Well, here it is. The final hurrah. The swan song. The metaphorical series finale. After this post, my days of music reviewing are officially over. But that doesn’t mean my love of music won’t end. Every now and then, I will still comment on music and whatever new songs become popular at the moment, whether it’d be on social media or some of my favorite music reviewers’ content. Now then, the subject of this post. Doing the Worst Number One Songs list was real cathartic as I ran some of my most disliked number ones through the meat grinder. Now, I’m presented with a new challenge; going through the number ones that I consider to be the best. Like with bad songs, the definition of a good song will differ with everyone. It might be something fun and catchy or something that resonates with you on a personal level. I appreciate the fact that we’re in an era that sees value in populist art and that you don’t need to exclusively appeal to the “high art” crowd in order to make something of quality. If a song is good and it appeals to the largest audience that takes it to number one, that can only be a net positive. It only makes a list like this even more difficult to put together. Once again, history and cultural context are a factor, but not as important as personal opinion. Believe it or not, there’s more songs out there that I like than dislike, which makes it harder for me to choose what I consider to be the best of the best. Honestly, the majority of the slots here can be interchangeable with one another or swapped out with something I didn’t mention due to how I feel at the moment. This is going to be a long post, so I’m going to be short and brief with all of these (since I talked about most of them more than once already) with the possibility of me going longer with the Top 10, though I won’t make any promises. Also, no honorable mentions this time. Let’s get started.
In 2013, a 16 year old from New Zealand named Lorde broke onto the scene with Royals. It’s an anti-capitalist anthem for Gen Z that rejects the high opulence of mainstream materialism and opts for something more homegrown, where one could be the rulers of their destiny. The style and aesthetic would be duplicated afterwards by other artists, but none of them were able to recapture the magic that Lorde had that would lead to the masterful Melodrama.
If there’s any song in history that epitomizes the word “cool,” it’s No Diggity, which has one of the best marriages of the hip-hop and R&B sound in the 90s thanks to its g-funk-like production, the smooth vocals of Teddy Riley and company, and hard-hitting verses from both Dr. Dre and Queen Pen. Plus, this is also the song that knocked Macarena off the top spot after a 14-week reign. It’s safe to say that Blackstreet was doing the Lord’s work in 1996.
Most of us recognize this song thanks to Tupac’s Changes, which samples it prominently. It’s very easy to see why this sample makes sense for that type of song because The Way It Is is a beautifully crafted track with some excellent piano work and its message is both timely and timeless, touching upon themes of income inequality and racial tension. Despite actions like the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there’s still more work to do as there’s always those who are against progress. Like the track says, some things will never change.
Stevie Wonder is a gift to the music world. The things that this man can do musically, you’d think he was from another planet. He ran the 70s with all hits and no misses. One of those hits is Sir Duke, his tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington, alongside other musicians that have influence Stevie in his career. He put those influences to work in this cool funky track that’s basically a celebration of music itself. It’s one of many classics from Stevie Wonder himself.
Most prog-rock bands don’t have a lot of hits under their belt because that’s not their aim. There are some who manage to get a few hits in like Yes, who shot straight to number one in 1983 with Owner Of A Lonely Heart, which has one of the most infectious guitar riffs and a bouncy groove that fits the 80s. It’s impossible to stay still listening to this song because of that groove. If they ever do more episodes of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, they need to include this song as an ending because it fits that world as much as Roundabout.
This year in August will be the 20th anniversary of Aaliyah’s passing and going back to her discography, it hit me how much of a loss it was because she was one of the best to do it. Everything she released after her debt album (which is still good, but it has some lingering ghosts that kinda drag it down) was nonstop hits and one of them is Try Again. It’s another example of Aaliyah’s unlimited swagger on top of some real alien production from Timbaland that works to everyone’s strengths. I hope Aaliyah’s estate releases the rest of her music on streaming because this generation needs to hear about her.
Is it just me or is alternative music starting to lose its edge these days? I know what I’m gonna say might sound “old man yells at cloud”-ish, but the alternative scene back in my high school years were more interesting than what we have now. Case in point, Somebody That I Used To Know, a big duet that works with little in terms of composition, but is able to execute the emotion of a breakup. It’s seen its share of covers through the years and gave both Gotye and Kimbra their biggest (and only) hit in the U.S.
