These are, according to various sources (see bottom of page), the all-time most-played songs on the radio. These figures generally treat all versions of a song as one entity so in this list the title is listed first and then the artist most associated with the song. For ties, songs are listed in order of how high they rank according to the DMDB. The numbers, in millions, refer to how many plays the song has had at radio regardless of format, genre, demographic, or time slot.
Note: in creating this list, multiple sources were used to try to assure as much accuracy as possible. However, because there are different companies who measure radio airplay and some report that information readily, there are inherent flaws. For example, some assert that Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is the most-played song in history, but it doesn’t make the list because no reference was found for an officially reported number. In addition, the focus here is on radio airplay so songs like “Happy Birthday” which is sung ad infinitum or “It’s a Small World after All” which Time magazine estimates to have been played 50 million times at Disney World (see article here) are not included. Also, this list cuts off at the 5 million mark.
- “Every Breath You Take” (The Police)
- “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” (The Righteous Brothers, Hall & Oates)
- “Yesterday” (The Beatles, Ray Charles)
- “Baby, I Need Your Loving” (Four Tops, Johnny Rivers)
- “Brown-Eyed Girl” (Van Morrison)
- “Act Naturally” (Buck Owens, The Beatles)
- “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Simon & Garfunkel, Aretha Franklin)
- “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” (Otis Redding)
- “Stand by Me” (Ben E. King, John Lennon)
- “When a Man Loves a Woman” (Percy Sledge, Michael Bolton)
- “Your Song” (Elton John)
- “Never My Love” (The Association)
- “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” (The Rolling Stones)
- “I Will Always Love You” (Whitney Houston, Dolly Parton)
- “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, Creedence Clearwater Revival)
- “Oh, Pretty Woman” (Roy Orbison, Van Halen)
- “Layla” (Derek & the Dominos, Eric Clapton)
- “All I Have to Do Is Dream” (The Everly Brothers)
- “I Can’t Stop Loving You” (Ray Charles, Don Gibson, Conway Twitty)
- “Georgia on My Mind” (Ray Charles, Willie Nelson)
- “Mrs. Robinson” (Simon & Garfunkel, The Lemonheads)
- “Strangers in the Night” (Frank Sinatra)
- “Only You and You Alone” (The Platters)
- “Wind Beneath My Wings” (Bette Midler, Gary Morris)
- “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher” (Jackie Wilson, Rita Coolidge)
- “Save the Last Dance for Me” (The Drifters)
- “On Broadway” (The Drifters, George Benson)
- “Daniel” (Elton John)
- “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” (Frankie Valli)
- “Up, Up and Away” (The Fifth Dimension)
- “Twilight Time” (The Platters)
- “Oh Girl” (The Chi-Lites, Paul Young)
- “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” (Neil Sedaka)
- “Michelle” (The Beatles, The Overlanders)
- “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You” (Marvin Gaye, James Taylor)
- “Rhythm of the Rain” (The Cascades, Dan Fogelberg)
- “Oh Lonesome Me” (Don Gibson)
- “Working My Way Back to You” (The Four Seasons, The Spinners)
- “Imagine” (John Lennon)
- “Let It Be” (The Beatles, Aretha Franklin)
- “The House of the Rising Sun” (The Animals)
- “Suspicious Minds” (Elvis Presley, Fine Young Cannibals)
- “Proud Mary” (Creedence Clearwater Revival, Ike & Tina Turner)
- “Honky Tonk Women” (The Rolling Stones)
- “Killing Me Softly with His Song” (Roberta Flack, The Fugees)
- “The Sound of Silence” (Simon & Garfunkel)
- “Always on My Mind” (Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, Pet Shop Boys)
- “You Send Me” (Sam Cooke)
- “How Deep Is Your Love” (Bee Gees)
- “You’re Still the One” (Shania Twain)
- “Dreams” (Fleetwood Mac)
- “The Rose” (Bette Midler)
- “California Girls” (The Beach Boys, David Lee Roth)
- “The Letter” (The Box Tops, Joe Cocker)
- “Happy Together” (The Turtles)
- “You Can’t Hurry Love” (The Supremes, Phil Collins)
- “Something” (The Beatles)
- “Cherish” (The Association)
- “Up on the Roof” (The Drifters)
- “Everybody’s Talkin’” (Harry Nilsson)
- “Amazed” (Lonestar)
- “Release Me” (Engelbert Humperdinck, Little Esther Phillips)
- “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (Glen Campbell, Isaac Hayes)
- “Scarborough Fair” (Simon & Garfunkel)
- “Born Free” (Roger Williams)
- “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” (Elton John, George Michael & Elton John)
- “Don’t Stop” (Fleetwood Mac)
- “Angel of the Morning” (Merrillee Rush & the Turnabouts, Juice Newton)
- “Hooked on a Feeling” (Blue Swede, B.J. Thomas)
- “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” (The Police)
- “Gentle on My Mind” (Glen Campbell)
- “Sometimes When We Touch” (Dan Hill)
- “And I Love Her” (The Beatles)
- “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” (England Dan & John Ford Coley)
- “Canadian Sunset” (Hugo Winterhalter with Eddie Heywood)
- “Sunny” (Bobby Hebb)
- “Goin’ Out of My Head” (Little Anthony & The Imperials)
- “To Love Somebody” (Bee Gees, Michael Bolton)
- “Born on the Bayou” (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
- “The Heart of the Matter” (Don Henley)
- “Traces” (Classics IV)
- “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” (Casinos, Eddy Arnold)
- “More” (Perry Como, Marcello Ciorciolini)
Resources and Related Links:
Not an indicator of specific songs played, but what musical genres dominate radio stations.
