31 Of The Best Songs Everyone Knows

Written by Dan Farrant

Every once in a while, a song becomes a legend in many ways. It spans generations, regardless of geographical location or musical preferences. It transcends borders and cultures. And it features an earworm hook or lyrics that seem ingrained in memory.

You can still sing the song or remember most of its lyrics even after all these years. Sometimes, you easily recognize it when it starts to play.

On that note, let’s take a trip down memory lane and check out 31 of the best songs everyone knows. Have fun reading!

1. “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” By Beyoncé

When “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” by Beyoncé came out in 2008, it was an instant hit. It dominated the Billboard Hot 100 for four non-consecutive weeks. It also won Beyoncé three Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year.

The iconic song made a lasting impact worldwide, becoming one of those that almost everyone knows. Its popularity isn’t just due to its catchy rhythm and memorable dance routine but also the universal theme it addresses.

“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” is a powerful anthem for female empowerment. It encourages women to demand respect and commitment in relationships.

2. “Bohemian Rhapsody” By Queen

When we talk about timeless masterpieces, Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody” likely comes to mind. The song was considered Freddie Mercury’s confessional, about how his life could have been different if only he remained true to who he really was.

The song’s narrative follows a young man who accidentally commits murder and sells his soul to the devil, much like Faust, a character from German folklore. The narrative is delivered through poignant lyrics and dramatic shifts in tempo and style.

This progressive rock song was a commercial success in the 1970s. Rolling Stone ranked it 17th on its list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” It dominated the UK Singles Chart for nine weeks and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004.

3. “Party In The U.S.A.” By Miley Cyrus

Though Miley Cyrus did not completely identify with “Party in the U.S.A.,” deciding to include it in The Time of Our Lives EP was one of the best decisions she made. She did not expect that it would be a huge success, but it did.

“Party in the U.S.A.” became popular due to its catchiness and Cyrus’ vocal performance. It follows the experiences of a young girl moving from Nashville to Los Angeles in pursuit of fame. The lyrics reflect the joy and freedom of being in a new place and finding belongingness through music.

In the US, the song peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was the 7th best-selling digital single of 2009. In 2020, Cyrus received a plaque with an RIAA Diamond certification for the song, making it one of the few ever to garner this achievement.

4. “Billie Jean” By Michael Jackson

Released in 1983, Michael Jackson‘s “Billie Jean” from his album Thriller is already 40 years old. However, it remains to be a very popular song up to this day.

In 2000, Rolling Stone and MTV ranked it the sixth greatest pop song. In 2021, Rolling Stone‘s updated list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” ranked the song #44. In addition, the commercial success of “Billy Jean” helped Thriller become the biggest-selling album of all time.

Among other things, “Billy Jean” is known for its infectious beat and compelling narrative. It tells the story of the titular character who claims that the narrator is the father of her child, a claim he denies.

Whether the song was inspired by Jackson’s real experiences or not, “Billy Jean” remains a globally recognized song.

5. “I Will Survive” By Gloria Gaynor

When American singer Gloria Gaynor was handed the lyrics to “I Will Survive,” she knew it was going to be a hit. And it was becoming a top-selling song and a popular disco anthem.

The lyrics bear an empowering message set to a catchy, danceable tune. At its core, the song is about moving on after a bad relationship. It demonstrates resilience, independence, and the ability to overcome betrayal and heartbreak.

Gaynor, who was going through a traumatic period in her life, was able to resonate with the lyrics and deliver with such emotions during the recording. No wonder the song became an icon and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2012.

6. “Hey Ya!” By OutKast

The foot-tapping, head-bopping “Hey Ya!” by OutKast has achieved global fame due to its infectious beat and unique blend of funk, pop, and rock. But despite the upbeat rhythm and energetic delivery, the song presents a pessimistic view of love.

The lyrics explore the complexities of modern relationships. The song shows how sometimes people stay together out of tradition or habit, even when love is gone.

