Guilty pleasure songs? There is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, since music is subjective. Why feel guilty about liking certain songs or artists? With that being said, there are certain songs that will crop up on your playlist that may give you pause before you blast them out in a public setting.
Consider this list of the greatest guilty pleasure songs a public service. A guilty pleasure can be anything from a great song by an unfashionable artist, to a piece of great pop that you’re supposed to outgrow but don’t. Spanning a few decades and styles, here are some of our picks for the greatest guilty pleasure songs ever.
42: Elton John – Tiny Dancer
Its shine may have lost its luster through its pop cultural ubiquity, but Elton John’s classic tune nevertheless stands up on any close listen.
41: The Knack – My Sharona
With an unforgettable riff and vocal performance, this 70s pop classic is undeniable and responsible for countless sound-alikes through the years.
40: ABBA – Dancing Queen
We wouldn’t recommend putting this on at a casual dinner party necessarily, but a long road trip with a good friend? Go right ahead.
39: Rick Astley – Never Gonna Give You Up
Pre-peak meme, the internet was only interested in Rickrolling. Or at least it seemed that way. It’s hard to measure how many views of “Never Gonna Give You Up” ended after a few seconds and a wry smile from the person tricked into clicking on it. But we’re willing to bet it’s more than any other song in history.
38: Baha Men – Who Let The Dogs Out
It’s a song with an undeniable chorus. But, yeah, it’s also just a silly song about dogs that actually includes barking, so we get why it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure.
37: Dead Or Alive – You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)
By far their best-known hit, Dead Or Alive equated the feeling of falling in love with the spinning of a record. It wasn’t the most original idea, but the execution was absolutely brilliant.
36: Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe
The wonder of love at first sight is the subject of his mega-hit. At first it seemed like the work of a pre-fabricated pop star, which is why many may write it off as a guilty pleasure. But Carly Rae Jepsen’s career ever since then has proved that she’s hardly a flash in the pan.
35: Wham! – Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
One of the great UK pop guilty pleasure songs, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” was a perfect throwback to a previous generation. Today it simply sounds like one of the great pop songs of the 80s.
34: Britney Spears – Toxic
Britney Spears’ “Toxic” is one of the great pop dance numbers of the early 00s, featuring screeching strings and an inspired vocal performance.
33: Limp Bizkit – Rollin’
Say what you will about it, but there were few better songs that captured the nu-metal genre than “Rollin’.”
32: Rednex – Cotton Eye Joe
If you want to understand the 90s era and vibe, head to YouTube and check out Rednex’s “Cotton Eye Joe.”
31: MC Hammer – U Can’t Touch This
Are there better pump-up songs than “U Can’t Touch This”? At the time of its release, it was inescapable. Today, it’s regarded as one of the great pop rap songs ever made.
30: Aqua – Barbie Girl
You’d be hard-pressed to find a good time to put this on in the course of your normal day. Pop it on at a dance party, though? You’ll soon see the dance floor heaving.
29: Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’
One of the great power ballads of all-time, this song may be primarily remembered these days as the final song to the classic TV series The Sopranos. Whatever you associate it with, it’s one of the indelible rock songs of the 80s.
28: Miley Cyrus – Party In The U.S.A.
Before she went a bit indie with the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, Miley was all about partying in the USA. It’s an American classic that will surely endure due to its evergreen chorus.
27: Europe – The Final Countdown
It’d be silly to make a list of the best guilty pleasure songs and not include “The Final Countdown.” Like many of the songs on this list, the emotions run hot, but that’s part of the point.
26: Village People – Y.M.C.A.
What guilty pleasures playlist would be complete without this disco classic? As soon as it comes on, we dare you to stop yourself from using your arms to spell out all the letters.
25: Lou Bega: Mambo No. 5
Whether or not you ever want to hear it again, it was great that something like Lou Bega’s earwormy 1999 single charted, leading to dozens of long-unavailable Latin records being reissued in his wake. Taking its inspiration from the original jazz and mambo song by Cuban composer, Dámaso Pérez Prado, “Mambo No.5” has endured as a karaoke favorite and sneaks its way into many a wedding reception setlist.
24: Styx: Lady
Styx’s first hit sounded more like the Hollies on steroids than all of the arena-prog rock that came afterwards. Dennis DeYoung managed to both woo his wife and make this a radio hit through sheer persistence.
23: The Spice Girls: Wannabe
The Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” is a song that defined fizzy pop for the next decade, no wonder it was a hit. They were clearly having such a good time that everybody wanted to find that party and join in.
22: Kenny Loggins: I’m Alright
Plenty of people were shocked to find out that yacht-rock king Kenny Loggins was the one behind this catchy bit of new-wave rockabilly. Of course, if you’re Kenny Loggins, your edgiest song turns out to be the theme from Caddyshack.
21: Britney Spears: Oops! I Did It Again
Before she added the hyper-production and the autotune, Britney Spears’s records were more like updates of Brill Building pop. This song was even catchy enough for Richard Thompson to have covered it.
20: Justin Bieber: Love Yourself
“Love Yourself” saw Justin Bieber team with pop’s reigning Mr. Nice Guy, Ed Sheeran, to write a breakup/putdown song that’s nearly as nasty as anything Elvis Costello came up with in his angry young phase.
