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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

Which No. 1 Singles from the '80s and '90s Stand the Test of Time?

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Illustration: Elena Scotti (Photos: Getty Images, Shutterstock

Whoever said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it obviously didn’t have a Spotify account. For as much as having a No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 may mean or have meant, in terms of cultural impact, if no one is listening to that song in a few years’ time, well, did it really, in fact, make an impact? Guided by my curiosity and chart geekery, I reached out to Nielsen Music to request U.S. streaming numbers for all 375 songs that carried the distinction of being at some point the most popular song in the country in the 1980s and 1990s, according to trusted industry source Billboard. I wanted to see which smashes stood the test of time by a democratic metric of contemporary popularity.

The numbers that Nielsen provided pointed to some recurrent trends. Unsurprisingly, virality yields enduring relevance, as evidenced by the high ranking of hits like a-ha’s “Take on Me,” Toto’s “Africa,” and Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The seemingly least popular era within the two decades in question is the late ’80s to early ’90s—the bottom portion of the list Nielsen sent me is full of songs from that time period. Early-to-mid-’80s songs fill the top 10, which includes only one from the ’90s (“My Heart Will Go On,” by Celine Dion), though ’90s songs are at somewhat of a disadvantage. There were simply fewer No. 1 singles in the ’90s, as early on it became the decade of the marathon No. 1, with songs by the likes of Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey, Elton John, and Whitney Houston occupying extended stays at the pole position, sometimes for months at a time (a reformulation of how the chart was tabulated, which highly weighed sales in the era of the physical single, helps explain the shift).

And then there are access issues that simply make some songs less streamable: It wasn’t until Prince’s death in 2016 that his songs became permanently accessible via services like YouTube and Spotify, for example. A song like Divine’s 1998 R&B ballad “Lately” has yet to show up on Spotify. (That said, as someone who loves both ’90s R&B and No. 1's, I had no recollection of this song until I started working on this project.)


This project is not a perfect method for defining longevity. Common sense and demographic data suggest that streaming is largely the realm of young people. Older listeners may be listening to physical media or mp3 rips of physical media that they already own instead of streaming their recurrent desires. Hits of yesteryear that remain in the ether via oldies radio simply may strike some fans as ubiquitous enough that they see no need to stream them on their own. The opposite might also be true—songs that were once hits that now take up no reminding airwaves may also take up no space in people’s memory. (For a good look into what songs have stood the test of time on radio, check out Sean Ross’s work on RadioInsight, wherein he pulls current radio figures on past hits and compares those to the songs’ airplay during their heyday to determine the “lost hits” of radio. Here’s his early ’90s assessment, as an example, and interestingly, many of the included songs appear in the lower regions of the list I’ve assembled here.)

One could also argue that comparing yesteryear’s chart tabulations (which generally included some amount of airplay and sales components) to the single data point of contemporary streaming is something of an apples-to-oranges exercise. While many of these songs were popular whether listeners liked it or not, given how much airplay factored in at times and how little control music fans had of that metric, I do think ultimately, though, that in the ’80s and ’90s, the No. 1 single was generally a reflection of unassailable cultural relevance for a pop song (this less so now that a song can debut at No. 1 and plummet to No. 34 the following week) and that streaming numbers reflect similar cultural relevance today.


And of course, this only assesses the streaming impact of No. 1 hits. Songs that didn’t go to No. 1, but have nonetheless endured, like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 during its early ‘80s chart run, remain unaccounted for by virtue of this list’s narrow parameters.

So with all that said, here are the top and bottom 10 of the ’80s and’90s No. 1's, according to the streaming data provided by Nielsen Music:

Top 10

1. a-ha, “Take on Me” (1985) (1,525,707,000)

2. Bon Jovi, “Livin’ on a Prayer” (1987) (1,125,996,000)

3. Michael Jackson, “Billie Jean” (1983) (855,818,000)

4. Survivor, “Eye of the Tiger” (1982) (809,383,000)

5. Whitney Houston, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” (1987) (805,783,000)


6. Toto, “Africa” (1983) (748,880,000)

7. Guns N’ Roses, “Sweet Child o’ Mine” (1988) (652,312,000)

8. Celine Dion, “My Heart Will Go On” (1998) (651,522,000)

9. Wham! featuring George Michael, “Careless Whisper” (1985) (565,026,000)

10. Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” (1983) (558,501,000)

Bottom 10

375. Glenn Mederios featuring Bobby Brown, “She Ain’t Worth It” (1990)(379,000)

374. Michael Damian, “Rock On” (1989) (501,000)

373. Sweet Sensation, “If Wishes Came True” (1990) (960,000)

372. Stars on 45, “Stars on 45” (1981) (1,082,000)

371. Richard Marx, “Satisfied” (1989) (2,035,000)

370. Tommy Page, “I’ll Be Your Everything” (1990) (2,143,000)

369. Paula Abdul, “The Promise of a New Day” (1991) (2,496,000)

368. Gloria Estefan, “Coming Out of the Dark” (1991) (2,664,000)

367. Karyn White, “Romantic” (1991) (2,772,000)

366. Wilson Phillips, “You’re in Love” (1991) (4,103,000)

A few notes on these numbers: They are figures rounded to the nearest 100 as of June 25, 2020. These figures represent what Nielsen calls ATD (activity to date) streaming numbers, which means they stretch back to when Nielsen started receiving streaming data in 2008, though Nielsen did not start receiving data from larger digital service providers like Spotify until the end of 2011.