It’s been used as a gag song for a long time, but Let’s Get It On is a legitimately sexy song. The music sets the right mood for lovemaking and Marvin Gaye, the artist, is one smooth brother who just wants to have fun in the sheets, if you get my drift. This is exactly what a sex jam should be like and Marvin Gaye, the artist, nails it twice, both here and in the 1982 hit Sexual Healing. This dude was a one-of-a-kind talent.
From sexy time to sad time. Seems about right. Anyways, End Of The Road. The biggest hit of 1992, one of the biggest hits of the 90s overall, and another monster hit from Boyz II Men, who had a fantastic decade, to say the least. Not so fantastic is a relationship coming to an end and both partners realize that, but aren’t ready to let go. Like all good Boyz II Men songs, the vocals are the highlight of the song, selling the emotions perfectly to a tee, plus a baritone spoken bridge that’s always cool to hear. We need more baritones in popular music because they’re lacking.
So I watched Dirty Dancing the other day. It wasn’t a great movie, to say the least. The best part about it is the soundtrack, which spawned a lot of big hits like a lot of 80s soundtracks. One of them is (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life, a great duet by Jennifer Warnes and the silky voice man himself Bill Medley who have great vocal chemistry with one another. It’s a song that captures the feeling of romance perfectly that you almost want to fall in love after hearing it. Sitting through that movie is worth just hearing this song.
Yep. This is making the list. As of this post, it’s been a year and three months since Blinding Lights was released and it’s still in the Top 10, breaking records nonstop. I guarantee you there’s people who are tired of this song and want it to go away. Me? I’m still jamming out to this modern-day synthwave bop that’s perfect for one hell of a night in town and very few artists now capture that mood better than The Weeknd. We’re gonna be hearing more of this song decades from now and I’m perfectly fine with that.
In the mid-60s, during the British Invasion, a band called The Animals took a traditional folk song called The House Of The Rising Sun and gave it this mesmerizing psychedelic sound and performance that fits the subject matter, which is about everything going wrong in one person’s life when they go to New Orleans. The Beatles might have been the number one band at the time, but don’t count out The Animals because they got some legit hits under their belt.
It’s the song that started a very long, successful career. Mariah Carey started her decade-long dominance in 1990 with Vision Of Love, which showed off what made her a star in the first place. The writing is your standard love song, but I believe the emotions behind every second. Mariah has the voice that works for these big ballads, being able to hit notes that few singers could ever accomplish. Vision Of Love would be the first of 19 number one singles throughout this woman’s career.
It’s been a few years since Bruno Mars released any new music. While I am waiting to see what he does next, I doubt anything will top Uptown Funk, his collaboration with producer Mark Ronson that lives upon its 80s funk influences in terms of grooves, musicality, and a corny-yet-charming swagger that’s full of infectious confidence. Like with Blinding Lights, Uptown Funk is a modern-day classic that will be in constant rotation decades from now. Don’t believe me, just watch.
But if you want something from the actual 80s decade, there’s a lot of choices to pick from, but you can’t go wrong with Prince. When Doves Cry is one of the more unconventional number one hits of the time since it has no bass line. But the musicality of the track and the arrangement of synths and guitars make up for it and winds up being another highlight from the excellent Purple Rain album.
Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Elton John, and other music giants have sung high praises for it. Something (the song) has become one of the most beloved Beatles tracks in their catalog and, yeah, George Harrison really outdid himself when he wrote this one. From the soaring arrangement of the music to the writing that reflects a love unlike any other. Not bad for the quiet Beatle.
But going back to the 80s, Daryl Hall & John Oates represented the blue-eyed soul side of pop music with I Can’t Go For That. Musically, the song is a masterpiece thanks to the funky bass line that would influence another number one song coming later, the glimmering keys, and the saxophone solo that’s pretty much a staple for the 80s. Great stuff overall.
Before Boyz II Men, there was the Temptations, who were generating nonstop WAPs with their harmonies back in the 60s. My Girl is a perfect romantic song about that lovely woman in your life who makes things better with their presence. David Ruffin is the star of the show as he leads the vocals, but all the members put in work to make one of Motown’s greatest hits ever. Not many songs can capture the feeling of sunshine on a cloudy day.
It was one of the biggest songs of the 90s to the point where it topped 1995’s Year End chart. Coolio, along with L.V., made one of the most chilling songs in Gangsta’s Paradise, which shows the dark side of living in the ghetto and the torment it has on a young person living there. The way the Stevie Wonder sample was flipped here was genius as it gives the track this eerie vibe, especially in the chorus. Don’t sleep on Coolio because he was that dude for a moment.
