Pitch Perfect: The Best Selling Singles in Music History
Music is significant in almost all our lives, no matter where you live or which type of sound you like best. It helps us process our emotions and has sometimes inspired major cultural revolutions. But only a few songs manage to obliterate every boundary and land a coveted spot as one of the best selling singles of all time.
Some of the top songs are surprisingly one-hit wonders; others were made famous by some of the industryâs biggest music icons. They all made music history during the last 100 years. From pop wild child singers like Miley Cyrus and Kesha to extremely catchy Christmas songs, some of the best selling singles in the entire world just might surprise you.
30. âKung Fu Fightingâ - 11 Million Units
Letâs start things off with one of the silliest old-school songs that everyone knows. (Admit it â you know you do!) Kung Fu Fighting is an absolute icon in the music world. Although it turned out to be a one-hit-wonder sung by Carl Douglas, it is without a doubt one of the most successful (and fun) hits of all time.
The song was created in just 10 minutes and wasnât taken seriously by anyone â even the creator of the funky melody. For the first few weeks after its release, no one cared about the song. However, it eventually took off in dance clubs â and the rest is history.
29. âBelieveâ - 11 Million Units
The one and only Cher has been making music since the â60s. She first rose to mega-popularity when she made a duet with her then-husband, Sonny Bono, called "I Got You Babe." Cher had numerous hit songs over the years, but the biggest by far was the catchy "Believe," which has sold more than 11 million units (2020).
The album of the same name also launched the start of the "Cher-effect," as it was one of the first projects to use the infamous Auto-Tune. Over the years, Cher became well known in the pop world and remains a household name today. Let's be honest, everyone has at least heard "Believe."
28. âDo They Know Itâs Christmas?â - 11.7 Million Units
Itâs no surprise that some of the best selling singles on this list include Christmas songs that have managed to earn the "timeless" title. Band Aid was a charity supergroup created with the intention of raising money for starving people in Ethiopia.
The song became one of the fastest selling singles in the U.K. And the best part? Every time it is played on the radio, the income still goes to the charities supported by the band. The song's creators also support any re-recordings, as all their proceeds still go to charity. That was the main goal behind the song in the first place, and it has been hugely successful.
27. âY.M.C.Aâ - 12 Million Units
If thereâs a song that deserves the crown for being a timeless song with iconic choreography, it is definitely "Y.M.C.A" by Village People. The tune quickly became an anthem among the LGBT community. Although the lyrics themselves don't explicitly say so, its creators say it was definitely written for gay people.
Featuring unique costumes and play-along roles, the songâs music video showcases the iconic choreography that is known around the world. No one is surprised "Y.M.C.A" has sold as many units as it has â the song is eternally catchy and fun!
26. âTime to Say Goodbyeâ - 12 Million Units
Although Andrea Bocelli sold more than 150 million records on his own, the world-famous tenorâs song with Sarah Brightman remains one of the most popular singles of all time. It has sold more than 12 million copies and is considered one of the most beautiful songs in the Italian language.
The song sounds absolutely stunning in its own language, but once translated, the lyrics arenât quite as smooth. Suddenly things become much less poetic. Some things are simply better left alone. The song was actually written for popular boxer Henry Maske and was performed at his final fight.
25. âI Want to Hold Your Handâ - 12 Million Units
Released in 1963, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" started off with an impressive pre-order of 1 million units at a time when "pre-order" still wasnât really much of a thing. Of course, The Beatles were in their prime and had already made a splash with their previous top-selling singles.
The group sought to create a song that would make them a hit name in the U.S., and they definitely succeeded. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was their international ticket to fame, allowing The Beatles to expand past the British borders. It was later revealed that the song was completed in 17 takes.
24. âRudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeerâ - 12.5 Million Units
Hereâs another popular Christmas song that made the cut! Selling more than 12 million units over time, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was an immediate hit after its release. Invoking a sense of nostalgia with adults, the song was also adored by children who were excited by the Christmas spirit.
