Slightly more than half of the best songs on our list were released during the 1960s, a period of great talent and creativity in popular music. While rock music may have been the dominant genre of the decade, our list includes soul, folk, and pop songs from the 1960s as well, featuring prolific hitmakers like the recently passed Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul.
Many of these older songs have had more time, and therefore opportunities, to be covered or recorded by other artists – a key metric in our ranking. Eighteen of the 100 best songs have been covered or adapted over 200 times, and all but four of those 18 were released in the 1960s. Those four outliers were all released during the early 1970s.
Some performers, such as Michael Jackson, one of the best-selling Grammy Award winners of all time, and Simon & Garfunkel, have multiple songs on the list. The most dominant group, by far, is the Beatles. The Fab Four wrote memorable songs like few other artists and have had more No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 than any other performer, with 20 hits. The consistent quality and creativity of the Beatles – largely driven by lead songwriters John Lennon and Paul McCartney – are the primary reasons for their lasting legacy as one of the 100 most popular bands of all time.
To determine the 100 absolute best songs in history, 24/7 Wall St. generated an index based on rankings on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, lifetime U.S. single sales, and the number of times a song has been covered or adapted. To be included, a song must appear on Ranker.com’s user-generated list of the best songs.
A band’s total certified U.S. single sales came from the Recording Industry Association of America and was given half weight in the index. The RIAA tracks album sales released in the American market with a threshold of 500,000 units sold. How well a song performed on the Billboard Hot 100 was determined by awarding points based on the number of weeks it was on the list and its rank for each week. This measure was given half weight in the index. A song’s peak position on the Billboard Hot 100 was also given a full weight in the index. Data on the estimated number of times a song has been covered was provided by SecondHandSongs and was given full weight in the index.
Novelty songs such as “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett & The Crypt Kickers were removed at 24/7 Wall St.’s discretion.