Despite the dark lyrical content, the song was a commercial and critical success. It topped the charts in several countries and was considered one of the greatest songs of the 200s. In addition, Rolling Stone ranked it #10 on the list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

7. “Umbrella” By Rihanna

Another global success on our list is Rihanna‘s “Umbrella” featuring Jay-Z. Released in 2007, it topped the UK Singles Chart for ten consecutive weeks and the Billboard Hot 100 for seven consecutive weeks.

In addition, the song led the 10 Best Singles of 2007 by Entertainment Weekly. Meanwhile, Rolling Stone and Time ranked “Umbrella” #3 on the 100 Best Songs of 2007.

The song gained worldwide recognition for its catchy beat, memorable lyrics, and the distinct vocals of Rihanna. Thematically, it uses an umbrella to convey messages, one of which is protection and support. The narrator promises to be there for her loved ones, even in life’s storms.

8. “Baby” By Justin Bieber

Before “Baby” came out in 2010, Justin Bieber was already gaining prominence from the videos of him singing covers that his mother posted on YouTube. But when the song was released as the lead single of his debut album, Bieber became a household name.

On the day of its release, “Baby” was already available for digital download. Many critics regard it as one of the influential songs of modern-day popular music. More than a decade later, the song is still popular.

Lyrically, the song explores young love and the heartbreak that comes with it. The chorus, which repeats the word “baby,” is particularly memorable and has contributed to the song’s widespread recognition.

9. “Call Me Maybe” By Carly Rae Jepsen

The bubblegum pop track “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen gained massive popularity shortly after its release in 2011. In her native Canada, the song topped the Hot 100 chart. It also dominated the charts in other countries such as the US, UK, and Australia.

This made Jepsen the fifth Canadian to achieve such in her country. Her song was also the first #1 by a Canadian artist on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was the best-selling single worldwide of the 21st century, with sales of over 18 million copies.

Thematically, the song resolves around the experiences of a young girl who falls in love at first sight. It captures the exhilarating feeling of meeting someone new and the possibilities that come with it.

10. “Happy” By Pharrell Williams

The feel-good song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams was a highly successful hit. In fact, it was 2014’s most successful song, with 13.9 million sales worldwide.

“Happy” dominated the charts in the US, UK, Canada, and 19 other countries. It was the most downloaded song of all time in the UK in 2014 and the eighth best-selling single of all time in the US. At the 57th Annual Grammy Awards, “Happy” won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Solo Performance.

The song appeared on the soundtrack album of the film Despicable Me 2. Its infectious rhythm and universal theme of happiness are just some of the reasons why it gained worldwide recognition.

11. “Livin’ On A Prayer” By Bon Jovi

Considered Bon Jovi‘s signature song, “Livin’ on a Prayer,” has gained global recognition due to its chorus, which features one of the most legendary key changes in the history of rock and roll.

But more than that, the song is Bon Jovi’s second chart-topper from the album Slippery When Wet. It topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and Hot 100. In 2013, it was certified triple Platinum for more than three million digital downloads.

Lyrically, the song is about a working-class couple named Tommy and Gina. They are struggling to make ends meet, which reflects the economic status during the time.

12. “Uptown Funk” By Mark Ronson Ft. Bruno Mars

Reflecting the 1980s-era funk music is “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. The song became famous for its fun rhythm, upbeat lyrics, and the high-profile collaboration between Ronson and Mars.

“Uptown Funk” is a success as it topped the charts in 19 countries. Up to this day, this is the most successful single of both Ronson and Mars. It dominated the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 consecutive weeks and the UK Singles Chart for seven weeks. RIAA certified it 11 times Platinum

Lyrically, the song is about fashion, masculine bravado, and self-love. The lines “Uptown funk you up, uptown funk you up” are instantly recognizable.

13. “Baby One More Time” By Britney Spears

One of the best-selling singles of all time and the UK’s best-selling single of 1999 is Britney Spears‘ “Baby One More Time.” It’s about a girl who regrets breaking up with her boyfriend and wants him back. This song catapulted Spears to fame as it became an international hit.

In a 2010 poll by Jam!, the song’s music video came out third among the most influential videos in the history of pop music. The following year, Billboard voted the music video as the best of the 1990s.

