Empire State Of Mind could've also been in this playlist.
Elvis Presley – Can't Help Falling In Love
Gaining the title as one of the greatest love songs to have ever been recorded is no small feat. Yet, for someone of the kingly status as Elvis Presley, it’s almost expected.
Can’t Help Falling In Love is a tenderly serene ballad that hints at the delicate nature of attraction. It’s become a popular song to have played during weddings, whether it be the reception or the actual ceremony itself.