Since I have the full list of data, I am publishing it below, with some commentary and annotations that I hope puts some of these rankings into perspective, provides some trivia, and otherwise entertains. I loved revisiting so much of this music—perhaps you will, too.

1. a-ha, “Take on Me” (1985) (1,525,707,000)

The enduring popularity of “Take on Me” is likely a combination of its continued presence in corporate pop culture, its indelible medley, and the mass memeification of the Norwegian new wave hit. Its innovative live-action/animated video has aged surprisingly well, and its global YouTube streams have crossed the 1 billion mark (in a Los Angeles Times piece last year, music manager Jonathan Daniel estimated that “Take on Me” has generated “hundreds of millions of dollars.”) The quirky lyrics, as close to hieroglyphics as English can be to native speakers, certainly don’t hurt. (In what universe can indecipherable declarations like, “So needless to say/I’m odds and ends,” go without saying?) But I think we can all agree that this song would simply be where it is now without this classic Vine.


2. Bon Jovi, “Livin’ on a Prayer” (1987) (1,125,996,000)

3. Michael Jackson, “Billie Jean” (1983) (855,818,000)

4. Survivor, “Eye of the Tiger” (1982) (809,383,000)

5. Whitney Houston, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” (1987) (805,783,000)


6. Toto, “Africa” (1983) (748,880,000)

7. Guns N’ Roses, “Sweet Child o’ Mine” (1988) (652,312,000)

8. Celine Dion, “My Heart Will Go On” (1998) (651,522,000)

It’s safe to assume that zero of these streams came from Kate Winslet, as this song makes her want to throw up.


9. Wham! featuring George Michael, “Careless Whisper” (1985) (565,026,000)

10. Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” (1983) (558,501,000)

11. Michael Jackson, “Beat It” (1983) (553,821,000)

12. Queen, “Another One Bites the Dust” (1980) (543,231,000)

13. Rick Astley, “Never Gonna Give You Up” (1988) (530,293,000)

Remember when Rickrolling was a vaguely homophobic, decidedly Astley-mocking thing? Who’s laughing now?!


14. The Notorious B.I.G., “Hypnotize” (522,648,000)

15. 2Pac featuring Dr. Dre, “California Love” (1996) (520,926,000)

16. Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You” (1992-3) (520,066,000)

17. Bon Jovi, “You Give Love a Bad Name” (1986) (509,089,000)

18. Spice Girls, “Wannabe” (1997) (505,409,000)

19. The Police, “Every Breath You Take” (1983) (491,028,000)

20. TLC, “No Scrubs” (1999) (488,895,000)

Among its many distinctions, “No Scrubs” is the highest-ranking song on this list that was written by a Real Housewife. If you saw The High Note, I’m sure you already deduced as much.


21. Michael Jackson, “Bad” (488,420,000)

22. Coolio, “Gangsta’s Paradise” (1995) (476,276,000)

23. U2, “With or Without You” (1987) (449,497,000)

24. Whitesnake, “Here I Go Again” (1987) (445,684,000)

25. Blackstreet featuring Dr. Dre, “No Diggity” (1996) (395,401,000)

26. Ray Parker, Jr., “Ghostbusters” (1984) (391,496,000)

27. Berlin, “Take My Breath Away” (1986) (371,808,000)

28. Bonnie Tyler, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (1983) (346,105,000)

It’s wild that the effect a solar eclipse can have on a song that is not about eclipses but merely uses the word “eclipse” in its chorus and title metaphorically, but that is the world we live in. Streams of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” surged when the sun went out in 2015 and again in 2017.


29. Michael Jackson, “The Way You Make Me Feel” (1988) (330,027,000)

30. Dire Straights, “Money for Nothing” (1985) (328,014,000)

31. Cutting Crew, “(I Just) Died In Your Arms” (1987) (325,518,000)

32. Michael Jackson, “Rock With You” (1980) (324,524,000)

33. Tears for Fears, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (1985) (320,936,000)

34. Kenny Loggins, “Footloose” (1984) (318,638,000)

35. Michael Jackson, “Man in the Mirror” (1988) (316,540,000)

36. Aerosmith, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (1998) (315,363,000)

Though featured in Armageddon, which means Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler make out in its video, this song was actually inspired by the romance of Barbra Streisand and James Brolin, according to its songwriter Diane Warren. “It was an interview he gave about how he misses her when he sleeps, you know? Like, he can’t wait to see her,” Warren told ABC News. So that’s fun and not at all creepy.


37. U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (1987) (299,916,000)

38. Foreigner, “I Want to Know What Love Is” (1985) (299,005,000)

39. Britney Spears, “…Baby One More Time” (1999) (291,854,000)

40. Mariah Carey, “Always Be My Baby” (1996) (286,699,000)

41. Starship, “We Built This City” (1985) (283,361,000)

42. Men at Work, “Down Under” (1983) (275,530,000)

43. Van Halen, “Jump” (1984) (273,115,000)

44. Rick Springfield, “Jessie’s Girl” (1981) (272,906,000)

45. Prince and the Revolution, “Kiss” (1986) (272,832,000)

46. Heart, “Alone” (1987) (270,657,000)

47. Vanilla Ice, “Ice Ice Baby” (1990) (268,944,000)

48. Starship, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” (1987) (265,976,000)

One word: Mannequin.