Meanwhile, Rolling Stone named the song the greatest debut single of all time. In the same magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, “Baby One More Time” was ranked at #205.

14. “Sweet Caroline” By Neil Diamond

On two occasions, Neil Diamond provided different explanations for the inspiration behind the 1969 single “Sweet Caroline.” In 2007, he said it was about Caroline, the daughter of John F. Kennedy. But in 2014, he said it was about his then-wife Marcia.

Whatever the case, “Sweet Caroline” achieved global recognition and became an enduring song. It creates a mood of affection and joy, which perfectly fits its use in many sporting and traumatic events.

Diamond has said that “Sweet Caroline” was the most important single of his career. It peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Several big names in the music industry made their own versions of the song, including Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.

15. “Dancing Queen” By ABBA

Though ABBA has had many hits throughout its career, the disco track “Dancing Queen” remains the most recognizable song. It became a worldwide hit shortly after its release in 1976.

One of the reasons why “Dancing Queen” endures is its lyrical content’s universal appeal. It is primarily about the joy and freedom found in dancing. Add to the fact that when the song was released, disco music dominated the US charts. ABBA made the right decision when they decided to follow the trend.

Decades later, “Dancing Queen” is still famous. The upbeat melody and infectious chorus found a new audience in recent generations who love good music.

16. “Macarena” By Los Del Rio

Many would consider “Macarena” by Los Del Rio one of the greatest hits of the ’90s. It was so successful that it was almost a cultural phenomenon. Many people remembered this song as part of their childhood, as it was played on almost every occasion.

Several remixes of the song existed, but the most successful was The Bayside Boys remix. It featured a new section with English lyrics. This version peaked at #45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1995. But the following year, it stayed at #1 for 14 weeks!

All thanks to a dance craze that became synonymous with the song. Everyone became addicted to the arm-arm-chest-chest dance moves that were easy to learn.

17. “Despacito” By Luis Fonsi Ft. Daddy Yankee

Puerto Rican music artists Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee teamed up in the 2017 song “Despacito.” Translated as “Slowly,” the song, primarily in Spanish, depicts a scene of romantic and passionate interaction between two people.

In the US, the song debuted at #2 on the Hot Latin Songs chart. It topped the chart several days later and dominated that spot for 35 consecutive weeks, making it the longest-reigning #1 on Hot Latin songs.

Justin Bieber’s remix version helped the song’s chart performance in numerous countries. It became widely popular thanks to its infectious rhythmic hooks and being easy to dance to. The song’s popularity was also bolstered by its frequent use at parties, gatherings, and clubs.

18. “Barbie Girl” By Aqua

The late 1990s witnessed the emergence of one of the best-selling singles of all time. Aqua‘s “Barbie Girl” was released in 1997 from their debut studio album Aquarium.

Some of the things that contributed to its global fame include the catchy tune with the dialogue between the characters of Barbie and Ken. The vibrant music video featuring the exaggerated representation of the Barbie world also added to its appeal.

And of course, who can forget the controversy that surrounded this song? The creator of the Barbie doll, Mattel, sued MCA Records, Aqua’s record label, for allegedly violating their trademark and turning Barbie into a “blonde bimbo.” Aqua and MCA Records countersued for defamation. Both cases were dismissed.

Despite the controversy, or perhaps because of it, “Barbie Girl” remains a cultural phenomenon. Most people can sing along to it, regardless of their views on the song’s meaning.

19. “I Gotta Feeling” By The Black Eyed Peas

Another feel-good song that was both a commercial and critical success is The Black Eyed Peas‘ “I Gotta Feeling.” Its uplifting message, catchy tune, and cultural significance contributed to its success.

The song dominated the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 consecutive weeks, making it 2009’s longest-running #1 single. Outside of the US, it also topped the charts in more than 20 countries.

“I Gotta Feeling” won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. By 2019, it had already sold more than nine million downloads in the US. It also held the record for being the most downloaded song in the iTunes Store.

