#1 R&B song from the year you graduated high school
#1 R&B song from the year you graduated high school
As the name suggests, R&B (rhythm & blues) is a musical genre blending jazz-based rhythmic elements with classic blues structures. A predecessor to rock 'n' roll, R&B continues to both inform and envelop a slew of peripheral genres. To that end, everything from funk to neo-soul to jump blues to hip-hop to oldies rock can fall under or overlap with the R&B banner.
Meanwhile, the story of R&B is invariably a story of race in America, with direct ties to two separate African American urban migrations. The first migration—also known as the Great Migration—occurred in the wake of World War I. Proudly uniting in the face of unjust segregation policies, African Americans cultivated various forms of blues music, some of which were unexpectedly popular on the national stage.
The second migration occurred during and after World War II, causing the African American urban population to increase substantially. Along with the continued expansion came more interaction, unification, cultural development, and an ongoing demand for music and entertainment. Enter artists like Louis Jordan, who began infusing classic blues music with humorous lyrics and upbeat rhythms in the late 1930s. This trend continued well into the 1940s when an entirely new genre was born: R&B.
With its palpable rhythms and hook-laden instrumentals, early R&B laid the groundwork for what would soon become rock 'n' roll. And while the two genres frequently overlapped in the 1950s, they nevertheless targeted different crowds. Whereas rock 'n' roll with its larger-than-life personas and streamlined guitar chords aimed for the teenage crowd, R&B legends such as Ray Charles were marketed to an older audience. That began to change with the emergence of a new generation of R&B performers. Indeed, the music of artists like James Brown and Ike Turner was simply too danceable and contagious for any teenager to refuse. The genre has been a fixture among the youth crowd ever since.
With that youth crowd in mind, Stacker presents the most popular R&B song from the year you graduated high school. For the data, Stacker dug up the list of Billboard's year-end #1 singles going all the way back to 1947. Like the genre itself, Billboard's ranking methods have changed over time, ultimately tracking sales (physical and digital), radio play, and online streaming. Data was not available for the year 1964.
Without further ado, here is the #1 R&B song from the year you graduated high school.
You may also like: #1 pop song from the year you graduated high school
1946: Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop
Artist: Lionel Hampton
Musician Lionel Hampton and drummer Curley Hamner penned this R&B classic, which was partially derived from similar-sounding predecessors. In fact, "Be-Baba-Leba" by Helen Humes was still on the charts by the time Hampton's hit song was released. Multiple versions recordings by various performers would follow.
1947: Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens
1948: Long Gone
Artist: Sonny Thompson
Alfonso “Sonny” Thompson first topped the charts with Part II of this groovy instrumental, which features contributions from saxophonist Eddie Chamblee. Thompson would score another #1 R&B single that very same year, and later work as the A&R director for King Records. Throughout his career, Thompson also penned classic songs for other artists like Freddie King.
1949: The Hucklebuck
Artist: Paul Williams
Released on Savoy Records, this jazzy interpretation of a popular dance number is considered one of the most successful R&B singles of all time. It's also hailed as a clear and important precursor to the rock ‘n' roll genre. The record's instant popularity inspired crooner Frank Sinatra to release his own version just one year later.
1950: Pink Champagne
Artist: Joe Liggins
The same year he signed to Specialty Records, Joe Liggins & His Honeydrippers scored a #1 hit with this infectious single. It stayed on the R&B chart for 13 weeks in 1950, and also landed at #30 on the pop chart. This was one among numerous hit songs from Liggins and his band.
1951: Sixty Minute Man
Artist: The Dominoes
Blending elements of doo-wop and R&B, this controversial single finds Billy Ward bragging about his prowess in the bedroom. Ward co-wrote the song with his business partner and performed it with his band, the Dominoes. It became one of the first R&B crossover hits, peaking at #17 on the pop chart.
1952: Lawdy Miss Clawdy
Artist: Lloyd Price
Louisiana's Lloyd Price was recovering from a broken heart when he wrote this epochal tune in his mother's New Orleans sandwich shop. He would soon record it for Specialty Records, with the legendary Fats Domino providing a rolling piano intro. It marked the early start to Price's highly successful career.
1953: (Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean
Artist: Ruth Brown
Singer Ruth Brown was such a dominant force in the early 1950s that her label, Atlantic Records, was once known as “the house that Ruth built.” This particular song was initially presented to Brown as a slow blues number, but she wisely insisted on ramping up the tempo before committing to it. The song became her third #1 R&B single in a row, and her first to land on the pop chart.
