Bing Crosby ‘White Christmas’
Estimated sales 50m. Released 1942
“White Christmas” is a 1942 Irving Berlin song reminiscing about an old-fashioned Christmas setting. The version sung by Bing Crosby is the world’s best-selling single with estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies worldwide. He wrote it in 1940, in warm La Quinta, California, while staying at the La Quinta Hotel, a frequent Hollywood retreat also favored by writer-director-producer Frank Capra, although the Arizona Biltmore also claims the song was written there.
Elton John ‘Candle in the Wind 1997’
Estimated sales 33m. Released 1997
This new version by Bernie Taupin and Elton John of their 1973 song ‘Candle in the Wind’ was released on 13 September 1997 as a tribute single to Diana, Princess of Wales, with the global proceeds from the song going towards Diana’s charities. Produced by George Martin in many countries, it was pressed as a double A-side with ‘Something About the Way You Look Tonight’. The opening lines of the 1973 version, ‘Goodbye Norma Jean, though I never knew you at all,’ were adapted to ‘Goodbye England’s rose, may you ever grow in our hearts.’ Most of the lyrics were adapted to suit the circumstances of Diana’s life and death.
Mungo Jerry ‘In the Summertime’
Estimated sales 30m. Released 1970
“In the Summertime” is the debut single by British rock band Mungo Jerry. Written and composed by its lead singer, Ray Dorset, it celebrates the carefree days of summer. In 1970, it reached number one in charts around the world, including seven weeks on the UK Singles Chart, two weeks on one of the Canadian charts, and number three on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in the US. It became one of the best-selling singles of all-time, eventually selling 30 million copies.
Bing Crosby ‘Silent Night’
Estimated sales 30m. Released 1935
Composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr in the small town of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria, the song was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, Austria. ‘Silent Night’ has been recorded by many singers across many music genres. The version sung by Bing Crosby in 1935 is the fourth best-selling single of all-time.
Bill Haley & His Comets ‘Rock Around the Clock’
Estimated sales 25m. Released 1954
‘Rock Around the Clock’ is a rock and roll song in the 12-bar blues format written by Max C. Freedman and James E. Myers (the latter being under the pseudonym “Jimmy De Knight”) in 1952. The best-known and most successful rendition was recorded by Bill Haley & His Comets in 1954 for American Decca. It was a number one single on both the United States and United Kingdom charts and also reentered the UK Singles Chart in the 1960’s and 1970’s. This song is widely considered to be the song that, more than any other, brought rock and roll into mainstream culture around the world.
Whitney Houston ‘I Will Always Love You’
Estimated sales 20m. Released 1992
Originally written and recorded in 1973 by Dolly Parton, her country version was released in 1974. Houston recorded her version for the 1992 film The Bodyguard. It was her co-star Kevin Costner who suggested featuring the song in the film after introducing Houston to Linda Ronstadt’s 1975 version of the song. This single spent 14 weeks at number one making it one of the best-selling singles of all time. It also holds the record for being the best-selling single by a woman in music history.
Elvis Presley ‘It’s Now or Never’
Estimated sales 20m. Released 1960
In 1960, ‘It’s Now or Never’ was a number one record in the U.S. for Elvis Presley, spending five weeks at number one and the UK, where it spent eight weeks at the top in 1960 and an additional week at number one in 2005 as a re-issue, and numerous other countries, selling in excess of 25 million copies worldwide, Elvis Presley’s biggest international single ever. Its British release was delayed for some time because of rights issues, allowing the song to build up massive advance orders and to enter the UK Singles Chart at number one, a very rare occurrence at the time. “It’s Now or Never” peaked at number seven on the R&B charts.
USA for Africa ‘We Are the World’
Estimated sales 20m. Released 1985
The idea for the creation of an American benefit single for African famine relief came from activist Harry Belafonte following Band Aid’s 1984 ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ The charity single was recorded by the supergroup United Support of Artists (USA) for Africa and was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. The track features over 40 American stars including, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Daryl Hall, Bob Dylan and Diana Ross.
The Ink Spots ‘If I Didn’t Care’
Estimated sales 19m. Released 1939
American songwriter Jack Lawrence introduced the world to The Ink Spots when they recorded his song, ‘If I Didn’t Care’ in 1939. ‘If I Didn’t Care’ is the song playing on the radio during the opening of The Shawshank Redemption as Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sitting in his car with his gun contemplating his next steps to confront his wife and her lover. Lawrence later wrote a song titled ‘Linda’ for the then-five-year-old daughter of his attorney, Lee Eastman. Linda Eastman later became world famous as the first wife of Beatle Paul McCartney.
Baccara ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’
Estimated sales 18m. Released 1977
Baccara was composed of Spanish flamenco dancers Mayte Mateos and Maria Mendiola. They were discovered on the island of Fuerteventura by RCA Records executive Leon Deane who saw them dancing flamenco and singing traditional songs for tourists; he subsequently signed them to the label. A major hit across Europe ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’ became the duo’s sole number one single in the UK. It became the best-selling singles of all-time by a female group, eventually selling more than 18 million copies worldwide.
