There are endless catchy, meaningful, and danceable songs in the English language. Spanning across all genres, they’ve topped charts and reached audiences worldwide. As such, it can be challenging to select the best of them, but we’ve set out to do just that.
Our list below includes the best English songs ever both catering to a broad range of tastes and taking into account the impact and popularity they’ve had in the music industry. So read on to perhaps discover some new songs to add to your playlist regardless of the genre you’re into.
“All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles
Song year: 1969
The Beatles hardly need an introduction as they are one of the most influential and well-known bands of all time. Their musical genius shines through their countless hits, but their non-album single “All You Need Is Love” holds a special place in history.
The song was Britain’s contribution to Our World, the first live global link-up. Its simple yet meaningful lyrics deliver an important message, and the tune is simply contagious, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself spontaneously humming along.
“Like a Prayer” by Madonna
Song year: 1989
Madonna dominated the 80s with her music, style, and iconic moves. The ultimate pop diva, Madonna has produced many legendary songs. But of all her bold fashion statements and provocative music videos, this one arguably takes the throne.
This pop-rock song with gospel elements was highly controversial for its bold visual presentation and approach to subjects that were deemed inappropriate at the time. Despite strong opposition, such as the Vatican condemning the music video, Like a Prayer was a huge commercial success.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
Song year: 1991
Nirvana broke onto the music scene like a fireball of resistance against conformity and introduced the grunge genre to the world in the 90s. Their most famous song is an angsty anthem.
Anyone possessed by the teen spirit feels connected to this song. And those in need of a good head-banging will turn the volume up.
“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
Song year: 1969
Everyone in the English-speaking world knows the chorus to this song. It’s an enduring classic at bars, weddings, and belting along on a road trip.
Many artists, including Elvis and Otis Redding, have tried their hand at this song, but Diamond’s original version captivates us all.
“What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye
Song year: 1971
This crooning song is one of the most beloved and successful soul songs ever. Gaye has a deep and resonating voice that draws people in and a message that has stood the test of time.
The song is a political anthem in response to police brutality in the 1970s. While some might disagree with the message, political songs are as American as apple pie.
“Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac
Song year: 1977
Fleetwood Mac defined the 1970s with their innovating musical style and varied vocals.
“Dreams” was written at a time of emotional turmoil for the band, where many of their members were breaking up and making up. That emotion is reflected in this ballad which is both sad and hopeful.
“Superstition” by Stevie Wonder
Song year: 1972
“Superstition” is indisputably one of the catchiest songs of all time. Stevie Wonder is always unmatched when it comes to beats, and this song takes the cake.
You won’t be able to resist singing and dancing to this song about following superstitions and avoiding bad luck.
“This is America” by Childish Gambino
Song year: 2018
This song might be considered a modern-day “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. Childish Gambino uses rap rather than Motown to blast beats about the injustices in the USA.
This song is both catchy and powerful. The accompanying music video is a work of art that combines political expression with entertainment.
“Alright” by Kendrick Lamar
Song year: 2015
Kendrick Lamar was the first-ever rapper to win a Pulitzer Prize with his lyrics that read like poetry. He is one of the most influential musical artists today, and this song helped catapult him to the spotlight.
“Alright” showcases Lamar’s writing chops while giving an irresistible beat to dance along to.
“What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong
Song year: 1967
“What a Wonderful World” has become almost as ubiquitous in the United States as the National Anthem.
Many have sung this iconic tune, but none with more talent or staying power than jass legend Armstrong. His soulful voice is both scratchy and deep and lends so much emotion and beauty to this classic.
“Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson
Song year: 1982
Few musical artists have understood how to make a song to dance to better than Michael Jackson.
Jackson has so many hits that could have made our list, but Billie Jean takes the cake for its memorable lyrics. Everyone and their mother can sing along to this song about a troubled relationship.
“Formation” by Beyonce
Song year: 2016
Beyonce is one of the most beloved pop artists of the generation. While she often stays more mainstream pop, she made waves with this song. It has the same beats and vocals that Queen Bey is known for but with a more overtly political tone.
This song changed Beyonce’s trajectory as an artist, and the film that accompanied the album revolutionized the visual music industry.
