75 Songs That Define The Last 75 Years

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Every year there comes along records that somehow seem to be definitive. They resonate with listeners for reasons that are sometimes difficult to fathom, while at other times they are very much a reflection on the mood of the moment or the cultural zeitgeist.

Pop is of course short for ‘popular’ and when people talk of pop records they are often referring to those that make the best seller lists, and in the main that is what these 75 records represent. In some cases they have been the biggest selling record, in a particular year, on both sides of the Atlantic – Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ springs to mind, as does, The Beatles, ‘She Loves You’ although it wasn’t until 1964 that it made the US charts. Others are about something else, a movement, a feeling, a cultural shift, The Beatles ‘A Day In The Life’ from Sgt Pepper’s marked a distinct move away from where pop was, and to where it may be going.

Others like Elton‘s ‘Candle In The Wind 1997’ represent something else again: a record that unites people at a special time. The same is true in a different way with Vera Lynn’s World War II classic ‘(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover’.

Other songs seem to spearhead a musical shift, whether it’s Hank Williams and Patsy Cline and country music becoming more mainstream, or The Sex Pistols and the coming of punk, or Eminem and the rap music becoming the pop music of choice.

This is not a list of ‘The Best’ songs of any year, it is an attempt to show the way pop has changed over the last 75 years. We’re wondering what we should pick for 2015… In the meantime these are the 75 songs that define the last 75 years…

1940 The Glenn Miller Orchestra – In The Mood
1941 Duke Ellington – Take The “A” Train
1942 Vera Lynn – (There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs Of Dover
1943 The Mills Brothers – Paper Doll
1944 Bing Crosby And The Andrews Sisters – (There’ll Be A Hot Time) In The Town Of Berlin
1945 Les Brown And His Orchestra With Doris Day – Sentimental Journey
1946 Bing Crosby – White Christmas
1947 Roy Brown – Good Rockin’ Tonight
1948 Nat King Cole – Nature Boy
1949 Vaughn Monroe And His Orchestra – Riders In The Sky
1950 Patti Page – The Tennessee Waltz
1951 Johnnie Ray – Cry
1952 Hank Williams – Jambalaya (On The Bayou)
1953 Les Paul & Mary Ford – Vaya Con Dios
1954 The Chordettes – Mr Sandman
1955 Bill Haley And His Comets – (We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock
1956 Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel
1957 The Crickets – That’ll Be the Day
1958 Danny & The Juniors – At The Hop
1959 Bobby Darin – Mack The Knife
1960 Percy Faith – Theme From A Summer’s Place
1961 Patsy Cline – Crazy
1962 The Tornadoes – Telstar
1963 The Beatles – She Loves You
1964 The Rolling Stones – Little Red Rooster
1965 The Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
1966 The Beach Boys – Good Vibrations
1967 The Beatles – A Day In The Life
1968 Marvin Gaye – I Heard It Through The Grapevine
1969 The 5th Dimension – Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In
1970 Simon & Gafunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water
1971 George Harrison – My Sweet Lord
1972 Alice Cooper – School’s Out
1973 Carly Simon – You’re So Vain
1974 Abba – Waterloo
1975 Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
1976 Abba – Dancing Queen
1977 The Sex Pistols – God Save The Queen
1978 The Bee Gees – Stayin’ Alive
1979 The Village People – YMCA
1980 The Police – Don’t Stand So Close To Me
1981 Kim Carnes – Bette Davis Eyes
1982 Afrika Bambaataa And Soul Sonic Force – Planet Rock
1983 Michael Jackson – Billie Jean
1984 Madonna – Like A Virgin
1985 Dire Straits – Money For Nothing
1986 Berlin – Take My Breath Away
1987 Beastie Boys – (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)
1988 Public Enemy – Bring The Noise
1989 Phil Collins – Another Day In Paradise
1990 Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U
1991 Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
1992 Boyz II Men – The End Of The Road
1993 Meat Loaf – I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)
1994 Bryan Adams, Sting & Rod Stewart – All For Love
1995 Coolio [Featuring LV] – Gangsta’s Paradise
1996 The Spice Girls – Wannabe
1997 Elton John – Candle In The Wind 1997
1998 Cher – Believe
1999 Santana With Rob Thomas – Smooth
2000 Radiohead – Everything In Its Right Place
2001 Janet Jackson – All For You
2002 Eminem – Lose Yourself
2003 The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army
2004 Usher with Lil’ Jon & Ludacris – Yeah
2005 Kanye West – Gold Digger
2006 Beyonce – Irreplaceable
2007 Rihanna [Featuring] Jay-Z – Umbrella
2008 Leona Lewis – Bleeding Love
2009 The Black Eyed Peas – I Gotta Feeling
2010 Lady Antebellum – Need You Now
2011 Lady Gaga – Born This Way
2012 Gotye [Featuring Kimbra] – Somebody That I Used To Know
2013 Lorde – Royals
2014 Pharrell Williams – Happy