Celine Dion ‘My Heart Will Go On’
Estimated sales 18m. Released 1997
The main theme song to James Cameron’s blockbuster film Titanic, with worldwide sales estimated at 18 million copies, it became the second best-selling single by a female artist in history, (after ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Whitney Houston). When Celine Dion originally heard the song, she did not want to record it as she felt she was pushing her luck by singing another film theme song after Beauty and the Beast. Dion’s manager and husband René Angélil convinced her to sing on the demo version, Head of Sony Music Entertainment Tommy Mottola claimed that Dion recorded the song in one take, and that demo is what was released.
Mariah Carey ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’
Estimated sales 16m. Released 1994
‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ was the lead single from her fourth studio album and first holiday album, Merry Christmas (1994). The song has become the best-selling modern day Christmas song and has is the best selling Christmas single by a female artist. As of 2017, the song was reported to have earned Carey and her co-writer Brazilian-American musician Walter Afanasieff $60 million in royalties.
Bryan Adams ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It for You’
Estimated sales 15m. Released 1991
Featured on the soundtrack album from the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It for You’ spent seven weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and sixteen consecutive weeks at number one on the UK Singles Chart (the longest in British chart history). Bryan Adams has stated that the song took around 45 minutes to write.
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John ‘You’re the One That I Want’
Estimated sales 15m. Released 1978
‘You’re the One That I Want’ was one of the two singles, along with ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’, written by Australian producer and musician John Farrar specifically for Newton-John’s appearance in the 1978 film version of the musical Grease. The album Grease: The Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture has sold over 38 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best selling albums of all time, also ranking among the biggest selling soundtrack albums of all time.
Scorpions ‘Wind of Change’
Estimated sales 15m. Released 1991
This power ballad by the German rock band Scorpions holds the record for the best-selling single by a German group. It was released just after the failed coup that would eventually lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The song topped the charts in Germany and across Europe and peaked at number four in the United States and number two in the United Kingdom. In 1991 the band presented a gold record and $70,000 of royalties from the single to Mikhail Gorbachev the President of the Soviet Union (1990 to 1991).
Gloria Gaynor ‘I Will Survive’
Estimated sales 14m. Released 1978
American singer Gloria Gaynor is best known for the disco era hits ‘I Will Survive’, ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ and ‘I Am What I Am. ‘I Will Survive’ is also frequently recalled as a symbol of female strength and as a gay anthem. In 2016, the Library of Congress deemed Gaynor’s original recording to be ‘culturally, historically, or artistically significant’ and selected it for preservation in the National Recording Registry.
Prince Nico Mbarga ‘Sweet Mother’
Estimated sales 13m. Released 1976
Prince Nico Mbarga, was a highlife musician, born to a Nigerian mother and a Cameroonian father in Abakaliki, Nigeria. ‘Sweet Mother’ remains one of the most popular songs in Africa and was voted Africa’s favourite song by BBC readers and listeners in 2004. Prince Nico Mbarga was killed in a motorcycle accident on 24 June 1997.
Kyu Sakamoto ‘Sukiyaki’
Estimated sales 13m. Released 1963
This song by Japanese crooner Kyu Sakamoto, was first released in Japan in 1961. The song topped the charts in several countries, including the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963. Sukiyaki refers to a Japanese hot-pot dish with cooked beef, does not appear in the song’s lyrics, nor does it have any connection to them; it was used only because it was short, catchy, recognizably Japanese, and more familiar to English speakers. Sakamoto, along with 519 others on board the flight, was killed in the crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123 on 12 August 1985; the deadliest single-aircraft accident to date. His number one hit song had lyrics which translate to ‘Happiness lies beyond the clouds’ and ‘Happiness lies up above the sky’.
Trio ‘Da Da Da’
Estimated sales 13m. Released 1982
‘Da Da Da I Don’t Love You You Don’t Love Me Aha Aha Aha’ (usually shortened to ‘Da Da Da’) is a song by the German band Trio. The song became a hit in Germany and over 30 other countries, selling 13 million copies worldwide. The song gained further chart success in when it was featured in a US Volkswagen commercial.
Gene Autry ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’
Estimated sales 12.5. Released 1949
The song was first sung by crooner Harry Brannon on New York City radio in early November 1949, before Gene Autry’s recording hit number one in the US charts during Christmas 1949. The song was first suggested as a ‘B’ side for a record Autry was making and Autry rejected the song. His wife later convinced him to use it.
The Beatles ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’
Estimated sales 12m. Released 1963
With advance orders exceeding one million copies The Beatles ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ would have gone straight to the top of the British charts on its day of release (29 November 1963) had it not been blocked by the group’s first million seller ‘She Loves You’, their previous UK single. A week later it reached the top of the charts and became the first instance of an act taking over from itself at number one in British chart history. ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ was also the group’s first American number one hit and starting the British invasion of the American music industry.