20. “I Want It That Way” By Backstreet Boys

The American vocal group Backstreet Boys rose to fame in the 1990s and early 2000s. They have released numerous hits that contributed to them being the best-selling boy band of all time. One of these is “I Want It That Way,” considered their signature song.

Released in 1999, the song revolves around a romantic relationship that’s ended because of emotional or physical distance. The chorus is instantly recognizable to many people, contributing to its wide appeal.

The song was a commercial success, peaking at the top spot in more than 25 countries. Rolling Stone ranked it at #240 on the list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2021. In the same year, “I Want It That Way” became the group’s first music video to reach one billion views on YouTube.

21. “My Way” By Frank Sinatra

Though Frank Sinatra later hated “My Way,” it became his signature song. Many other artists recorded their own version of the song, but it was Sinatra’s version that attained universal recognition.

The melody was originally from the French song “Comme d’habitude.” Singer-songwriter Paul Anka wrote the English lyrics and had Sinatra in mind to sing it. Thematically, the song tells the story of a person reflecting on his life and being satisfied with living life on his own terms.

Sinatra’s iconic performance of the song contributed to its worldwide appeal. In fact, “My Way” is a popular karaoke song around the world. In the Philippines, the song was reported to cause violence and homicide among karaoke singers. For this reason, the song was banned in many Filipino bars.

22. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” By Guns N’ Roses

Some songs are so iconic you’d immediately recognize them from their introductory sound. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses achieved a universal reputation partly due to its unforgettable guitar riff, performed by guitarist Slash.

As for the lyrics, lead vocalist Axl Rose had written a poem for his then-girlfriend, Erin Everly. It paints a picture of a passionate romantic relationship. Aside from that, you’ll easily recognize “Sweet Child O’ Mine” from its chorus and the breakdown “Where do we go? Where do we go now? Where do we go?”

The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at #24 on the UK Singles Chart. After its re-release in 1989, the song reached #6. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” ranked #198 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list in 2015 and #88 in 2021.

23. “Imagine” By John Lennon

The most defining song of John Lennon‘s solo career is the 1971 single “Imagine.” With wife Yoko Ono credited as a co-writer, the song envisions a world of peace where nothing divides people. The universal message of hope, peace, and unity resonates with people across different cultures and backgrounds.

In the US, the song peaked at #3 on the Hot 100. In the UK, it reached #6 on the UK Singles Chart. It topped the chart after Lennon’s murder in 1980.

According to BMI, the song is among the most performed songs of the 20th century. RIAA ranked it #30 on its list of the 365 “Songs of the Century” in 1999. In the same year, “Imagine” was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

24. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” By Cyndi Lauper

One of the popular songs of the 1980s is Cindy Lauper‘s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” It gained worldwide recognition due to its catchy tune and its empowering message about female independence and equality.

The song constantly appeared in many lists, including Rolling Stone‘s and MTV’s “100 Greatest Pop Songs” and VH1’s “100 Greatest Videos.” Being covered by more than 30 other artists testifies to the song’s popularity.

Surprisingly, the song was written by Robert Hazard from a male’s perspective. Lauper reworked the song from a female perspective, thereby making it a feminist anthem.

25. “I Will Always Love You” By Whitney Houston

An original by country singer Dolly Parton, “I Will Always Love You” has achieved universal recognition since its initial release in 1974. However, Whitney Houston‘s soul-ballad version propelled the song to widespread popularity.

Many would think that “I Will Always Love You” is a love song, considering that Houston recorded it for the 1992 film The Bodyguard. But Parton wrote it as a farewell to her business partner and mentor after she decided to pursue a solo career.

Houston’s version was a global success, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks. It was awarded the record for best-selling single by a female artist by the Guinness World Records in 2012. It also won Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.

26. “Shake It Off” By Taylor Swift

We all know Taylor Swift‘s talent when it comes to songwriting. “Shake It Off” is one of her songs that gained worldwide popularity due to its infectious tune, empowering message, and its relatable theme.

While the song received mixed reviews, it dominated the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks as well as on top of the charts in other countries. By 2020, the song had sold 5.4 digital copies, making it one of the best-selling singles of the 2010s decade. By 2023, it remains Swift’s biggest success on the Hot 100.