49. Puff Daddy and Faith Evans featuring 112, “I’ll Be Missing You” (1997) (264,087,000)


50. Montell Jordan, “This Is How We Do It” (1995) (262,455,000)

51. The Bangles, “Walk Like an Egyptian” (1986-7) (259,549,000)

52. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, “Tha Crossroads” (1996) (259,336,000)

53. Simple Minds, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” (1985) (255,624,000)

54. Wham!, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” (1984) (250,204,000)

55. Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” (1988) (248,347,000)

56. Cyndi Lauper, “Time After Time” (1984) (246,598,000)

57. Lauryn Hill, “Doo Wop (That Thing)” (1998) (246,495,000)

This was the first song by a female rapper to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, unless you count Blondie’s “Rapture,” and you should not count Blondie’s “Rapture.”


58. Dexys Midnight Runners, “Come On Eileen” (1983) (246,146,000)

59. Whitney Houston, “How Will I Know” (1986) (244,924,000)

60. Pink Floyd, “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” (1980) (244,750,000)

61. The Notorious B.I.G. featuring Puff Daddy, “Mo Money Mo Problems” (1997) (244,068,000)


62. K-Ci & JoJo, “All My Life” (1998) (242,618,000)

63. Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Baby Got Back” (1992) (241,288,000)

64. R. Kelly, “Bump n’ Grind” (1994) (237,055,000)

65. Rupert Holmes, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” (1980) (233,703,000)

66. TLC, “Waterfalls” (1995) (233,574,000)

67. Billy Joel, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (1989) (233,291,000)

68. Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” (1987) (232,835,000)

Another fact I learned from the above-referenced ABC News story that features Diane Warren’s quote about “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”: Bill Medley initially thought Dirty Dancing was porn when he was asked to contribute to its soundtrack. “I thought was a porno movie, and that’s the truth,” he said. “When they said the movie’s going to be Dirty Dancing, I said, ‘I can’t do it while my parents are alive.’ And then they explained it.” Phew!


69. UB40, “Red Red Wine” (1988) (223,016,000)

70. Kool & the Gang, “Celebration” (1981) (216,483,000)

71. Boyz II Men, “End of the Road” (1992) (211,036,000)

The Boomerang soundtrack’s “End of the Road” inducted the era of the marathon-No. 1... by Boyz II Men. “Road” stayed at No. 1 for 13 weeks, “I’ll Make Love to You” did one longer, and the group’s collaboration with Mariah Carey, “One Sweet Day” was there for 16 weeks, a record that lasted for 23 years until Lil Nas X spent 19 weeks at the top spot with “Old Town Road.” All told, Boyz II Men spent 50 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. When’s the last time you thought about this group and its cooleyhighharmonies? Imagine a long stretch of years in the ’90s when it was impossible to not think about Boyz II Men.


72. SWV, “Weak” (1993) (208,606,000)

73. Usher, “Nice & Slow” (1998) (207,234,000)

74. John Cougar Mellencamp, “Jack & Diane” (1982) (203,357,000)

75. Mariah Carey, “Fantasy” (1995) (202,959,000)

76. TLC, “Creep” (1995) (199,657,000)

77. Lionel Richie, “Hello” (1984) (195,504,000)

78. Santana featuring Rob Thomas, “Smooth” (1999) (195,420,000)

79. Michael Jackson, “Black or White” (1991-2) (193,684,000)

80. Toni Braxton, “Un-Break My Heart” (1996-7) (188,770,000)

81. Richard Marx, “Right Here Waiting” (1989) (185,533,000)

82. Lipps Inc., “Funkytown” (1980) (185,419,000)

83. Boyz II Men, “I’ll Make Love to You” (1994) (184,876,000)

84. Pet Shop Boys, “West End Girls” (1986) (184,011,000)

85. Whitney Houston, “Greatest Love of All” (182,768,000)

86. Bryan Adams, “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” (1991) (182,690,000)

87. Poison, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (1988-9) (181,301,000)

88. Queen, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (1980) (178,229,000)

89. Culture Club, “Karma Chameleon” (1984) (177,376,000)

Boy George had the audacity to don drag and hit No. 1 in the early ’80s. Despite his lyrical suggestion to the contrary, this is a man with conviction.


90. Michael Jackson, “You are Not Alone” (1995) (175,947,000)

91. Daryl Hall and John Oates, “Maneater” (1982-3) (173,151,000)

92. Prince, “When Doves Cry” (1984) (171,613,000)

93. Celine Dion, “Because You Loved Me” (1996) (170,863,000)

94. Simply Red, “Holding Back the Years” (1986) (168,336,000)

95. REO Speedwagon, “Keep On Loving You” (1981) (167,051,000)

96. Savage Garden, “Truly Madly Deeply” (1998) (166,227,000)

97. 2Pac featuring K-Ci & JoJo, “How Do U Want It” (1996) (165,388,000)

Despite its relatively high position on this list, “How Do U Want It” never quite took up the cultural space of many of these No. 1's at the time of its release. It was actually the “double A-side” companion to 2Pac & Dr. Dre’s more prominent “California Love.” For a period wherein the chart tabulations relied strongly on physical single sales, Billboard would allow songs on the same single to chart together if both tracks received considerable airplay. Another example of this reflected on this list is Toni Braxton’s “Let It Flow,” the double-A side of “You’re Makin’ Me High.”