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Format: Union Jack flagUK English


  1. Brian McCullough

    November 30, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    Any such list that does not include Roy Orbison isn’t worth much perusal.
    1964 being represented by Little Red Rooster from The Rolling Stones in the year that saw Oh, Pretty Woman released is just criminal.

    • Joel Antkowiak

      November 30, 2015 at 7:54 pm

      Agreed…and 1971 should feature a former Beatle, but not George Harrison. John Lennon’s “Imagine” is one of the most performed songs of all time, and if that doesn’t show you how music was evolving, I don’t know what does.

      • Frank Kallen

        December 1, 2015 at 8:37 pm

        I agree with “Imagine” by John Lennon

    • Steve Shep

      March 7, 2016 at 11:53 am

      Disagree totally. Little Red Rooster is a pure blues song, it got to number 1 in the UK charts. This is the only time a blues song actually did that. 1965 should have been Satisfaction by the Stones. However music is subjective, and what appeals to you, will not appeal to others.

  2. Robert Grant

    November 30, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    yep…I would have to concur with comments about missing many classic examples not there etc.. but the Pop adjective is so eclectic & ubiquitous, I understand the difficulty in knowing where to draw the line… One of my favorite singers,growing up as a very young child was Guy Mitchell..never felt more like singing the blues..& Poor little Robin, walking to Missouri, don’t quite know why..but those songs cast a huge impression on my mind & lasted for a very long time…

  3. Aliki Agelastou

    November 30, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    For 2015, it should definately be SAM SMITH.

  4. Krazy Kasper

    November 30, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    I agree with that Roy Orbison and Guy Mitchell should have been included. We also should not forget Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis. They all had very unique sounds. Not sure who I would suggest for 2015 but Taylor Swift, Adele, and Bruno Mars come to mind.

    • Jacques Blaret

      December 4, 2015 at 8:43 am

      I agree completly with you!

  5. Paul Whelan

    December 1, 2015 at 1:57 am

    What about the great DEL SHANNON

  6. George Johnson

    December 1, 2015 at 3:35 am

    Hello- Adele for 2015

  7. ZigAhZigAh

    December 1, 2015 at 4:20 am

    You spelled Wannabe wrong… 😛

  8. bill logie

    December 1, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    Any list of great songs without Del Shannon’s Runaway is not a list…

  9. risp2out

    December 1, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    If you’re serious about having this be a list of music that reflects the times socially AND musically, then 2015 belongs to Kendrick Lamar.

  10. Frank Kallen

    December 1, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    What about “The Boss”…. “Born To Run”……..”Born In The USA”

  11. Tom Bukovac

    December 2, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    I have no idea how you come up with your lists , but I have yet to see one that makes one bit of sense . I don’t know if your trying to appear cure bra but you fail miserably

  12. Garrett Jennings

    December 3, 2015 at 3:57 am

    1969 – You have to go with The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” from “Tommy”. They performed their Rock Opera worldwide including Woodstock and opera houses and the Monterey Pop Festival.

