Songs are the soundtrack of our lives. A song can evoke a romance that ended with wedding bells or a broken heart, or call to mind a high school summer or an entire era. If you heard The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” for what seemed like a million times last year, for instance — and it was that ubiquitous — you’ll probably forever associate it with the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are other songs that you might not have heard for a decade or more but whose lyrics you still remember. There are songs, both old and new, that become so-called earworms that get stuck in your head — you keep hearing them and/or singing them to yourself whether you want to or not.
24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of the two most popular songs every year since 1970, based on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Some were hits so long ago that many of today’s listeners might never have heard them — for instance, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” or “Rhinestone Cowboy.” (For a musical history lesson, seethe most popular song the year you were born.)
Others became timeless classics. Even if you were born decades after the movie “Saturday Night Fever” opened, you’ll probably recognize the opening bars of “Stayin’ Alive” right away. And it wasn’t even the most popular song in 1978 — that honor was claimed by “Hot Child In The City.” (These are the 50 absolute best songs from the movies.)
Some of the more recent songs on our list are still getting plenty of airplay. Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep,” the most popular song of 2011, still gets played today. So do more recent mega-hits like “Happy” by Pharrell Williams (2014) and “Uptown Funk!” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars (2015). And of course there’s “Levitating” by Dua Lipa and DaBaby, the No. 1 hit of 2021 thus far — another song that some of us might long associate with these difficult times.
To determine the most popular song every year since 1970, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data from the Billboard Hot 100 record chart, which has been the industry standard for measuring a song’s popularity since its inception in 1958. While the methodology has changed over the years, the current Hot 100 is computed based on radio airplay, retail and digital sales, and online streaming activity in the U.S.
To compile our list, we ranked the performance of a song within the year given, based on a custom score composed of its time spent and position on the Hot 100, with a week at No. 100 being worth one point, a week at No. 99 two points, and so on, up to a week at No. 1 worth 100 points. Any chart time spent by a song outside of the given year, either from consecutive years or a return to the charts years later, was excluded from the score.