The song also received various accolades. It won Favorite Song at the People’s Choice Awards and secured three Grammy nominations. RIAA also certified it Diamond for selling 10 million units.

27. “Baby Shark” By Pinkfong

The children’s song “Baby Shark” is not new. In fact, it dates back to the 20th century. But when Pinkfong, a South Korean entertainment company, released a version in 2016, it quickly went viral.

This new version’s popularity owes its appeal to the catchy tune, simple and fun lyrics, and an accompanying dance. The Pinkfong version includes a colorful and animated music video featuring cute characters that caught the attention of children.

By late 2020, the music video was the most-viewed YouTube video of all time. In early 2022, it was the first YouTube video to reach 10 billion views, and as of this writing, it has 13 billion views.

28. “Gangnam Style” By PSY

Just a month after its release in 2012, PSY‘s “Gangnam Style and its accompanying music video became viral hits. The title refers to Gangnam, a trendy and affluent district in Seoul, South Korea. The lyrics and the video satirize the lifestyle of people from this area, who are perceived as classy during the day but wild at night.

PSY’c humorous dance moves, including the famous “horse-riding” move, contributed to the song’s widespread recognition. The dance is easy to learn, making it a hit at parties and gatherings around the world.

In addition, the music video went viral due to its colorful visuals and comedic elements. The video’s popularity helped the song top charts globally and made it one of the most-viewed videos of all time.

29. “Wannabe” By Spice Girls

The English girl group the Spice Girls rose to prominence in the early 1990s with their dance songs. One that stood out and remained popular is the 1996 single “Wanna Be.” The song is about the importance of female friendship and solidarity.

The song’s dance-pop style and the memorable music video add to its appeal and recognizeability. “Wannabe” dominated the UK Singles Chart for seven weeks and the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks. By 1997, the song topped the charts in 37 countries.

Although not all music critics were impressed, the song won Best British-Written Single at the 1997 Ivor Novello Awards. It also won British Single of the Year during the 1997 Brit Awards.

In 2014, the results of a study showed that “Wannabe” was the most recognizable pop song of the last 60 years. In 2017, “Wanna” was the best-selling single by a girl group.

30. “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” By Bonnie Tyler

Not only is “Total Eclipse of the Heart” Bonnie Tyler‘s biggest career hit. It also attained global recognition due to Tyler’s distinctive raspy voice and dramatic lyrics.

Upon its release, the song topped the UK Singles Chart and was the fifth best-selling single in 1983 in the UK. Meanwhile, it topped the charts in the US for four weeks and was the #6 song of the year in 1983.

In 2001, the song was certified Gold by RIAA. In 2013, a survey in the UK showed that the song is the top choice of song to sing in the shower. In addition, a 2015 poll for ITV showed that “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is the UK’s third favorite 1980s #1 song.

In popular culture, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” receives publicity in events of solar or lunar eclipses. In particular, the song gained media attention during the solar eclipse of March 2015.

31. “Happy Birthday”

And finally, when it comes to global familiarity, “Happy Birthday” is almost certainly the most recognized song in the world. As you know, it’s popular due to its association with a universal human experience: celebrating a person’s birthday.

All around the world, singing “Happy Birthday” is a tradition, often sung before blowing out the candles on a cake. This makes the song an integral part of birthday celebrations. As such, almost everyone knows the lyrics to this song. The tune is also very catchy and easy to remember.

According to Guinness World Records in 1998, “Happy Birthday” is the most recognized song in the English language. It has been translated into at least 18 languages.

Summing Up Our List Of Songs Everyone Knows

Every now and then, songs emerge that become ingrained in the hearts and minds of listeners. These songs become universally known due to a combination of factors such as catchy tunes and distinctive performances.

The songs above showed us that the underlying themes resonate with listeners on a deeper level, making the songs not just entertaining but also relatable.

So, that wraps up our list for today. This is by no means a complete and comprehensive list. If you think we missed a song or two that must appear on the list, let us know, and we’ll add them for you.

Photo of author

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.