Sledgehammer is Peter Gabriel at his peak during his solo career. Great funky production that’s great to dance to and owes a lot to soul music, plus Gabriel at his most charming as he tries to be sexy to a lady he likes, but comes off as a bit of a dork. It shouldn’t work, but that charm helps a lot. Let’s also not forget that it has one of the most creative music videos to come out of the 80s and it’s mainly the reason why the song was a success. It’s still a great song with and without the video.
Guns N’ Roses were an oasis in a late 80s desert of overly-polished hair metal and power ballads. They hit it big with songs like Sweet Child O’ Mine, which has the elements that will satisfy any hard rock lover, from Slash’s guitar work to Axl Rose’ high-octane performance. It also works as a love song as you can feel the emotion behind every line Axl sings. Like I said in the past, what more can a girl ask for more than a romantic song that rocks this hard?
After getting out of jail, Tupac signed to Death Row Records and gave us the hip-hop California anthem for all time in California Love. Big bouncing production from Dr. Dre and the presence of Zapp’s Roger Troutman makes for a G-funk banger that the Golden State can be proud of and a staple for sporting events. Take it from a California resident, this song is perfect for our state.
While we’re on the subject of deceased rappers from the 90s, Biggie Smalls got two number one hits after his death, Mo Money Mo Problems and Hypnotize. I’m not a huge fan of the former track, but I love the hell out of the latter with its funky, bass-heavy beat and Biggie flowing like a river effortlessly. It’s an example of Biggie at his best and it’s a shame that he didn’t live long enough to see this success.
Normally, a song by a bunch of white guys called Africa would be an eyebrow raiser, but with glimmering, intimate production and one hell of a chorus that demands singing along to, Toto managed to make an 80s pop staple that would stand the test of time decades later. Forget that awful Weezer cover or that shitty Pitbull song that sampled it for the Aquaman movie, THIS is the only version of Africa that you need to listen to.
When you’re DJing a party in the hood, this is one song that needs to be playing. Montell Jordan made a block party staple with This Is How We Do It with the way it flipped Slick Rick’s Children’s Story into a new jack swing banger that slaps in the whip, along with lyrics about having a good time with no drama. That’s something we should all want outside of work and/or school.
It was the last song to top the charts in the 90s and the first for the 2000s. Santana linked up with Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas for Smooth, a song that’s earned its title because this song is smooth as hell. Every musical component in the song fits to a tee, especially the guitar work from Carlos Santana, and Rob Thomas sounds great in his best performance outside of Matchbox Twenty. There’s a reason this song is so beloved by pretty much everyone who hears it.
Another example of Stevie Wonder’s talents is the track Superstition, which revolves around, well, superstitions. But the real highlights of the song, of course, is Stevie Wonder himself, who sounds great, and the funky production, which has some great horns and is lead by a prominent clavinet riff. Chalk this up as another classic from the man himself, who lives up to the wonder of his name.
When the Beach Boys started, they were titans of the surf rock sound straight made for the beaches of California. Then, they got more experimental with songs like Good Vibrations, where they played with more unconventional song structures and it was a successful experiment. There’s not a single dull moment in this song as each part of the song transitions through each switch-up smoothly. This song, plus Pet Sounds, solidified the Beach Boys as legends of the industry.
Going to the 21st century, OutKast released Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, which became a smash success thanks to two songs. One of them is Speakerboxxx’s The Way You Move, which combines a booming 808 beat and Big Boi’s smooth flows with the soulful horns and Sleepy Brown’s velvety vocals to make for a hip-hop/R&B classic of the modern era. But we’re not done with OutKast just yet.
From The Love Below comes Hey Ya!, which is one of those songs that pretty much defines the 2000s by not sounding like anything else at the time. The music is a mixture of 60s acoustic strumming with the bass and keys of a lot of funk music where Andre 3000 sings and does a call-and-response section like it’s a live performance. It’s also extremely catchy, not just in the chorus, but in that every line is memorable. This song was tailor-made to be a hit and I’m glad it did.
In 2008, Coldplay put out their first and only number one hit with Viva La Vida. Very few songs of its time are able to match the grand opulence of the baroque production and content that depicts the downfall of a leader. It’s not just one of my favorite Coldplay songs, but it’s also one I would consider to be their magnum opus that they have yet to recreate afterwards.