98. Mr. Mister, “Broken Wings” (1985) (164,302,000)

99. Steve Winwood, “Higher Love” (1986) (158,288,000)

100. Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men, “One Sweet Day” (1995-6) (156,259,000)

101. REO Speedwagon, “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” (1985) (156,226,000)

102. Christina Aguilera, “Genie in a Bottle” (1999) (153,793,000)

103. Extreme, “More Than Words” (1991) (153,375,000)

104. Next, “Too Close” (1998) (151,778,000)

105. Lionel Richie, “Say You, Say Me” (1985-6) (149,203,000)

106. Ricky Martin, “Livin’ la Vida Loca” (1999) (147,428,000)

107. Dolly Parton, “9 to 5” (1981) (140,306,000)

Dolly wrote this on her nails.

108. Michael Bolton, “When a Man Loves a Woman” (1991) (140,037,000)

109. Bryan Adams, “Heaven” (1985) (138,974,000)

110. Cher, “Believe” (1999) (138,047,000)

111. Michael Jackson, “Dirty Diana” (1988) (137,740,000)

112. Cyndi Lauper, “True Colors” (1986) (134,991,000)

113. Whitney Houston, “Saving All My Love for You” (1985) (134,928,000)

114. The J. Geils Band, “Centerfold” (1982) (133,596,000)

115. Roxette, “It Must Have Been Love” (1990) (133,342,000)

I urge you to listen to at least the last minute of this song when Roxette lead singer Marie Fredriksson (who died of cancer last year) positively wails. A totally underrated voice in the annals of lite rock history.


116. Will Smith, “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It” (1998) (130,982,000)

117. The Human League, “Don’t You Want Me” (1982) (129,735,000)

118. USA for Africa, “We Are the World” (1985) (128,730,000)

119. Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U” (1990) (128,152,000)

120. Stevie Wonder, “I Just Called to Say I Love You” (1984) (127,816,000)

121. Michael Sembello, “Maniac” (1983) (127,791,000)

122. Robert Palmer, “Addicted to Love” (1986) (126,901,000)

123. Barenaked Ladies, “One Week” (126,337,000)

124. Daryl Hall & John Oates, “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” (1982) (126,164,000)


125. Seal, “Kiss from a Rose” (1995) (125,851,000)

126. George Michael, “Faith” (1987-8) (125,589,000)

127. Christopher Cross, “Sailing” (1980) (125,241,000)

128. Tina Turner, “What’s Love Got to Do With It” (1984) (125,198,000)

129. Chicago, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” (1982) (124,940,000)

130. Peter Cetera, “Glory of Love” (1986) (124,887,000)

131. Kim Carnes, “Bette Davis Eyes” (1981) (123,886,000)

Bette Davis herself approved of this song and I can think of no better or harder-won endorsement for virtually anything.


132. Lionel Richie, “All Night Long (All Night)” (1983) (123,642,000)

133. Kris Kross, “Jump” (1992) (123,498,000)

134. Blondie, “Call Me” (1980) (121,974,000)

135. David Bowie, “Let’s Dance” (1983) (121,616,000)

136. Madonna, “Like a Prayer” (1989) (121,373,000)

137. Belinda Carlisle, “Heaven is a Place on Earth” (1987) (120,852,000)

138. C+C Music Factory, “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” (1991) (120,760,000)

This song would have not been possible without the initially uncredited vocals of dance-music legend Martha Wash. On C+C’s Vevo, she remains uncredited. The Wash affair was one of the highest-profile lip-syncing scandals during a time that was teeming with them. You can read them in this Jezebel feature:


139. Michael Jackson with Siedah Garrett, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” (1987) (117,483,000)


140. Brandy and Monica, “The Boy Is Mine” (1998) (117,337,000)

141. Phil Collins, “Another Day in Paradise” (1989-90) (117,044,000)

This song, which is about homelessness, was No. 1 the first week of the ‘90s. Crystal Waters’s 1991 crossover house track “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” was also about homelessness and is a far superior song, in my opinion, but it didn’t go to No. 1. It peaked at No. 8 during the summer of 1991.


142. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” (1982) (116,168,000)

143. Bruce Hornsby & the Range, “The Way It Is” (1986) (114,912,000)

144. Billy Joel, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” (1980) (113,203,000)

145. Phil Collins, “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” (1984) (113,154,000)


146. Boyz II Men, “On Bended Knee” (1994-5) (112,466,000)

147. Celine Dion, “The Power of Love” (1994) (111,822,000)

148. Men at Work, “Who Can It Be Now?” (1982) (110,164,000)

149. Heart, “These Dreams” (1986) (109,513,000)

150. Mariah Carey, “Hero” (1993-4) (108,149,000)

151. Vangelis, “Chariots of Fire” (1982) (106,699,000)

152. The Beach Boys, “Kokomo” (1988) (106,521,000)

Did you know that Brian Wilson’s controversial psychologist prevented him from singing on “Kokomo”? If not, maybe you should read this long blog post of facts about the Beach Boys’s “Kokomo.”


153. Silk, “Freak Me” (1993) (102,462,000)

154. Peter Gabriel, “Sledgehammer” (1986) (102,309,000)

155. Monica, “Angel of Mine” (1999) (102,094,000)

156. Huey Lewis and the News, “The Power of Love” (1985) (101,165,000)

157. INXS, “Need You Tonight” (1988) (100,814,000)

158. Roxette, “Listen To Your Heart” (1989) (98,438,000)

159. Yes, “Owner of a Lonely Heart” (1984) (97,686,000)

160. Destiny’s Child, “Bills, Bills, Bills” (1999) (97,202,000)

161. Genesis, “Invisible Touch” (1986) (96,363,000)

162. Dionne Warwick featuring Gladys Knight, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder, “That’s What Friends Are For” (1985) (94,825,000)


163. Madonna, “Papa Don’t Preach” (1986) (93,842,000)

164. Ini Kamoze, “Here Comes the Hotstepper” (1994) (93,781,000)

165. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, “Islands in the Stream” (1983) (93,266,000)

166. Madonna, “Like a Virgin” (1984-5) (92,907,000)

167. Hanson, “MMMBop” (1997) (91,570,000)

168. Bobby Brown, “My Prerogative” (1989) (90,828,000)

169. Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald, “On My Own” (1986) (90,779,000)

LaBelle and McDonald famously recorded this song and its video from separate locations. They were so ahead of the social distancing curve!