1954: Work With Me, Annie
Hank Ballard and The Midnighters were performing as The Royals when they first released this popular single in 1954, changing their name after the song's success. Rife with suggestive lyrics, the record was banned from airplay on numerous radio stations. That didn't stop it from reaching #1 on the R&B charts, nor did it stop the group from releasing two spin-off songs about Annie.
1955: Pledging My Love
Artist: Johnny Ace
This tender blues ballad finds Johnny Ace pledging devotion in exchange for his darling's eternal love. It would later be covered by artists like Elvis Presley and Marvin Gaye with Diana Ross, and appear in movies like “Mean Streets” and “Back to the Future.” Tragically, Ace died from a gunshot wound before the hit single was released.
1956: Honky Tonk
Artist: Bill Doggett
Bill Doggett played Hammond organ as part of Louis Jordan's Tympany Five before branching out on his own in the 1950s. He co-wrote and recorded this R&B instrumental in two parts, only to watch it become his signature tune. Funk legend James Brown offered his own version in 1972.
1957: Jailhouse Rock/"Treat Me Nice"
Artist: Elvis Presley
1957 was an incredible year for Elvis Presley, who channeled his influences into a #1 album and four chart-topping hits. Among his most popular songs was this hip-swinging rocker, which appeared on the soundtrack for a film of the same name. Rolling Stone Magazine put “Jailhouse Rock” at #67 on its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
1958: 'What Am I Living For' / 'Hang Up My Rock & Roll Shoes'
Artist: Chuck Willis
Singer-songwriter Chuck Willis—once known as “The King of the Stroll”—recorded this single, but passed away soon after its release. The A-side and B-side titles prompted some fans to wonder if Willis was foreshadowing his own untimely death, but most now agree it was just an ironic coincidence. Multiple artists have covered the song, including Ray Charles, Percy Sledge, and Conway Twitty.
1959: Stagger Lee
Artist: Lloyd Price
The 1895 murder of a man named Billy Lyons provided the basis for an enduring folk song called “Stagger Lee,” which also goes by names like “Stagolee” or “Stack-O-Lee.” In 1959, R&B vocalist Lloyd Price offered his own take on the timeless tune. It shot to the top of both the R&B chart and the Billboard Hot 100.
Artist: Brook Benton
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, singer-songwriter Brook Benton released an impressive string of hit songs on the Mercury label. Among them was this hybrid of R&B and rock 'n' roll, which Benton co-wrote with producer Clyde Otis. If listeners thought the song sounded a little familiar, it's because they heard singer Teddy Randazzo perform it three years earlier in the movie “Mister Rock and Roll.”
1961: Tossin' and Turnin'
Artist: Bobby Lewis
Fans of the movie “Animal House” might recognize this classic tune by Bobby Lewis, which was named as Billboard's #1 single for 1961. Some releases of the song feature an alternate prelude where Lewis sings: ““Baby...baby...you did something to me.” It was this version that Lewis frequently performed live.
1962: Soul Twist
Artist: King Curtis
American saxophonist Curtis Ousley—better-known as King Curtis—first topped the R&B charts with this inspired instrumental. In addition to his solo career, Curtis was a popular session player who worked with artists like Aretha Franklin, Buddy Holly, and John Lennon. He also recorded the original opening theme music for the hit 1971 TV show “Soul Train.”
1963: Part Time Love
Artist: Little Johnny Taylor
Written by Clay Hammond and performed by Little Johnny Taylor, this spirited single takes overt cues from traditional blues chords and melodies. It finds the singer searching for a “Part Time Love” when his regular lover is away. Isaac Hayes would later include a more than eight-minute version on his album “Black Moses.”
1965: I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)
Artist: Four Tops
Legendary songwriting and production trio Holland-Dozier-Holland penned this iconic single, which helped further define the Motown label's signature sound. Performing the track was the vocal quartet Four Tops, who combined a slew of musical genres to seamless effect. The song reached #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts, respectively.
1966: Hold On! I'm Comin'
Artist: Sam & Dave
Combining elements of blues, soul, and gospel, Sam & Dave helped popularize the raw sound of Memphis soul with this 1966 single. Featuring musical contributions from Booker T. & The MGs and Isaac Hayes, the song became the duo's first major hit. The opening horns alone are the stuff of R&B legend.
