Lorde – Royals
In 2012, Lorde began to become a household name by means of the single, Royals. Though the song was Lorde’s first official single release, it immediately became a hit.
In some ways, Royals sort of changed the landscape of how pop music would sound after the fact. Its minimalist approach, with a focus on vocal hooks, is something that is deemed to be the “modern” sound.
Darius Rucker – Wagon Wheel
If you ever plan on busking on the street as a musician, you better be prepared to play Wagon Wheel. If you frequent enough open mic nights, you’ll eventually learn the song through osmosis.
Though the song’s origins are a bit hazy, the Darius Rucker version tends to be the most widely known. In fact, even Darius Rucker was a little surprised at how successful this song ended up becoming.
Aretha Franklin – Respect
Aretha Franklin is an iconic legend for her towering vocal performances that immediately grip the ear. Though she's had numerous hits throughout her career, Respect has transcended all space and time.
As a black woman in the music business, Respect perfectly laid out the imbalances present in society. The song has gone on to become an anthem, with its spelling of the word respect being forever timeless.
Booker T & the MG's – Green Onions
There was a time during the 1960s when the organ dominated all aspects of pop music. In some ways, the synthesizer age of the 1980s is a sort of reflection of this time period.
Though the synth-heavy sounds of the 1980s tried to be cool, they lacked the authenticity of Green Onions. This is, by far, one of the most famous instrumental songs featuring prominent organ melodies.
Britney Spears – …Baby One More Time
It’s hard to forget the meteoric rise to fame that Britney Spears had alongside her contemporaries. Britney Spears essentially became the celebrity crush of schoolboys all around the world.
She essentially rocketed onto the scene with …Baby One More Time, which was her debut single release. As a song, it is a landmark in the formation of the direction that pop music would eventually follow.
U2 – Beautiful Day
Since the mid-1970s, U2 has had periods of domination over the radio waves. The 1980s and 1990s are generally considered their heyday, but 2000 saw a resurgence in the limelight.
Their track, Beautiful Day, signified that U2’s reign over the mainstream airwaves was nowhere near an end. It would eventually help propel them to become cultural icons in their own, individual ways.
M.I.A. – Paper Planes
There are some songs that, immediately on the first listen, you know will forever be considered a golden release. M.I.A.’s track, Paper Planes, is a song that could easily fit this criterion.
Paper Planes is ridiculously catchy in both its original lyrics and in its vocal melodies. It’s one of those songs that really personifies the sound of what was so popular in music throughout 2008.
Olivia Rodrigo – Good 4 U
Taylor Swift is not the only artist known for writing songs about relationships, but successful and failed. Olivia Rodrigo’s track, Good 4 U, is a sort of upbeat, peppy song that explodes with emotion.
Though the song was recently released in 2021, Good 4 U has a timeless quality that is perceptively palpable. It’s a song that could have just as easily found towering success had it been released 2 decades earlier.
Miley Cyrus – Flowers
Let’s state the obvious, Miley Cyrus’s background often prevents a large portion of people from taking her seriously. Her rise to fame as a Disney star can be a bit of a hurdle that many cannot get over.
However, if there’s one thing that Miley has proved, it’s that her career is just fine without those people. Her 2022 track, Flowers, has broken numerous streaming records with unfathomable numbers.
The Temptations – My Girl
Sometimes, love can make a person feel at the top of the world, even if conditions are bleak. The song that best encapsulates this notion is My Girl, by The Temptations.
This track features the bass guitar legend James Jameson laying down the musical foundation. When combined with the simple guitar arpeggiation, My Girl becomes instantly recognizable within the first few seconds. A classic and one of the greatest songs ever.
No Doubt – Don't Speak
During a time when alternative rock and grunge dominated the radio, No Doubt emerged with a new sound. Fronted by powerhouse Gwen Stefani, No Doubt pulsated with raw energy without relying on a heavy sound.
The band’s entrance into the mainstream audiences came with their track, Don’t Speak. Since then, the song has become a 1990s classic and has been featured in several video games.
Toni Braxton – Un-Break My Heart
In today’s climate, Toni Braxton often is not given the widespread recognition that she likely deserves. However, in the 1990s, Toni Braxton was almost unstoppable, especially after releasing Un-Break My Heart.
Un-Break My Heart is an R&B ballad with all of the hallmark production qualities of a 1990s pop hit. Audiences were so enamored with the song that it stayed at the top of the charts for 2-1/2 months.
Madonna – La Isla Bonita
Madonna is undoubtedly one of the biggest stars in the history of pop music. So much of what she did as an artist is emulated to varying degrees by today’s artists following her footsteps.
The song, La Isla Bonita, is an early track that is often overlooked by songs such as, Like A Virgin. La Isla Bonita has an upbeat 1980s digital sound infused with the essence of Latin music.