170. Tears for Fears, “Shout” (1985) (90,233,000)

171. Mariah Carey, “Emotions” (1991) (87,381,000)

This is one of at least three songs from Carey’s sophomore album that resulted in plagiarism lawsuits and settlements. In this instant case, Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White alleged Carey and her collaborators Robert Clivillés and David Cole (of C+C Music Factory, who did Martha Wash dirty—see above) ripped off “Best of My Love,” which White wrote for the Emotions. The similarities are blatant (though in my opinion, it doesn’t make “Emotions” a worse song—the ’90s were all about creative theft). All of that said, I wonder how Cheryl Lynn’s “Got to Be Real,” which has a similar if not identical chord progression, fits into this equation.


172. Diana Ross and Lionel Richie, “Endless Love” (1981) (87,335,000)

173. Janet Jackson, “That’s the Way Love Goes” (1993) (86,301,000)

174. Madonna, “Vogue” (1990) (85,590,000)

175. Mariah Carey, “Honey” (1997) (85,454,000)

176. Ace of Base, “The Sign” (1994) (85,337,000)

177. Mariah Carey featuring Jay Z, “Heartbreaker” (1999) (85,299,000)

178. Wilson Phillips, “Hold On” (1990) (84,565,000)

179. John Parr, “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” (1985) (84,248,000)

180. Boston, “Amanda” (1986) (83,648,000)

181. Bon Jovi, “I’ll Be There for You” (1989) (83,265,000)

182. Brandy, “Have You Ever?” (1999) (80,503,000)

183. Prince and the Revolution, “Let’s Go Crazy” (1984) (80,332,000)

184. Elton John, “Candle in the Wind 1997” (1997-8) (80,249,000)

In his 2019 memoir Me, John claims that he has only sung this version of “Candle,” with lyrics refashioned by Bernie Taupin to commemorate the death of Princess Diana, thrice. “I sang it three times – once at the funeral and twice in the studio – then I listened back to it once to OK the mix and that was it: never again,” he writes. Honestly, fair enough.


185. All-4-One, “I Swear” (1994) (79,610,000)

186. Daryl Hall and John Oates, “Out of Touch” (1984) (79,264,000)

187. Falco, “Rock Me Amadeus” (1986) (78,421,000)

188. Deniece Williams, “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” (1984) (77,002,000)

189. Daryl Hall & John Oates, “Kiss on My List” (1981) (76,154,000)

190. Fine Young Cannibals, “She Drives Me Crazy” (1989) (74,401,000)

191. Cheap Trick, “The Flame” (1988) (73,249,000)

192. Mariah Carey, “My All” (1998) (72,587,000)

193. Tiffany, “I Think We’re Alone Now” (1987) (72,442,000)

194. Mr. Mister “Kyrie” (1986) (71,625,000)

This is not trivia or maybe even particularly interesting, but I used to think this song’s chorus lyric was, “Give me a laser down the road that I must travel,” which didn’t seem like it would be the best source of light (I figured the road was dark) but did seem like it would be better than nothing.


195. George Michael, “Father Figure” (1988) (70,620,000)

196. Def Leppard, “Love Bites” (1988) (70,566,000)

197. Meat Loaf, “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” (1993) (70,412,000)


198. Billy Ocean, “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)” (1984) (69,917,000)

199. Daryl Hall & John Oates, “Private Eyes” (1981) (69,857,000)

200. Jon Bon Jovi, “Blaze of Glory” (1990) (69,680,000)

201. Stevie Wonder, “Part-Time Lover” (1985) (69,669,000)

202. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, “Good Vibrations” (1991) (69,399,000)

203. Whitney Houston, “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” (1987) (68,444,000)

204. Los Lobos, “La Bamba” (1987) (68,056,000)

205. UB40, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (1993) (67,688,000)

206. Mr. Big, “To Be with You” (1992) (66,554,000)

207. The Bangles, “Eternal Flame” (1989) (65,790,000)

Because of what Diane Warren said about “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (see above), from now on I will never not think of James Brolin thinking of Barbra Streisand when Susanna Hoffs sings, “I watch you when you are sleeping/You belong with me” in “Eternal Flame.” Thanks goes out to the whole team!


208. Jennifer Lopez, “If You Had My Love” (1999) (64,694,000)

209. Bon Jovi, “Bad Medicine” (1988) (63,950,000)

210. Aretha Franklin and George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” (1987) (63,680,000)


211. Wham!, “Everything She Wants” (1985) (63,425,000)

212. Atlantic Starr, “Always” (1987) (62,625,000)

213. Irene Cara, “Flashdance… What a Feeling” (1983) (61,687,000)

214. Michael Bolton, “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” (1990) (61,552,000)

215. Steve Miller Band, “Abracadabra” (1982) (61,549,000)

216. Alannah Myles, “Black Velvet” (1990) (61,487,000)

Would this song have this many streams without RuPaul’s Drag Race? Doubt it. At this point, this song is as much Jujubee’s as it is Alannah Myles’s.