If you’re gonna go on a killing spree (don’t do that, on a serious note), you might as well do it in style and have one kickass soundtrack to do it. So it was only right that Queen gives us Another One Bites The Dust with its stick bassline and disco-like drum beat, plus a performance from Freddie Mercury that Michael Jackson might have been taking notes on. Being a bad guy never felt this good before.
Y’all know how much I love TLC, so imagine how hard it was for me to pick a number one from them to make the list. Waterfalls wound up as the winner due to its watery production, its impactful social message within the content, and the performance from all the girls, especially Left Eye, who delivers a great verse on the bridge. Her loss is immensely tragic and her presence to the world is sorely missed. At least we still have this great music to remember her for.
It’s one of the most British songs that The Beatles ever made, which makes sense since aside from them being British, Penny Lane is named after a street in Liverpool and focuses on the people and sights of the area. There’s also the more eclectic production with key changes and tonal switches that signified the Beatles’ later style when they got more experimental. Not bad for four dorky-looking British dudes.
Adele was one the highlights of the 2010s, which was still trying to shake off the excess of the club boom in the early years, as she became one of the decade’s most popular artists. It was all kicked off by Rolling In The Deep, which is a monster of a track thanks to Adele’s powerhouse vocals and the stomping, gospel-esque production that’s guaranteed to get people moving. This is another one of those songs that will define the 2010s decade years from now and will last the test of time.
It’s seen a million covers and more, but Someone Like You is a song that could never be fully recreated. This piano ballad leaves room for Adele to flex her vocal muscles and to take all of us on the feels train as she gets over a bad breakup. There’s also a level of maturity that elevates it above most breakup songs that realizes it’s time to move on, even if those feelings were still there. We did not deserve Adele one bit.
Let’s Go Crazy took on a whole new meaning after Prince’s passing. The intro plays off like a funeral thanks to the organ and Prince delivering a eulogy before kicking right into a crazy (pun intended) rave of synths, drum machines, and guitar solos that just shreds. I view this as a celebration of life and to cherish what you have before it’s all gone and I think that’s what Prince would have wanted us to do, celebrate his contributions to the world and to be grateful with what we have.
If you were to look up the definition of an 80s song, Take On Me by a-ha should be an example because it’s a great representation of the 80s. It has the bright glittery synths, the inhuman falsetto in the chorus, and a memorable music video. This song perfected the synthpop formula that was widespread through the decade and other artists would try to recapture years later.
I believe that Pink Floyd’s The Wall is one of the greatest musical achievements of the 20th century for many reasons. The way it’s composed and how it tells its story is amazing. Just as amazing is that one of the songs from the album not only managed to become a hit, but it shot straight to number one. Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2 is a haunting critique against the authoritarian nature of harsh schooling practices that features a disco-like beat and a prominent children’s choir to send the message home. Hey, teacher. Leave those kids alone.
It’s very rare that you hear the first few seconds of a song and realize that it’s going to be a smash. I think everyone agreed on that when they heard Yeah. It has three guys who were at their career peak in 2004: Usher had released has released the diamond-selling Confessions album, Lil Jon was the go-to producer for hits as he laced this track with another one of his signature energetic crunk beat, and Ludacris was riding a career high as this feature was another one of his major accomplishments. Yeah is one of the more universally-beloved 2000s hits that has earned its success and status as a 21st century classic. Peace up, A-Town down.
Lauryn Hill is a great example of wasted talent. Her album The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill was a huge success in R&B and hip-hop and it won massive acclaim and accolades. Then, she just sabotaged her own career to the point where it’s pointless to look forward to another album from her. Anyways, Doo Wop (That Thing). The music of this track combines the soul and grace of R&B with the street grit and edge of hip-hop as Lauryn Hill warns both men and women about the dangers of temptation, material-wise and sexually. I appreciate the fact that the song speaks to both genders to avoid favoritism. We won’t see any new music from Lauryn in a while, but let’s appreciate what she gave us.
Before the memes and before Disturbed covered it, The Sound Of Silence was one of Simon & Garfunkel’s signature hits and it’s one of their best. It’s the ultimate anthem of loneliness as it describes the feeling of being lonely and not having a lot of contact with other people. Both versions of this song that the group recorded capture that intimate, closed-off vibe. The content of the song hits WAY differently now considering current events that have occurred in the past year. Seems Simon & Garfunkel were a bit ahead of the time, intentionally or not.