Artist: Aretha Franklin
In the hands of Aretha Franklin, an Otis Redding song about a desperate man became something else entirely. More than a massive hit upon its year of release, Franklin's version of “Respect” endures as both a powerful feminist anthem and her signature tune. When she passed away in 2018, the timeless single re-entered the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart at #21.
1968: Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud
Artist: James Brown
Dismayed by the state of race relations in 1968, James Brown recorded this powerful song and put it on an album of the same name. The song marked a departure of sorts for the Godfather of Soul, who typically stayed away from overtly political messages. Proving his commitment to the cause, Brown rallied behind Democratic presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey that same year.
1969: What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)
Artist: Jr. Walker and The All Stars
Saxophonist and vocalist Junior Walker developed his own signature sound throughout the 1960s, with help from The All Stars. While “Shotgun” arguably remains the group's most quintessential tune, this sentimental number was among its biggest hits at the time of its release. It was subsequently covered by Kenny G. for his 1986 album “Duotones.”
1970: I'll Be There
Artist: Jackson 5
Michael and Jermaine Jackson shared lead vocals on this veritable smash hit, which became The Jackson 5's fourth #1 single in a row. Co-written by Motown legend Berry Gordy, the song tackles themes of unconditional love. Mariah Carey later covered it during an “MTV Unplugged” performance, and then released her version to chart-topping results.
1971: Mr. Big Stuff
Artist: Jean Knight
Stax Records initially took a hard pass on this groovy ode to female empowerment from Jean Knight. It was only after an employee named Tim Whitsett fought tooth and nail with label executives that the single was finally released. Soon enough, the song reached #1 on the Billboard Soul Singles chart, and #2 on the Hot 100 singles chart.
1972: Let's Stay Together
Artist: Al Green
Crooner Al Green wrote the lyrics to this love song in just five minutes before deciding he didn't want to record it. After some convincing, Green belted out the soulful tune and saw it reach the top of both the R&B and Billboard Hot 100 charts, respectively. Despite releasing a number of subsequent classics, Green never hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart again.
1973: Let's Get It On
Artist: Marvin Gaye
The earliest recorded version of “Let's Get It On” grappled with themes of religion, politics, and even alcoholism. After a complete lyrical overhaul by Marvin Gaye and co-writer Ed Townsend, the song took on a new life as an ode to sexual liberation. It's been hailed as quintessential baby-making music ever since.
1974: Feel Like Makin' Love
Artist: Roberta Flack
Soul icon Roberta Flack is synonymous with some of R&B's most timeless tracks, including this one from 1974. It finds her in an amorous mood after she observes or partakes in various romantic encounters. Flack went on a sabbatical shortly after releasing the song and an album of the same name, never quite returning to the heights of her best years.
1975: Fight the Power Pt. 1
Artist: The Isley Brothers
Long before Public Enemy fought the power in 1990, The Isley Brothers released this funky single to similarly galvanizing effect. Despite its dancefloor vibe, the song clearly delivers overtones of rebellion and discontent. A 15-year-old Carlton Ridenhour—who would later take the stage name of Chuck D—was definitely listening.
1976: Disco Lady
Artist: Johnnie Taylor
With the disco era in full swing, “Soul Philosopher” Johnnie Taylor dropped this smash hit in 1976. Backed by funk legends such as Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell, the singer heaps praise upon a woman's dance floor moves. To celebrate the single's resounding success, Taylor reportedly took a bath in Dom Perignon champagne.
1977: Float On
Artist: The Floaters
Drawing inspiration from two contemporary trends—astrology and video dating—The Floaters introduced themselves one at a time in what would become their only hit song. Group member James Mitchell reportedly conceived the song in a dream, then hummed it into a recorder upon waking up. It spent six weeks at the top of the Soul Singles chart, and reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
1978: Serpentine Fire
Artist: Earth, Wind & Fire
Genre-spanning outfit Earth, Wind & Fire was at the height of its fame when it dropped this chart-topping single. Along with the propulsive instrumentation come some surprisingly deep lyrics, which explore sensuality and spirituality through the lens of Kundalini yoga. The song stayed at #1 on the Billboard R&B chart for seven weeks in a row.
