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 industry’s 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. “Kung Fu Fighting” - 11 Million Units
Let’s start things off with one of the silliest old-school songs that everyone knows. (Admit it — 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.
29. “Believe” - 11 Million Units
The one and only Cher has been making music since the ‘60s. 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).
28. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” - 11.7 Million Units
It’s 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.
27. “Y.M.C.A” - 12 Million Units
If there’s 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.
26. “Time to Say Goodbye” - 12 Million Units
Although Andrea Bocelli sold more than 150 million records on his own, the world-famous tenor’s 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.
25. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” - 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 wasn’t 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.
24. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” - 12.5 Million Units
Here’s 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.
23. “Da Da Da” - 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." It’s simple, it’s fun, and it’s easy to learn.
22. “Sukiyaki” - 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.
21. “Sweet Mother” - 13 Million Units
Voted as Africa’s favorite song to this day, "Sweet Mother" is a happy-go-lucky tune featuring a celebration of motherhood. It’s often referred to as Africa’s 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.
20. “We Can’t Stop” - 14 Million Units
"We Can’t Stop" is definitely one of Miley Cyrus’ 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 Cyrus’ strong fanbase, who never stopped believing in her over the years through every up and down.
19. “I Will Survive” - 14 Million Units
If there’s a number one karaoke anthem out there, it is definitely "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor. It’s 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. It’s about moving on from a bad relationship — with attitude!
18. “Wind of Change” - 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.
17. “You’re the One That I Want” - 15 Million Units
When you think about a karaoke duo song, "You’re 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.
16. “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” - 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.
15. “Wrecking Ball” - 16 Million Units
"Wrecking Ball" was an instant success for Miley Cyrus. Although the song was originally meant for Beyoncé, 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 Cyrus’ best selling singles, although she famously has more than one song on this list.
14. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” - 16 Million Units
Ah, an instant timeless Christmas classic — "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.
13. “Tik Tok” - 16 Million Units
Before there was the app TikTok, there was Kesha’s 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 Kesha’s hippy lifestyle. Do you remember the lyrics "Wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy?" Exactly!
12. “Party in the USA” - 17 Million Units
Is it starting to feel like Miley Cyrus is hogging the list? Let’s 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 it’s obviously not her only huge selling record. This one is particularly notable, because it was Cyrus’ lead single from her first-ever album.
11. “My Heart Will Go On” - 18 Million Units
This beautiful ballad comes with an instant association — Titanic. The truth is none of the professionals were fans of the song — 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.
10. “Yes, Sir, I Can Boogie” - 18 Million Units
Not many songs from the ‘70s 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.
9. “If I Didn't Care” - 19 Million Units
We’re taking it way back to the ‘30s with this one. This true melodic classic will have you swaying and closing your eyes. It was The Ink Spot’s only huge hit, and it focused on some dark times in the music industry's history.
8. “It’s Now or Never” - 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.
7. “I Will Always Love You” - 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.
6. “We Are the World” - 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 Aid’s success with "Do They Know It’s Christmas." Not only did "We Are the World" replicate that success, it far surpassed it!
5. “Rock Around the Clock” - 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.
4. “In the Summertime” - 30 Million Units
If there’s a summer anthem that remains a true classic, it’s definitely Mungo Jerry’s "In the Summertime." Featured on plenty of soundtracks, this is the ultimate feel-good summer song. Written by the group’s lead singer — yes, Mungo Jerry is a band — the song was inspired by typical American beach movies.
3. “Silent Night” - 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.
2. “Candle in the Wind” - 30 Million Units
Known now as the anthem to Princess Diana’s life and death, Elton John’s 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.
1. “White Christmas” - 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.