217. Paul Young, “Everytime You Go Away” (1985) (60,865,000)

“Everytime” isn’t actually a word, but don’t tell Paul Young or Britney Spears that.


218. Hi-Five, “I Like the Way (The Kissing Game)” (1991) (60,767,000)

219. John Waite, “Missing You” (1984) (60,533,000)

220. George Michael and Elton John, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” (1992) (60,530,000)


221. TLC, “Unpretty” (1999) (59,983,000)

222. The Human League, “Human” (1986) (59,595,000)

“Human” was produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, perhaps best known as Janet Jackson’s co-producers during her imperial phase.


223. George Michael, “One More Try” (1988) (59,372,000)

224. Starship, “Sara” (1986) (59,062,000)

225. Phil Collins, “A Groovy Kind of Love” (1988) (58,196,000)

226. Madonna, “Crazy for You” (1985) (58,005,000)

227. Air Supply, “The One That You Love” (1981) (57,451,000)

228. Enrique Iglesias, “Bailamos” (1999) (56,649,000)

229. Ready for the World, “Oh Sheila” (1985) (56,633,000)

230. Christopher Cross, “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” (1981) (56,200,000)


231. Madonna, “Open Your Heart” (1987) (56,125,000)

232. Paula Abdul, “Straight Up” (1989) (55,161,000)

233. Toni Basil, “Mickey” (1982) (54,027,000)

Sadly, this is not a song about butt-fucking. God’s honest. In 2012, Basil told Vulture: “Everyone reads shit into everything. It’s not about anything dirty. You change the name from boy to girl” — i.e., from [the song as it was originally written] “Kitty” to “Mickey” — “and they read anything they want into it! When it’s a guy singing about a girl, it’s a sweet line. But when a girl sings it, it must mean butt-fucking! This is how the wrong foot gets cut off when the doc wheels you into the E.R. Then it’s Micky Dolenz [of the Monkees] and butt-fucking.”


234. Toni Braxton, “You’re Makin’ Me High” (1996) (54,008,000)

235. Roxette, “The Look” (1989) (53,017,000)

236. Phil Collins, “One More Night” (1985) (52,850,000)

237. Bette Midler, “Wind Beneath My Wings” (1989) (51,396,000)

238. Will Smith featuring Dru Hill and Kool Moe Dee, “Wild Wild West” (1999) (50,836,000)


239. Mariah Carey, “Vision of Love” (1990) (50,159,000)

240. Whitney Houston, “All the Man That I Need” (1991) (49,183,000)

241. Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories, “Stay (I Missed You)” (1994) (48,761,000)

242. Bananarama, “Venus” (1986) (47,503,000)

243. Mariah Carey, “Dreamlover” (1993) (46,823,000)

244. Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle, “A Whole New World” (1993) (45,904,000)

245. Billy Idol, “Mony Mony” (1987) (45,613,000)

246. Madonna, “Live to Tell” (1986) (45,575,000)

247. Puff Daddy and Mase, “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” (1997) (44,543,000)

248. Barbra Streisand, “Woman in Love” (1980) (43,856,000)

249. Bad English, “When I See You Smile” (1989) (42,899,000)

250. Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin, “Separate Lives” (1985) (41,512,000)

251. R. Kelly and Celine Dion, “I’m Your Angel” (1998-9) (41,068,000)

252. Whitney Houston, “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” (1995) (40,835,000)

253. Right Said Fred, “I’m Too Sexy” (1992) (40,437,000)

254. Phil Collins, “Sussudio” (1985) (38,851,000)

The word “sussudio,” unsurprisingly, means nothing. While working with a drum pattern and improvising in the studio, Collins said on VH1 Storytellers, “This word came out. It just came out...I kind of knew that I had to find something else for that word, and then I went back and tried to find another word that could stand as well as ‘sussudio,’ and, um, I couldn’t find one, so I went back to ‘sussudio.’” He said it became a name for the song’s object of desire, and went on to become a name for his daughter’s horse. Besides the horse, though, “sussudio,” never became a thing.


255. Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, “Head to Toe” (1987) (38,560,000)

256. George Harrison, “Got My Mind Set on You” (1988) (38,541,000)

257. Blondie, “The Tide Is High” (1981) (37,941,000)

258. Huey Lewis and the News, “Stuck With You” (1986) (37,904,000)

259. Whitney Houston, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” (1988) (37,590,000)

260. Kenny Rogers, “Lady” (1980) (37,157,000)

261. Kim Wilde, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (1987) (37,020,000)

262. Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, “Say Say Say” (1983-4) (36,416,000)

263. New Kids on the Block, “Step by Step” (1990) (36,137,000)

264. Mariah Carey, “Love Takes Time” (1990) (35,979,000)

265. Gregory Abbott, “Shake You Down” (1987) (35,858,000)

266. Vanessa Williams, “Save the Best for Last” (1992) (35,545,000)

267. Janet Jackson, “Escapade” (1990) (34,420,000)

This song came as a result of a conversation in which Jackson, and her collaborators Jam and Lewis, decided that “escapade” was a “cool” word. Sure, why not!


268. Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes, “Up Where We Belong” (1982) (33,966,000)

269. Whitney Houston, “I’m Your Baby Tonight” (1990) (33,600,000)

270. Olivia Newton-John, “Physical” (1981-2) (33,516,000)

271. Eddie Rabbitt, “I Love a Rainy Night” (1981) (33,296,000)

272. Diana Ross, “Upside Down” (1980) (33,264,000)

273. Martika, “Toy Soldiers” (1989) (32,298,000)

274. Janet Jackson, “Together Again” (1998) (32,031,000)

275. Rick Astley, “Together Forever” (1988) (31,533,000)

276. EMF, “Unbelievable” (1991) (31,506,000)

277. Bryan Adams, “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” (1995) (31,412,000)

278. Paula Abdul, “Rush Rush” (1991) (31,247,000)

279. Billy Ocean, “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” (1988) (31,044,000)

I think you need to see this.


280. Los Del Rio, “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)” (1996) (30,903,000)

281. New Kids on the Block, “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” (1989) (29,931,000)

282. Mike + the Mechanics, “The Living Years” (1989) (29,318,000)

283. Duran Duran, “The Reflex” (1984) (29,246,000)

284. Mariah Carey featuring Trey Lorenz, “I’ll Be There” (1992) (29,216,000)

285. Whitney Houston, “So Emotional” (1988) (29,151,000)

286. Billy Joel, “Tell Her About It” (1983) (29,081,000)

287. Simply Red, “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” (1989) (28,985,000)

288. Blondie, “Rapture” (1981) (28,636,000)

This is considered to be the first-ever No. 1 to contain a rap. It is, but only if you consider what comes out of Debbie Harry’s mouth to be rap. It’s okay if you do not. I don’t.


289. Debbie Gibson, “Lost in Your Eyes” (1989) (28,598,000)

290. Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting, “All for Love” (1994) (28,485,000)

291. Janet Jackson, “Again” (1993) (28,262,000)

292. Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, “Lost in Emotion” (1987) (28,172,000)

293. Lionel Richie, “Truly” (1982) (27,845,000)

294. KC and the Sunshine Band, “Please Don’t Go” (1980) (27,163,000)

“Please Don’t Go” is the earliest No. 1 on the list—it was at the top spot in the first chart week of the ‘80s. (I much prefer KWS’s 1992 ravey pop remake.)


295. Janet Jackson, “When I Think of You” (1986) (27,066,0000)

296. Olivia Newton-John, “Magic” (1980) (26,263,000)

297. Terence Trent D’Arby, “Wishing Well” (1988) (26,128,000)

298. Milli Vanilli, “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You” (1989) (25,642,000)

299. Taylor Dane, “Love Will Lead You Back” (25,546,000)

300. Boyz II Men, “4 Seasons of Loneliness” (1997) (25,339,000)

301. Chicago, “Look Away” (1988) (25,079,000)

302. Club Nouveau, “Lean on Me” (1987) (24,643,000)

303. Peter Cetera and Amy Grant, “Next Time I Fall” (1986) (24,387,000)

304. Janet Jackson, “Miss You Much” (1989) (24,327,000)

305. Snow, “Informer” (1993) (23,787,000)

306. Toni Braxton, “Let It Flow” (1996) (23,503,000)

307. Paula Abdul, “Cold Hearted” (1989) (22,929,000)

“Cold Hearted” was a moment that would not have been possible without the dancer/choreographer/director Bob Fosse, as the video that helped make this song such a hit borrowed liberally from a sequence in his 1979 film All That Jazz.


308. Janet Jackson, “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” (1991) (22,435,000)

309. Patti Austin and James Ingram, “Baby, Come to Me” (1983) (22,423,000)

310. Madonna, “Take a Bow” (1995) (22,295,000)

311. Captain & Tennille, “Do That To Me One More Time” (1980) (21,580,000)

312. Prince & the New Power Generation, “Cream” (1991) (21,245,000)

313. Maxi Priest, “Close to You” (1990) (20,369,000)

314. Duran Duran, “A View to a Kill” (1985) (20,167,000)

315. Mariah Carey, “I Don’t Wanna Cry” (1991) (19,815,000)

316. Mariah Carey, “Someday” (1991) (18,363,000)

317. Bob Seger, “Shakedown” (1987) (17,918,000)

318. Amy Grant, “Baby Baby” (1991) (17,598,000)

319. Milli Vanilli, “Blame It on the Rain” (1989) (17,469,000)

At the time of Milli Vanilli’s lip-syncing scandal, resulting from the discovery that the duo didn’t sing a word on their album, it seemed like were being laughed ofgf the face of the earth. And yet their music, to a small degree lives on: None of their three No. 1’s placed in this list’s bottom 10. Not bad for a pair of frauds who had to give up their Grammy!


320. Madonna, “Who’s That Girl” (1987) (17,267,000)

321. Timmy T, “One More Try” (1991) (17,248,000)

322. Paula Abdul, “Opposites Attract” (1990) (17,242,000)

323. Will to Power, “Baby, I Love Your Way/Freebird Medley” (1988) (16,203,000)

324. Phil Collins, “Two Hearts” (1989) (15,919,000)

325. New Kids on the Block, “Hangin’ Tough” (1989) (15,888,000)

326. Sheena Easton, “Morning Train (Nine to Five)” (1981) (15,744,000)

327. P.M. Dawn, “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” (1991) (15,104,000)

328. Elton John, “Something About the Way You Look Tonight” (1997-8) (14,867,000)


329. Steve Winwood, “Roll With It” (1988) (14,804,000)

330. Richard Marx, “Hold On to the Nights” (1988) (14,583,000)

331. Debbie Gibson, “Foolish Beat” (1988) (14,087,000)

332. Billy Vera and the Beaters “At This Moment” (1987) (13,711,000)

Originally released in 1981, this agonized ballad took off years later because of a fraught romantic arc involving resident yuppie Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) and Ellen Reed (Tracy Pollan, who went on to marry Fox) on the massively successful sitcom Family Ties. Uh, guess you had to be there.