1979: Good Times
To this day, Chic's “Good Times” remains a joyous staple at weddings and celebrations across the world. The roller-disco classic is also one of the most heavily sampled songs in music history, thanks to its multitude of hook-laden passages. Rolling Stone magazine put the iconic tune at #229 on its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
1980: Let's Get Serious
Artist: Jermaine Jackson
When The Jackson 5 left the Motown label, Jermaine stayed behind and released his first #1 R&B single. “Let's Get Serious” was also Billboard's #1 Soul hit for the entirety of 1980, beating out “Rock with You” from brother Michael. Stevie Wonder co-wrote the song, and provided guest vocals.
1981: Endless Love
Artist: Diana Ross and Lionel Richie
In 1981, Diana Ross and Lionel Richie were a collaboration made in R&B heaven. It's then no surprise that this sentimental ballad rocketed up the charts, spending nine weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. Billboard would later put the song at #1 on its list of “The 40 Biggest Duets of All Time.”
1982: That Girl
Artist: Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder may have peaked in the 1970s, but still had a few tricks left up his sleeve by 1982. That was when he dropped a best-selling compilation of hits, better known as “Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium 1.” Featured on the album were four brand-new songs, including this hit single.
1983: Sexual Healing
Artist: Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye left the Motown label in 1982 and released his final album, “Midnight Love,” soon after. Bolstered by this wildly popular and award-winning single, the acclaimed album sold more than 2 million copies. Sadly, Gaye would be killed by his own father before he could record a follow-up.
1984: When Doves Cry
Prince was already a pretty big name by 1984, but this hit single and its adjoining soundtrack put him at the forefront of a new R&B regime. Featuring no bass lines, the song is largely carried by an iconic keyboard riff, a drum machine, and the artist's sultry vocals. As if writing the track and singing on it weren't enough, Prince also played every single instrument.
1985: Rock Me Tonight (For Old Times Sake)
Artist: Freddie Jackson
This smooth and soulful ballad spent six weeks at #1 on Billboard's R&B chart, helping turn Freddie Jackson's debut album into a platinum seller. The song also broke the Top 20 on the UK Singles chart, and peaked at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was the beginning of a long and fruitful career.
1986: On My Own
Artist: Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald
Patti LaBelle teamed up with occasional Doobie Brother Michael McDonald for this smash hit, which was written by Burt Bacharach with his former wife Carole Bayer Sager. Perhaps taking the song's themes to heart, LaBelle and McDonald recorded it in separate studios on opposite coasts. Along similar lines, the accompanying music video employed a split screen effect to portray the two singers on their own.
1987: Stop to Love
Artist: Luther Vandross
Singer Luther Vandross scored his first #1 R&B single with this synth-heavy love song, a veritable relic of its time. Vandross co-wrote the track with frequent collaborator and arranger Nat Adderley Jr. Providing background vocals was Vesta Williams, who was in the midst of her own successful solo career.
1988: I Want Her
Artist: Keith Sweat
Fusing synth breaks with samples and other hip-hop production techniques, Keith Sweat's debut single helped establish a subgenre known as New Jack Swing. The massive success of both the song and adjoining album paved the way for similar fare from artists like Bell Biv Devoe and Color Me Badd. Complex magazine later named “I Want Her” as the sixth-best New Jack Swing song of all time.
Artist: Karyn White
Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds and Antonio “L.A.” Reid met with singer Karyn White and wrote this song based on the encounter. Contrary to some interpretations, the lyrics are about a woman who won't stick around if her lover keeps disappointing her. In addition to hitting #1 on the R&B chart, the song peaked at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100.
1990: Hold On
Artist: En Vogue
The 1990s kicked off with new styles and new production techniques, and vocal quartet En Vogue encapsulated both on their breakout single. Reinterpreting a Jackson 5 song from a female perspective, “Hold On” tackles themes of personal regret on the heels of a break-up. The Telegraph placed this club hit at #47 on its list of the “Top 50 Dance Songs” of all time.
1991: Written All Over Your Face
Artist: The Rude Boys
Winner of the #1 R&B Single at the 1991 Billboard Music Awards, this laidback slow jam helped turn The Rude Boys into a national sensation. It was followed by a second #1 R&B hit and successful world tour. The group disbanded when their follow-up album didn't perform as well as its predecessor, though some members reunited in 1997 for a third effort.
1992: Come and Talk to Me
The fourth single released from Jodeci's debut album was the band's third #1 R&B hit. Written, produced, and arranged by two of the group's members, the song finds vocalist K-Ci pining for the affection of a woman. Sean “Puffy” Combs (a.k.a. Diddy) produced a “Hip Hop Remix,” which included a contribution from rapper Fat Doug.