The song remains popular to this day, with many artists, including Destinyâs Child and The Supremes, covering it over the years. The lyrics "all of the other reindeer" have been misheard as "Olive, the other reindeer" so frequently that the phrase was used to create a book series and a television Christmas special called "Olive, the Other Reindeer."
23. âDa Da Daâ - 13 Million Units
The German band Trio released an unlikely hit that managed to sell more than 30 million units in Germany and 30 other countries. The official English version of the song translates to "Da Da Da, I don't love you, you don't love me." Itâs simple, itâs fun, and itâs easy to learn.
The band described their music as New German Cheerfulness, and by the sound of it, they were definitely right. Unfortunately, the group split in 1987, but the legacy of "Da Da Da" forever lives on as one of the top 30 best selling singles in music history.
22. âSukiyakiâ - 13 Million Units
"Sukiyaki" by Kyu Sakamoto is the only Japanese song on this list. It has an alternative title of "I Look Up as I Walk," and the lyrics focus on a man who looks up to the sky in order to not cry. The original "Sukiyaki" title directly translates to a Japanese hot-pot dish with cooked beef.
The song rose to popularity in the â60s and has sold more than 13 million units around the world. Itâs now an important part of history and was one of the first pieces of music to be played by NASA for its astronauts in space.
21. âSweet Motherâ - 13 Million Units
Voted as Africaâs favorite song to this day, "Sweet Mother" is a happy-go-lucky tune featuring a celebration of motherhood. Itâs often referred to as Africaâs unofficial anthem. Although the flamboyant Prince Nico Mbarga failed to repeat his "Sweet Mother" success with his later music, the single became a huge influence in African culture and is still appreciated by many communities to this day.
Eventually, Mbarga left music to pursue his other passions. He passed away in a motorcycle accident in 1997, leaving behind one of the biggest legacies in African popular music.
20. âWe Canât Stopâ - 14 Million Units
"We Canât Stop" is definitely one of Miley Cyrusâ most controversial tracks. It featured her in a brand new light, officially grown out of her Hannah Montana role. The song was a dedication to Cyrusâ strong fanbase, who never stopped believing in her over the years through every up and down.
Cyrus says that the drug references are definitely meant for her adult fanbase. The misheard lyrics of "Miley" versus "Molly" can also be interpreted in both ways, depending on the age of the listener. The popular song introduced a brand new Miley Cyrus era and was also accompanied by a shock-value music video.
19. âI Will Surviveâ - 14 Million Units
If thereâs a number one karaoke anthem out there, it is definitely "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor. Itâs no wonder that this timeless tune has sold more than 14 million units across decades. The ultimate disco anthem quickly became one of the most empowering songs ever written. Itâs about moving on from a bad relationship â with attitude!
The single was first regarded as a B-side track, otherwise known as the less important song on the record, but Gaynorâs vocals and empowering lyrics soon took over the world. "I Will Survive" has been covered by countless amazing vocalists, including Charice Pempengco (Jake Zyrus), Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin.
18. âWind of Changeâ - 15 Million Units
"Wind of Change" is an important historical song, serving as the soundtrack to political revolution as the anthem to the end of the Cold War. The song immediately rose to popularity, selling more than 15 million units since its release. It eventually became one of the best selling singles of all time and has been re-recorded in other languages.
The band formed in 1965, but the Scorpions still perform to this day. They have released an impressive 18 albums. Although "Wind of Change" remains their biggest success, itâs definitely not their only hit. Remember "Love at First Sting" and "No One Like You?"
17. âYouâre the One That I Wantâ - 15 Million Units
When you think about a karaoke duo song, "Youâre the One That I Want" by Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta probably comes to mind. The energetic single was popularized by Grease, the movie version of the hit musical, and the song soon became known all over the world.
Although Newton-John was reportedly nervous about playing her role in the movie, it instantly catapulted her into stardom. On top of "Youâre the One That I Want," the pair also basked in the success of "Summer Nights." However, it didn't sell nearly as many copies as this signature song.
16. â(Everything I Do) I Do It for Youâ - 15 Million Units
When it comes to ballads, Bryan Adams definitely knows how to crank out some tunes with enduring appeal. One of his most popular songs of all time is "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You." Adams revealed that it took the team 45 minutes to create the song, and they instantly knew it was going to be a huge hit.