- American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP)
“Membership association of more than 370,000 U.S. composers, songwriters, lyricists, and music publishers.” Established in 1914. Their primary function is the licensing and distribution of royalties for public performances of copyrighted works. Represent more than four million copyrighted works.
- ASCAP’s Top 25 Holiday Songs of the 20th Century (1998)
Link broken. Updated versions of list in 2005 and 2009 (see below).
- ASCAP’s Top 25 Songs of the Century (12/27/99)
Unranked list of the most performed songs of the century. Topping the list was “Happy Birthday to You.”
- ASCAP’s Most Performed Love Songs of the 20th Century (2000)
For Valentine’s Day 2000, ASCAP named the top 5 love songs for each decade of the 20th century.
- ASCAP’s 25 Most-Performed Holiday Songs for 2000-05 (12/1/05). Written by Eric Olsen.
Olsen offers commentary on ASCAP’s top holiday songs of the 21st century. Updated version of 1998 list above.
- ASCAP’s Top 25 Holiday Songs of the Decade (11/23/09)
While this list focuses only on the 21st century, it includes many of the same songs from the 20th century list above since holiday favorites are fairly consistent year-to-year.
- Broadcast Data Systems (BDS) – see Nielsen
- Broadcast Music, Incorporated (BMI)
Performance rights and royalty tracking and distribution organization for recording artists. Represents more than a quarter million songwriters, composers, and publishers. Has a repertoire of 3 million + songs. The company monitors nearly a half million hours of radio airplay.
- BMI.com BMI Announces Top 100 Songs of the Century (13 December 1999)
- BMI’s Top 100 Songs of the Century
There are no details offered in the link, but because this is BMI, that would make this a list of the most-played songs of the century.
- Chartts.Tripod.com (2001)
While the Digital Dream Door site below is more current, this list does offer a more complete list of all songs to have aired more than a million times. Site appears to be the personal website of Oleg Grishntkin. He does not indicate the list’s origin.
- ClassicBands.com Radio’s Most Played Artists (November 2003)
- Digital Dream Door Most Played Songs on the Radio (December 2002)
This appears to be a listing of those songs reaching the BMI “Million Airs” Club, but a list more current than 2002 would be nice. According to this list, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” is the most played song, with 8 million airs. Only includes songs with 3 million + airs. This same list appears at ClassicBands.com.
- Dave Masters, (4/14/09). The Sun. Abba to Wings: The Top 75 Tunes.
List of the top 75 most played songs, via public airplay, in the last 75 years in Great Britain. List does not indicate number of airplays for each song.
- Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems (BDS)
Their function is to track the number of plays for songs on radio and other mediums. They are the basis of Billboard magazine’s airplay data. The site is geared toward businesses and does not appear to have any links to to an archive of songs and the airplay they’ve garnered. However, they do publish a list of BDS Certified Spin Awards each month in Billboard magazine of songs which have received 50,000+ spins. Generally, there are one or two songs each month which reach heights beyond a ½ million spins.
- Phonographic Performance Ltd. Britain’s 75 Most Heard Song List Topped by…Procol Harum?. By Ted Spangler at AmericanSongwriter.com (4/15/09)
75 most played songs in public places (radio stations, sports stadiums, jukeboxes, elevators, supermarkets) in Britain over the last 75 years.
- Phonographic Performance Ltd. (PPL) Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’ Most Played and Used Song of the Noughties (1/1/00)
Top 50 list of most-played songs in the UK from 2000-2009. Also in “Lists (Songs – Best of 2000-2009)” section.
Performance rights and royalty tracking and distribution organization for recording artists. Lesser known than ASCAP or BMI. Name originally stood for Society of European Stage Authors & Composers, organized to better represent European artists in the U.S. Today they are just known as SESAC.
- Time Is This the Most Played Song in Music History? (30 April 2014)