1993: I Will Always Love You
Artist: Whitney Houston
Country legend Dolly Parton originally wrote and recorded this timeless ballad in 1973 as a farewell letter to her vocal partner, Porter Wagoner. Decades later, Whitney Houston put her own R&B twist on the song for “The Bodyguard” soundtrack. It reached the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for a record-breaking 14 weeks.
1994: Bump n' Grind
Artist: R. Kelly
Long before he was persona non grata (and with good reason), R. Kelly was an industry darling and in-demand songwriter. This sultry slow jam was the second single from his debut album, and the longest-running #1 song of 1994 in the U.S. Suffice to say, its themes haven't exactly aged well.
American vocal group TLC may have scored a huge hit with this chart-topper, but not every member was on board with its lyrical content. Feeling the song conveyed a harmful message about mutual infidelity, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes refused to contribute a rap verse. Her recent break-up with football player Andre Rison mat have had something to do with her sentiments.
1996: 'You're Makin' Me High' / 'Let It Flow'
Artist: Toni Braxton
Toni Braxton delivered a one-two punch when she released this double A-side single in 1996. “You're Makin' Me High” was featured on her second album, while "Let It Flow" came off the “Waiting to Exhale” soundtrack. Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds produced both tracks.
1997: In My Bed
Artist: Dru Hill
This hit single from best-selling R&B group Dru Hill finds member Sisqó demonstrating a little humility. As both the lyrics and music video depict, the singer walks in on his girlfriend to discover she's been sleeping with someone else. The song peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and spent three weeks at #1 on the R&B chart.
1998: Too Close
Minneapolis R&B trio Next made deft use of a Kurtis Blow sample for this raunchy smash hit, which reached #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts. In the song, the three singers get conspicuously excited as they grind along with their female dance partners. On Billboard's list of “The 50 Sexiest Songs of All Time,” this one landed at #4.
Singer Maxwell is “fortunate” to have his girl in this neo soul song, which was featured on the soundtrack for the movie “Life.” Composed, arranged, and produced by R. Kelly, the tune won a 1999 Billboard Music Award for R&B Single of the Year. It stayed on top of the R&B chart for eight weeks, and remains one of Maxwell's biggest hits to-date.
2000: Let's Get Married
Artist: Jagged Edge
A true wedding ballad for the modern age, this hit from Jagged Edge won a Soul Train Award for Best R&B/Soul Single by a Band, Duo, or Group. It spent 24 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at #11. DJ Run of Run DMC remixed the song, incorporating a sample from his rap group's debut single, “It's Like That.”
Artist: R. Kelly featuring Jay-Z
One among numerous collaborations between Jay-Z and R. Kelly, “Fiesta” follows the pair as they live the high life in every sense of the concept. It was the best-selling R&B single of 2001, according to Billboard. In the wake of its success, the two artists released a similarly popular album called “Best of Both Worlds.”
Ashanti is stuck between a rock and a hard place on this smash hit single. Even though her lover treats her poorly, she can't bear to be without him. Ashanti and a small team of collaborators co-wrote the song, which respectively topped both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts.
2003: In Da Club
Artist: 50 Cent
50 Cent was a fixture in the mixtape underground before bursting onto the mainstream with this popular club anthem. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for nine weeks, and won Best Rap Video at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. Handling production was none other than beat master Dr. Dre, with help from Mike Elizondo.
2004: If I Ain't Got You
Artist: Alicia Keys
Still grappling with the untimely death of R&B star Aaliyah, singer-songwriter Alicia Keys penned this soulful tune. She would later attest that the song is about “being present in a moment and nothing else mattering but those that you love." It was her third (out of an eventual eight) #1 single on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
2005: Let Me Love You
Written by R&B legend Ne-Yo and produced by Scott Storch, this chart-topping love song earned singer Mario a nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance at the 48th Grammy Awards. In the song, Mario promises to give a woman the affection she's not getting from her philandering boyfriend. It spent seven weeks at #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, and was also a huge hit in Germany and New Zealand.
2006: Be Without You
Artist: Mary J. Blige
This award-winning track from Mary J. Blige displays her powerful vocals to downright spine-tingling effect. Oscar-nominated actor Terrence Howard appears as Blige's boyfriend in the adjoining music video, which currently has more than 125 million views on YouTube. In 2017, “Be Without You” was ranked by Billboard magazine as the #1 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Song of all time.