And now for a modern rap classic. Ms. Jackson is both Big Boi and Andre 3000 trying to make things right with their baby mama’s mamas (mama’s mamas?), inspired by Andre’s relationship with Erykah Badu. Their relationship with the mother of their child has been a rocky one and that reflects the relationship with that mother’s mother. You can hear the frustration as both men are trying to resolve the conflict in their own different ways for the good of the child. Along with this is the production, which leans into that soulful Brothers Johnson sample. Ms. Jackson, another staple of the OutKast catalog.
You can always count on Earth, Wind & Fire to deliver the perfect soundtrack for any family get-together. They have several classics under their belt and their highest charting single is Shining Star. The grooves are full of infectious funk thanks to the keys, guitar riffs, and horns section. Maurice White and Phillip Bailey managed to capture the energy of the grooves with their performances as they exude uplifting vibes. The message of the song is simple, there’s a shining star in all of us, you just have to let it out some way.
Some songs were just tailor-made to be performed at big concerts and events. Bon Jovi managed to make the ultimate arena showstopper in the 80s with Livin’ On A Prayer, which is considered to be one of the best rock songs of all time. It has that arena rock sound with the big drums, shredding guitars, and a prominent talk box along with one of the most infectious choruses that I dare anyone not to sing along to. It also has a universal appeal in its content, which focuses on a working class couple struggling to stay together and make things work out. What else is there to say? It’s a great song.
Leave it to Marshall Mathers to make the 21st century equivalent to the Rocky theme. Straight out of 8 Mile (the movie loosely based on Eminem’s life), Lose Yourself is the ultimate workout montage song that will get you pumped for any big event, whether it’d be a sporting event, speech, presentation, etc. It’s about capturing that once-in-a-lifetime moment, not letting it go, and making the best out of said moment. This is matched by the production and Eminem’s flow, which amps up the track and builds to an explosive chorus. Em might be past his prime and is barely making good music now, but he will always have songs like these that show what he’s capable of.
When Eddie Van Halen died, I thought about all of the work he’s done throughout his career. Not just with Van Halen, but his contributions to other artists songs, including his biggest gig in doing the guitar solo for Michael Jackson’s Beat It. This song was Michael dipping his toes into making something with a rock sound and he knocked it out the park because it kicked ass. The music packs one hell of a punch and Michael shows a more badass side to his catalog where he sounds like he’s ready to fight someone despite the content of the song discouraging that. It was also the song that broke the color barrier of MTV as they were mainly playing songs from white artists and not a lot from black artists. And as you would expect, it’s not the only Michael song to make the list.
Say what you will about Michael Jackson and what he might have done in his personal life, there’s no denying that the man is a musical genius. He put out two albums in the 80s that changed the music landscape forever. From Thriller, we have Billie Jean, which might be one of the best produced songs of the 80s decade with its slick post-disco sound that manages to sound both timely and timeless at the same time. In the song, Michael muses about girl problems, especially those who claim that he has a child by them, which he then denies. I view Billie Jean as pop music at its peak quality, which isn’t changing any time soon. So which two songs are better than it?
Otis Redding is another great talent who tragically never saw the fruits of his success due to his death in a plane crash. (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay was one of the last songs Otis worked on while he was alive showed the immense talent and potential star power he had. The music is chill and laidback like you’re chilling at home with a cup of coffee. Otis gives such a passionate performance that matches the relaxing vibes of the music as it perfectly captures the scenario of someone sitting at a bay, capped off by the whistling that fits like a glove. This type of soul is unmatched by anyone and his voice was severely needed. Now let’s move on to number one.
Look, I stopped caring about being predictable long ago. Of course, this was going to top my list. Georgia On My Mind was a 1930s song that saw its biggest success 30 years later when Ray Charles covered it and turned it into a masterpiece. The big orchestral swells and the immaculate piano playing makes for one of the most satisfying listening experiences for a song released in the early 60s, which is a big feat considering that time period was awful for popular music. Ray Charles injected this song with soul and passion for what would become the official Georgia state anthem. This song has gained more prominence in the aftermath of both the presidential and Senate elections as Georgia was one of the key states that swung the results and gave most Americans (and others) the feeling of euphoria like a huge amount of weight was lifted off their shoulders. Georgia On My Mind is one of the few popular songs in history that’s the closest to perfection and that, plus other reasons, is why it’s the best number one song of all time.
And those were the best songs that hit number one on the Hot 100. And thus, this chapter of my life comes to a close as another begins, one that I hope y’all will be involved in. To quote the late Casey Kasem: keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.
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