19: The Backstreet Boys: I Want It That Way
There are a million time-honored tricks in this song, starting with the fire/desire rhyme in the first verse, and every one of them belongs there. “I Want It That Way” is the ultimate millennial slow dance.
18: Three Dog Night: Mama Told Me Not to Come
Because they lived and died on hit singles they didn’t write, history gives TDN precious little respect. But damned if this isn’t one of the best covers of a Randy Newman song that’s ever been done, not to mention the first to hit the charts.
17: Hank Williams Jr.: Fax Me a Beer
Can a piece of music be a guilty pleasure simply because it’s hilarious? His early stuff was groundbreaking, but nowadays Hank Williams Jr. is more divisive when it comes to more serious alt-country fans. But this 1992 track rocks like mad (dig the slide guitar and Bo Diddley break).
16: The Monkees: You Told Me
The Monkees hardly qualify as a guilty pleasure anymore, since nearly everyone has realized how many great songs they had (especially Nesmith gems like this one). But we’ll keep them here until the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame comes around.
15: The J. Geils Band: Centerfold
This oh-so-80s hit is nowhere near as revered as the Geils Band’s earlier, bluesier stuff, but it’s one of their catchiest about seeing your ex in an adult magazine. It’s right up there with “Love Stinks.”
14: Crosby, Stills & Nash: Live It Up
This slick and polished 1991 album is pretty well unloved by fans, and features what may be the worst album cover in history. The title track, however, is a nice bit of lighthearted pop with a strong GrahamNash vocal, though “Teach Your Children” it most certainly ain’t.
13: Starship: Rock Myself to Sleep
Another 60s icon goes pop, in this case, it’s Grace Slick singing a rather nifty Katrina & the Waves song. But a lot of listeners never got that far, since it’s on the same album side with their smash hit “We Built This City.”
12: Sheena Easton: Sugar Walls
Forget “Darling Nikki,” this is the smuttiest thing Prince ever wrote, and it went Top Ten, along with the Parents Music Resource Center’s infamous “Filthy Fifteen” list. Pop music is rife with phallic innuendos (see KISS’s “Love Gun”) but this was one of the rare instances a female pop singer sang about her special attributes.
11: Rick Springfield: Bruce
In this funny but preposterous bit of guilty pleasure rock music, the singer complains that everybody he meets keeps mistaking Springfield for Springsteen. Sure Rick, we really believe that happened to you all the time.
10: Barry Manilow: Ships
Yes, Barry Manilow recorded the occasional great song, like this one about a rocky father/son relationship, but let’s not forget, this Top Ten single was technically the biggest hit of writer Ian Hunter’s entire career.
9: Katy Perry: I Kissed a Girl
Even if Jill Sobule had used the title first, Katy Perry’s first hit was lyrically daring and creatively catchy – heck, it’s practically a blues shuffle. While the lyrics remain slightly controversial, the song would set Perry on the path for major pop stardom.
8: The Eagles: Tryin
While “Hotel California” is their true earworm, the Eagles released another power-pop song that truly sparkled with “Tryin’,” and it’s the only Randy Meisner song on their debut.
7: Rupert Holmes: Escape: (The Pina Colada Song)
A pointed satire of suburban mating rituals disguised as an upmarket pop song; only people who knew Rupert Holmes’ catalog realized that it really drips with irony. If that weren’t enough, Kate Bush would later borrow the storyline for “Babooshka.”
6: The Beach Boys: Kokomo
Can you make a list of guilty pleasure music without this one? Even for Beach Boys fans, their 1988 comeback hit is not for everyone, even though it was one of the biggest of the group’s career. Yet it still has that gorgeous vocal by Carl Wilson on the bridge, and we can’t dislike any Top-10 single that includes Van Dyke Parks on accordion.
5: KC & the Sunshine Band: Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty
Guilty pleasure disco music. Some folks once disdained barnstormers like this single because of the repetitiveness of the lyrics, but now they are beloved for the same reason. This is by the way, officially the most repeats of a single word in the title of a No.1 song.
4: DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince: I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson
1989 was the year of N.W.A. and Public Enemy, definitely not the year for family-friendly rap jokes like this. Too bad, since it displays all the comic timing that would soon make Will Smith a TV star.
3: David Bowie & Mick Jagger: Dancing in the Street
Nobody really needed to see these two musical icons as jolly song and dance men, but this guilty pleasure one-off song done specifically for Live Aid completely fit the global-party spirit of that day.
2: Jimmy Buffett: A Pirate Looks at 40
Jimmy Buffet is often written off by hipsters from coast to coast, thanks largely to his over-enthused fanbase, but songs like this one – a bittersweet, melodic character sketch – are the proof there’s more to him than parrots and margaritas.
1: The Bay City Rollers: Saturday Night
“Saturday Night” is nothing short of bubblegum perfection, and it turned out that this 1975 guilty pleasure was one of the prime inspirations for a punk-rock cornerstone. But some of us already loved The Bay City Rollers tune before the Ramones owned up to borrowing “Blitzkrieg Bop” from it.
What’s your guilty pleasure song? What makes you blush if someone catches you singing your heart out? Let us know below and start the debate!