333. Sheriff, “When I’m With You” (1989) (13,346,000)

334. John Lennon, “(Just Like) Starting Over” (1980-81) (13,261,000)

335. Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder, “Ebony and Ivory” (1982) (13,027,000)

336. Color Me Badd, “All 4 Love” (1992) (12,899,000)

337. Jan Hammer, “Miami Vice Theme” (1985) (12,800,000)

338. Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine, “Anything for You” (1988) (12,644,000)


339. Londonbeat, “I’ve Been Thinking About You” (1991) (12,614,000)

340. Fine Young Cannibals, “Good Thing” (1989) (12,485,000)

341. Janet Jackson, “Black Cat” (1990) (12,075,000)

342. Madonna, “Justify My Love” (1991) (11,980,000)

It might be hard to believe it now, but “Justify My Love,” released during the imperial phase of one of the biggest icons in pop music history, marked an instance where hand-wringing, controversy, and widely expressed fears of going to far all aided in the creation of a cultural landmark. Murmured more than it was sung and based on an initially uncredited sample of a Public Enemy interlude, nothing about “Justify My Love” screamed commercial when it was included as one of two new tracks on Madonna’s first greatest-hits compilation The Immaculate Collection. But when MTV banned its video for its sexual content, Madonna became a crusader for free expression of sexuality and made a mint from sales of the world’s first ever video single. When it was pointed out during a Nightline segment that Madonna stood to make more money as a result of being banned, she chirped, “Yeah, so lucky me.” Indeed! While the song’s success was mainly driven by sales, “Justify” was nonetheless a radio hit (it peaked at No. 5 on Billboard’s Radio Songs chart) and I would argue that aside from “Batdance,” it is the weirdest song on this entire list, perhaps even the weirdest song to ever go to No. 1 in the U.S. Many of today’s pop stars owe Madonna a sizable debt for the paths she cleared and the templates she struck, but few have come even close to rivaling her sheer audacity and savvy for spinning it into gold.


343. Roxette, “Joyride” (1991) (11,290,000)

344. Stevie B, “Because I Love You (The Postman Song)” (1990) (11,271,000)

345. The Heights, “How Do You Talk to an Angel” (1992) (10,746,000)

346. James Ingram, “I Don’t Have the Heart” (1990) (10,743,000)

347. Exposé, “Seasons Change” (1988) (10,676,000)

348. Monica, “The First Night” (1998) (10,257,000)

349. George Michael, “Praying for Time” (1990) (9,993,000)

350. Color Me Badd, “I Adore Mi Amor” (1991) (9,965,000)

351. Billy Ocean, “There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)” (1986) (9,821,000)

352. Milli Vanilli, “Baby Don’t Forget My Number” (1989) (9,816,000)

353. Paula Abdul, “Forever Your Girl” (1989) (9,557,000)

354. George Michael, “Monkey” (1988) (9,518,000)

355. The Escape Club, “Wild, Wild West” (1988) (8,681,000)

356. Gloria Estefan, “Don’t Wanna Lose You” (1989) (8,372,000)

357. Wilson Phillips, “Release Me” (1990) (8,310,000)

358. Nelson, “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection” (1990) (8,212,000)

359. Huey Lewis and the News, “Jacob’s Ladder” (1987) (8,021,000)

360. Prince, “Batdance” (1989) (7,654,000)

Justice for “Batdance” is my hill to die on. I get the sense that this song is mostly regarded as a joke (it’s the lowest placing Prince No. 1 here), but it sounds to me like a furious burst of creativity. It’s about a half a dozen songs in one, and its surreal video finds the duality-obsessed Prince taking on the Batman myth by inhabiting a character who is both Batman and Joker. It might be goofy, but who else other than this diehard gemini could have come up with something like this?


361. Divine, “Lately” (1998) (7,222,000)

362. Paul McCartney, “Coming Up” (1980) (6,802,000)

363. Surface, “The First Time” (1991) (5,765,000)

364. Tiffany, “Could’ve Been” (1988) (5,652,000)

365. Madonna, “This Used To Be My Playground” (1992) (4,781,000)

366. Wilson Phillips, “You’re in Love” (1991) (4,103,000)

367. Karyn White, “Romantic” (1991) (2,772,000)

368. Gloria Estefan, “Coming Out of the Dark” (1991) (2,664,000)

369. Paula Abdul, “The Promise of a New Day” (1991) (2,496,000)

370. Tommy Page, “I’ll Be Your Everything” (1990) (2,143,000)

371. Richard Marx, “Satisfied” (1989) (2,035,000)

372. Stars on 45, “Stars on 45” (1981) (1,082,000)

373. Sweet Sensation, “If Wishes Came True” (1990) (960,000)

374. Michael Damian, “Rock On” (1989) (501,000)

375. Glenn Mederios featuring Bobby Brown, “She Ain’t Worth It” (1990)(379,000)

This song sounds like precisely what it is: a lesser Bobby Brown hit. You can do far worse than a bouncy dash of MOR new jack swing, but something had to be last place and this is it.