  13. Rod Eyre

    December 3, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    No David Bowie? You cannot be serious!

  14. Enigma

    December 3, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    Not that I like that song, but, where is “Gangam style”?

  15. Toni

    December 3, 2015 at 10:42 pm

    Where is bob dylan???

  16. Danie Janse van Vuuren

    December 4, 2015 at 8:58 am

    A list like this will never satisfy everybody. For 2015 I suggest Hello by Adele.

  17. Paul Linford

    December 4, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    All completely subjective of course, but it strikes me there are some pretty serious omissions on this list as well as some laughable inclusions, most notably the choice of a Phil Collins film theme as somehow representative of the year of acid/ambient house, 1989.

    Some alternative suggestions:
    1973 Life on Mars – David Bowie
    1974 Starman – David Bowie
    1989 People Hold On – Coldcut
    1990 Killer – Adamski
    1998 Road Rage – Catatonia
    2000 Trouble – Coldplay
    2006 Smile – Lily Allen
    2013 Get Lucky – Daft Punk

  18. Rosalie Havercroft

    December 5, 2015 at 2:07 am

    what about ‘ I can be your hero’ Enrico Inglasias

  19. Jim Dukes

    December 5, 2015 at 10:29 pm

    Where are the Eagles?

  20. cron

    December 7, 2015 at 7:33 am

    these are all the rock n roll punks who could not read music. what abbout philip glass, vangelis, John Williams, Jarre.

  21. gabriel

    December 17, 2015 at 7:21 pm


  22. jackie

    December 20, 2015 at 7:19 am

    “you & me babe, how ’bout it…” best line ever!

  23. Carolyn LaRoche

    December 21, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    George Jones. He stopped loving her today. The late great Jackie Wilson.

  24. simon

    December 31, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    adele & sam smith if that’s the best on offer for 2015 wot a crap year its been musically both a pair of boring farts !

  25. gus cooper

    January 1, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    How can you not have a song sung by Lois Armstrong and even Frankie Laine . Many of the songs I would not listen to

  26. Gary

    January 2, 2016 at 5:43 am

    No Dylan, no ‘Imagine’,
    no “Satisfaction”, dang guys.

  27. Gazza

    January 5, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    Imagine and Stairway To Heaven both seem like better choices for 1971. I would go for Walk On The Wild Side for 1972. Bob Dylan could also be there any number of times. Surely if Phil Collins has to be there, it should be earlier than’89…but does he have to be there? Hendrix isn’t there, nor the Velvet Underground, but I guess you’d be looking at 1967…the Beatles would be my third choice for that year, but I guess it’s difficult to argue with that selection.

  28. Jazzmaster

    March 2, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    Carly Simon for 1973 is just ridiculous. First of all “it.s so vain” is a 72′ single. Moreover how could we imagine that it defines a Year with Dark Side of the Moon, Head Hunters, Catch a Fire and Burnin’, Innervisions, Raw Power, Berlin, Sellin England By the Pound, Tubular Bells, Future Days, For Your Pleasure…

  29. david wilson

    May 11, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    1977 surely I Feel Love by Donna Summer has been far more influential than The Sex Pistols?

  30. Eileen Ohvur

    February 18, 2017 at 5:18 am

    75 years of popular music and not a single mention of Frank Sinatra. Seriously?

  31. Sam

    February 19, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    1994 All for Love? The year that saw Blur release Girls and Boys…Think the writer got bored by this point in the list…

  32. jul

    February 20, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    No Michael Jackson??? Impossible!!!

  33. David Carroll

    February 20, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    Some pretty spot on selections in the list BUT
    where’s ( chronilogically)…Del Shannon.Kinks.Byrds. Dylan.Who.Creedence.Sly.mid period Stones.Zeppelin.T Rex.Bowie.Lennon not imagine.Skynyrd.Clash.New Order.inxs.Prince. Bruce. Frankie. (NO Dire Straits.Berlin.Phil Collins.Boyz….please!)…and the last 20 yrs don’t mean shit in the mainstream.

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