Stormzy – Vossi Bop
The days of being discovered by a record label are largely a thing of the past. That is, unless you include modern social media and other internet platforms into your strategy as an artist.
Stormzy’s rise to fame actually came from a YouTube video he upload featuring his rapping style. A number of years later in 2019, he would top the charts with his hit single, Vossi Bop.
Luther Vandross – Never Too Much
People often associate Luther Vandross for music when they’re about to visit the bedroom. In his prime, his voice was definitely one of the most buttery to have ever been recorded.
However, if you visit the beginning of his career, you’ll find his smash-hit song, Never Too Much. This track is ridiculously funky, to the point that it could almost be a Talking Heads song.
Johnny Cash – Hurt
Johnny Cash had one of the most illustrious careers as a country music artist. Toward the end of his life, he recorded a track that was both surprising and a powerful gut punch.
His decision to record the Nine Inch Nails song, Hurt, might be one of the best he’s ever made. He gave the song new meaning by singing from the viewpoint of old age.
Fugees – Killing Me Softly With His Song
Killing Me Softly With His Song is a legendary song in its own right, with numerous famous cover versions. Roberta Flack’s version from 1973 is especially exquisite.
In 1996, the song would find itself being reinvented once again and enjoying the top of the charts worldwide. The Fugees applied modern hip hop stylings, which actually fit together exceptionally well with the R&B foundation.
M.C. Hammer – U Can't Touch This
During the start of the 1990s, rap, and hip-hop was just starting to find solid footing in the mainstream. By today’s standards, many of the songs from that period might sound a little primitive in production.
That didn’t stop legendary songs from being created, including M.C. Hammer’s classic, U Can’t Touch This. It is almost an obligation to include this song on a playlist curated for parties.
Ice Cube – It Was A Good Day
Before Ice Cube saw the big screen in Friday, he was one of the industry’s biggest rappers. He is, after all, one of the founding fathers of gangsta rap due to his involvement with N.W.A.
In 1992, Ice Cube decided to take a different approach from the common subject matters of gangsta rap. It Was A Good Day highlights the feeling of gratitude and satisfaction on those days of his fondest memories.
Céline Dion – I'm Alive
Like Enya, Céline Dion has a very distinct sound that is usually soft, delicate, and incredibly melodic. A good swath of the population became familiar with this sound by means of the 1997 film, Titanic.
However, if her work featured in the Titanic film is all you know, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Her 2002 track, I’m Alive is one of her best, with a powerful message that anyone can relate to.
The Beach Boys – Good Vibrations
The Beach Boys might have had some of the best vocal harmonies in all of recorded music. Even The Beatles admired the group and considered The Beach Boys to be direct competition.
Good Vibrations is their best-known track aside from the golden hits to be found on Pet Sounds. This track features the group at their best, with kooky orchestral instrumentation to supplement their perfected harmonies.
Sean Kingston – Beautiful Girls
It isn’t very often that a song finds itself being hyped up and enjoyed by just about everyone you know. However, in 2007, that very thing happened when Sean Kingston released his song, Beautiful Girls.
Despite being about attraction, Beautiful Girls is actually a relatively clean song about falling in love. This was a nice change of pace to the songs that were overly sexualized in subject matter.
Gwen Stefani – Hollaback Girl
Although she made her name with No Doubt, Gwen Stefani proved she could do just fine on her own. After all, her personality was a major drawing factor attracting audiences to the band’s music.
Since she’s gone solo, she’s had a number of hits that all have enjoyed repeated airplay on mainstream channels. Hollaback Girl is especially iconic.
Foster The People – Pumped Up Kicks
It didn’t matter what circles you frequented, in 2010, you were destined to hear Pumped Up Kicks. The song cemented Foster The People’s track as one of the greatest songs of the new decade.
At the time, indie rock was enjoying a short time in the limelight with a crossover success with pop audiences. The vocals during the verses even have a lo-fi filter almost reminiscent of Sparklehorse.
Busta Rhymes, Mariah Carey – I Know What You Want
It isn’t all that uncommon for rap artists to sneak hints of sultry R&B into a track’s sound. Busta Rhymes took this approach for his 2003 single, I Know What You Want, which features Mariah Carey.
The song would end up becoming exactly what people had been looking for, becoming an international hit. It was just what the 2 artists needed at a pivotal time in both of their careers.
Fun. – We Are Young ft. Janelle Monáe
Were you a fan of the indie-emo crossover that happened during the prime days of the Myspace platform? If so, there’s a chance you probably remember The Format, whose singer went to form the band, Fun.
The group has had a smattering of hits since 2008, with their biggest being We Are Young. This track, featuring Janelle Monáe, would become a colossal hit due to it being featured in some high-profile TV shows.
