Friday, May 28, 2021

Radio’s Most-Played Songs in History

Radio’s Most-Played Songs in History:

Top 100+ Songs

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(s) 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: this list includes all songs with four million airplays based on verified sources. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any definitive resource for this information so this list was compiled with multiple sources. As such, there are certainly songs which might make this list, but no sources were found to verify radio plays. 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. Similarly, this list does not focus on most-streamed songs or songs with most video airplay. These are separate lists also posted here at the DMDB. Click here to see lists focused on charts, sales, and airplay.

Also, this list cuts off at the 4 million mark.

    15 million:

  1. Every Breath You Take” (The Police)

    13 million:

  2. Brown-Eyed Girl” (Van Morrison)

    10 million:

  3. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (The Rolling Stones)
  4. I Will Always Love You” (Whitney Houston, Dolly Parton)
  5. Yesterday” (The Beatles, Ray Charles)
  6. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” (The Righteous Brothers, Hall & Oates)

    9 million:

  7. Layla” (Derek & the Dominos, Eric Clapton)
  8. “Baby, I Need Your Loving” (Four Tops, Johnny Rivers)
  9. “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” (The Police)

    8 million:

  10. You Really Got Me” (The Kinks, Van Halen)
  11. You’re Still the One” (Shania Twain)
  12. Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (Tears for Fears)
  13. “Act Naturally” (Buck Owens, The Beatles)
  14. “Take Me Home Tonight” (Eddie Money with Ronnie Spector)

    7 million:

  15. Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Simon & Garfunkel, Aretha Franklin)
  16. (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” (Otis Redding)
  17. Stand by Me” (Ben E. King, John Lennon)
  18. Another Brick in the Wall Part II” (Pink Floyd)
  19. Your Song” (Elton John)
  20. When a Man Loves a Woman” (Percy Sledge, Michael Bolton)

  21. The Sounds of Silence” (Simon & Garfunkel, Disturbed)
  22. Take on Me” (aha)
  23. Mrs. Robinson” (Simon & Garfunkel, The Lemonheads)
  24. We Will Rock You” (Queen)
  25. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (Queen)
  26. “Amazed” (Lonestar)
  27. “Wonderful Tonight” (Eric Clapton)
  28. “Never My Love” (The Association)

    6 million:

  29. I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, Creedence Clearwater Revival)
  30. (Oh) Pretty Woman” (Roy Orbison, Van Halen)

  31. Georgia on My Mind” (Ray Charles, Willie Nelson)
  32. I Can’t Stop Loving You” (Ray Charles, Don Gibson, Conway Twitty)
  33. All I Have to Do Is Dream” (The Everly Brothers)
  34. Only You (And You Alone)” (The Platters, The Hilltoppers, Ringo Starr)
  35. “Save the Last Dance for Me” (The Drifters)
  36. “Strangers in the Night” (Frank Sinatra)
  37. We Are the Champions” (Queen)
  38. “Wind Beneath My Wings” (Bette Midler, Gary Morris)
  39. “Here I Go Again” (Whitesnake)
  40. “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher” (Jackie Wilson, Rita Coolidge)

  41. “In Your Eyes” (Peter Gabriel)
  42. “Daniel” (Elton John)
  43. “I Melt with You” (Modern English)
  44. “Twilight Time” (The Platters)
  45. “On Broadway” (The Drifters, George Benson)
  46. “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You” (Marvin Gaye, James Taylor)
  47. “Michelle” (The Beatles, The Overlanders)
  48. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” (Frankie Valli)
  49. “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” (Neil Sedaka)
  50. “Scarborough Fair” (Simon & Garfunkel)

  51. “Up, Up and Away” (The Fifth Dimension)
  52. “Oh Girl” (The Chi-Lites, Paul Young)
  53. “Rhythm of the Rain” (The Cascades, Dan Fogelberg)
  54. “Oh Lonesome Me” (Don Gibson)
  55. “Listen to Your Heart” (Roxette, DHT)

    5.8 million:

  56. “Working My Way Back to You” (The Four Seasons, The Spinners)

    5 million:

  57. Imagine” (John Lennon)
  58. Stayin’ Alive” (Bee Gees)
  59. The House of the Rising Sun” (The Animals)
  60. American Pie” (Don McLean, Madonna)

  61. Let It Be” (The Beatles, Aretha Franklin)
  62. Uptown Funk!” (Mark Ronson with Bruno Mars)
  63. Shape of You” (Ed Sheeran)
  64. Honky Tonk Women” (The Rolling Stones)
  65. Suspicious Minds” (Elvis Presley, Fine Young Cannibals)
  66. Proud Mary” (Creedence Clearwater Revival, Ike & Tina Turner)
  67. How Deep Is Your Love” (Bee Gees)
  68. Killing Me Softly with His Song” (Roberta Flack, The Fugees)
  69. “Something” (The Beatles)
  70. “You Send Me” (Sam Cooke)