“Empire State of Mind” by Jay Z (featuring Alicia Keys)
Song year: 2009
Anyone in America, especially anyone near the Big Apple, will probably know the entire rap to this song by heart.
Jay Z broke into the mainstream music charts and away from pure rap with this track about the greatest city in the world. Alicia Keys’ master vocals take this song to a new level.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen
Song year: 1975
It’s pretty crazy that so many people know a six-minute song by heart, but that’s the power of Queen’s anthem. Widely regarded as one of the greatest rock songs of all time, it’s unique, bizarre at times, and undeniably captivating.
Since the release of the biopic about the band, it became the most streamed song from the 20th century, the spot previously held by earlier mentioned hit Smells Like Teen Spirit.
“When Doves Cry” by Prince and the Revolution
Song year: 1984
Prince is another artist that could fill his list of best English songs. His legendary musical style and stage presence are only second to his iconic songs.
“When Doves Cry” is one of his absolute best because of the combination of danceable beats and whimsical lyrics.
“Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday
Song year: 1939
This is the oldest song on our list but has withstood the test of time. Billie Holiday is a US national treasure for her jazz vocals and musical stylings.
“Strange Fruit” is her most serious song and one of the most important on our list. The fruit in the title is a metaphor for victims of lynching during the Jim Crow era.
“A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell
Song year: 1971
Joni Mitchell has one of the most beautiful and unique singing voices in the industry and it’s perfectly showcased in this song. This soulful ballad sounds sand and romantic at the same time.
Featured in many a movie soundtrack and soul-searching road trip playlist, this tune will make you feel something every time.
“Born in the U.S.A” by Bruce Springsteen
Song year: 1984
This anthem to the working class is Bruce’s best-known and most misunderstood. Coming straight from Bruce’s angry and disaffected youth, “Born” is an elegy for thousands of Vietnam Vets whose lives were wasted or ruined in an immoral war.
But right-wing politicians, from Reagan to Trump, have ignored the ironic and despairing lyrics, hijacking the song for their brand of fist-pumping patriotism.
“This Must Be the Place” by The Talking Heads
Song year: 1982
The Talking Heads brought the New York punk scene into the mainstream in the 1980s, and their songs still feature in countless movies and TV shows.
This beloved song tells the tale of a home to return to and is both a love song about New York City and a commentary on American grunge culture.
“Walk on By” by Dionne Warwick
Song year: 1964
Dionne Warwick has regained national fame in the past few years as a Twitter icon. But, young people would take care to remember that she has been a legendary soul singer for generations.
Her most famous song is incredibly sad and romantic at the same time, a classic about unrequited love that almost everyone will relate to at some point in their lives.
“September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire
Song year: 1978
Every 21st of September, people plan their weddings and other celebrations just to have this classic hit as a theme. You won’t be able to resist snapping to the beat of this emblem of 70s disco.
Earth, Wind, and Fire utilize their range of vocals to create seamless harmonies in this song that work together to add musical nuance to the catchy lyrics.
“Fine Line” by Harry Styles
Song year: 2019
After his solo break from One Direction, Harry Styles has been taking the music industry by storm for the past few years.
“Fine Line” is the song that proved him a more nuanced lyricist than in his previous boy band days. This song about a toxic relationship is haunting and sad while still being hopeful.
“My Girl” by The Temptations
Song year: 1965
Motown is one of the quintessentially American music genres, and “My Girl” is the most iconic contribution to the genre. The temptations lend their crooning vocals to this romantic song.
You just can’t be sad while listening to this track. Even the opening beats and scatting vocals will have you dancing in your seat.
“Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John
Song year: 1973
Elton John is one of the most universally beloved artists on our list for his iconic style and karaoke-favorite songs.
“Bennie and the Jets” stands the test of time as being a crowd favorite even though most people don’t know any of the lyrics. You know a song is legendary when it's this loved and this hard to understand.
“Royals” by Lorde
Song year: 2016
Lorde wrote and sang “Royals” when she was just 16 years old. Her talent was so evident that this song jumped to the top of the charts and has remained a cult favorite.
Lorde’s unique voice is both beautiful and strange, and that is reflected in this song about class differences and their effect on teenagers.
“Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel
Song year: 1983
Some people think of Billy Joel as the American Elton John. While they differ drastically in style and personality, their songs have the same vibe and are beloved by karaoke champions.