2007: Lost Without U
Artist: Robin Thicke
The second single from Robin Thicke's second album, “Lost Without U” simultaneously topped four separate Billboard charts. According to an interview with MTV News, Thicke wrote the song while touring behind his first album and wondering why he wasn't more successful. As if to eradicate any lingering insecurities, it was voted "Sexiest Song of the Year" by People magazine.
2008: Like You'll Never See Me Again
Artist: Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys wants her lover to kiss her like it counts in this softly rendered single, which she co-produced. Keys replaced her own previous #1 hit when “Like You'll Never See Me Again” landed at the top of the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. It would go on to win Outstanding Music Video and Outstanding Song at the 2008 NAACP Image Awards.
2009: Blame It
Artist: Jamie Foxx featuring T-Pain
Jamie Foxx earned all sorts of accolades when he portrayed Ray Charles in 2004, but it turned out he was just as adept at tackling the R&B genre from a modern perspective. Proving as much was this danceable ode to intoxication from his third studio album, “Intuition.” Featuring guest vocals from singer T-Pain, the song goes accordingly heavy on auto-tune.
2010: Un-Thinkable (I'm Ready)
Artist: Alicia Keys
Writing for Billboard magazine, Mariel Concepcion called this Alicia Keys ballad the “standout song from her latest album” in 2010. Audiences agreed with a passion, and “Un-Thinkable (I'm Ready)” became the longest-running #1 single of the year. Hip-hop superstar Drake co-wrote the emotional love song, drawing inspiration from his feelings for Nicki Minaj.
2011: Sure Thing
Singer-songwriter Miguel signed to Jive Records in 2007 and released his debut album three years later. Helping make the album a sleeper hit was this mid-tempo single, which featured themes so personal for Miguel that he called it a “record that no one was ever supposed to hear.” It's sold more than 1 million digital copies to-date.
2012: Love on Top
No list of the best R&B songs is complete without Beyoncé Knowles, who landed on top of the charts in 2012 with this appropriately titled single. Motivated by her turn as singer Etta James in 2008's “Dreamgirls,” Beyoncé straddles multiple styles of soul music while pushing her vocals to new heights. The song won Best Traditional R&B Performance at the 2013 Grammy Awards.
2013: Thrift Shop
Artist: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis featuring Wanz
Paying homage to their love of thrift shops, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (and Wanz) released this brassy hip-hop song without support from a major label. After hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it became the first indie single to top the charts since 1994. To-date, it's sold more than 7 million copies in the U.S. alone.
Artist: Pharrell Williams
The most successful single of 2014 came to listeners from Pharrell Williams, whose music commonly draws from a vast well of R&B traditions. It was included on both Pharrell's second album and the soundtrack to “Despicable Me 2,” and nominated for a slew of major awards. More than just a smash hit here in the states, “Happy” is also the eighth best-selling single of all time in the United Kingdom.
2015: See You Again
Artist: Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth
Rapper Wiz Khalifa and singer Charlie Puth co-wrote this emotional single, which they recorded for the “Furious 7” soundtrack as a tribute to deceased actor Paul Walker. It broke the record for the most single streams in one day in the U.S., and tied Eminem's “Lose Yourself” as the longest-running #1 rap hit of all time. Over on YouTube, it has more than 4 billion views and counting.
2016: One Dance
Artist: Drake featuring Wizkid and Kyla
The first song to reach 1 billion plays on Spotify was this single from Drake, who gets a little help from Wizkid and Kyla. Popular in multiple countries around the world, “One Dance” was officially the biggest hit on the planet in 2016. Thanks to its deft fusion of Afrobeat and U.K. funk, the compulsively listenable track remains a dancehall staple.
2017: That's What I Like
Artist: Bruno Mars
American singer-songwriter Bruno Mars flaunts his luxurious lifestyle in this musically diverse single. It won Song of the Year at the 2017 Soul Train Music Awards, followed by numerous Grammy Awards in 2018. Mars co-wrote the track with Philip Lawrence and Christopher Brody Brown, the fellow members of his “Shampoo Press & Curl" production team.
2018: God's Plan
Blending elements of pop-rap and trap, this hit song finds Drake paying respects to a higher power as he copes with the pitfalls of love, life, fortune, and fame. In the adjoining music video, the Canadian artist is seen giving away his entire production budget of $996,631.90 to unsuspecting Miami residents. “God's Plan” held the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 11 weeks, until Drake displaced it with his next single.