  71. Always on My Mind” (Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, Pet Shop Boys)
  72. Tears in Heaven” (Eric Clapton)
  73. “You Can’t Hurry Love” (The Supremes, Phil Collins)
  74. Fleetwood Mac “Dreams” (1977)
  75. The Letter” (The Box Tops, Joe Cocker)
  76. Baker Street” (Gerry Rafferty, Foo Fighters)
  77. “Happy Together” (The Turtles)
  78. Hey, Soul Sister” (Train)
  79. “9 to 5” (Dolly Parton)
  80. “The Rose” (Bette Midler)

  81. “California Girls” (The Beach Boys, David Lee Roth)
  82. “And I Love Her” (The Beatles)
  83. “It Must Have Been Love” (Roxette)
  84. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” (Elton John, George Michael & Elton John)
  85. “Cherish” (The Association)
  86. “Up on the Roof” (The Drifters)
  87. “Don’t Stop” (Fleetwood Mac)
  88. “Release Me” (Engelbert Humperdinck, Little Esther Phillips)
  89. “Everybody’s Talkin’” (Harry Nilsson)
  90. “Sometimes When We Touch” (Dan Hill)

  91. “True” (Spandau Ballet)
  92. “Hooked on a Feeling” (Blue Swede, B.J. Thomas)
  93. “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (Glen Campbell, Isaac Hayes)
  94. “Angel of the Morning” (Merrillee Rush & the Turnabouts, Juice Newton)
  95. “Sunny” (Bobby Hebb)
  96. “To Love Somebody” (Bee Gees, Michael Bolton)
  97. “Have I Told You Lately” (Rod Stewart, Van Morrison)
  98. “Born Free” (Roger Williams)
  99. “Canadian Sunset” (Hugo Winterhalter with Eddie Heywood)
  100. “Reminiscing” (Little River Band)

  101. “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” (England Dan & John Ford Coley)
  102. “Gentle on My Mind” (Glen Campbell)
  103. “The Heart of the Matter” (Don Henley)
  104. “Goin’ Out of My Head” (Little Anthony & The Imperials)
  105. “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” (Casinos, Eddy Arnold)
  106. “Born on the Bayou” (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
  107. “More” (Perry Como)
  108. “Traces” (Classics IV)

    4 million:

  109. Candle in the Wind” (Elton John)
  110. Don’t Be Cruel” (Elvis Presley, Cheap Trick)

  111. What a Wonderful World” (Louis Armstrong)
  112. Crazy” (Gnarls Barkley)
  113. Thinking Out Loud” (Ed Sheeran)
  114. Perfect” (Ed Sheeran with Beyoncé)
  115. “Penny Lane” (The Beatles)
  116. I Honestly Love You” (Olivia Newton-John)
  117. “Fire and Rain” (James Taylor)
  118. Sledgehammer” (Peter Gabriel)
  119. “All Right Now” (Free)
  120. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (Elton John)

  121. “The Girl from Ipanema” (Stan Getz)
  122. “Daydream Believer” (The Monkees, Anne Murray)
  123. “Crying” (Roy Orbison, Don McLean)
  124. “Build Me Up Buttercup” (The Foundations)
  125. “Take It Easy” (Eagles)
  126. “The Most Beautiful Girl” (Charlie Rich)
  127. “We’ve Only Just Begun” (Carpenters)
  128. “A Groovy Kind of Love” (Phil Collins, Mindbenders)
  129. “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (Sammi Smith)
  130. “Margaritaville” (Jimmy Buffett)

  131. “Mandy” (Barry Manilow)
  132. “Windy” (The Association)
  133. “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” (Lynn Anderson)
  134. “Listen to the Music” (The Doobie Brothers)
  135. “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” (Harold Melvin, Simply Red)
  136. “My Cherie Amour” (Stevie Wonder)
  137. “Snowbird” (Anne Murray)
  138. “Live and Let Die” (Paul McCartney & Wings, Guns N’ Roses)
  139. “Best of My Love” (Eagles)
  140. “For the Good Times” (Ray Price)