Aerosmith – Crazy
Aerosmith mostly made their name during the 1970s, producing some of their biggest hits. They surprised audiences in the 1990s when they released Crazy, one of the best love ballads ever recorded.
In some strange way, Crazy has a sense of longing desperation inherent in the way the song is performed. It also showed that Aerosmith was still worthy of consideration despite the glory days being long over.
N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton
Most people tend to associate N.W.A. with the genesis of the gangsta rap that would dominate the 1990s. Their track, Straight Outta Compton, was the group’s first single, which shook the world to its core.
Since then, N.W.A.’s members have become some of the most important names in rap and hip-hop. It’s safe to say that the early success of this debut album had quite a bit to do with that.
John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band (with the Flux Fiddlers) – Imagine
Some songs just have a message that remains ever more relevant with each passing decade. This could certainly be said of John Lennon’s Imagine.
Imagine is akin to a hymn, but begs the question of how different things would be without certain things. The world would be a very different place if more people took this song to heart.
Pentatonix – Hallelujah
Leonard Cohen’s song, Hallelujah is widely regarded as one of the greatest songs ever written. Jeff Buckley’s cover version has turned out almost more famous than the original recording.
Even Pentatonix’s version of the song has gained widespread acclaim. Of course, what else would you expect from the greatest a cappella pop group of all time?
The Isley Brothers – Shout
How many times have you been at a party where dancing is involved and heard the song, Shout? This song by The Isley Brothers is a true classic in every sense of the word.
Part of what makes this song so effective is its creative use of dynamics. The song almost details the emotional journey of going from baseline to excitement.
Terror Squad – Lean Back
As rap became more intertwined with pop music, rap groups began putting out tracks suitable for dance clubs. The early 2000s were especially ripe with unforgettable hooks and catchphrases.
One of the absolute best from this time period is Terror Squad’s Lean Back. This smooth track will have you repeating its hook again and again.
Meat Loaf – I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)
Queen wasn’t the only band injecting a sense of theatrics into their sound and live performances. Meat Loaf proved he could be just as dramatic, even with a little bit of a harder edge.
The song that best exemplifies this is I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That). Despite being nearly 3-4 times longer than average singles, the track ruled the charts for over a month. One of the top songs ever.
Rockwell – Somebody's Watching Me
If you feature Michael Jackson as a guest on your track in the 1980s, it’s probably a guaranteed hit. Throw in some ridiculously cool synthesizer lines and you’ve pretty much struck gold.
That’s precisely what happened with Rockwell’s track, Somebody’s Watching Me. This song is like the Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer but with way more synthesizer.
Kings Of Leon – Sex On Fire
Around 2008, it was hard to avoid the rise of Kings Of Leon, even if you desperately wanted to. They had a string of hits spawned by Sex On Fire that gave the band a nearly unstoppable momentum.
For the most part, this is a straightforward upbeat indie rock bop that leans into modern pop vocal styles. It’s a combination that people keep returning to after all these years.
The Verve – Bitter Sweet Symphony
Even if you didn’t know of The Verve back in the late 1990s, you definitely knew Bitter Sweet Symphony. The song has a signature repeating orchestral line that serves as the musical foundation.
In some ways, Bitter Sweet Symphony is similar to early Radiohead based on an iconic sample. Needless to say, the song is quite cinematic, which is likely why it has been in so many films.
Gnarls Barkley – Crazy
Danger Mouse is unquestionably one of the greatest producers of the modern era. Teaming up with CeeLo Green to make modern soul music is a move that just makes sense.
Gnarls Barkley has had a number of hits over the years but Crazy remains the most popular. The song has a groove that cannot be denied, while Green’s vocals fill the track with tension and heightened energy.
A$AP Rocky – Praise The Lord (Da Shine) ft. Skepta
LSD has influenced some surprising things over the years, especially in the field of music. And while most people think of psychedelic jam bands, rap artists have also taken part in the substance.
Praise The Lord (Da Shine) is a collaboration between A$AP Rock and Skepta written under such circumstances. This track uses their collaborative relationship as a strength, guaranteeing this to be a timeless classic.
Daddy Yankee & Snow – Con Calma
You’ve probably heard the saying that it isn’t wise to meet your heroes. However, it’s safe to say that not following this advice worked wonders for the song, Con Calma.
In a way, Daddy Yankee’s inclusion of Snow on the track is like paying homage to a childhood hero. It also marked the resurgence of Snow’s professional career after years of relative obscurity.
Akon ft. Eminem – Smack That
At the height of his career, Eminem soon found himself being featured on more songs that he was comfortable with. Fortunately, he allowed himself to be on Akon’s smash hit from 2006, Smack That.
Like many rap songs of that time period, Smack That is especially primed toward late-night dance clubs. It’s almost impossible not to get completely amped up when this song is playing.