The opening of “Uptown Girl” is instantly recognizable and features in countless movies because of it. This is the kind of song that will get the whole pub up and dancing to the beat.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel
Song year: 1970
Simon and Garfunkel are in their element with this song that has been covered by the likes of Elvis and Aretha Franklin. The song is the eponymous track on their most successful album and won the duo five Grammys.
The song is a unique mix of rock and gospel, which brought the gospel genre to the forefront of rock music composition long after this song was on the radio.
“All Too Well” by Taylor Swift
Song year: 2012
No one would have considered this one of Swift’s most famous songs when it came out in 2012. However, when she released her songs, she made a groundbreaking video to accompany a longer version of this song, and it has now become a fan favorite.
The song beautifully tells the story of a toxic relationship and calls out older men for their behavior with younger women.
“Rolling in the Deep” by Adele
Song year: 2011
Adele has been stunning audiences with her soulful vocals since she was 19. “Rolling” is from her second album and combines her signature belting with a more uplifting beat than some of her other ballads.
Although few fans can hope to match her vocal talent, this song is perfect for a good shower singing session.
“Respect” by Aretha Franklin
Song year: 1967
Learn how to spell and how to treat a woman right with this song. Aretha Franklin truly embodies her title “Queen of Soul” in this song.
The tune is an empowering ballad for women and a love song at the same time. It manages to be wonderfully catchy and have meaningful lyrics simultaneously.
“Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan
Song year: 1965
Bob Dylan’s rock anthem is statistically the most acclaimed song of all time. Dylan wrote this song to transition from folk to rock music while using innovative voice and instrumental techniques.
The song has been covered countless times both for its interesting sound and its haunting lyrics about a woman who has reached the end of her rope.
“Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys
Song year: 1966
The most expensive single ever recorded, this was pop at its most complex. And it showed what “progressive” rock could do with technology. Brian Wilson used fragments from 90 hours of sessions at four Hollywood studios and the psychedelic sound of the Theremin-made synthesizers de rigeur.
But listeners didn’t have to understand all that. They just crooned along, letting those good sensations “send them.” A popular English song by The Beach Boys.
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston
Song year: 1987
Whitney Houston had one of the most recognizable singing voices of her generation, which is perfectly showcased in this 80s power ballad. This song has been taking over dance floors since it came out.
The song is uplifting and romantic, and anyone who has had a crush will relate to the elated feeling of wanting to get down with their beau.
“Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse
Song year: 2006
Amy Winehouse’s unparalleled talent shines in this song about an ex-boyfriend who left her for his ex-girlfriend. Anyone going through a breakup will get some catharsis by singing along with Winehouse.
This song was made famous a second time when it was featured in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby and is now associated with the film’s aesthetic and roaring 20s.
“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen
Song year: 1984
Many people think “Hallelujah” is a Christian song, but the Jewish Leonard Cohen wrote it about a spiritual journey that touches the hearts of any person regardless of religion.
Hundreds of people have covered the ballad, Jeff Buckley most famous among them. Numerous movies have featured it, most famously Shrek in 2001.
“Suspicious Minds” by Elvis
Song year: 1969
Elvis puts forward some of his best vocals and beats in this song. Mark James was the original songwriter but did not have the fan base and stage presence of the King of Rock and Roll himself.
The song is about a toxic relationship between two distrustful people. Elvis reminds us that we sometimes need to let go of our suspicions to fall in love.
“Jolene” by Dolly Parton
Song year: 1974
Dolly Parton is one of the most beloved figures in the United States because of her loud personality and her revolutionary country music. Parton started out as a songwriter for other artists before embarking on her solo career.
“Jolene” showcases Parton’s writing talent and how she weaves lyrics and melody together. The song is about the fear of losing your loved one to someone else, which may be why it resonates with so many listeners.
Top English Songs Of All Time, Final Thoughts
English songs have an unrivaled capacity to reach wide audiences worldwide, and the above songs are some of the best examples of that. Coming from different decades and genres, they continue to enchant new generations of fans, and their influence on the music industry is everlasting.
Whether we’ve reminded you of some of your old favorites or introduced you to new ones, we hope you enjoyed our list. And let us know in the comments below if you think some other titles should’ve found their place among the best English songs ever.