He said that a feeling like that only happened a few times during his career. The song first appeared on the soundtrack of the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner, and it soon became one of the best selling ballads ever.
15. âWrecking Ballâ - 16 Million Units
"Wrecking Ball" was an instant success for Miley Cyrus. Although the song was originally meant for BeyoncĂ©, Cyrus certainly managed to give the song stunning and raw emotions. She was reportedly going through a breakup at the time it was recorded. The surprising love song was extremely relatable and became one of Cyrusâ best selling singles, although she famously has more than one song on this list.
Accompanied by a controversial video that raised quite a few eyebrows among parents, it was yet another song that marked a brand new Cyrus era and separated her from her Hannah Montana image. Fans had to accept that Cyrus had officially grown up.
14. âAll I Want for Christmas Is Youâ - 16 Million Units
Ah, an instant timeless Christmas classic â "All I Want for Christmas Is You" only took 15 minutes to compose. The iconic Christmas song was written by Carey and her writing partner, Walter Afanasieff. She believed she managed to completely capture the essence of Christmas, and millions of fans agree she was right.
Although her label was worried that putting out a holiday album wouldnât be good for her career, the public proved everyone wrong. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" manages to get back on the charts every single year around Christmas time.
13. âTik Tokâ - 16 Million Units
Before there was the app TikTok, there was Keshaâs song "Tik Tok," her very first single and an instant success. It launched her career and her ultimate pop wild child image. The song was inspired by Keshaâs hippy lifestyle. Do you remember the lyrics "Wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy?" Exactly!
Diddyâs actually a part of the song, saying "Hey, what up girl." The songâs rise to fame also crowned Kesha as the first female vocalist to have a number one debut single on the Billboard Hot 100. Itâs still her best selling single to date.
12. âParty in the USAâ - 17 Million Units
Is it starting to feel like Miley Cyrus is hogging the list? Letâs see if you can guess how many Miley Cyrus songs are on the list in total. Okay, so, "Party in the USA" might be her most successful song to date, but itâs obviously not her only huge selling record. This one is particularly notable, because it was Cyrusâ lead single from her first-ever album.
The song had to be released earlier than planned due to potential demo leak threats, but it didnât matter. Fans were so curious to hear Cyrus outside of Hannah Montana, that "Party in the USA" became an instant hit. She revealed that she didnât write the song, and she never expected the song to be that huge.
11. âMy Heart Will Go Onâ - 18 Million Units
This beautiful ballad comes with an instant association â Titanic. The truth is none of the professionals were fans of the song â not Dion, not the director of the movie, no one. Yet the song became an instant hit with viewers and is now completely synonymous with Titanic.
It also appeared on a Dion album, which helped get it to the number one spot in several countries. Many believe "My Heart Will Go On" contributed to the overall success of the movie, proving everyone wrong. Itâs often crowned as the best movie song of all time.
10. âYes, Sir, I Can Boogieâ - 18 Million Units
Not many songs from the â70s managed to take off with as much force as "Yes, Sir, I Can Boogie." A total European hit, this is what every boomer was vibing to back in the day. It really does make you want to get up and boogie! Baccara was the very first duo to ever achieve a number one song on the U.K. charts.
The bandâs rise to fame allowed them to compete in the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest, which is basically Europeâs musical Olympics for original songs. However, "Yes, Sir, I can Boogie" remains Baccaraâs greatest success.
9. âIf I Didn't Careâ - 19 Million Units
Weâre taking it way back to the â30s with this one. This true melodic classic will have you swaying and closing your eyes. It was The Ink Spotâs only huge hit, and it focused on some dark times in the music industry's history.
Reportedly, each member was only paid $37.50 for recording the song. However, the contract was later destroyed by the studio, which meant the group could finally profit from one of the music world's biggest hits. The band officially disbanded in 1954, leaving behind a true legacy that shaped the world of music.