  141. “Mr. Bojangles” (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Jerry Jeff Walker)
  142. “Blue Bayou” (Linda Ronstadt, Roy Orbison)
  143. “A Lover’s Concerto” (The Toys)
  144. “Both Sides Now” (Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell)
  145. “It’s Not Unusual” (Tom Jones)
  146. “Let Your Love Flow” (Bellamy Brothers)
  147. “Lay Down Sally” (Eric Clapton)
  148. “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” (Elton John)
  149. “My Special Angel” (Bobby Helms, the Vogues)
  150. “Sweet Soul Music” (Arthur Conley)

  151. “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” (Al Green & Annie Lennox, Jackie DeShannon)
  152. “It’s Just a Matter of Time” (Brook Benton, Sonny James)
  153. “In Too Deep” (Genesis)
  154. “You Gotta Be” (Des’ree)
  155. “Right Back Where We Started From” (Maxine Nightingale)
  156. “Little Lies” (Fleetwood Mac)
  157. “Everlasting Love” (Robert Knight, Carl Carlton)
  158. “The Closer You Get” (Alabama)
  159. “Any Man of Mine” (Shania Twain)
  160. “The 59th Street Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” (Simon & Garfunkel)

  161. “Don’t Sleep in the Subway” (Petula Clark)
  162. “Love, Me” (Collin Raye)
  163. “Spanish Eyes” (Engelbert Humperdinck)
  164. “Wink” (Neal McCoy)
  165. “Beautiful Mess” (Diamond Rio)
  166. “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” (Shania Twain)


Resources and Related Links:
  • Dave’s Music Database: “Lists Focused on Charts, Sales, and Airplay

  • Dave’s Music Database: “Streaming: Top 100 Songs

  • Dave’s Music Database: “YouTube’s Billion Airs Club” (most-watched videos)
  • Arbitron

    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 (1998). “Top 25 Holiday Songs of the 20th Century

    Link broken. Updated versions of list in 2005 and 2009 (see below).

  • ASCAP (12/27/1999). “Top 25 Songs of the Century

    Unranked list of the most performed songs of the century. Topping the list was “Happy Birthday to You.”

  • ASCAP (2000). “Most Performed Love Songs of the 20th Century

    For Valentine’s Day 2000, ASCAP named the top 5 love songs for each decade of the 20th century.

  • ASCAP (12/1/2005). “25 Most-Performed Holiday Songs for 2000-05” by Eric Olsen

    Olsen offers commentary on ASCAP’s top holiday songs of the 21st century. Updated version of 1998 list above.

  • ASCAP (11/23/2009). “Top 25 Holiday Songs of the Decade

    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 (12/13/1999). “BMI Announces Top 100 Songs of the Century

    These are the most played songs on radio and television.

  • 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 (Nov. 2003). “Radio’s Most Played Artists

  • Digital Dream Door (Dec. 2002). “Most Played Songs on the Radio

    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.

  • Guardianlv.com (5/15/2019). “Sting’s ‘Every Breath You Take’ is the Most Played Song on Radio” by Barbara Sobel

    The article reports that Sting received a BMI Award for “Every Breath You Take” piling up more than 15 million radio plays.

  • 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. (4/15/2009). “Britain’s 75 Most Heard Song List Topped by…Procol Harum?” by Ted Spangler at AmericanSongwriter.com

    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) (1/1/2000). “Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’ Most Played and Used Song of the Noughties

    Top 50 list of most-played songs in the UK from 2000-2009. Also in “Lists (Songs – Best of 2000-2009)” section.

  • SESAC

    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.

  • The Sun (4/14/2009). “Abba to Wings: The Top 75 Tunes” by Dave Masters

    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.

  • Time (4/30/2014). “Is This the Most Played Song in Music History?

First posted 12/6/2011; last updated 5/28/2021.

12 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Or Sweet Caroline? That is still played at every sporting event and everyone sings along!

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    2. As explained in the intro, "Stairway to Heaven" isn't on the list because I haven't found any official sources noting how many airplays it has received.

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  2. Replies
    1. There aren't many good resources out there for radio airplay. I would think at least "Bohemian Rhapsody" would make this list, but I haven't found any radio airplay numbers to confirm that.

      Delete
  3. No Hotel California? But Don Henley's The Heart of the Matter is on this list? Seems odd.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree. Unfortunately, it's hard to find good sources for radio airplay so I haven't found any sources for how many airplays "Hotel California" has.

      Delete
  4. No "Hotel California"? That song is played everyday....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe so, but I haven't found any official sources noting how many airplays it has received.

      Delete
  5. The fact that there is no mention of A Whiter Shade Of Pale, goes to show what a complete nonsense this list is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As explained, I tried to find as many sources as possible to create this list. If you have a source showing how many radio airplays "A Whiter Shade of Pale" has, please send it my way. Thanks.

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