8. âItâs Now or Neverâ - 20 Million Units
Although many people can list plenty of Elvis Presley songs, some of them may not realize which of his songs was his best selling gem. This classic features the same melody as the Italian favorite "O Sole Mio." Presley first heard the song when he was still in the U.S. Army in Europe. As soon as he was discharged, he asked his record company to translate the song.
Presleyâs version was a huge influence for Barry White, who first heard the song while he was still in prison. Priscilla Presley claimed that "Itâs Now or Never" remained Elvis Presleyâs favorite of his own songs as well.
7. âI Will Always Love Youâ - 20 Million Units
Very few have the chops to sing "I Will Always Love You" as well as Whitney Houston. Many have tried, and many have failed. This timeless classic is full of emotion and incredibly complicated vocals.
Written by Dolly Parton, "I Will Always Love You" was personally picked by Kevin Costner for the soundtrack of the movie The Bodyguard starring Houston herself. The original version of the song â sung by Parton â had more of a country sound. It was turned into the emotional ballad we all know and love by Houston. The rest is musical history.
6. âWe Are the Worldâ - 20 Million Units
Created and recorded to support African victims of famine, "We Are the World" was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. The song was inspired by Band Aidâs success with "Do They Know Itâs Christmas." Not only did "We Are the World" replicate that success, it far surpassed it!
The song was recorded on the night of the 1985 American Music Awards. All the featured artists were asked to leave their egos at the door during the recording. Interestingly, Prince was asked to join, but he refused due to his policy of not collaborating with other acts.
5. âRock Around the Clockâ - 25 Million Units
This is the anthem that gets every boomer up and dancing. The fast-paced tune first hit the airwaves in 1953 and was the first rock song to stay on the charts. At that time, using the term "rock and roll" was unheard of in the music scene. The meaning has changed since then, of course, as you really wouldn't call this rock music today.
Bill Haley & His Comets added a unique country twist, which turned "Rock Around the Clock" into an instant success. The song was the U.K.âs biggest-selling single in the â50s, and it remains one of the biggest selling singles of all time.
4. âIn the Summertimeâ - 30 Million Units
If thereâs a summer anthem that remains a true classic, itâs definitely Mungo Jerryâs "In the Summertime." Featured on plenty of soundtracks, this is the ultimate feel-good summer song. Written by the groupâs lead singer â yes, Mungo Jerry is a band â the song was inspired by typical American beach movies.
It doesnât feature a chorus, but it does have a catchy melody thatâs all about celebrating life. It pops back up on the charts every summer and remains one of the top-selling singles in the world. Only three other songs have managed to beat its impressive number of sales.
3. âSilent Nightâ - 30 Million Units
While "In the Summertime" is a dance tune, "Silent Night" is the exact opposite. Written in 1918, it was performed for the first time by Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber. It remains one of the most popular Christmas carols of all time and has been translated into more than 300 languages.
The song was popularized by Bing Crosby in the â30s and has sold more than 30 million units around the world. It has many different musical interpretations. In fact, you can listen to more than 26,000 different versions and covers of Silent Night!
2. âCandle in the Windâ - 30 Million Units
Known now as the anthem to Princess Dianaâs life and death, Elton Johnâs re-released "Candle in the Wind" instantly became a timeless classic. Selling more than 30 million units, the song talks about a promising life that ended way too early.
Originally released in 1973, the song was first written as a tribute to another fallen star, Marilyn Monroe. When Princess Diana tragically died in a car accident in 1997, the entire world froze at the loss of the "Peopleâs Princess." Elton John was stunned and knew that he had to dedicate a revamped version of the song to the beloved princess.
1. âWhite Christmasâ - 50 Million Units
Is there really any surprise that the best selling single of all time is a Christmas song? Bing Crosby was fortunate enough to have two of his popular Christmas classics set sales records in the music world.
"White Christmas," first released in 1942 as part of the Holiday Inn movie soundtrack, is an absolute timeless classic. The song is simple, featuring only eight lines, but it captures the beautiful longing for a snow-filled Christmas. Many have tried to beat Crosby's impressive record, but as of 2020, they have all failed. This really proves that nothing can beat Christmas nostalgia!